By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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THE DRAG OFF, a contest for drag queens — men who dress up as women — and drag kings, which are women who dress as men, is set for 8 p.m. Saturday at Studio Bob, 118½ E. Front St., Port Angeles.
This singing, dancing, lip-syncing show is for the age 16-and-older crowd, with all orientations and genders welcome.
While Salmonella Riviere will serve as mistress of ceremonies, the judges’ panel will include Port Angeles performing artists Richard Stephens, John Manno, Merryn Welch and Tana Villella-Flath.
Event sponsor Pacific Rim Hobby of Port Angeles will award prizes to the winners of three categories: experienced, intermediate and neophyte.
In addition to rating the drag kings’ and queens’ performances, the judges will present their own non-competitive piece.
Advance tickets are $12 at Odyssey Books, 114 W. Front St., and www.BrownPaperTickets.com. Admission at the door Saturday night will be $15.
Drinks and snacks will be available at The Loom bar adjacent to Studio Bob.
For more information, see the Drag Off at Studio Bob page on Facebook or email organizer Sarah Tucker at email@example.com.
Peninsula Daily News
King is father to two grown children, a son who is serving in the Army in Afghanistan and a daughter who is a senior at the University of Northern Colorado.
Professionally, he’s worked in corporate human resources in Fort Collins, Colo., and as a stylist for nightclub entertainers in Denver.
He then joined AmeriCorps, which sent him to work with Habitat for Humanity of Clallam County in 2012.
This past December, King portrayed Santa Claus at the Make Your Own Art party at two Port Angeles locations: Studio Bob and Good to Go Grocery. He was a hit with the children and the adults, though some said he was too skinny for the St. Nick suit.
And suddenly, last summer, King took on a sparkling — make that glitter-bombing — new persona in his adopted home town of Port Angeles.
Sashaying forth in high-heeled pumps, a lustrous gown and faux tresses, King became this city’s version of “Tootsie,” or maybe “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” to list a couple of the movies starring men dressed as women.
King, 45, is openly gay; has been for decades. But he had never been a drag queen before.
It was at last July’s “True Colors Cabaret” at Studio Bob that he would introduce Salmonella Riviere, a character King invented especially for the Pacific Northwest.
And she has a back story, he deadpans: Salmonella is the daughter of a French Canadian lumberjack and a Jewish American stay-at-home mom.
King himself is a former Jewish kid from Bradenton, Fla., so he wanted to meld that heritage with something more northern. He also thought he’d choose a quintessentially Washington icon: salmon, and blend that with Cinderella, a favorite figure from literature.
Sure, the name Salmonella caused some to recoil at first hearing. But then people tend to get the joke, “and they love it,” said King. They remember it, too — as Salmonella keeps returning.
Since her debut in mid-2013, she’s hosted a fundraising concert and a New Year’s Eve party at Bar N9ne in Port Angeles, hosted events at Studio Bob and appeared in a burlesque show at the Rendezvous JewelBox in Seattle.
On Facebook, Salmonella Riviere is at 132 friends and counting.
Salmonella was in her element most of all at the Drag Off, a contest in which 11 drag queens and kings sang, danced and lip-synched for prizes at Studio Bob in October.
“I wasn’t sure how that was going to land,” Bob Stokes, owner of Studio Bob, said recently. “We were holding our breath.”
But the first Drag Off was a rousing success, filling the venue with a diverse audience.
Amy McIntyre of the Port Angeles Arts Council, one the first Drag Off’s judges, described the scene.
“The crowd in Studio Bob that night was energized and thrilled to be a part of it,” she said.
“Everyone was put at ease by Salmonella Riviere . . . She’s like your favorite aunt who loves and accepts you just the way you are.”
McIntyre also spoke about the idea of a Drag Off in rural Clallam County.
“I want to live in a diverse Port Angeles that has a place for everyone,” she said, “so it was a privilege to be involved in this first-of-its-kind event here.”
