The central tenet of drag is the ability to take on the presumed habits of the opposite sex. It is always mesmerizing to see the transformation. While the art of drag has been around for many centuries, it is within this century drag has garnered a global attention. This is due in no small part to RuPaul’s Drag Race.prospect of a better life.
Since 2008, the show has gone on to produce nine seasons – with a tenth season already in the works. (Several of our local queens are applying; let’s hope to see one of Rochester’s own!) Many contestants have gone on to careers in entertainment, journalism, modeling, and business. Moreover, the show has added yet another dimension towards LGBT acceptance in mainstream media and society. Queens across the country apply for the show every season, but only a few get the callback. And for those that do it is a rewarding experience.
Among Rochester’s queens, we have had three performers get the chance to sashay down Ru’s runway: Pandora Boxx (Season 2), Darienne Lake (Season 6) and, last but not least, Kasha Davis (Season 7). My apologies – MRS. Kasha Davis. As ‘Queen of the Cul-de-Sac’, Mrs. Kasha Davis (MKD) has been a staple in Rochester’s drag community. Named after a poodle and a street in her hometown of Scranton, PA, MKD is agal who loves to be on the stage and perform. And she has a massive following around the town and the world. Her persona is inspired by a slew of women in her life, including her mother and grandmother, as well as classic actresses such as Lucille Ball – an actress she admired since a child. Her charm, wit, and jovial nature is what brings this motherly persona together. It certainly is a far cry from her upbringing.
“I grew up in the 1970s and 80s where you couldn’t be gay,” Mrs. Davis recollected. As Edward Popil, growing up in Scranton had its drawbacks. Partly Ukrainian and Italian, the pressure to conform was prevalent. “For the majority of my life, until the age of 28, I was in the closet.” Married firstly to a woman, Popil found the situation discomforting. But there was always something in the back of his head which never wavered: dreams in which the name ‘Steven’ appeared. “My God you can’t be dreaming of your love,” Davis recalled. “Are you sure it isn’t Stephanie?” Finally, after many years of marriage, Edward divorced his wife and moved to Rochester in 1999. It is here he truly began to live his life – finding love and, later, marrying a man named Steven.
Rochester is also where Edward explored the world of drag. Popil, then director of DialAmerica, had a passion for theater. But the demanding hours limited his opportunities. Although he frequented the drag shows at Muther’s (the locale now occupied by Skylark Lounge), Edward never thought of doing drag. A trip to Provincetown with Steven forever changed their lives. It was there they discovered the local drag icon, Miss Richfield 1981. With her large hair, oversized glasses, and quirky outfits – think Phyllis Diller meets Pee-Wee Herman – the queen left a lasting impression. Popil recalled how her personality, rather than her appearance, garnered attention. “She’s making people laugh and, through her humor, she has a genuine message!” On their trip back, the two began creating the now iconic Kasha Davis.
The honorific ‘Mrs.’ was not applied until much later on, bestowed unto her Muther’s club owner/drag diva. It was there Kasha began to develop her persona. She preferred acts that she enjoyed – classics by the likes of Ethel Merman, Liza Minelli, Judy Garland, and Peggy Lee – rather than performing Top 40 numbers. Kasha smiled, “There I was doing my first two songs: ‘Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise’ and ‘I Enjoy Being a Girl’” Among the cast was Aggy Dune, the ‘Duchess of Drag’. Known for her impersonations of popular female artists, Aggy needed someone to fill in a spot at the last minute. Impersonating none other than Tina Turner, MKD garnered much acclaim. It was on that fateful night the Big Wigs drag show got its start. And it wasn’t limited to the clubs and bars. Kasha reflected, “Aggy’s dream was to expand the audience – to be more than just the late-night club act that is hidden,” Kasha reflected. “We realized that dream together.” Starting at private weddings and events, they have since taken the show across America. Beginning this season, Big Wigs is now in-residence at Blackfriars Theatre. The demand for Mrs. Kasha Davis has rapidly increased. But with the popularity came a personal reflection.
“Addiction is something in my family,” Kasha said. “And in a lot of people’s lives.” It was during her many travels and performers she came to realize her addiction to alcohol. Now two years sober, Mrs. Davis is not one to be shy about it. On the contrary, she celebrated it. On a satirist and comedic level, her one-woman act ‘There’s Always Time for a Cocktail’ reflects on her personal life. From growing up in Scranton, to finding herself through theater, and the courage to come out to her family. Towards the end of the show, she reflects on sobriety. “I don’t need to be ashamed of it,” Kasha grinned. “I certainly wasn’t ashamed when I was drinking!” In ‘It Takes a Lot of Balls to Be a Lady’, she celebrates the fun, wittiness and carefree aspects of both drag and life. Moreover, through the use of social media, Kasha humorously addresses her struggles. Not surprisingly, it has been well-received across the globe. “What is the better gift of helping someone else through your own experience?” MKD is humbled that, through her appearance on Drag Race, she now has an elevated platform to speak from.
Auditioning each season of the show, Mrs. Davis never gave up. She rejoiced, “I believe in order to get anywhere in life, you have to be a pain in the ass!” And getting on the show was a victory. A touching moment came when she discovered the studio used to film the hit show was also used for some of the earliest episodes of ‘I Love Lucy!’ In Season 7, Kasha and thirteen drag competed for a cash prize of $100,000. Sadly, she did not come out on top. “So many people have come up to me and tell me I was robbed,” she reminisced. “I was robbed? I was given a gift and it has been the most amazing blessing!” Since her appearance, MKD continues to travel to Hollywood where she works on various projects – in addition to traveling the world as her drag persona. “I believe in the power of thinking positive,” Kasha affirmed. “If you want success you have to allow it and you have to verbalize it.”
Positive affirmations includes continued performances on the stage, becoming a household name via commercials, and a household name via commercials, and a chance at competing on RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars. Of course, social media continues to play a big part in the MKD brand. “You have to be on social media now,” she proclaimed. “It’s your opportunity to do a show 24 hours a day!” Similar to queens of another sort, Kasha believes drag artists are celebrities in their own right.
With bigger-than-life personas, people realize their dreams and desires through what queens are doing. It is for this reason she upholds a caveat: to be careful of what is posted online and how performers are portrayed. Not only are adults looking at drag queens as role models. “There are young boys and girls watching us,” she said. “I didn’t have those role models.”
Despite her international fame, Mrs. Kasha Davis has not given up on the local drag scene. In addition to Big Wigs, she hosts a monthly brunch at Edible’s Restaurant on University Avenue. Bringing in a variety of performers from the area, her desire is to ensure an active and cooperative community of drag performers. “Just getting us all together and celebrate our uniqueness,” She said. “It’s not always a competition – everybody can be successful.” Indeed, such comradery is what has allowed drag to last throughout the ages. Drag is historic, mythical and mystical. Ancient legends tell of gods who baffled their opponents in the guise of the opposite sex. Shakespearean female roles were always played by men, with at least one play placing drag as a central theme. While vaudeville popularized drag in the late-Victorian era, the conservative movements of thirties forced it underground. It would take icons such as Divine and RuPaul to bring it back into mainstream society.
Rochester, too, has made its own drag her-story. Miss Gay Rochester is one of the oldest drag beauty pageants in America. Over the course of its near fifty-year history, among its reigning queen is Mrs. Kasha Davis (2008). As she and many others can attest, the vibrant history of drag is a continued medium in which art, fashion and, most importantly, life’s celebrations, converge. As RuPaul famously said “everyone is born naked; the rest is drag.”
Check out kashadavis.com and follow her on social media (@mrskashadavis) for a listing of her performances.
Kiss, Kiss Dahlings!