Drag king performer Pretty Rik E and the rest of the Pretty Boi Drag troupe have made it their mission to turn you on and give you the performance of a lifetime that is “sensual, inclusive and safe,” with what they claim is ‘D.C.’s Best Drag Show.’
In 2016, Pretty Rik E started Pretty Boi Drag with the help of their best friend Chris Jay and their former partner, Lexie Starre. Now, Rik E is the solo producer of the Washington, D.C. performance group.
“We kind of help people figure out some things about themselves,” said Rik E. “I know for a fact that we’ve had hand-over-fists amounts of people who come through and experiment with drag.” Rik E believes they got their confidence from drag after many years of struggling to come to terms with enforced norms of femininity and masculinity.
“This is where I feel comfortable, this is what I’ve been missing from my life,” said Rik E. Rik E created this space for performers because they know how difficult it can be to be a female-bodied person who struggles to come to terms with femininity.
The mission of Pretty Boi Drag is to create a safe space so that audience members can explore the differing aspects of gender and masculinity that can be daunting or confusing elsewhere.
The performers look at drag as a form of entertainment that should not and cannot be exclusive of female-bodied and non-male performers. Drag is for everybody and every body.
Many drag king productions center on the satirical aspect of performing and make their performances about poking fun at overt masculinity and misogyny. However, Pretty Boi Drag is a lot more sensual about their moves. They aim to be sexy and bring the overt masculinity that audiences can feel comfortable with.
“The way that Pretty Rik E performs is that I can bring that masculinity, but not bring the [toxic] stuff that comes with it,” explains Rik E. “In general, we work a little differently than other drag king productions I’ve seen. We are definitely on the more sexy side of things. If I catch you making eye contact with me during my performance, it is over!”
The goal in their performances is to prove that masculinity is not synonymous with toxicity. It usually is, but in Pretty Boi Drag, it doesn’t have to be.
What makes Pretty Boi Drag unique according to Rik E, is that they host full production shows, which require performers to do a three-week rehearsal before going onstage, with the first rehearsal being a workshop. Part of the workshop requires everyone to sit in a circle and brainstorm how their performances can be dynamic to make it even more entertaining.
The group also hosts amateur nights and Drag King 101 classes where new people can come and see what it’s like to be a drag king. The classes teach newcomers how to put on a beard and tips for buying their outfits and costumes, such as fitted suits.
“We slap a beard on you, slap your butt and send you off,” jokes Rik E.
Though the performance at a drag king show can be just as good as drag queen performances, drag kings continue to face discrimination on and off the stage. Kings have been historically marginalized within the entertainment and performance industry and struggle to get booked at clubs and event venues.
Drag is a widely accepted form of entertainment, yet kings struggle to find venues that want to see and book diverse lineups that include both kings and queens. “We are just as worthy as drag queens, we just put on a different type of show,” said Rik E.
Even today, there is a disproportionate response to booking drag kings that continues to be an issue. Rik E believes that there continues to be an inherent entertainment value to cis males performing as drag queens, while non-males performing as drag kings continue to struggle.
In the drag community, performers like Rik E believe regardless of gender, presentation or ability level, all art forms of drag deserve to be paid for the work they do. Until then, Pretty Boi Drag will continue to be an inclusive space for drag king performers, especially drag kings of color.