Last November, Bier Baron Tavern hosted a drag show with the theme of a Sunday church service — but the performers weren’t wearing elegant dresses and heels to the occasion. One by one, they strutted to the stage in fitted suits and fashionable ties, sporting painted mustaches and beards on their faces.
The event was put together by Pretty Boi Drag, one of the only drag king performance groups in the D.C. area. Drag kings, according to Pretty Boi Drag co-producers Pretty Rik E and Lexie Starre, are female-bodied performers who dress and act in traditionally masculine roles onstage — a contrast to the hyper-feminine personas of drag queens. The drag king community hasn’t reached the same level of pop culture success as its fellow queens, but Pretty Boi Drag — which celebrates its three-year anniversary with an event Sunday at Bier Baron — wants to be an advocate for change.
“For a long time, drag king shows have been in the back of bars and dimly lit places where nobody really knows what’s going on,” Lexie Starre says. “We are working really hard to bring [drag kings] to the forefront and make them more mainstream.”
Lexie Starre and Pretty Rik E had established themselves as prolific entertainers in D.C. before they started Pretty Boi Drag in 2016. Lexie Starre is a burlesque dancer and Pretty Rik E performed with the now-defunct group DC Kings. The married couple say Pretty Boi Drag’s mission goes deeper than just introducing drag kings to a wider audience. They see the project — which showcases queer, androgynous and gender-neutral performers — as an avenue to address some of the long-standing issues affecting the community itself, particularly diversity.
“We are a POC-centered group,” Lexie Starre says. “We work hard to center on performers of color, which is something that often doesn’t happen in the drag king world.”
Pretty Boi Drag’s anniversary party, similar to its regular productions, will feature a diverse roster of drag kings delivering high-energy sets and performing to popular tunes sung by male singers. Each entertainer presents their own distinct stage show, elevated with theatrical stage props, costumes and dancing. One of the featured acts, Sideshow Bro, incorporates traditional sideshow routines into drag performances. Another performer, Mich, gets his nickname “The Glitter King” for his unconventional use of the sparkly stuff (Pretty Rik E says it comes flying from out of nowhere at the most unexpected times).
The drag kings don’t just stick to the stage at Pretty Boi Drag’s shows. They’re also in the crowd, playfully dancing on the laps of spectators or on tables as they serenade the audience.
“We try to break that fourth wall with our audience and make them feel as much a part of the show as the performers,” Pretty Rik E says.
The Pretty Boi Drag troupe includes around 40 kings, with Lexie Starre helming each production and Pretty Rik E serving as the main emcee at every show. Pretty Boi Drag’s flagship productions include an Amateur King Night every six weeks, where anyone can participate, and a main show every three months that features an ensemble of regular performers.
Pretty Rik E notes that since the group’s first event in 2016, many of Pretty Boi Drag’s performances have sold out. Still, despite the troupe’s growing popularity in D.C., the local drag king scene remains more underground than the drag queen community. One reason for this, according to the couple, is the unshakable bias drag kings have faced.
“There are people who will say, ‘Why would I pay to see someone dance in jeans and a T-shirt?’ And my response is that if all you have is a fancy outfit, [a drag performer] isn’t doing their best,” Pretty Rik E says. “[Pretty Boi Drag performers] might come out in jeans and a T-shirt, but that T-shirt might open to a sparkling shirt, or our pants might disappear at some point, or we’ll include dancers in our performances.”
Lexie Starre adds that not having a visible champion for the community is another reason drag kings have largely flown under the radar. When the popular TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” first beamed into living rooms across America in 2009, it flared an unprecedented spotlight on the drag queen world. The drag king community doesn’t have a comparable platform (yet), but Pretty Boi Drag might be onto something.
“We’re not just going up onstage and lip-syncing — we’re giving audiences more than what they expected when they came through the door,” Pretty Rik E says. “That will eventually help us carve out our own mainstream space in this world, where people [now] associate drag with just drag queens.”
The Bier Baron Tavern and Comedy Loft, 1523 22nd St. NW; Sun., 2-5 p.m., $20.