Sydney’s drag kings back for monthly parties

Rocco D'Amore performing at the Sydney Kings Supper Club. Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

The Sydney Kings Supper Club has returned after a Covid-19 induced hiatus. The Sentinel’s Mike Hitch tagged along.

Since the pandemic’s reign of terror began, Sydney’s once bustling arts and entertainment scenes have struggled to return, amid the fear of crowds, confined spaces and the exchange of bodily fluids.

But none of that stopped the first drag king show this writer has seen in many months. 

Founded by Sydney queer extraordinaire and Heaps Gay founder Kat Dopper, the monthly drag king show – known as the Sydney Kings Supper Club – went off with a bang at The Vanguard in Newtown on Wednesday, 7 October.

The host, Marlena Dali, kicked off the show with an industrial fan and a stellar outfit change into a pair of outrageous six-inch glitter-platforms. Simply iconic!

During a mutually tipsy chat with the Sentinel, Kat stressed the importance of reinvigorating Sydney’s queer arts scene in the age of Covid.

“It’s been a really interesting one. Everything disappeared, and it was really very hard for me, and obviously very hard for everybody but specifically our queer community because of the loss of our safe spaces,” she said.

“As a community, it was bad for our mental health and our connections, and our cuddles and our dance floor kisses – that’s all gone!”

Kat Dopper. Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

Dopper noted the importance of providing a platform for Sydney’s lesbian, trans and non-binary performers – especially given the current lack of visibility and accessibility for said performers in traditional gay venues.

“The hardest part for me, and other people who work in the arts industry, is just not being able to dance. You can’t ask queers to sit down,” she said.

“But, one of the things we’ve been able to do during Covid is kickstart our Sydney Kings party. Sydney Kings has been going for a little while, and we started it three or four years ago, but Covid has meant that we’ve had to do something really fun and entertaining to bring queer people together.

“It’s seated, and it’s cute, but it’s hard to sustain and it can be really difficult. But it’s so important to give artists and performers a space, especially when those spaces are so limited since Covid.

“Also for drag kings, spaces to perform are so limited. It’s why tonight we have a mix of kings who’ve been performing for a long time, and newcomers, because it’s good to let everyone have a chance to show their art.”

Art aside, the Sydney Kings Supper Club brought out all the stops for their inaugural post-Covid night. Audiences sat enthralled, or cheered and clapped for the mix of glitter and debauchery that unfurled before them.

Photos: Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

This writer’s personal favourites included Malcolm XY, who gave a steamy performance to Cardi B’s WAP and Kanye West’s Gold Digger – with the audience encouraged to sing along, but just not “that word”. 

Another highlight was Frank The Tank’s rendition of what can only be described as an Australian caricature of Donald Trump. Complete with a soundboard performance, bald(ing) cap, singlet, short shorts and a very flaccid fake cock that swung along for the journey.

But the cherry on top of the evening had to be an ’80s lip-sync from Rocco D’Amore of Gloria, by Italian singer-songwriter Umberto Tozzi. With a pencil moustache and rolled-up red suit-jacket, Rocco made audience members gush with his steamy gyrations and saucy finger-guns.

Since his grand debut in 2001, Rocco has become an icon in Melbourne and Sydney’s local drag king scenes. In the almost two decades he’s been doing it, Rocco says performing in drag has acted as a “lifesaver”. 

“In 2002, I had a terrible nervous breakdown … I found the only thing that helped me was to create this alter ego.”

– Rocco D’Amore

“I have memories of being five-years-old and getting dressed up in drag in ’76 or ’77, and I just thought that was a lot of fun,” he told the Sentinel in the backstage dressing rooms.

“Lip-syncing to George Michael, it was my dirty little secret!” said Rocco – who actually performed with the real George, during the sadly departed icon’s show at the 2010 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Party.

“Drag is my lifesaver. In 2002, I had a terrible nervous breakdown and went to hospital. I found the only thing that helped me was to create this alter-ego of Rocco D’Amore.”

Having taken a brief hiatus before the pandemic began, Rocco said he was thrilled to return to his drag persona, and believes Sydney’s local drag scene is now evolving into something better following this year’s chaos. 

“I haven’t performed since the beginning of last year. After being at it for eighteen years, you kind of get tired of it. But it’s been good to come back since this all began,” he said.

“Coming back and performing has been great, because I think the scene is coming back to when it used to be fifteen years ago — Sydney’s finally coming out from lockdown and Covid in a positive way. 

“The new generation of drag is the same, but different. Now, drag isn’t fixed to a male gender or female gender, it’s this in-between thing, and we’re a lot more inclusive of each other.”

The next Sydney Kings Supper Club event will be at 6pm Wednesday, 4 November at The Vanguard Newtown, with a second show at 9pm. Tickets and more info at www.thevanguard.com.au.

For more on future Sydney Kings Supper Club events, as well as other Heaps Gay parties and shows, visit www.heapsgay.com.au or ‘like’ them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/heapsgayparties.

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