PHILADELPHIA: This month, Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre Company presents The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez (Oct. 13-Dec. 4*). The play, which made AT’s Top 10 Most-Produced Plays list of 2016-17, is about Casey (Matteo Scammell), an out-of-work Elvis impersonator who dons a drag persona (and a dress) to support his growing family. Pig Iron Theatre cofounder Dito van Reigersberg plays Casey’s mentor, Miss Tracy Mills. This is far from the first time van Reigersberg has worn a dress onstage; he has appeared for years in various venues as Martha Graham Cracker.
While the queens lip-sync in full drag for their fictional audience, we also glimpse them offstage removing makeup, heels, and falsies. Georgia McBride costume designer Olivera Gajic describes the thought process behind these transitional moments:
“To design these costumes I researched documentary photography of the backstage life of drag queens—Nan Goldin, Jose Ferreira. There were many beautiful photographs of boys dressing to become ladies. I think there is so much beauty in the process of becoming a queen. It is inspirational to see a drag queen in the vulnerable moments before and during the transformation. Half boys, half ladies, wearing women’s underwear, stockings, heels, but no wigs. Just boys putting on their makeup.
“I am not searching for perfection but to have these designs be perfect in their imperfection. The final result will be spectacular, and we will ultimately arrive at perfection, but I was more interested in catching the stages in between.
“The character of Georgia McBride is a rock star. Since Casey’s character is originally an Elvis impersonator, I wanted Georgia to be reminiscent of Elvis but still be her own. I researched other rock stars like Iggy Pop and David Bowie. They sometimes wore dresses and were graceful and beautiful and sexy, just being a man in a dress.”
*The production was extended to Dec. 4 after presstime.
A version of this story appears in the November 2016 issue of American Theatre.