Joey Abrego on The Art of Drag and Transformation & Starring in 6th Street Playhouse January Production
6th Street Playhouse is anticipating our upcoming production of The Legend of Georgia McBride, running Jan 6-30 on the Monroe Stage.
This cast of five features Alexander Howard as Casey, the Elvis impersonator whose career goes awry, whose life falls apart, and who ends up needing to learn how to work in drag.
Joey Abrego is the fabulous Miss Tracy Mills, who teaches Casey how to do it.
The following is a slightly edited interview I conducted with Joey, who arrives next week from LA to begin rehearsals on the show.
CK – In The Legend of Georgia McBride, you teach Casey how to perform as a drag queen. Did you have mentors when you entered the world of drag performance?
I truly am a believer in the idea that it takes a village. I have been fortunate enough to have a variety of mentors in and out of the drag community that have influenced, inspired, and shaped me. I started out in theater here in Santa Rosa and then continued to study theater in college down in Southern California. After graduation, I was working in regional theater in the area, and during that time, I would go out with some friends every now and then and I met a couple of drag queens. One of them convinced me to participate in a fundraiser as a drag queen and they put me in drag and let me prance around to some music. It was an absolute BLAST! From that moment on, I dove headfirst into drag and tried to soak up as much knowledge as I could.
I’ve had mentors who helped me figure out makeup, hair styling, performance for drag, outfits, business relationships, etc. In addition to these queens who have helped me in those areas, I also have to acknowledge all my theater teachers and mentors who gave me the foundation upon which I develop my drag. I try to bring theatricality and all the training that goes with that into my drag in order to make it feel more unique and like myself.
CK – What were your greatest strengths or challenges?
I felt like my strengths always resided in my performance and connection to the audience. Of course, I have learned and continue to learn to refine and improve, but I’ve been lucky enough to have the instincts to work a crowd and perform.
Challenges have been PLENTIFUL! Drag is FAR from easy and takes a while to get used to and to feel grounded and comfortable in. Of course, learning to style hair or do your make-up is challenging, and being in tights and heels for hours upon hours is difficult. But the most challenging part of drag for me has been discovering what I bring that makes my drag special and allowing myself to sit in that instead of comparing myself to others. Which is a WASTE of time. Haha!
CK – You participated in our Applause Gala virtual performance earlier this year, and wowed the audience with your performance. What have been the high points of your experience performing in Sonoma County?
Well, thank you so much for saying that! It was very fun to get to actually sing for a change! It really was such a well-executed fundraiser and I was so lucky to be part of it!
I started out doing the youth theater summer programs at 6th Street under the brilliant Holly Vinson. I did Music Man and Oliver! with her and she really opened me up to the wildly fun world of theater. I also did RENT, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Producers with the Playhouse before I left for college. In addition to those productions, I also assisted with the Playhouse’s School of Drama and helped direct and teach in a couple of youth productions. I love love LOVED being at 6th Street. It always felt like a safe, warm home for me through my teen years and I am forever grateful for the love I felt and the freedom I had to explore and learn there.
I also have to say that being a student under board member Sue Byrne in the Montgomery High School Drama Department was also a HUGE and vital part of my upbringing. Sue really was and still is one of the most wonderful, encouraging, supporting, and loving humans I know. I was very lucky to be a pupil of hers.
CK – I can’t help noticing, in your drag photos, that you have some amazing and beautiful cleavage. I can’t find a clue as to how you do that. Is it a trade secret?
AH YES! My boobies! Haha! I get this question all the time!
It’s honestly just a heavy silicone bib that wraps around my neck. I usually cover the line around my neck with a necklace so it looks seamless. I’ll let you try them on when I see you! I just made my aunt try them on about 20 minutes ago! It’s a great laugh!
CK – How long have you been doing drag performance? Where do you usually perform?
I have been doing drag since the fall of 2017—so a little over 4 years now! That feels so long, yet so short. I have friends who have been doing it for 30 plus years… which is to be applauded because I don’t think my body will last that long! Haha.
I perform all around Southern California! I can be found from Long Beach to West Hollywood to Palm Springs! It is my full-time job and I couldn’t be more fortunate for that.
CK – You mentioned that you’re not yet in rehearsals, so your portrayal of Miss Tracy Mills will be evolving, under Carl Jordan’s direction, but what are your thoughts about her so far?
At this current time I would say that Tracy is motivated by her love for drag and performance. And on the other side of that she is also motivated by fear of failure. She spends a great deal of time saving the show, and helping it grow and blossom. I think the great deal of love and joy she has for drag really pushes her to not only improve the show but also allows her the opportunity to impart knowledge and teach Casey/Georgia all about it.
I also think that a fear of what she considers to be failure motivates her to keep the show going and make sure that employment is steady for herself. I truly think she’s afraid of not being able to work as a drag queen. I see that drive and that same quality in a lot of not only drag queens but performers in general. I completely relate to all of that. It’s an incredibly human quality that is so universal, yet laid into a very specific being. That’s part of the brilliance of Matthew Lopez’s characters.
I think what I love MOST about Tracy is that while she is sassy, fun, and can be frank or serious, she leads with kindness and compassion. I don’t get to see that quality reflected in drag queens very often on TV or in movies.
CK – Is there anything else about your preparation for this role that you’d like to share?
This is the first theatrical production I’ve done in a few years! So I am equal parts excited and terrified! I’m excited to dive into the play with everyone, collaborate, discover, and play! Terrified that I forgot how to do all of that! But I suppose the only difference between fear and excitement is if I’m breathing or not. Haha!