Miss Richfield 1981 is ready for the fight and she’s coming out swinging in her new show, “Below the Belt.”
The mild-mannered Midwesterner, who dedicated her career to the amiable citizens and merchants of Richfield, Minnesota (“where butter is a spice and gravy is a beverage”), is channeling her inner “Rocky” for her latest comedic romp on March 7 at the Sunshine Cathedral.
“It’s really a show, not about conflict, but rather about fighting for what you believe in, standing up for who you are,” said Miss Richfield’s male alter ego Russell King. “Miss Richfield, of course, had to fight to win her beauty title in 1981 and now she’s asking what do we have to fight for in 2020? It’s really a time where we need to think about that. It’s a challenging time.”
One of the inspirations for the new show was the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage this August. While marriage equality and many LGBT rights are still new, people forget that it was just a century ago that women won their right to have their voices heard at the voting box. Even those hard-fought victories are under attack through voter suppression and anti-LGBT legislation and policies.
“I think about our community and the people who need to stand up and be counted,” King explained, “and the boxing theme seemed like it would be appropriate and fun.”
King has created new costumes, songs and videos for the show, which he promises will leave funny bones bruised and broken by the final bow.
He first explored a love for theater in high school in his native Minnesota. Growing up in a very conservative Christian family, “we didn’t go to theater, it wasn’t part of our experience,” King recalled. In college, he focused on his journalism studies, but the yearning for the spotlight was never quite forgotten.
Miss Richfield 1981 made her debut at a Miss America viewing party more than 20 years ago.
“We jokingly all came in pageant attire, just as a joke,” King said.
Soon Miss Richfield 1981 was performing at local clubs in Minneapolis.
One night, the regular emcee took a break and the microphone was handed to King. Within a few months, Miss Richfield’s performances moved from the bars and clubs to theaters and cabaret rooms.
His early act was set as a Christian radio show with Miss “R” as the host.
Even his religious family came to accept their gay son’s drag.
“It took time, especially for my dad, but he came around and was very cordial and good to my boyfriends. With the drag, again, that took some time for them to adjust. I compared it to Uncle Milty [Milton Berle] or Flip Wilson. It’s not that I want to be a woman, it’s just a fun character, a role,” King emphasized.
Within a few years, the performer was headlining Atlantis gay cruises and holding court in the gay summer mecca of Provincetown. Now, she’s one of the top names in an industry increasingly crowded with young stars, thanks to “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
“I’m traveling all year round, all around the globe. This year, I’m working New York City, Fort Lauderdale, Washington, D.C., San Diego, Palm Springs…I’m the official spokesperson for Palm Springs, so I’d better mention them,” he said, breathlessly.
King is now contemplating a big move from Minneapolis to Philadelphia, where his boyfriend lives.
“I’ve been thinking about relocating, but Miss Richfield will never really leave Richfield. She’s never home, but she’ll always call Richfield home.”
Miss Richfield 1981 presents “Below the Belt” as part of the Outlandish performance series on Saturday, March 7 at 8 p.m. at the Sunshine Cathedral, 1480 S.W. 9th Ave. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets start at $30 at OutlandishFL.org.