The press release that appeared in my inbox titled “Nature-Inspired Drag” grabbed my attention in the first sentence: “Mass Audubon’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and QueerHubMV invite you to take a walk on the wild side.” This multipart program will be an immersive experience that looks at the intersection of drag — a type of entertainment where people dress up and perform, often in highly stylized ways — and nature. It will include an introduction to the concept of nature drag by Providence artist and creator Eli Nixon and Hudson Valley artist and dancer Hana van der Kolk, a two-part workshop to create costumes and the performance, and then the show itself.
The germ of the program began when Josey Kirkland, regional education manager at Mass Audubon for the Islands, was introduced to nature drag via the Instagram influencer Pattie Gonia, who uses their platform to promote environmental and LGBTQ activism. The event is part of Mass Audubon’s dedication to supporting and reaching out to the LGBTQ community and bringing a connection to nature in a safe, inclusive way for all. Kirkland then reached out with the idea of a nature-inspired drag event to Scott Mullin, executive director of QueerHubMV, with whom they have cross-promoted previous events. Their collaboration turned out to be a natural fit.
QueerHubMV is a community-based group that seeks to change the LGBTQ landscape on Martha’s Vineyard. Mullin explains that it originated about five years ago, when he kept bumping into people in the LGBTQ and allied community and realized that at the time, “There was really no space for us where people could go and get to meet others.” QueerHubMV began as a social networking group, developed a presence on Facebook and Instagram, and also held various mixers at spots around the Island. He adds, “Now it has a website, and we’re doing all this programming with the community, including Island Wide Youth Collaborative, Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force, Felix Neck, Community Services, and the West Tisbury library to help enhance LGBTQ safe spaces on the Vineyard.”
Kirkland and Mullin reached out to Nixon and felt an immediate affinity, both in the way they promote the idea of drag kin — a nonbinary approach to drag — as well as their connection to nature. Nixon brought in Van der Kolk, and thus was born the event, which welcomes everyone from all communities.
The kickoff begins on May 16, with a free program from 6:30 to 7:30 pm at the West Tisbury library — “Intro to Nature Drag,” which is meant to plant the seed to learn more about the series as well as nature drag in general. Together Nixon and Van der Kolk will host an intriguing conversation on expanding drag beyond the binaries of king and queen, finding inspiration in nature, and about what and how they go about their work.
The creative juices will flow on June 2, from 4 to 6 pm, and June 3, from 10 am to noon, in a Nature Drag Workshop at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. Nixon and Van der Kolk will conduct a workshop to develop a collaboratively created, family-friendly performance on expanding drag, and embarrassment as key to transformation. All ages and identities are welcome, especially those in the LGBTQ community, and no experience is necessary. The workshop will include a solo or collaborative nature-inspired drag act through imaginative movement exercises, drawing prompts, finding and making soundtracks, and assembling costumes for the performance on June 3. “We are also opening it up to whatever people are called to do, be it spoken word poetry, dancing, singing, lip-syncing,” Kirkland adds.
The Nature-Inspired Drag Show at Felix Neck on June 3 runs from 3 to 5 pm. “Doors” open at 2 pm, and those of all ages are invited to bring a blanket or beach chairs to claim their best spot before the performers emerge from the blooming pollinator garden and entertain them with dance, musical performances, or whatever inspires them. As the press release says, “Together we will elevate and celebrate the natural world in all its rainbow colors.”
Reflecting on the series, Kirkland shares, “I feel a lot of gratitude to be able to offer a program like this. It’s not the case that every community has the ability to run these types of safe events. This is a priority that is vital to the work we do.” As the organization explains in the press release, “Nature has never been concerned with what certain human cultures have ‘othered’ or deemed ‘unnatural.’ From asexual plants to bisexual animals, there are countless ways in which wildlife disproves any notion of ‘normal.’ Queer wildlife includes swans, fruit flies, dolphins, slipper snails … the list goes on and on.”
And for Mullin, “It’s exciting that so many different organizations are taking this opportunity to get involved in the queer community out here. The Vineyard is such a special place, but for a long time, it’s been an area that has been a void.”
Clearly, this three-day event has something for everyone, whether you just come to learn about nature-inspired drag, participate in creating the performance and costume, strut your stuff in front of the supportive crowd, or simply want to glory in celebrating the diversity of all the Islanders living here.
Audience tickets are $25; $20 for performers. Those 21 and up can celebrate at the Birds, Beers, and Queers Afterparty at the P.A. Club from 7 to 10 pm, where all the fun of nature-inspired drag continues with DJ Pretty Ninja. Tickets are $25. All proceeds from the events go to support QueerHub MV. To purchase tickets, see bit.ly/MassAudubonDrag.