Viktor Grimm Couture knew there was an audience for drag kings — mainly female performance artists dressed in masculine attire and portraying male gender stereotypes — in Asheville. He’d been performing for five years and was frequently approached, he says, “by female-bodied individuals who said, ‘I’d love to do this. I’ve always seen drag queens, but I’m more of a masculine person.’”
So Couture — who got his start when his friends, who had a show called “Kings and Queens” at O. Henry’s, asked him if he’d like to perform — decided to create a platform for local kings. Kingdom: A Drag King Showcase at the Boiler Room in the Grove House, was intended to run as a sort of open mic, but after the inaugural show, Couture was inundated with calls. He has already booked his twice-monthly events several dates in advance. Upcoming installations of Kingdom take place on Saturdays, July 8 and 22.
At that first show, the Boiler Room opened at 10 p.m., and Couture was surprised to see a line out the door. Kingdom quickly packed the venue — those interested in attending future shows should plan to arrive early.
But with such a reception for Kingdom, why is the reign of the king such a long time coming? “The issue is, it’s hard to get started as a drag king,” says Couture. “There are a lot of bars that book queens, there are a lot of talent searches for queens, but there’s nothing really for kings.” Plus, with shows like “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” and movies like Kinky Boots and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert putting queens in the limelight, those male-bodied artists portraying feminine gender stereotypes are part of the collective consciousness, while even avid fans of the queens are hard-pressed to name a single king.
Part of that phenomenon — and Couture hesitates before positing this idea — is due to gender discrimination: “Just like in the real world, where misogyny runs rampant, it kind of does in the gay world, too.”
There are divisions of drag, including divas (biological women performing as queens) and misters (biological men performing as kings). “I think it’s great — it includes everyone in the LGBT community,” says Couture. “But what I’m encountering now is that misters are getting more attention that drag kings ever have.”
That’s a frustration, but it also served as inspiration for Couture to get Kingdom off the ground. The production highlights local artists and features internationally known stars, such as July 8 performer Trey Alize, who won the inaugural King Me! Rise of a Drag King, a worldwide drag king contest.
Couture, who holds and promotes three drag king competition titles (including Mr. Inferno and Mr. Genesis), knew Nashville-based Alize before his “King Me!” triumph. “If you win in a national system, you’re respected nationally,” says Couture. “I get booked all over the place” — at press time he was preparing to perform at Nashville Pride.
Those wins also help Couture increase momentum for Asheville’s scene. “Once I realized what the king brotherhood was … I wanted to build that community here,” he says.
With that comes a certain level of education, such as why kings deserve the spotlight (and the, ahem, tips) as much as queens. But Kingdom offers access to both those interested in performing and those who want to be entertained. Many kings dance and lip-sync to hand-picked songs. Others choreograph more elaborate pieces. Couture, who claims he’s not a strong dancer, describes himself as “more of a theatrical entertainer” who portrays the song’s storyline and puts a lot of emphasis on costume.
“I actually had drag queens help me a lot,” he says. “They didn’t know much about being a drag king either, but we figured it out.” In the future, Couture hopes to pass along tips he picked up, such as applying stage makeup.
But for now, the focus is on Kingdom. And, even as that even gives a platform to the kings, the queens remain close by: Those who attend Couture’s events can stay for Scandals’ all-star cast drag queen shows at 12:30 a.m.
WHAT: Kingdom: A Drag King Showcase
WHERE: Boiler Room, 11 Grove St. facebook.com/scandalskingdom
WHEN: Saturdays, July 8 and 22, 11 p.m. $10