Benefield:‘Drag on Ice’ in Santa Rosa promises fabulous time — but with somber purpose
'Tis the season of tinsel and bells, twinkly lights and carolers.
But this year, it’s also the season of sequins and boas, ‘90s hits and tons and tons of glamour.
“Drag on Ice” comes to downtown Santa Rosa on Dec. 9 and brings with it all the shimmer and athleticism of an ice skating event with all the festive verve of a drag show.
And it comes at an important time as intolerance toward the LGBTQ+ community is on the rise.
The organizers, Sonoma County Pride, have locked in a drag biggie to lead the show: Milk.
The star of two seasons of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Milk (whose non-stage name is Dan Donigan) is scheduled to host and emcee a night of scenes and routines, music and skating, and, of course, outstanding costumes.
“It’s fabulous,” Milk said from her Brooklyn home. “It’s a glamorous, sparkling skating event celebrating individuality and being exactly who you are.”
While the night promises to be tons of fun, there is a serious side.
Last year, Sonoma County Pride hosted Gay Day on ice and put any funds earned back into local pride programs.
This event, with ticket prices for the drag show ranging from $35 to $135, will mark a change.
“Profits from this event normally would be put toward our 2023 festival and parade. This year we are going to donate whatever money to an organization helping Club Q,” said Sonoma County Pride President Christopher Kren-Mora.
Club Q is the LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where a deadly mass shooting occurred Nov. 20.
A gunman killed five people there and injured 17 more.
“We feel it’s important to have a safe space to be yourself,” Kren-Mora said. “We feel that Sonoma County is a safe place to be. They are family is the way we see it. We are trying to support family.”
A local night of fun and wild celebration, but in the name of honoring and defending rights, makes sense, he said.
“The whole LGBTQIA+ movement started on a negative,” he said. “Some of us are always celebrating rights while we are still fighting for our rights.”
Milk will be joined by drag queens Lolita Hernandez, Shania Twampson and Maria Twampson.
And frankly, those behind the event can barely contain themselves.
“It’s been a dream of mine,” Kren-Mora said. “Everyone asks about drag and any way we can put a drag element into what we do it always becomes more fun. It gets people out of their shell, it’s exciting.”
It’s going to be fun, but it’s also going to be a phenomenal show, said Carmen Maria Mitchell, founder and executive of the Redwood Ice Theater Co., another co-host of the event.
The ice theater company is working with the lineup of four queens on routines, lip syncs, ensemble pieces — the whole glamorous shebang.
“We have a star-studded lineup of queens,” Mitchell said. “Anyone who is experiencing a drag show for the first time is in for a treat.”
When Kren-Mora said he has long been wanting to host a drag show like this, he isn’t lying.
Sonoma County Pride tried to pull it together last winter when the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber first brought the synthetic ice rink to Courthouse Square as a way to draw revelers downtown and buoy the holiday spirit.
Chamber officials last year offered local nonprofit groups a chance to run the rink on its daily skate sessions and take home profits from ticket sales.
Sonoma County Pride leaders wanted to put together a drag on ice event then, but ran out of time. They hosted a Gay Day on the ice instead.
This year, when the Chamber brought Winter Lights and ice skating back downtown, Pride leaders decided it was time for the drag show. Putting it on ice adds an element of fun, athleticism and a little bit of drama — skating in full regalia ain’t easy.
“I’m hoping my queens can skate,” said Kren-Mora, laughing.
Let’s be crystal clear: Milk can skate.
Milk spent her childhood skating. She advanced into competitive skating. She knows what she is doing.
In 2009, on the heels of retiring from the competitive circuit, she discovered drag. Milk was born.
She said the transformation process was breathtaking.
“I became obsessed with it,” she said.
Milk describes growing up carrying “the trauma of being a closeted gay kid who didn’t know what being gay was yet.”
Skating offered freedom.
“(On ice) I could move freely,” she said. “(Off the ice) I couldn’t move in a certain way for fear of standing out.”
Plus, she was good at it.
“I could move fast and it was free flowing,” she said. “And I could also do that wearing great skating costumes.”
Just as skating allowed a young Milk to explore movement, expression and creativity in a way she didn’t feel comfortable doing in every space in her life at that time, drag became a way to do the same.
“I think I needed another creative outlet for my brain and my sanity,” she said. “When skating ended and I wasn’t performing for other people anymore, drag took on the elements of a beautifully weird, creative thing.”
And she’s excited to share it with folks in Sonoma County.
But she’s not spilling many secrets on the routines she and other queens may or may not be dreaming up.
But I did score this intel: There could be some Annie Lennox influence, there could be elements of Jim Henson and the “Muppets,” and still more glamour.
“Think Ice Capades,” she said.
For Mitchell, playing a role in pulling off a first-ever event is exciting. And she’s looking to make this not a one-off, but a holiday tradition.
“The drag culture in itself is a beautiful act of resistance, self-empowerment, inclusion and joy,” she said. “To be invited to be a part of that is an honor and to be able to share that locally with this community is truly a gift.”
You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @benefield.
Columnist, The Press Democrat
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