Rust Belt’s ‘Drag Queen’ gets intimate

Bigger isn’t always better.

Rust Belt Theater Company is moving its most popular show, “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas,” from the gymnasium at the Calvin Center to the chapel, where it stages most of its productions.

Rust Belt founder Robert Dennick Joki said he got the idea earlier this year when the theater company premiered “Miss Tuesday Night,” which is about a drag pageant and had a lot of audience participation.

“It reminded me of when we used to do this show in a smaller space,” Joki said. “You’re right there with the audience, seeing their reactions. You’re always within an arm’s length of an audience member. This feels more like us, rather than trying to herd 400 people into a gymnasium.”

On the practical side, the acoustics in the gym were less than ideal, and Joki said the theater’s lighting gear was inadequate for the space. Also, since the gym is used during the week, the cast was forced to take down the set and remove the seating at the end of the weekend and set it back up for the following weekend. Parking also will be less of a problem for theatergoers.

But Joki is looking forward to how the show should improve artistically.

“I feel like for some people in that big space, they get swallowed up,” he said. “It’s important to me that people will be able to hear all of the jokes … It will be more of an immersive theater experience. For people who’ve only seen the show recently, it will be like a whole new experience.”

“Drag Queen” is written by Joki with songs by Joki and Josh Taylor. Joki stars as Starrlet O’Hara, a bitter Christmas-hating drag queen who fires the other drag performers at her club on Christmas Eve. Just like Ebenezer Scrooge, Starrlet is visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future as a wakeup call to change her ways.

While the framework remains the same, Joki updates the show each year.

“We added a lot of political humor this year, and we always change the Ghost of Christmas Present scene so it’s based on a celebrity who recently passed,” he said.

The rest of the cast includes Nicole Zayas, Alyssa Connelly, Marisa Zamary, Kage Coven, Mary James, Bernadette Lim, David Cirelli, Lisa Torrence, James Hain, Amanda Rudnytsky, Celena Coven, Rachel Clifford, Heather Powell, Ryan Musgrove, Hunter James and Madi Pomeroy.

Most of the actors have been in the show before, but many are playing different characters this time.

To compensate for the smaller performance space, the theater is expanding the run of “Drag Queen” to three weekends (including two midnight shows).

“I looked at how many saw the show last year, and we’re just shy of what we were able to accommodate last year,” Joki said. “I’m OK with taking that hit as long as the show is a better experience for the people who come to see it.”

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