Pittsburgh Royalty: Long May They Reign

The queens and kings rocking the drag scene in Pittsburgh.

Luna Skye, Indi Skies, Kierra Darshell, soft boy, Phoenix Fatale, & Calipso. Photo by Mara Rago.

Drag queens are lip-syncing all over the ‘Burgh these days, with oodles of brunches, bingos, pageants, and happy hours to fill your Google Calendar. Regarding the burgeoning drag scene, Phoenix Fatale said, “You can’t throw a pump without hitting two drag queens before it lands in a pile of glitter around here.” 

Phoenix Fatale. Photo by Mara Rago.

Phoenix Fatale holds the title of Ms. Blue Moon, the bar’s tenth reigning queen. Fatale is not the only title holder reigning on the Pittsburgh stages. Trista Storm, who was recently crowned Ms. P Town, said, “Pittsburgh is a wonderful place for performers. It’s diverse.” 

Dixie Surewood, who has held multiple titles over the years, including Miss PA Trash 2016, Miss Blue Moon 2018, Miss Tristate’s Comedy Queen 2016, Miss Greats Lakes Comedy Queen 2017, and National Miss Comedy Queen in 2018, said, “Unlike other cities, Pittsburgh has a ton of spaces for all kind of art! Drag has become mainstream in the past few years, and Pittsburgh has embraced it.”

soft boy. Photo by Mara Rago.

The queens are all in, but soft boy offered a slightly alternative perspective. The drag king, whose signature color is pink, found flaws in Pittsburgh’s scene but remained optimistic. The pink performer said, “Pittsburgh certainly has the potential to be a great place for drag, and things are heading in the right direction. But there’s a lot of improvement needed when it comes to diversity and holding people accountable for problematic behavior. That being said, there’s a good community of performers who are really trying to make a difference and provide opportunity and space.”

Leia Way LeStat, the reigning Pennsylvania Queen of Beauty Plus 2022-2023. agrees with soft boy. LeStat, the former Miss Steel City Softball 2018 and Miss P Town 2019-2021, said, “We need more visibility and opportunities for our trans entertainers and kings.” 

Trista Storm.

For many, like Trista Storm and her ilk, drag is not a job, but a passion. Trista Storm said, “Drag is a miracle. People find themselves. It’s therapeutic.” 

For some, it’s the thrill of competition. Leia Way LeStat came to drag in an unconventional manner. The performer started doing drag for a charity event for the Steel City Softball League. It was just supposed to be a one-time thing, but LeStat placed as first runner up. Leia Way LeStat said, “I don’t like to lose.” 

LeStat came back two years in a row to win the title. The pageant queen said, “Once I won, people in the community started booking me for things. They were impressed by my stage presence and talent.” It was all the encouragement LeStat needed. The performer added, “I kinda just stuck with it.” 

In July, Leia Way LeStat is heading to Puerto Rico for the National Queen of Beauty with hopes of bringing the title back to Pittsburgh. Another local queen, Calipso, recently named Pennsylvania Miss Queen Of Beauty, is preparing to head to Puerto Rico to compete in that competition. 

Calipso started doing drag three years ago, but, in that brief time, has become a full-time entertainer. Calipso said, “Growing up in Venezuela, I just didn’t have that kind of opportunity. I was always told to not act a certain way or not to move my hands like a girl and to start acting more masculine. When I moved to the states and found out drag was a possibility it was a game-changer for me.”

Calipso. Photo by Mara Rago.

Calipso added, “Besides being the way I make a living, it’s also my passion. It is my way to reclaim who I was trying to be growing up; Myself!” 

While gay bars like 5801 still host them, brunch has branched out of the clubs and into more mainstream venues. Lola LaCroix hosts an event at the Hard Rock Cafe in Station Square, Vyvyan Vyxn is at Black Dog Wine Company, and Luna Skye and Indi Skies hold court at the New Amsterdam in Lawrenceville and Trace Brewing in Bloomfield. 

Indi Skies and Luna Skye. Photo by Mara Rago.

After Covid hit, Indi Skies and Luna Skye lost their day jobs. Today, the duo, who are romantic partners and business partners, are the two full-time drag divas running S & S productions. Indi Skies, a Native American (Lakota, an Indigenous people of the Great Plains), has been performing drag for 12 years. Indi Skies, Ohio National Showgirl 2022, and Ms. Erie 2021, will be competing in the National Showgirl pageant in Orlando, Florida. 

Luna Skye (the other S in S&S productions) has only been performing for three years but talked about how their company is expanding with exciting new venues including performances at Primanti Brothers, a Yinzer institution. 

Trista Storm said, “I love the theatricality of it all. The costumes, the makeup, and the hair. Drag is my drug. When I walk out onto the stage and see the audience everything else melts away.”

For many young kings and queens, Pittsburgh may be a safe, inclusive space to don their gay apparel and sissy that walk. Trista Storm said, “The drag scene is thriving. It’s time to take the reins and go!”

Photos by Mara Rago.

Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)