It’s probably no secret that Atlanta’s drag community has long been dedicated to raising funds for worthy causes, and everyone knows that the best parties with the most fabulous people only happen at night. So, it’s only natural that night is when one local group of drag performers will be coming out once again to strut their tails for charity.
The 15th annual East Point Possums show is set for Saturday, June 16, from 7 – 11 p.m. Once again, it takes place in its namesake environs of gay-friendly downtown East Point, Georgia. [At press time, performers and sponsors were still being finalized.]
East Point “has the most unique blend of people,” said the Possums’ Rick Westbrook (aka “Rapture Divine Cox”). “You’ll see little old blue-haired ladies, straight couples, gay couples. It’s a very diverse, very gay friendly community. East Point has been so incredible to us, and our turnouts are always huge.”
As always, the East Point Possums show is a madcap gathering of amateur and professional drag performers pooling their irreverent talents for the benefit of local non-profit organizations. This year, the Possums have once again named the Atlanta Pride Committee as their key beneficiary, which will split monies raised with the Phillip Rush Center. The Center – located in Atlanta – is home to GLBT organizations including Georgia Equality, Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative, MEGA Family Project, and Circle of Grace Community Church. It also regularly serves as meeting space for a number of local support groups, public health fairs, and political and social events.
Westbrook pointed out that in discerning which local non-profits to designate as proceed recipients each year, calls are put out to various local organizations to submit bids. From those applicants, beneficiaries are selected.
“It’s always something that benefits the community,” said Westbrook.
Westbrook stressed the importance that the East Point Possums show’s outdoor setting, lack of need to rent facilities, and sponsors play in maximizing proceeds for the beneficiaries.
“We obviously have a very low overhead,” he said. “It’s a free show. You only pay if you want to drink [or tip performers].”
The Possums show is also an opportunity for many of Atlanta’s hottest drag superstars – both little-known and well-known – to take to the same stage for an evening of outrageous comedic revelry. This year’s show will boast a whopping 28 gals.
“We always tell everybody we have the largest drag show in the Southeast. People will say there are a lot of shows that may have much bigger audiences, but we have the biggest single show, especially with 28 performers this year,” said Westbrook. He noted that the East Point Possums is where several of today’s biggest drag divas like Alexandria Martin, Gigi Monroe, and Genre got their starts.
Many of the dedicated Possums performers from some of the earliest shows are still acting up all these years later. But to help keep the shenanigans fresh each year, the East Point Possums committee endeavors to check out the newest ladies on the local drag scene and invite them to perform, according to Westbrook.
If your yen for drag theatrics sways to the more regal and realistic, however, you’re best to look elsewhere. At a Possums show, the emphasis is on campiness, craziness, and ridiculous fun. There’s little to no feminity to be found in this troupe. After all, their slogan is “Doing good work through bad drag!”
Bad drag though it may be, however, these ladies have big hearts. But it’s not merely the sense of camaraderie that they share as comic performers that drives their mission to serve their community. The comedic approach of an East Point Possums show, and indeed the camp drag genre in general, can perhaps be attributed to a shared sense of feeling like outsiders in a conservative area.
“Being a native Atlantan, I have to say it’s just being in the Bible Belt that we realize this is maybe the best way to get people’s attention,” said Westbrook. “We want to raise awareness and proceeds and get people to think, and it’s just easier for me to do that as Rapture Divine Cox.”
To truly appreciate how big and dynamic the annual East Point Possums show has become in this, its 15th year, it’s important to consider its humble beginnings.
In mid June 1998, four longtime friends – Chuck Jenkins, Chesley Thurman, John Jeffrey, and Westbrook – received invitations for a party to celebrate Independence Day. A unique kink was issued with those invitations: the party’s host, David Sanford, wanted some of his guests to also perform a drag show.
The friends rose to the challenge and set off on a madcap quest to acquire their attire. After finding the right ensembles, Jenkins would become “Rococo Baroque,” Thurman became “Dina Daintymouth,” Jeffrey sashayed as “Prissy Cilla,” and Westbrook, as “Shenitta Lott,” served as backstage dragboy.
At that first impromptu performance, a tip jar was passed around and quickly netted a hefty sum. The performers that night decided to donate the cash anonymously to Pets Are Loving Support, and a mission was born.
One year, Jenkins, Thurman, Jeffrey, and Westbrook performed a flamboyant “Moulin Rouge” production number. When Sanford announced the group and told the crowd they were from East Point, spontaneously naming them the East Point Possums, a living legend was born.
As word spread about the party – which for the guests was as much about celebrating queer independence as it was American independence – the number of attendees began to grow each year until it ultimately became too big for its informal backyard setting. The amount of donations that were being collected at the annual Independence Day parties also grew too large to be given to PALS anonymously.
In response, Sanford passed the glittering flame on to the Possums, who moved the event to downtown East Point and decided to hold it in June to take advantage of less sweltering temperatures.
Now, fifteen years after its inception, the East Point Possums show’s popularity continues to grow by leaps and bounds. It is one of the most eagerly anticipated pre-Atlanta Pride events of the season, and has to date netted tens of thousands of dollars for local non-profits that serve the GLBT community.
East Point Possum Show
Commons in Downtown East Point
2727 East Point Street
East Point, GA 30344