Thin Mint performs during the second act of the Broadway-themed drag show at 40 Watt Club. The Kourtesans performed their 99th show at the 40 Watt Club in downtown Athens on March 15, 2019. (Photo/Kaley Lefevre, kaley.lefevre@gmail.com)

Trevor Blake knew she had to be a part of The Kourtesans group after seeing them perform for the first time at Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium in 2018. Though she had seen drag performances before, The Kourtesans’ performance that night redefined what drag could be.

“[Previous depictions of drag] almost felt like a costume, but with The Kourtesans, I saw drag as an artform for the first time,” Blake said. “When I saw them perform for the first time was when I knew I wanted to be with them.”

Now, Blake performs on stage as Miss He with The Kourtesans since joining the drag troupe in 2018.

More than a year later, The Kourtesans are preparing to celebrate their 100th show as a group on Thursday, March 21 at Church Bar.

Since their formation in July 2017, The Kourtesans have set out to break down the hyper-feminine stereotypes typically exhibited in “old school drag.”

By refusing to confine to hyper-feminine performances, personas and costumes, they’ve been able to transform their performances into their own gender-bending art form.

Performance drag is a queer art form which involves dressing — often in exaggerated manners — as the opposite sex. Drag queens perform as a form of entertainment in drag shows, where they lip sync, dance and embody an entirely different persona.

Shaking up the status

When The Kourtesans first came into the Athens drag scene in 2015, the only other troupe in the city was the Athens Showgirl Cabaret. Founding members of The Kourtesans wanted to encourage performers longing to steer away from the stereotypical glamour of drag to join and have a space to express themselves while still being able to call themselves drag performers.

This originality has perpetuated the group’s longevity, and the growth of drag performance in Athens. Since their formation, The Kourtesans have seen two new regularly-performing drag troupes develop in the city. One group created, FEMME, was started by a regularly performing member: Alex Suarez, known as Queen Alex Suarez.

For Suarez, an important part of drag is the ability to become the “object of your imagination,” allowing performers to be uninhibited in how they design their makeup, hair and costumes for a set. But it’s also important to be open to queer-identifying individuals looking for a way to express themselves in ways that they’re not able to in everyday life.

“People need an example of freedom of expression,” Suarez said. “Young queer people seeing others live their lives authentically is important. I’ve had young kids at these shows come up to me and tell me how amazing it is to see someone who is being themselves.”

In addition to the queer community, locals have become familiar with cheers and decade-themed music booming from Church every third Thursday when The Kourtesans routinely perform.

‘Anti-drag’ beginnings

At their formation, The Kourtesans wanted to approach drag in a way they hadn’t seen before in Athens and Laney said other drag troupes didn’t understand.

Despite exclusive depictions of drag queens as men dressing eccentrically as women, The Kourtesans welcome any definition of drag, such as drag kings, burlesque performers, or performers who don’t want to subscribe to a hyper-feminine image to be a part of a drag troupe.

“[Previous depictions of drag] almost felt like a costume, but with The Kourtesans, I saw drag as an artform for the first time.”

— Trevor Blake, drag queen Miss He

Macchiato is the show director for The Kourtesans. She was one of the founding members of the group, and has seen the group change venues multiple times, watched members come and go.

“When we started the group, I think we were perceived as the anti-drag show in Athens,” Macchiato said. “We were always inclusive to different types of performances and different types of people who identify as other than male or female. There’s nothing else that’s like that here.”

It took a while for the group to find a consistent venue to cultivate their creativity and performance style. Having to move venues was the group’s biggest setback at the beginning. After moving from the now-closed Kumquat Mae to Georgia Bar, Church was the group’s next move.

They have sealed a consistent venue through their residency at Church, a big move for a drag troupe.  They can now be seen performing there every third Thursday of the month.

Polished performances

Having a permanent space to perform monthly shows allowed The Kourtesans to practice and perfect their performances, as the group established familiarity with the physical space of the bar.

“If there’s been an evolution since they’ve started performing at Church, it’s been in the area of how tight the shows have become,” Church owner Jon McRae said. “It’s more of a professional production. Those first few shows, we were just sort of winging it.”

McRae said Athens craved a group that “did drag differently,” crediting The Kourtesans for satisfying that need.

“The Kourtesans just fit with our ethos: They innovated themselves into the idea that as long as you’re not hurting anyone, you can express yourself however you want to,” McRae said. “And [reinforced] the idea that drag doesn’t necessarily mean putting on 6-inch heels, a big wig and going out and trying to be overtly feminine.”

Cole Rogers, known as Cola Fizz on stage, has been with The Kourtesans since August 2016 and don’t conform to the hyperfemininity associated with drag, shaking up the scene right along with other Kourtesans members.

Fizz’s makeup and performance outfits don’t attempt to be glamorous or feminine, but rather evocative of emotions like fright or sadness. Despite no longer living in Athens, the internal growth Fizz experiences from the group makes the commute worth it.

“We drive each other to be better,” Fizz said. “It’s a lot more fun when everybody is trying to grow and be more creative.”

For Suarez, The Kourtesans’ creative drive and popularity can only continue to bring growth for the group. He runs the group’s Instagram, and for 2019, has future plans beyond successful drag performances, including appearing at more pop-up performances and doing daytime events such as Drag Brunch.

Macchiato, too, sees the group continuing their momentum and bringing consistent shows to Athens.

“For the future, we’re going to go as long as we can,” Macchiato said.

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