What’s life without a little theatricality? Step into Gather’s biannual Glitz and Gather Drag Show, coordinated by Drag Queen of 35+ years and show director, Joe Heck, and witness the spectacle of a Gather event in full force!
The artist behind the art
The last Glitz and Gather show was the first of our Drag shows to feature two nights on November 17th and 18th, and helped set the Holiday mood with the announced theme, Glitz and Gather: Kickoff to the Holidays!
The show remains in good hands, as returning show director Joe Heck, or his Queen name, Joey Black, brings a festive performance and group to the stage. Black has been Queening for decades and always looks forward to shaping out a performance that will be memorable.
“I started doing Drag in 1985 and it was a dare,” Joe laughed, fondly. “Somebody dared me to enter an amateur competition at LaCage and I entered and won. That was the first time I was on a stage, and I was so clueless and new to it, because I was 18, that I didn't even know to pick out a Drag name, mine was actually given to me. Holly Brown, who was the emcee that night, asked me what my performance name was, and I just looked at her with a dead stare. She goes, 'Oh, honey, okay, you'll be Miss Joey.' And that's how I got my Drag name! I am now LaCage’s titleholder.”
Although Black may have started Queening in 1985, his mom actually brought him to his first show – that same year.
“My mom took me to see my first Drag show on my 18th birthday,” Heck smiled. “There is a very well-known Queen, in the Drag Community, named Maya Douglas, and she was the first performer that I ever saw on stage. I was enthralled. She's what made me passionate about the art form. That night, another Queen named Ginger Spice, who is no longer with us, did a song called "It Should Have Been Me" in a bridal gown and tore it apart on stage and just got so into the number, that performance made me realize that's the type of performing I wanted to do: acting out the number. People like Ginger Spice, and Chili Pepper from Chicago, those are entertainers that I've kind of modeled my trajectory after.”
Before Joe Heck became a show director, while he was still finding the Queen in himself who wanted to be on stage, he participated in and coordinated Drag Shows at Northern Michigan University (NMU) where he attended, for about 27 years.
“For 27 years I did the college sponsor Drag Show in Marquette, MI,” Heck said. “I lived up there for 24 years and owned a bakery after I went to school there, and we still put on shows at Northern Michigan University (NMU).”
Joey has stepped back from performing since her early days of Queening, dropping the every weekend shows to between two and three shows a month.
“I'm older, I did my every weekend and sporadically throughout the week shows back in the day, now I just perform for occasions I particularly enjoy, such as Gather, or for shows that I find special,” Joey smiled. “I am a very quiet, shy, reserved person as Joe,” Heck started, “Miss Joey's just a fun, out there, easily approachable person. I feel like I have the opportunity and responsibility to make people feel comfortable, or more comfortable, with themselves, so that's a big part of who Joey Black is. And because I am older, and I'm a jazz head, I love the old music. I do a lot of songs that maybe the young entertainers wouldn't do, a lot of older music, and it makes me really happy when that piques people's interest.”
Drag as an art and persona
There are many performance styles for Drag Queens, but Heck explained how there are almost subcategories each Drag Queen falls into after their years of performing.
“All Drag Queens kind of fall into a certain category, I'm more old school,” Joey revealed. “I do Broadway, I like to tell a story, for example, if I'm doing a song I like the song to have a story or meaning to it so that I can act out the song rather than just dance -- which I don't do.”
There are some Drag Queens with extensive and difficult choreography, such as the famed “death drop” and other fancy footwork, but there are plenty of other groupings of Drag Queens that focus on the theatricality and the dramatics of the performance instead.
“I'm very funny, when I pick music,” Joey giggled. “It has to A) be a song that I love and it has to be entertaining, and B) it has to be a song that would make sense for someone like me, my type of person to be doing, for example, I'm not going to do Ariana Grande: I'm six foot tall, I'm 200 pounds, I'm 56 years old... and I don't dance. I may appreciate that kind of music, but I'm not going to do a song just because it's popular. It has to be a song I feel passionate about, and I've been lucky enough that pretty much if I like a song and it hits all that criteria, I give it a shot. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but any song that I'm in love with, I'll give it a shot. I can't think of a song that I really want to do that I haven't done.”
Keeping the creative freedom for the Queens is important to a successful show; the power comes from their hearts and whether or not they’re feeling that love and support, so to let them perform what is in their hearts is something Heck will always ensure with the shows he directs.
“We [the Queens] definitely don't do it for any other reason than the desire to perform,” Joey noted. “It’s the satisfaction, and being happy, and a sense of accomplishment. As a person who is gay, and even more so as a performer, there's way more negativity that you hear about Drag than there is positivity. I want all of that negativity to leave the Queens' minds, their bodies, and their souls while they are performing.”
This energy can be felt even by the audience, there’s never been a sour face at a Glitz and Gather event. Everyone can enjoy a Drag Show, it’s supposed to bring out the positivity in people’s hearts.
“I want audience goers to forget about absolutely everything for a couple hours, and just walk away having had a good time,” Heck said confidently. “When they walk out of a show, I want them to think, Oh, my God, that was fun! And whatever crap is going on in their life, maybe went away for a couple hours.”
Being a professional and positive representation of the LGBTQ+ community is one of Heck’s top goals throughout each and every one of the shows he coordinates, and even performs in.
