BILLY SUTER chats to Roland Stansell, manager and entertainment co-ordinator of Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre franchise, who is an original member of drag lip-sync group, The Family Players. The drag troupe is hanging up its boas and high heels after three decades, staging its final show, Adieu, at the Theatre’s Umbilo theatre in Cunningham Road, at 8pm on May 24 and 25, and 2pm on May 26. Tickets cost R150 (R130 for pensioners). Book at Computicket or by calling 082 499 8636.
IT IS A SAD DAY FOR THE FAMILY PLAYERS DRAG LIP-SYNC GROUP – “ADIEU” BEING YOUR FINAL SHOW. WHAT COMMENTS?
I think we have had a good innings with the shows we have put on at the Rhumbelow Theatre over the past 18 years. We opened the Rhumbelow in June 2001 with a drag show called Tipsy Tarts, although The Family Players troupe has been doing shows for over 30 years.
Many shows in the earlier days were staged at the Tafta Hall in Durban and also at many other retirement facilities.
When original members Derek Pearce and Greg Baptie move away from Durban soon there will be only two troupe members left – Allan Quihampton and me – but we two may still pop our heads out occasionally, doing shows with singers.
THE TROUPE HAS NOT DONE A SHOW IN A WHILE – WHY?
The last show was on Valentine’s Day, February 2016. We had planned shows for the Rhumbelow Theatre thereafter but then Derek had a knee operation and I had a blood pressure problem in 2018. So, all in all, we are getting gracefully older. LOL.
HOW DID THE TROUPE ORIGINALLY COME ABOUT?
We formed the group to have fun and help raise funds for the aged. Some of the founder members have passed away, some have left to relocate to the UK.
We have had many people come and go in the troupe over the years, but we have not found any new talent in Durban to keep the troupe going. Many people do not understand the concept of drag comedy shows. Many just want to be a drag queen, and do not have what it takes to be in a full show with many characters.
HOW MANY FAMILY PLAYERS MEMBERS HAVE COME AND GONE OVER THE YEARS AND WHO WERE THE ORIGINAL MEMBERS?
Derek Pearce (who makes most of the troupe’s costumes), David Hierons (who went on to appear in drag in Durban’s first naughty pantos), Patrick Dalais, Greg Baptie and many more were part of the founding group. Too many have come and gone. Some, sadly, are no longer with us.
TELL ME WHAT CAN BE EXPECTED IN “ADIEU”
Adieu is a fun look at the history of The Family Players and integrates songs and shows from the past 18 years. We will be joined by Anthony Stonier, who will be providing the links for the evening, and we will have Belinda Dolphin on vocals. She has also been in many of our shows over the years.
THE RHUMBELOW THEATRE WAS CREATED DUE TO YOU AND THE FAMILY PLAYERS SEEKING A REHEARSAL AND SHOW VENUE FOR THE TROUPE. HOW AND WHEN DID THAT COME ABOUT?
We met with the Moths, who still operate the Umbilo venue as the Rhumbelow Shellhole, in March of 2001, to discuss the use of the venue for our comedy drag shows. I then suggested to the Moths and Mothwa that we have shows every month, including shows by other acts.
In my opinion, it was easier to market a permanent venue, that operates monthly, then to do random shows in the year.
THE DRAG TROUPE HAS MOSTLY PERFORMED FOR CHARITY. WHAT SORT OF GOOD WORK HAVE YOU DONE WITH THESE FUNDS OVER THE YEARS?
We had been supporting and raising funds for the Anna Conradie Centre during many of the drag troupe’s early years. Even when we moved to The Rhumbelow, we continued to be involved with the Tafta Revellers’ annual shows at the venue. I think we were the highlight for many years.
We have always assisted Tafta and, through Elaine Jennings, have been involved for many years.
During our years at The Rhumbelow, we have spent an enormous amount of money on upgrading the venue, and funded the Moth Flora Hut, where flowers are sold at Stellawood Cemetery.
We also raised more than R20 000 towards relief finds following the 2004 tsunami, and over the years have done many fund-raisers with Rotary and many other organisations.
HOW MANY SHOWS DO YOU ESTIMATE THE TROUPE HAS PERFORMED, AND HOW FAR AFIELD?
We took the drag show to Pietermartizburg a few Christmases ago. Aside from doing shows at Tafta and other old-age homes, we used to also do regular shows at a Durban gay bar called 4-Play. I would estimate we have done some 100 shows over the years.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST SUCCESSFUL SHOW?
That would be Bad Habits – a send-up inspired by the musical Nunsense, mixed with music from The Sound of Music and other sources. It is certainly the show we revamped and staged most often. We have had guest appearances in this show from signer-actors Anthony Stonier and Rowan Bartlett.
WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME MEMORABLE ANECDOTES YOU CAN SHARE?
Patrick setting his wig on fire on stage, was one. The audience thought it was part of the act. Another moment I recall, with a laugh, was Derek losing a shoe. It got stuck in the stage floor at one of the Durban nightclubs. He just carried on, wearing only one shoe.
Also memorable was when I had lost weight before a show. I turned to do a twirl on stage and my skirt dropped to my feet. I simply carried on as if nothing had happened.
I also recall Greg and Derek once using cling-wrap around their waists to make them look thinner. Well, when you sweat with cling-wrap, it just rolls up into a tight, bungy-chord around your waist. There was Allan trying to bite the wrap off during a costume change as we had no scissors backstage. LOL
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST INTERESTING THINGS A MEMBER OF THE AUDIENCE HAS ASKED OR SAID?
My favourite comment about Greg on stage was: “I think she is pregnant”.
I have been invited out over the years by many, to have dinner with them at their homes – in drag! I just declined gracefully. Also, you get many people wanting to borrow wigs, costumes or shoes, and they find it very difficult to believe that I do not have any dresses at home. All the costumes are in a wardrobe at the theatre.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE SINGLE MOST MEMORABLE SHOW BY THE TROUPE – AND WHY?
Again, I would say Bad Habits. It is just a great, fun show, with all of us in nuns’ habits. Our story follows nuns and a priest who wants to be a nun.
The first half of the shows tells about our past lives, before we became nuns. During the second half we have a fundraising concert within the show to raise funds for the priest’s sex change, so he can a nun in the finale.
HOW MUCH HAVE YOU PERSONALLY SPENT ON WIGS AND COSTUMES OVER THE YEARS AS A DRAG ARTIST?
Not much, as over the years we have acquired wigs and costumes as part of the stock at the theatre. However, we all own our own dance shoes, and they are about R500 a pair. I once won four pairs of Size 13 woman’s shoes, made especially for me by Dancewell in Durban. They supply dance shoes to all the dancers.