BWW Previews: THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE at ENSEMBLE THEATRE COMPANY
In the past decade, drag has blossomed from a gay-bar in-joke to a mainstream phenomenon that incorporates a range of styles, from Vegas showgirl to high-concept fashion and performance art to campy, throwback homages to trailblazing queer artists. The art of drag is so much more than being able to walk in heels; it's about the creation of a character, and performance within that exaggerated persona. And they can walk in heels. They can sing, dance, and do acrobatics in heels. Few people, regardless of gender, can pull off a cartwheel in 5-inch stilettos.
For Ensemble's upcoming extravaganza, The Legend of Georgia McBride (by Matthew Lopez, directed by Jenny Sullivan), actors Stephen Michael Spencer and Bill Brochtrup have stepped up to the challenge of transforming into drag queens. The play follows Casey (Spencer), an Elvis impersonator who gets fired from his gig at a Florida bar to make room for the newest entertainment sensation, a drag show starring Miss Tracey Mills (Brochtrup). With a pregnant wife at home, Casey has to adapt or find another job, so he tries his hand at female impersonation. "The journey is what's so exciting," says Spencer. "I really do get to go on it with Casey...There're a lot of layers to the character, and I came into the process knowing that the character is learning all about this community and lifestyle throughout the course of this play. I submitted myself to this process knowing that I, Stephen, am also going on this journey."
Brochtrup also took a deep dive into this flamboyant subculture for the role of Tracey Mills. "I've been an actor for a long time," he says. "I've been in makeup chairs for many hours, and you can't help but pick up a little bit, so I'm probably a little more well versed than a random guy off the street...but I had no idea about drag queen makeup tutorials on Youtube. It's an entire world! I've fallen into the rabbit hole... There are thousands of these videos. And some of them have like, 500,000 hits!" Brochtrup didn't know a lot about the drag world before signing onto Georgia McBride, so he went to a drag show in LA to experience this particular brand of entertainment first hand. "I was expecting a seedy kind of experience," he says, "and I was so wrong! The crowd was full of hipsters, a lot of gay couples, straight couples, and everyone having a good time! It had a major mainstream feeling to it."
While some may still associate drag queens with raunchy camp, Spencer and Brochtrup both describe The Legend of Georgia McBride as a story is about building community and finding family. Tracey Mills is, according to Brochtrup, both caring and nurturing, and strong and demanding. "She finds in Casey a kindred spirit," Brochtrup says of the characters' developing friendship. "You wouldn't think we'd have much in common--he's a young, straight man; she's an aging drag queen--but there's something about Casey and his open heart that she responds to."
"It's about the family that you choose to have, and about the community they're building," agrees Spencer. "It's about transformation. Every single character goes through a shift and grows up in the play." Even the shabby Florida dive bar where the play is set gets a makeover into a supportive, upbeat atmosphere where people can feel safe and have fun. And while The Legend of Georgia McBride isn't written as a holiday piece, Ensemble's production recognizes that many of the play's themes--family, love, acceptance, and community--cross over with the ideals of the holiday season.
Beyond that, The Legend of Georgia McBride offers the entertainment, irreverence, and inclusion of a drag show, with plenty of music. "There's fun and humor innately in the play, but it has such a deep well of heart in it," says Spencer. "It really gets to the meat of the questions: Who are you? What is it going to take to figure out who you really are?" Brochtrup agrees: "It's an appreciation of being weird and funny and different. It lets people tap into their individuality without judgment...this play embraces being who you want to be, making your own way, making up your own story--and that's a great message. Be whoever you want to be as long as you do it with integrity and courage and truth."
Ensemble Theatre Company Presents:
The Legend of Georgia McBride
At The New Vic Theater