In Noah Montgomery’s fairytale, she didn’t lose her slipper at midnight. She found her style, her voice, and made a lasting bond with her family.
During eighth grade, Montgomery started showing interest in drag, the flashy performance of femininity, masculinity, or other forms of gender expression. This was the same year she started transitioning from male to female.
In preparation for her first drag performance, Noah bought 40 yards of blue fabric. With a little help from friends, she spent the summer sewing a dress with a billowing skirt, and topped the look off with long gloves and a multipronged floral headdress; “Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh was her inspiration.
“Doing drag for her was this opportunity to almost be like Cinderella,” Robin Montgomery, Noah’s mom, says. On stage at the Dragutante show, Noah became “unhinged,” according to Robin. Her singing changed, her performance elevated, and the audience could see the freedom she was feeling.
“It’s so nice to be hyper feminine and validated like that,” Noah says.
A New “Extra”curricular
Dragutante, a stage experience for aspiring young drag performers in the Denver area, launched in 2018.
That year, Robin Johnson’s son Jameson had asked for a drag-themed 13th birthday party. Johnson made it happen. Dressed in a secondhand prom dress and rhinestone tiara, Jameson partied with the queens at Denver’s Hamburger Mary’s. Johnson remembers the car ride home, when Jameson said: “Mama, I feel more me than ever right now.”
“My heart barely fit in my chest,” Johnson says. Then, she thought: How do I give my child what they need to thrive and keep them safe? The answer: “Better find you a village.”
Affirming LGBTQ+ activities for youth are much harder to come by than soccer camps, notes Johnson, founder of Dragutante. Her organization is an effort to fill that need.
In the weeks prior to the annual production, they hold several “WERKshops” where kids get together to try out makeup techniques and plan their costuming. Some participants spend weeks or months creating their looks and performances. Many children dance to favorite songs or lip-sync, Johnson says, and some are more shy and prefer to simply walk the runway. Returning performers tend to level up each year, adding in joint acts or comedy routines.
“Everyone works together to make the show balanced, cohesive, and supportive,” Johnson says. “Backstage is always buzzing with kids that have already experienced the lights, who now thrive by helping their new friends.”
A New Generation of Drag
Jameson, now 16, is Ophelia Peaches in drag. She’s widely known for flaunting colorful hair and makeup, her big thespian energy, and for advocating on behalf of other drag kids. Peaches feels like a camp counselor at Dragutante, encouraging younger queens (and kings) of all kinds to rock their own versions of drag.
“There is a lot of diversity in Dragutante; it’s not just one gender or one race,” Peaches says. “I feel like the next generation are already so connected and so different that the Denver drag scene will be lucky to have them.”
On show days, seasoned queens help usher Dragutante participants into fabulousness. They apply makeup, giving last minute dance tips, and style over-the-top wigs.
In Liam “Buzz” Humphrey’s case, he was “adopted” by a drag mother. Gemini Skye, a Colorado Springs drag queen, eased Buzz’s nerves the morning of his first Dragutante show.
“It was like peas and carrots,” Candice Humphrey, Buzz’s mom, says. “I absolutely loved Gemini the moment I met him.”
The two keep in touch; Gemini sometimes sends makeup and wigs from the Springs to Denver. Buzz, who is now 12, joined the Skye family, and is known as Lyla Skye in drag.
“She’s a diva,” says Humphrey of Lyla. “She lives her own truth. If you ever see Lyla Skye on stage, you’re definitely going to see a lot of amazing costuming and a full blown performance.”
Dragutante normalizes kids’ full expression, according to Will Humphrey, Buzz’s dad.
“I love having the outlet for my son to be artistic, be creative, feel comfortable and seen and heard,” he says. “Dragutante is a showcase for that, and then having members of families and kids that perform kind of be ambassadors in their communities; it’s a really big deal.”
For Noah Montgomery, aka Pop Tart, the program helped open her parents’ eyes to the queer community and try new things.
Scott Montgomery was concerned about Noah’s safety coming out and joining the drag community.
“My prejudice was to protect my child,” he says. “Honestly, I just found out that I was ignorant about the whole drag community and what it stands for. I think the easiest way to [describe] it is just love and acceptance for all; and, ultimately, family.”
Scott wound up becoming a stage dad, gladly taking up tasks such as holding a fan above the performers’ heads as they paint their faces.
Catch the show
This year’s performance/celebration will be held at the Seawell Ballroom in the Denver Performing Arts Complex on November 14.
These veteran drag kids have some tricks up their sleeves you won’t want to miss. Ophelia Peaches plans to sing (not lip-sync) the opening song, Pop Tart is going for an elaborate, spooky look with an angsty musical number, and Lyla Skye will turn up her jazzy performance with a costume reveal.
Parents look forward to their roles as well. Many help set out seats, escort guests, do last minute costume fixes, and get to know each other along the way.
“[Drag is] a chance for us to not only get to know ourselves better, but to get to know some really fantastic people in and around Colorado,” Candice Humphrey says. “People are super surprised to find that we and the other drag families that we know, are painfully average, and normal. … These kids are just typical kids. They go through all of the same experiences as other children. It really is just such a gift that my child feels comfortable and trusting enough with me that he can express this interest and that I can share it with him.”
Find tickets for the main event or sign up your young person (age 17 and under) to participate at dragutante.org.