Haus of Culture Remembers Roots in Indianapolis Drag Scene

Photography by Kelsey Matthias

Finding a drag show in Indianapolis is easy these days — brunches, bingos and nighttime performances abound throughout the city. But far before local venues such as Almost Famous and Zonie’s Closet emerged, the Black drag queens of Indiana Avenue gave Indy its first-ever drag show.

The Aug. 5, 1933 issue of the Indianapolis Recorder reported that Indy had “caught up with New York, Chicago, Washington, Atlantic City and Paris” by hosting its own “Copyright ‘Fairy’ Show.” The queens, who were referred to as “female impersonators” at the time, created the foundation upon which Indy’s drag scene grew.

A more costly — and subsequently non inclusive — pageant-style of “female impersonation” was popularized in the ’60s and ‘70s. This left Black, fem, and trans queens to create “vogue,” a supplementary culture to drag characterized by highly stylized dance.

Since then, the popularity of modern drag in Indianapolis has soared, especially over the past decade. This is largely thanks to the success of TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, which heavily impacted popular culture and brought terms like “shade” and “slay” to the global lexicon.

Drag became more mainstream — but the visibility of Black queens dwindled.

The Haus of Culture is changing that.

Comprised of queens Miss April Rosè and Miss Thang, the Haus formed in 2020 during the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, which acted as a catalyst for Black visibility.

“We saw every club having Black Lives Matter shows and making sure we’re booking Black girls at our shows and paying them well,” says Rosè. “You saw people’s pay going up… We started to rise up. You saw Black women taking over.”

A glaring emphasis on the need for representation within Indianapolis emerged, and the Haus of Culture became a beacon of inclusion. Together, Thang and Rosè work to increase awareness of Black art, queens and performers in the city.

The Haus propels BIPOC performers to the forefront of the drag scene through events such as their annual BIPOC celebration and the Black Girl Magic series, which began during 2021’s Black History Month. To Thang, it’s all about representing and acknowledging the Black culture that everyone takes part in.

“People really like the fact that we focus on things that look like [and] affect our community,” Thang says. “We had a Beyonce vs. Rihanna theme. Those are two big icons in music and two big female artists. It was something that people, no matter what their background was, still connected to it. They were still able to join in and celebrate Black culture with us.”

Innovative and forward-thinking, Black culture’s impact on drag is undeniable, especially within the style of fashion and genres of music showcased during performances. It’s always been there; it’s the reason the drag community we know today even exists in the first place.

In fact, Rosè says that impact extends to all of pop culture as a whole.

“[Black culture has a] very heavy influence on that kind of culture in general,” says Rosè. “You definitely see that in drag queens, people’s personas, and fashion choices [and] hair choices. Especially the more modern you get, the more you see [that] modern drag is Black culture.”

Historically, Black queens’ contributions have always been overlooked. Their history has been forgotten; the roots they grew within their communities were overtaken by whitewashed pageantry.

It’s time to give credit where credit is due. More than that, it’s time to pay attention, because according to Rosè, a shift is happening.

“It seems like [the drag community] has been dominated by white queens,” Rosè says. “It’s been taken. Stolen, almost. We lost the Black influence in the drag scene for a while, and it seems like it’s starting to come back full-force.”

Maintaining Black visibility within drag is integral, so keep your eye out for upcoming events from the Haus of Culture. The two have plenty in the works: A dragged-up version of Legally Blonde featuring Blair St. Clair from season 10 of Drag Race, the 2022 BIPOC Celebration and an upcoming show focused on highlighting male-presenting performers.

So buy some tickets, grab some dollar bills — don’t forget to tip! — and get out there to support your local Black drag queens.

Follow Haus of Culture on Instagram for updates on future shows.

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