Ricky Paul believes that performing in drag does not solely consist of dressing up as the opposite sex.
Instead, he reaches deep down into his roots and plays a character that parodies both joyful and scarring childhood memories that shaped his life.
As co-founder and artistic director of the drag-themed, scripted and improvisational theater troupe The Dumpsta Players, Paul describes its racy performances as touching on the “joys and ills of society.”
The troupe’s over-the-top comedic sketches are script-based with the intent to tackle subjects like societal issues, political statements, gender equity, stereotypes and overall life experiences of each individual actor.
The community theater is a nonprofit and hosts fundraisers at every performance, usually connecting the benefit with the show’s theme.
On Feb. 18, The Dumpsta Players will present “Sucky 70’s 2,” where it will dance and lip-sync to retro music and parody the genre with topics like the sexual revolution and the AIDS epidemic.
A portion of this show’s proceeds will go to Philly AIDS Thrift, a local nonprofit organization on South Street near Bainbridge Street.
“We like to pick organizations that are real grassroots as opposed to really huge ones because we want the money to go to service [organizations] and the people actually doing the groundwork,” Paul said.
The show will be held at Bob & Barbara’s Lounge on 15th and South streets with a $1.99 cover charge. The Dumpsta Players originated there in 1996 and it’s become their performance home base ever since.
With all original scripts, the cast collaboratively create parodies of past genres by transitioning into flamboyant, obnoxious, flashy characters that translate from the members’ own personal pasts.
“We’re really true to our subject matter because it’s actually coming from a real place,” Paul said.
“It’s basically like turning the world inside out,” he added. “Try to imagine growing up in a world where everything is straight oriented and mainstream, and the alternate perspective is considered the minority. What I think we’re trying to do here is turn that on its ass and show the world, well, what if it wasn’t like that?”
The diverse members come from all different backgrounds, some with extensive theater training and performing arts, and for others it has become their surreptitious life outside of their average 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. jobs.
“It’s something so fun and carefree in a way that you can sort of purge yourself of all your stress in those few minutes you perform and become a character,” said Franco Bailey, a cast member who occasionally appears in shows as a guest performer.
Being both black and gay, Bailey explained the importance of showing the audience the visual of being a double minority.
“I’m just one of many, we exist, and that’s just a visual with so many unfortunate perceptions that go with it. I want to show people that you can be this and you can also be grand and fabulous,” he added.
Temple alumna Sara Sherr has been with the Dumpsta Players since 2002 and has transitioned into characters ranging from trashy women of the ’60s poking fun at local news events, to personal characters that rip on her family and friends.
“It’s a combination of pulling from our childhood, whatever our personal demons are, and what’s going on in the news, then we put our own take on it,” Sherr said.
While female leads are almost always played by drag queens, Sherr said The Dumpsta Players have allowed her to play roles of both men and women that she never imagined herself portraying.
“With half of the group both gay and straight, I think having that perspective changes things,” Sherr said.
She sums up the Dumpsta Players as “a mix of comedy and queer politics.”
“We are a community of queer actors, not all necessarily gay, but we are all working in the queer community in terms of seeing things from an outsider’s point of view,” Paul added. “The three most important things we stress are activism, queer and community.”
Alexa Zizzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org