Bringing class and sass back to Pensacola: Roundup begins drag amateur nights
By Sean Minton
Ever since the popular LGBTQ+ bar Emerald City closed in 2015, newer drag queens struggled to find places to perform in Pensacola. Drag queens like Monica Heart and Gappie G, also known as Zachary McDonald, pushed for years to have the Pensacola drag scene to come back. With the help of The Roundup, another LGBTQ+ friendly bar, plans were set in motion.
The Roundup Renegade Showcase is an amateur drag show hosted at The Roundup, a local bar in Pensacola, every other Wednesday. The amateur night gives newer drag queens in the Pensacola area chances to perform and win a cash prize of $50 and a $50 booking at The Roundup.
“Once Emerald City closed there was no real outlet for drag,” McDonald said. “We performed at bowling alleys; that didn’t really work out. We would perform at the beach; that never really worked out. We were really looking for a solid investment in what we do and what we bring to the table.”
McDonald wanted to bring his earlier days of drag back into the community. Before the closing of Emerald City, McDonald would go out with other drag queens and they would all prepare for amatuer nights together.
“We really want to bring that sisterhood back,” McDonald said. “It was something we were trying to bring back. The drag community around here won’t progress if we don’t allow a stage open for the [newcomers].”
The Roundup eventually opened their doors for drag entertainers like Heart and McDonald, and after three years of waiting newer drag queens had a spotlight given to them. McDonald and the other entertainers were nervous for the first show until they met the contestants.
“I love how excited these girls get,” McDonald said. “On the first night I was in the back getting ready. The bartender came up to me and kept asking me ‘Someone keeps asking for Gappie.’ I came out of the dressing room, and I didn’t recognize any faces. Then I saw Wyntier Kandiey (a regular contestant) excited as Hell. She said, ‘I’ve never put on heels before in my life, and I just started my makeup two days ago, but Im getting on this stage this week,’ and that just made me so happy.”
Monica Heart, who is a frequent host at the Roundup, emphasized the importance of bringing back these drag shows. “I started in drag on an amateur night, and it was an accident enteirely,” Heart said. “But going out on stage and feeling that emotion of expression and myself not caring overcame me. I danced and wanted to express who I was.”
Heart, like the other local performers in Pensacola, struggled with what to do after Emerald City’s closing.
“Whenever Emerald City closed down, that opportunity was taken away from everybody around here,” Heart said. “Everybody needs a fair game. There needs to be a fair opportunity for everybody to showcase who they are. Talent is talent no matter which way you look at it.”
For Heart, drag is more about feeling like a different person as well as showcasing his talents and passion. Drag is an outlet for Heart to get her emotions out through performances rather than to sulk in them.
“When I step on stage I forget about what’s real and what hurts,” Heart said. “This is for those people who feel like they are so outside from what everybody else feels like they should be that they at least get three minutes of beauty. It’s your own diary when you step out on stage.”
Heart expressed that this opportunity is more about performance than money.
“I feel better when I walk off stage than I do when I walk out,” Heart said. “I’m living my best life and that’s what I want them to do.”
One of the regular contestants, Ellese Renay, has only been doing drag for two months, but is passionate about drag and continues to perform. Renay is a transgender woman that will be turning 62 in January, but she is not letting age stop her.
“I want to keep going because it’s fun,” Renay said. “I’ll do it up to until the age where I’ll walk out on stage in a walker.”
Renay is originally from Alabama, but feels she can be herself in Pensacola. Renay has always believed she was Ellese since she was five, and is working more on being the entertainer with the help of the Roundup’s amateur night.
“If you want to think about doing drag, at least try it once before you say anything because we put our heart and soul into this and we give everybody a show,” Renay said. “To me it’s more about expressing myself, and it’s always fun to be a little bit sassy.”
The next Round Up Renegade Showcase will be Wednesday, Sept. 19. The first show starts at 10:00 p.m. followed with the second show at 12:00 a.m. Contestants must be 18 years and older and bring a flash drive or CD with two songs of their choice. Contestants must sign up between 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. It is first come, first serve with a maximum of seven contestants.
Visit The Roundup website for more information.