Mom is officially retired!
On Sunday, January 7, Dan Minkel held a retirement party for his drag persona, Scarlet Fairweather (and drag king, Brick N’Mortar). He held his last performance as Scarlet at the Blue Moon in an evening of laughter, tears, and raucous entertainment. Minkel is hanging up his teased-out orangey-red wig to spend more time with his fiancé.
Minkel has been performing as Scarlet since 2009. He created the drag character while attending the Indiana University of Pennsylvania at seventeen years old. His first performance was called the “Glitz and Glamor Show” and, while at IUP, he performed with the outdoor marching band. He credits many drag parents along the way, such as Tommy Tensions, Joe My Gosh, Dahlia Decay, and others. Minkel, along with performing drag and a day job caring for older adults, teaches color guard, choreographing dances and routines with various equipment to high school students.
When Minkel came to Pittsburgh, he performed as Scarlet in the now-defunct Miss Gay Pittsburgh Pageant. Pittsburgh’s First Lady of Drag, Kierra Darshell, who ran the pageant, said, “Seeing Scarlet Fairweather mature into a symbol of greatness is so rewarding since she started her Pittsburgh journey at Miss Pittsburgh. Many new performers look up to Scarlet as their drag mother. I wish her the best of luck and want her to know that if she returns, we will welcome her with open arms.” Darshell had some expert advice for the retiring drag queen. She said, “Live! Learn! Love! And embrace the new experiences ahead.”
Minkel and his fiancé are considering parenthood, real children instead of the army of drag children — as many as 34 — and her color guard kids. Minkel said, “I knew my fiancé was ‘The One’ when he showed up with flowers for me to a Purim show I did on the Pitt campus. No one had ever shown up with flowers for me. Like ever.”
Minkel is proud to end Scarlet’s journey at the Blue Moon. He said, “I came to the open stages here at the Blue Moon and everyone made me feel safe and supported. It’s been my home. I’ve been given so many opportunities here.”
Minkel said, “I owe her a lot. Scarlet did a lot for Dan.”
Sunday’s show was a Viking funeral for the now-legendary red-tressed drag queen. Many of the performers dressed in Scarlet’s style, midwestern soccer moms in cocktail attire. Some performers, such as Stevie Crotchford, wore one of Scarlet’s castoff costumes, a kaleidoscopic colorguard unitard with stripes and dots.
Minkel said, “I will miss the art of it,” but the now-former drag entertainer plans to paint and learn how to play the bassoon.
A plethora of performers came to pay tribute to Scarlet, and their comments ranged from catty to heartfelt. When asked about her reaction to Scarlet’s retirement, drag performer Andi Whorehol said, “Thank God!”
Jenny Sais Quoi said, “Since the day she beat me in a pageant, I’ve been praying for her downfall. I’ve waited for this day for seven years.”
Karaoke DJ Eddieoke refuted Jenny Sais Quoi and said, “And it won’t matter. Jenny won’t win anything. She’s the Susan Lucci of Pittsburgh drag.”
Drag king, Soft Boy, said, “Scarlet deserves nothing but joy and happiness. I hope we continue her legacy of grace, kindness, and openness here in Pittsburgh.” Soft Boy sang “Chosen Family.” The drag king added, “I want to make her cry.”
Niona Skyler brought Scarlet to tears on stage when she spoke of Scarlet’s kindness. Skyler said, “Scarlet was one of the first people who took me under her wing. She helped me create the insanity you see before you.”
Cindy Crotchford said, “I’m really sad she’s leaving. She is the soccer mom of drag.” With a sentimental smile, Crotchford added, “She will always have family here.”
The audience was packed with friends and family, including some of Minkel’s color guard kids. Minkel’s biological family showed up for the event. Her parents, Barry and Stella got into the groove. Barry wore his Mr. Blue Moon Bear sash, a contest he won at the bar. Barry Minkel admitted to being a bit sad that his son was giving up his drag alter ego. He smiled, winked, and said, “But my son is marrying a doctor!”
Stella Minkel, Dan’s mom, wore a purple tutu. Minkel’s older sister showed up with a crayon drawing of a rainbow from her child.
Stella Minkel, who goes by Stella Momma at the bar, said, “The first time I came to a show a man approached me and said, ‘Is Scarlet a friend of yours?’ I replied, ‘He’s my son.’” The man told her that his family no longer spoke to him since he came out of the closet. She asked him, “Do you need a hug?” She’s been offering hugs and safe spaces to members of the LGBTQ community ever since. Stella said, “That was my inspiration. I come down to support Dan and all of his friends.”
Stella Momma performed on the Blue Moon stage. She serenaded Scarlet with a chorus of Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful To Me.” Then, Stella Momma asked the audience to join in on the second verse. It was a beautiful tribute that brought additional tears to Scarlet’s face.
Mrs. Minkel, who is active in her church, said, “I go my own way on this issue. I say, ‘Be who you are. Love who you want.’”
As to whether Scarlet Fairweather or Brick N’Mortar will return to the stage, Minkel said he kept some of the costumes and some rare pieces. He said, “I don’t know. I don’t do well with ‘free time.’”
Photos by Chad Isaiah.