“It's not just how the Queens are onstage,” Joey started, “it's also how we are before and after. We need to put a good light on our community because there's enough people against the gay community in general, but especially now, against the Drag community that I don't want to give someone fodder for their negative opinions.”
Heck runs a tight ship, and while the Queens have to be on their best behavior before and after their stellar performances, there’s still more to be done for the level of extravagance Heck wants his shows to be seen at.
Preparing for the perfect show
Unlike other shows Heck has coordinated in the past, the notice and theme reveal for the Glitz and Gather events comes months in advance.
“We let the Queens know the theme of the show a little over a month in advance because then they can look through their repertoire and see what fits, and that gives them a chance to learn the song and plan the outfit, choreography, etc,” Heck explained. “For most Drag shows, planning starts the day before or the day of. You pick a number and pick your costumes and go perform, and that's normal for the art form of Drag; with the Gather show I start the group chat three or four months ahead of time, I'm very particular about how a show I'm responsible for goes together.”
Most Drag Queens have a wardrobe stocked with costumes for their performances, but Joey always wants Gather’s performance to be brand new.
“It's about $600 for the clothing, between $200 to $300 for a wig, and then $150 to $250 for jewelry, and you do that three to four times for our Gather show,” Joey tallied. “Out of the seven different costumes I wore for both nights of Glitz and Gather, five of them were brand new costumes that I ordered that I hadn't done before,” Joey revealed. “And that's just the clothing, Drag is is not a cheap thing to do.”
The art of Drag definitely takes an investment of time, money, and talent, but for the excitement brought out within the crowd it makes it all worth it for the Queens.
“Gather's my favorite show,” Joey gushed. “I love Jyll and Tommy, they are the sweetest. They've become great friends of mine now, which makes me super happy. We all get treated so well when we perform at Gather, the audience is some of the best ever, super responsive and clearly there to have a good time – It's amazing.”
There are many aspects to work around when coordinating a Drag Show, creating a cohesive lineup of performances and songs is important for shaping the atmosphere of a professional establishment and organization.
“As the show director, you're the liaison between the other entertainers and venue host, you pick your cast, or 'herd the cats,' as I like to say,” Heck laughed. “Because we all have very artistic personalities, you have to pull music together, and decide where each person would fit best in the lineup to keep the show ebbing and flowing. It's my responsibility to get the music to the DJ, make sure that all the girls are the quality needed for the venue, different people work better at different venues.”
With so many talented Queens, and different styles in the Drag community, keeping the same cast for Glitz and Gather has become somewhat of a tradition for Heck and the show coordination.
“Gather is pretty much a set cast, we've got six entertainers already and that's a pretty full show,” explained Heck. “We sell out every show, all VIP tickets and standing room shows; we've actually never had a show at Gather where the tickets haven't sold out before the show. And this past weekend for the first time we did two nights, we did a Friday and a Saturday show, and both of those sold out.”
“I'll have cast members come back as long as the audience reacts, and as long as they show up and give their all to every performance, that's the cast that stays,” Heck said matter-of-factly. “Sometimes there's changes: some people can't come back or we need to freshen things up, but for the most part, for my bigger shows I have a set cast because I know the type of performance that I can expect from the Queens, and they also know the type of performance they need to bring when doing a show for me. For a show like Gather, where it's only twice a year, there's something to be said about having a recurring cast that people come back to see.”
Heck stands firm that his shows are both professional, and out-of-the-water fun, and the Queens respect that. Theres been a show-family that’s taken shape over the years of sharing the Gather stage, that the Queens look forward to hearing about the next show.
“The best part of a set cast is that they become your family,” Joey smiled. “We have our Gather family: Victoria, Rain, Mercedes, Loretta, and Gina -- we so look forward to that weekend. The before and after is just as much fun as doing the show itself, and I think that comes across on stage as well. I think that's important.”
An evening of Holiday cheer
The months of preparing paid off, and the show was more extravagant than Joe Heck or even Joey Black could have even imagined.
Each Queen did three songs for the totality of the show; two of their songs were standard Drag Queen performances, with a tastefully fancy Gather decor set up around the venue for the majority of the event. Gold accents lined the venue, with classic fall items such as pinecones and pine needles scattered along the tables, and beautiful candles for each center piece. The venue glowed a golden color, shining on the Queens’ star power, but Jyll wasn’t done showing off there.
“And then we did intermission,” Joey laughed, “and she had the entire staff change into Christmas outfits. She had a red curtain hung behind the black curtain – they dropped the black curtain when Mariah Carey came on at the end of intermission, all the uplighting switch to red and green, and Dontay, our emcee, came out as a sexy Santa Claus, and Jyll came out with Drag Queen gingerbread cookies.”
“All us Queens did our final Christmas numbers, making the entire last third of the show Christmas themed. And then, because it's Jyll, we did a closing group number, which I let her pick because it was Debbie Gibson, and then she had the crew bring in a snow machine,” Joey paused, still as shocked as the night of the performances. “The snow machine sat in the catwalk above the red curtain, and there was real, frozen water snow shooting out over the curtain on us for part of the closing number with all the Queen's on stage.”
It truly was a winter wonderland.
“That's why we love Gather the most,” Heck smiled. “Jyll puts in just as much work on the front end as we do on the performance, and that's part of what makes it so special for us.”
The Fall Harvest Dinner, part of Gather’s Taste collection, has brought together another great community of people for two evenings of wonderful, locally sourced food in partnership with Green Bay’s own, Adam’s Heirlooms.