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‘Alice in Derbyland’ play puts a Kentucky spin on a classic

A group of performers stands on a stage in colorful costumes. Five of them are standing or sitting around a platform. A sixth performer stands in the middle of the platform. Large fleur de lis decorations are visible behind them.
Jordan Pantoja
Drag Daddy Productions
"Alice in Derbyland" combines the magic of Wonderland with Kentucky and drag.

Well-known characters like the Mad Hatter become the Mad Milliner. The March Hare is now the Fascinate-Hare in the play from Drag Daddy Productions.

“We really tried to kind of transform the world Carroll created with 'Alice in Wonderland' and put it all through the lens of this crazy time of year in Kentucky,” said Tony Lewis, playwright and executive producer for Drag Daddy Productions.

The play follows Alice's arrival in Louisville ahead of the Kentucky Derby and her attempt to become the Belle of Louisville. And she has to face off against the Delta Queen, Derbyland’s version of Queen of Hearts.

LiAndrea Goatley plays Alice. It’s her first time working with this production team. But, she said her character learns she has her own contributions to make to the community she just joined.

Like the character she plays, Goatley found a new, supportive community in her fellow cast members.

“What I really have enjoyed in this production… everyone has just been so eager to, you know, help me understand and get acclimated,” Goatley said.

The cattiness between Goatley’s Alice and drag queen Gilda Wabbit’s Delta Queen stopped on stage.

Goatley said she’s learned a lot from the cast and crew, including dancing and make-up skills from the drag artists in the cast. Goatley is not a drag artist.

Creating a welcoming space both on and off stage is a key part of the show put on by Drag Daddy Productions. The company’s focus on queer theater is part of that mission, especially in face of anti-drag and anti-LGBTQlegislation seen in Kentucky’s general session this year and in other states.

“I think it's important that these stories get told, and that it's very clear that drag is an important art form in this country and in this world, and that it should be valued as such,” Lewis said.

Wabbit, who has worked with Drag Daddy on multiple occasions, said she has watched the organization strive to be inclusive as possible.

“Drag Daddy, as a company, is always evolving, always trying to push themselves not only to be more entertaining and higher budget, but also to find out how we as a company can be more inclusive and more representative of the entire queer community here in Louisville, Kentucky,” said Wabbit.

“Alice in Derbyland” is an all-ages show by design.

“I think it's very important that we, as queer artists, can be seen publicly in a venue that allows us to be seen as more whole people as opposed to just like adult entertainers because I'm a whole human being,” Wabbit said.

Some legislators have compared all drag to pornography, despite drag existing in popular culture formore than a century.

“I think the part of the issue that happens is that we as queer people, as drag artists, and as trans people have been so often kept away from the spotlight,” Wabbit said. “And so many of these legislators and these leaders only understand us in terms of like, sexual deviancy.”

She said it feels like legislators see her as simply a pornographic search term instead of a whole human.

“You know, I am, I am beyond where you may see me on the internet, I am beyond where you may see me at a 21 and up club, because I exist outside of that everywhere. And I think that's one of the biggest challenges that we face,” Wabbit said.

Wabbit said family-friendly shows help push back against this narrative.

“So much of my life and my career is about 18 and up or 21 and up nightclubs, which is a really fun time. I enjoy my work in adult-oriented venues. But I also want to be able to show my nieces what I do,” Wabbit said.

“Alice in Derbyland” shows are April 16 at Christy’s Garden in Paristown and April 21 at Art Sanctuary. ASL interpreters will be provided at both performances.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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