In Arts & Entertainment

Leo Long gets down with the Miltown Kings. (PHOTO: Queen B)

Miltown Kings rule the gender-bending world

The world of performance art is a boundless planet, and one that welcomes citizen artists from all walks of life. Take, for example, The Miltown Kings, Milwaukee's drag-oriented theater troupe.

"This gang of gender benders consists of kings, queens, femmes and everything in between," says member Leo Long. "A Miltown Kings show can be -- and usually is -- a million different things."

The Kings' unique form of performance art involves acts ranging from sexy to funny to provocative. Most of the performance pieces express political statements, gender issues and challenge societal norms.

The Kings perform seven times a year at the Miramar Theatre.

The Miltown Kings consist of 10-15 rotating cast members and often includes special guests. Each member of the troupe has an altar ego / deistinct persona, such as "the bad ass," "the hopeless romantic" and "the dirty old man."

"Being on the stage allows the performers to explore any person they ever wanted to be," says Long. "The Miltown Kings are the hidden jewel of the Midwest."

Recently, the Miltown Kings celebrated their fifth anniversary. In 2004, original members Viktor Huge-O, Neil Down and Mario Belivdares Suave saw a need in the community for gender-bending performance art and decided to start the group.

OnMilwaukee.com recently sat down with Long and deciphered what makes the group tick.

OnMilwaukee.com: What is the mission of your group?

Leo Long: The Miltown Kings are committed to providing a platform for quality, interactive performance by creating a safe space for both performers and audiences. This empowers self-expression and encourages the challenging of social and gender norms, thus fostering the diversity of an all-inclusive and ever-evolving community.

OMC: How often do you perform?

LL: We have seven shows in a season -- which runs from September to June -- at the Miramar Theatre. We also perform at community events and colleges, as well as many traveling shows all over the United States, all year 'round.

We also host drag troupes from all over the United States at our third annual KingStock, which is March 21 at the Miramar.

OMC: Are there any other groups like yours in Milwaukee?

LL: There are other places that host drag shows in Milwaukee, however we are first -- and as far as I know the only -- full-drag king troupe that works together as equals to plan full-scale drag events on a regular basis.

OMC: Is Milwaukee sometimes too conservative for your form of entertainment?

LL: We experienced that early on. Often times, audiences didn't know what to do with our style of drag. However, they learned quickly to love us. Now we are blessed to have the most wonderful and loyal fans. We have been very lucky to have wonderful people support what we do and help us become successful.

OMC: Community building is an important aspect of your group, right?

LL: Yes. Our goal as a troupe has always been to create a community. We aren't a show you just watch. Our audience members are encouraged to be part of the show, whether that means dressing up for a theme, shouting back at the emcee, dancing with performers or flirting with each other.

We want to create a fun and safe place for all folks to laugh and think together, regardless of their sexual or gender orientation. We hope that this will build strong bonds in the larger community and encourage people to speak out for what they believe in.


Talkbacks

Madam Sparkkl | Nov. 10, 2010 at 12:42 a.m. (report)

This comment is to FunkyBrewster: Sex: "In biology, sex is a process of combining and mixing genetic traits, often resulting in the specialization of organisms into a male or female variety (known as a sex)"(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex). Gender: "Gender is a set of characteristics that are seen to distinguish between male and female. Depending on the context, the discriminating characteristics vary from sex to social role to gender identity" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender). Gender and social norms are being challenged by not simply 'switching' roles but more 'blending' and 'gender bending' roles. The result of this is 'rethinking' roles by challenging individuals to 'think outside the box'. Gender is not black/white; gender is a spectrum similar the color spectrum of light. Society is based on a binary system as a result of capitalism and democracies (e.g. - Yes/No, Right Wing/Left Wing, Black/White, etc.). Intersexed and Transgender individuals do not identify with the whole 'two gender' notion because gender is not instinctive nor inherent. Gender is 'performative' through your actions. "Gender Performativity is a term created by post-structuralist feminist philosopher Judith Butler in her 1990 book Gender Trouble. In it, Butler characterizes gender as the effect of reiterated acting, one that produces the effect of a static or normal gender while obscuring the contradiction and instability of any single person's gender act. This effect produces what we can consider to be 'true gender', a narrative that is sustained by "the tacit collective agreement to perform, produce, and sustain discrete and polar genders as cultural fictions is obscured by the credibility of those productions and the punishments that attend not agreeing to believe in them."[1] The performative acts which Butler is discussing she names to be performative and within the larger social, unseen world, they exist within performativity. The socially constructed aspect of gender performativity is perhaps most obvious in drag performance, which offers a rudimentary understanding of gender binaries in its emphasis on gender performance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_performativity). After your post, I do agree with your statement, "As long as humans have been around its pretty sad to think how pigeon holed and limited we are in the choices we allow for our own roles."

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leolong | March 10, 2009 at 8:00 p.m. (report)

to speak to the last comment..what box do you put a person in a dress and a mustache.. or a someone in a beard and a bikini... or someone who comes out dressed like a man with facial hair strips down in a burlesque style act to be packing and have a bear woman's chest...these have all been acts at Miltown Kings shows. While some kings just fall back on mustache=man breast=women the Miltown Kings don't follow these equations.. our style is more gender is a role we put on no matter what body we were born with.

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toying | Feb. 27, 2009 at 6:44 p.m. (report)

I have to disagree, the Miltown kings are doing so much more than just emulating the stereotyped roles for gender. There have been many, many performance pieces that challenge preconceived notions of masculinity and femininity. Not to mention the act of performing and viewing drag is and of itself an act of non-conformity.

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FunkyBrewster | Feb. 27, 2009 at 10:13 a.m. (report)

Gender and social norms aren't being challenged they are just being switched up. They are'nt rethinking masculinity or feminity they are just projecting stereotypes. Apparently a man is a mustache and a women is tits. It says more about gender confusion than rethinking what it truely means to be a man or woman or if that is even possible. As long as humans have been around its pretty sad to think how pigeon holed and limited we are in the choices we allow for our own roles.

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