Besides, “drag is so cool. It’s so much fun to watch,” added Port Angeles artist Sarah Tucker. An organizer of the Drag Off and many other shows on Studio Bob’s Alle Stage, Tucker also attends Bob’s monthly art exhibits with her husband Scott and their two daughters.
She’s a fan of Salmonella’s campy look and comedic style.
“She doesn’t pick on anyone,” Tucker said. This drag queen “is a sweetheart, but not a pushover.”
Most of all, Salmonella lives to make people laugh.
And “I laugh at myself,” said King.
This humor, which can get bawdy at times, will be on full display this Saturday night. Stepping up as mistress of ceremonies at the second Drag Off at Studio Bob will be Salmonella 2.0, King’s latest creation.
She made her debut Dec. 31 at Bar N9ne’s steampunk-themed “Sideshow: Mutiny on the N9ne,” in an onyx-black wig, a red dress from Goodwill, a jacket and tails by local costumer Richard Stephens and a beard painted in golden glitter.
The new Salmonella took shape in the Bar N9ne dressing room. She’s the work of many: Alice, a staff member at Goodwill, knows King’s taste and picks out drag clothes accordingly. Stephens made the highly embellished jacket; Clay and Angie River bestowed the wig.
And Kelsey Way, one of King’s friends from AmeriCorps, helped with makeup application. There was a lot of that: Eyebrow crayon, eye shadow and more eye shadow, glitter-trimmed false lashes, mascara, blush, candy-apple lipstick, sparkly beads glued at the temples. It went on while King sang along with Cher’s song, “Woman’s World,” playing on his tablet computer.
“I’m not trying to look like an everyday woman,” King said. “I’m an over-the-top drag queen.”
Just before making the entrance as Salmonella, though, King felt a little nervous. This bearded drag queen was a new look, after all.
King thought back to Salmonella’s first show, in which the mantra was “Just. Be. Fabulous.” And as Salmonella paced back and forth across the dressing room, Way prescribed a breathing exercise.
“When in doubt, breathe it out,” she said.
As Salmonella at last descended the stairs to the Bar N9ne dance floor, Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing” was playing on the club stereo.
“Are we ready for a new year? 2014 is going to be so much better,” Salmonella proclaimed, as the patrons applauded this gaudy creature in their midst.
Salmonella, and this Saturday’s Drag Off for that matter, are examples.
And drag is not just for gay bars anymore. Certainly drag queens started out singing, dancing and vamping in establishments that catered to gay men, but these performers have been strutting for general audiences for a while now. King, for his part, wants to see drag become just another form of entertainment for anybody . . . anybody who enjoys fabulousness.
Then again, drag in the mainstream is not new. In 1959, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis worked it in “Some Like It Hot.” And “Tootsie,” in which Dustin Hoffman dressed as Dorothy Michaels in order to get a role in a soap opera, was the second-highest-grossing movie of 1982 after “E.T.”
King adds that he and Salmonella have both been treated well in Port Angeles. He’s found a community of great friends here, a chosen family of fellow artists and lovers of art. At the same time, he’s decided to pursue an associate of arts degree at Peninsula College with a focus on multimedia communications.
His dream project: a documentary film about drag in small towns.
“He has a great personality, even when he’s just Wayne,” Stokes quipped of King.
As for the Drag Off, “they’re doing that in cities all over the country,” he said. “We’re just catching up.”
Stokes and ceramist Cindy Elstrom, along with Tucker, opened The Loom, a lounge adjacent to Studio Bob, in late 2012. They began hosting concerts, gatherings and, on Thursday nights, another public event called Drink and Draw. It’s for artists of all levels to come and have soft drinks or alcoholic ones, depending on age and preference, while guest models pose.
King has joined The Loom partnership and, adding yet another role to his list, begun booking the models for Drink and Draw. One evening not long ago, a participant caught sight of Salmonella’s wig slightly askew.
King, in signature style, showed off the bald pate beneath, revealing that he’s a man. The message: “You can be whoever you want to be.”