"My first introduction to drag was from my mother," says Barbra Seville, a towering woman with a presence to match. "She saw the legendary Kenny Kerr in Las Vegas in the 1980s [and] came home gushing about the show. Oddly, when I first started drag people told me I reminded them of Kenny [and] many years later, I worked with him. He was a consummate pro."
Seville is known as a pioneer of sorts, in and among the gay bars of Seventh Street and Avenue. She's gained attention in the past for her Jan Brewer YouTube video sensation and her "Ask Barbra" column in the biweekly Echo magazine. After 15 years of performing, Seville (a.k.a. Richard Stevens) has amassed both an impressive collection of breasts and Miss Gay Arizona and Miss Gay Phoenix titles.
She's hosted an annual awards show, the Barbra Seville Golden Wighead Awards, and marshaled gay pride events across the country. But she's also a bit of a hometown hero, performing around a variety of Valley stages, from former Taco Bells to the Orpheum Theatre, she says. Weekly she headlines at Charlie's (Mondays), The Bar on Central (ShowTime Thursdays with co-host Ian Christiansen), Cruisin' 7th (Fridays), and the Rock (Saturdays) -- the only constant at each of them being "big blonde hair," she says.
"The drag scene is diverse. There are a lot of shows, and a lot of queens, so you have to do something to stick out," says the recently crowned Miss Phoenix Gay Pride 2014. "I think my 'hook' is live comedy. Others are known for their look, their dance ability, or their impersonations of celebrities. The gay scene is fun and welcoming. Gay Phoenix -- and Phoenix in general -- has a serious inferiority complex, though."
"I have been a performer since I started trying on my mom's wigs when I was a little boy," says Richie Black, who regularly performs as Celia Putty around the metro Phoenix area. After high school Black partnered with Richard Stevens (known drag queen Barbra Seville) for a costume show called "Richard & Richard."
"In 1994, around the age of 23, we both made the decision to approach female impersonation more seriously," he says. "We carved hip pads from sofa cushions, stuffed old stockings with bird seed to create boobs, and we studied seasoned drag queens for make-up tips."
Once the host of four long-running shows ("Freaky Friday" at Friends Again, "Two Girls One Cup" at Kobalt, "Queens of the Damned" at Amsterdam, and "Sunday Morning Madness" at Cruisin' 7th), Putty elected to take a break from "the responsibility of hosting shows," and instead makes semi-frequent guest appearances at Crescent Ballroom and the Rock.
"The drag scene here in Phoenix is enormous, but most performers fall into different sub-categories of drag and lifestyle," says Putty, who once placed in the top five for Miss Gay America. "I pride myself as an entertainer first, someone whose drag is secondary. Drag is merely my vehicle to deliver the style of comedy I enjoy."
"A handful of off-duty, uniformed police officers eagerly asked me if they could escort me through the crowd and stand behind me on stage while I performed," she explains. "Halfway through my performance, and not having seen my routine before, they realized they got caught up in the moment and had made a mistake. There were cameras everywhere and suddenly it must have dawned on them that their superiors might frown upon their time with me on stage. Just as I pulled up my skirt and revealed to the audience my giant tea bags, the five cops scurried off stage in a huff."