Free, ‘most-ages’ show starts at 7:30, Union Ballroom
There was no shortage of talent that glitters, sparkles and shines at the 2013 edition of the UWM Annual Drag Show. View full size on YouTube
Before she was a drag king, she was a ballerina.
Before she was Private First Class in the U.S. Army, she was a full-ride scholarship sprinter on the UWM Track & Field team.
Before she majored in mechanical engineering, she completed three years of pre-med studies.
But on Saturday night Octavia Erkins will be all boi.
At 7:30 p.m. the annual UWM Drag Show – now in its 12th or 13th year – will transform the Union Ballroom into one of the biggest drag performance events in the Midwest. Think 850+ people, free admission, veteran and emerging performers – including PrettyBoi King.
“He is a different species,” Erkins says, laughing and sounding momentarily, unusually shy. “I know it sounds weird talking about myself in second person, but it’s true, Pretty BoiKing is very different. Once I get on that stage I become, I guess you could say, a dream of myself – who I want to be every day. Pretty BoiKing is very confident. He says what he needs to say and he doesn’t care what people think.”
Drag: ‘It’s an art form’
The UWM Annual Drag Show has earned a reputation for launching performers, and is known throughout the Midwest as one of the largest events of its kind.
“People come to see the show from Green Bay, Chicagoland, New York. It is a destination drag show,” says Jen Murray, director of the UWM LGBT Resource Center.
Erkins says she can carry a tune, but insists no singing will happen on Saturday. Pretty BoiKing is primarily a dancer. The makeup, hair and wardrobe take about 45 minutes to complete. The mental preparation that gets Erkins ready to perform is more grueling. “About three hours!” she says.
The drag career started strong and sudden in 2008, when Pretty BoiKing put in a debut solo performance at the UWM Drag Show and was immediately recruited – as soon as he stepped off the stage – by the Miltown Kings. Quickly Pretty BoiKing integrated his blunt-spoken performance style with the rest of the troupe’s talents.
“It’s an art form,” says Erkins. “You don’t have to be LGBT to come and enjoy the experience, or even to perform in it. Performers speak and sing about different things. It’s more diverse than people might think. Not every woman who is up there in drag is a lesbian. Not every man who is up there is a gay man.”
“There’s a lot to look forward to,” Murray promises. “We have a live finale from a classically trained singer who has busted their chops with Broadway standards. People’s favorites will also be back: Jessica Properties, Lady Gia, and, of course, Pretty BoiKing.”
She’s in the Army now
College and performing came to a sudden halt for Erkins/PrettyBoiKing in 2011 when Erkins enrolled in the U.S. Army to chart a career as an engineer and officer – a path her Air Force uncle directed her to after nearly three years of pre-med.
“It was almost my senior year when I realized I didn’t want to graduate from college just to turn around and come right back and do what I really wanted: engineering.
“I didn’t know in 2011 that I would actually get relocated in the middle of exams.”
Moving from Fort Jackson in South Carolina to Virginia’s Fort Lee, Erkins prepared for Afghanistan, where her unit would transport long-deployed troops back to the U.S.
“You’d think you put people on a plane, it lands in Afghanistan and all the returning soldiers jump in. It’s not like that. You have to meet at certain coordinates. It’s a mission.”
That deployment was canceled but remains a possibility. More certain is Erkins’ spring 2014 graduation, which will end with a hard-earned military promotion and a mechanical engineering degree.
By then eight years will have passed since the ballerina-turned-drag-king took what might be her biggest steps ever: into the UWM LGBT Resource Center.
“I remember from when I first started at UWM in 2004, I walked past that door for two years – just thinking about it. One day I just said ‘whatever,’ and going in there has made me a part of the person I am today.”
But Saturday, as Pretty BoiKing gets on stage for a “straight to the point” performance, there will be no case of mistaken or hidden identities. Erkins’ dad has asked off of work to attend the show. Battle buddies from her unit will be in the UWM Union Ballroom. So will her partner.
“When I started in the military, I used to think I had to just look forward, tell myself ‘don’t make anyone think twice’ about me,” says Erkins. “But even before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was lifted, I was pretty much known for being exactly who I am, which is an awesome thing.”
For more on the UWM Annual Drag Show, visit http://www.aux.uwm.edu/lgbt/ or call (414) 229-4116.
Scenes from past drag shows