Burlesque dancing, a Ted Talk-style gay history lesson, and a family-friendly storytime in drag await attendees of this weekend’s Atlanta Fringe Festival. This year’s Fringe is produced in partnership with Metropolitan Studios, home of the Atlanta School of Burlesque. Since Atlanta’s Pride Parade and Festival was sadly canceled this year due to COVID-related concerns, the Fringe Festival and Metropolitan Studios will center queer arts, drag, and burlesque in a full rainbow of weekend events both live and virtual.
The two-day Pride lineup known as “A Queer Day’s Night” features Will Nolan in drag as Leola Ladyland teaching “Gay History for Straight People,” a “Big Queer Cabaret,” “Drag Storytime with Brent Star,” and a queer arts panel discussion. Nolan and burlesque dancer and Metropolitan Studios CEO Rebecca Beasley joined “City Lights” producer Summer Evans and Metropolitan’s digital content producer Amy Ferzoco to talk about all the weekend’s colorful festivities.
Beasley, who also runs Metropolitan Studios’ award-winning burlesque troupe, the Candybox Revue, will perform in the “Big Queer Cabaret” as her alter-ego Roula Roulette. The name, she says, comes from her unwillingness to be pinned down. “Burlesque was really theater for myself, and what I really wanted was a name that didn’t say, ‘Oh, they only really ever perform this kind of thing,” said Beasley. “Am I gonna come out and be this super-sensual Glamazon, or am I going to come out covered in cats and roll around in a baby pool full of milk? You don’t know.”
The performer and organizer gathered all her best queer dancers and entertainers for the cabaret spectacular. “It’s truly a variety show. So we have drag kings, drag queens, we’ve got a fire performer, we have a group performance from the Atlanta Burlesque, and we have a spoken word artist… At the end of the day, we hope to edu-tain you.”
Drag comedian and sketch artist Will Nolan’s Ted Talk-style show “Gay History for Straight People” shows both Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m. His alter-ego is Leola Ladyland, a “72-year-old redneck who is on a mission to save the world one audience at a time, by preaching the gospel according to Kelly Clarkson, who she believes is the ‘second coming,'” according to Nolan. Leola’s PowerPoint presentation on gay history and the “gay alphabet” won a Broadway World Cabaret Award for “Best Spoken Word” last year.
“The premise of Leola, and it started when I was doing sketch comedy in New York City… was this idea of a woman who is 70, who just keeps ‘coming out’ at random moments in her life,” said Nolan. “She’s 72 today, and she still lives with her ex-husband/best friend, Gus. They were married for 42 years, and they still share a double-wide trailer… They both work at the Piggly-Wiggly together. She’s the manager of the deli, and he’s in charge of aisle clean-up, and they’re kind of a power couple.”
He went on, “She’s figured out a way to have her best friend, and also is just oozing with gay pride…. Everything is rainbows, and everything is just celebrating whatever your truth is. So that’s also part of why the alphabet of gay history worked, because our community has so many letters in it now, with the LGBTQAIPD+, and that’s also part of what she helps educate audiences on.”
“Drag Storytime with Brent Star” takes place online, an option for Fringe Festival enthusiasts, especially families with kids who cannot attend live events. The virtual event can be accessed through the Fringe Festival’s Facebook, streamed on Facebook Live. “‘Brent’s actually going to be at Metropolitan Studios reading to the kiddos… He’s going to be there in full drag,” said Beasley. “It’s really important as a queer individual, and as someone who believes in celebrating who we are, that we don’t limit our children from having some kind of role in these events – in Pride, and in general – because they’re going to be the next generation of young adults out there celebrating Pride.”
Several performers from “A Queer Day’s Night,” including Nolan (“Leola Ladyland”) and Beasley (“Roula Roulette”), and other artists and organizers from the community, will participate in “Colorful: A Queer Arts Panel” on Saturday at 5 p.m. The panel discussion will explore the intersection of queerness and art and how artists have led the creative charge for LGBTQ+ rights over the years.
The weekend’s events are part of the Atlanta Fringe Festival, taking place Oct. 8 and 9. More information is available at www.atlantafringe.org/pride.