Local theater enthusiasts in St. Petersburg may know Matthew McGee as a gender-bending drag performer who often stars in Tampa Bay productions. He performs in and out of drag by the same name, but his character range couldn’t be more diverse. We talk to McGee about campy looks, small-town beginnings, and inspiration from RuPaul.
GN: You’re an actor and a drag performer. Do you feel the two personalities blend?
MM: They absolutely blend. In fact, I think drag has really been a blessing to my acting career. I’ve gotten some amazing opportunities like playing Auntie Mame in “Mame” at freeFall Theatre and Mrs. Shinn (Mayor Shinn’s wife) in “The Music Man” … at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota. I think I’m best described as a character actor and a drag artist. It’s all part of the package!
How did you get into drag?
My first appearance in drag was in college. Our dance program was producing a dance concert saluting Hollywood and some of its most beloved stars. Many of the performers auditioning had no idea who some of the stars being celebrated even were. There was a Carmen Miranda number and I was so aware of her as I loved watching classic MGM musicals. I nailed the audition. I was pretty nervous on opening night and thought that the audience would be turned off. They loved it and suddenly being in drag became part of my bag of tricks.
Why did you choose to keep Matthew McGee as a stage name while performing drag?
It sort of just happened. I had toyed with drag names for ages (Patti Melt, Millie Crystal, Helen Damnation) and none of them really stuck. The more I learned about drag, the more I learned about drag artists that used their given names. Some great examples include Danny LaRue, Charlie Hides, Chad Michaels, Derrick Barry, Willam Belli, and the one and only RuPaul Andre Charles.
Do you have a favorite production you’ve acted in?
It’s like picking a favorite child! I really love the current show I’m working on at freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg. It’s called “I Love to Eat” and it’s basically an evening with America’s first celebrity chef, James Beard. I play James Beard and it has been such an exciting and exhausting process. 60 pages of dialogue.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Augusta, Georgia and grew up in Athens, Georgia (Go Dawgs!) and ultimately Washington, Georgia – a very small town between Athens and Augusta. I’ve got Georgia on my mind, I guess.
When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?
I was always on. From a very early age. I was super-inspired by the Muppets, “The Cher Show”, Pee Wee Herman, and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. That makes a lot of sense, when you think about it!
How would you describe your drag persona?
Very campy and fun! For me, drag has nothing to do with identity. It’s a performance and I hope the audience enjoys it as much as I do. From my website: “His drag style is a mix of high camp and 1960’s Hollywood Cocktail Glamour.” That’s pretty close! My favorite drag performers are Lady Bunny, Varla Jean Merman, Trixie Mattel, and Dame Edna Everage. I think that comes through.
See McGee in freeFall’s “I Love to Eat” through Feb. 27. freefalltheatre.com