Drag queens speak out: Local documentary tells their story

One of the photographs captured during the filming of “ScottChurch’s Drag.” Photo by ScottChurch.

Originally published in The Patriot-News on Nov. 8, 2012.

Mitchell L. Ernst of Lebanon is a performer at heart.

He’s a professional actor — but the character he is best known for lives off the theater stage.

Her name is Jade DeVere and she is fierce, fabulous and oh-so feminine.

Ernst is a drag queen and one of the subjects of the documentary “ScottChurch’s Drag” premiering Friday for a one-time showing at the Allen Theatre in Annville.

The film began as a series of humorous pieces of art for famed erotic photographer Scott Church, who invited filmmaker Michael Donati of Palmyra to tag along on the endeavor. His goal was to showcase drag queens in ordinary places — bowling alleys, grocery stores, gas stations.

The first subject was a straight man who was married with children and did drag as a hobby.

“We had this guy in full drag at a gas station filling up a motorbike,” Donati said. “Scott and I were like, this is great. [The film will] be fun; it’ll be silly.”

The next interview changed all that.

It was of a young Lancaster man. Dressing up in drag gave him confidence and an outlet for expression and creativity, despite it being a taboo activity.

That’s when Donati and Church realized that they had hit on something more meaningful than a list of endless drag queen gags.

“Documentaries will do this — just change direction,” Donati said. “We ended up with something we didn’t plan on, but it’s wonderful.”

Michael Tschop of Harrisburg and his alter ego, Felicia O’Toole, were among those interviewed for the film.

“It’s kind of weird. It’s like having a whole other person,” Tschop said about doing drag. “[Felicia] definitely gives me an amazing outlet to just explore different sides of me.”

Tschop says that normally he’s shy. But as Felicia, he craves an audience.

“All those inhibitions are gone because I’m not Mike,” he said.

For Tschop, drag is about more than making people laugh. “It’s about personal growth too,” he said.

It gives him an opportunity to explore different facets of his personality, to try on someone else’s shoes — and to entertain all the while.

“Drag is a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” Ernst said.

At first glance, Ernst is not the stereotypical drag queen. His voice is low; there is no lisp. He likes beer, bowling and watching sports.

But at night (and sometimes during the day), he puts on his makeup mask and makes crowds laugh.

“There’s no rules,” he said. “I’m doing what I want to do and if the audience loves it, awesome. If the audience doesn’t love it, oh well.”

Read more on PennLive.com.

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