After conducting drag king shows in Albuquerque, the NM Drag Kings Collective wanted to see if similar demand existed in Santa Fe.
Early returns are positive.
The first KINGdom Brunch in Santa Fe was poised to sell out soon after tickets became available in mid-July, says drag king Rusty Nutz, a Santa Fe resident and founding member of the collective. Nutz, whose given name is Tia Reece, is co-producing the Santa Fe show. He says he’s encouraged by the response to the Sunday, Aug. 7, event and hopes drag king shows will become a fixture here.
The definition of drag king has evolved, says Nutz, who has been performing in drag attire for 15 years. It used to simply be a woman impersonating a man; now, it’s more accurate to say it’s a person of any gender interpreting a male-dominant figure in song, a film, or another art form, he says.
While it might be tempting to define drag kings as the gender opposite of drag queens, it’s not that simple, Nutz says. Drag kings, because they’re impersonating male figures, can’t always rely on flamboyant, colorful dresses or flowing wigs to attract attention. As a result, they generally rely more on storytelling and political messages.
Some drag kings also aim to showcase their feminine sides, says Nutz, a woman who isn’t trans but identifies as non-gender-conforming.
Attendees can expect to see a string of individual performances focused on singing, comedy, and/or commentary, followed by a closing group number.
“When you come to a drag king show, there’s a few of us that are very ritzy and glammy and pretty like that,” Nutz says. “A lot of us don’t do flips, but we tackle, like, political issues. You see us do skits and duets together, usually telling some sort of story of inequality or something touching on just love.”
Nutz is one of 10 billed performers in the Santa Fe show. Among the others are Trey C. Michaels, Seymour Johnson, Magic Nutz, Ryder Cox, Michael Lynn Hertz, Hamilton Twilight Roxxx, Adam Bomb, and They Von Gay; the latter two live in Santa Fe. The host is LaRhya Daniels.
Also performing is Rocco Steele, who says he and Nutz have been putting on drag shows for two decades, mostly in Albuquerque. He and Nutz created the NM Drag King Collective, and Steele is also a co-producer of the Santa Fe show.
Reading the audience can be a key element of a successful performance, says Steele, of Albuquerque. (He declined to provide his given name because he’s concerned about possible backlash professionally.)
“I do music selection based on what I’m hoping the audience will relate to,” he says. “I’m looking at the people’s responses to what’s being presented on stage. You can see who’s uncomfortable, who’s super-engaged, and kind of play off their energy.”
Steele and Nutz praised the Land of Enchantment as an unusually friendly place for the larger drag community, in part, they say, because of residents’ general geniality.
For perhaps that same reason, rivalries between drag kings and drag queens — loosely defined as men who impersonate women — aren’t as much of an issue here.
“I think New Mexico is very unique because in our drag community, there’s a lot of cohesion between drag kings and drag queens,” Steele says.
Nutz says New Mexico’s culture is family- and community-based, “so I think here it’s very natural for us in the gay community as well to have that same kind of mentality.”
Elsewhere, tensions stem from drag queens being more established, as well as competition for attention and recognition.
“We’ve tended to always be the lesser-exposed and underappreciated segment of drag,” Nutz says. “I mean, that is real: We’re underpaid [compared with drag queens]. If you think about it, if you see flyers in the community [for a drag show], you’ll see one drag king and, like, eight queens, right?”
Many of the drag kings featured in the Santa Fe event haven’t performed here previously, Steele says.
Nutz, who got his start performing in drag about 15 years ago, says getting on stage wasn’t a difficult transition.
“I was grounded a lot as a little kid,” Nutz says. “So I performed to pretend audiences, listening to mostly rock ‘n’ roll and things that were really popular in the early ‘90s. I’ve always had a passion to create.”
Getting on stage and expressing himself in his early 20s “help define me as a human.”
Now, he is passionate about ensuring drag kings are paid as well as drag queens.
“Some queens are booked, you know, Friday, Saturday, possibly Sunday, multiple weekends in a row,” Nutz says. “And some of my kings are booked maybe once, for my show. But our [KINGdom Brunch] show, the whole purpose is to gain them more exposure.”
Fifteen percent of ticket sales for the Santa Fe show goes to Equality New Mexico, an LGBTQ advocacy and civil rights organization.
“We always have a beneficiary, which is just really important to me,” Nutz says. “For the last show that we just did, we donated to a family that lost everything in the Hermits Peak Fire, and we were able to give them cash money to maybe buy a new microwave or whatever they would need.”
So, what’s the story behind the name Rusty Nutz? The name was inspired by former NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace.
As for the character, “He’s kind of, like, a blend of good boy gone bad. Like, he’s that mysterious heartthrob who is unpredictable, but in the end, he comes from a very simple background of just being nuts,” Nutz says. “He’s always been a part of me, since I was a kid.”