Comedy for a Cause

The Rubi Girls take their laughs seriously

Photo: The Rubi Girls by stage name include (standing left-to-right): Dana Sintell (Josh Stucky), Jackie O (Jacob Sams), Minnie Skirt (Alex Smith), Taj Mahal (Tommy Rumpke), Redeema Coupon (Nathan Cornett), and India Summer (Brent Johnson). And (lower five left-to-right): Pia Rivers (James Karr), Tara Misu (Scott Winters), Ileasa Plymouth (Jonathan McNeal), Pussy Galore (Kristine Hofstra), and Annie Biotix (Mark Brewer).

By Dana Walczak

When I first heard about The Rubi Girls, I had no idea what to expect. But, boy, was I excited. Going through an unassuming side-door, I entered the Clubhouse near Ghostlight Coffee to find what can only be called a woman’s dream room.

Wigs and dresses for days. I was honestly in awe. The feeling that came over me upon entering could be equated to a kid in the ’80s, going to Chuck E. Cheese’s. It was awesome.

Named after Rubicon Street where they got their start 30 years ago, it’s no wonder that they have a relationship with the Montgomery County Fairgrounds.

This was a world that I was only semi-familiar with, so I was excited to learn about the girls. Although, I must say, afterwards I felt really bad about myself as a woman because these men (and woman) were wayyy better at doing their makeup than me, even if it does take them hours.

“Just focus on your lashes and brows,” Brent Johnson, India Summer, owner of Square One Salon and Spa said, “the trick is to do a shade lighter than you need.”

And that wasn’t the only trick I learned.

Did you know that if you cut a nerf ball in half, wrap it in a stocking and tie it off like a nipple, you have instant boob? I didn’t. Screw push-up bras and chicken cutlets. I’m doing that next time I need a lift.

In a matter of an hour, I watched them transform into Khaleesi, Tina Turner, Carmen Sandiego, gypsies, showgirls, and Peter’s Wendy. It was enchanting and truly something to be admired.

As I spent time with the girls, I learned more about them and the work that they do. You see, they don’t just do this for fun. They raise money. A lot of it. They helped to raise over a million dollars over the past 30 years, to be exact.

Initially starting with a handful of men and morphing into a dozen of Daytonians looking to give back to their community, the Rubi Girls is comprised of business owners, filmmakers, salon professionals, and schoolteachers (among others). This group of men (and cis woman) perform throughout the state as a comedic-drag troupe raising money for HIV/AIDS, gay-related causes, and community outreach.

“Back in the day, Drag Queens weren’t a thing, that’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed [over the years],” said Josh Stuckey, also known as Dana Sintell (an original member). “The other thing is that we do luncheons and things like that…so what we are doing has become cool, and it really reaches out to everyone. That’s the biggest difference from when we started.”

Another thing she mentioned was the difference in public opinion about drag queens—people are much more accepting today than when they started, and they are making a huge difference to people who are often marginalized. Hashtag, Respect.

The reason I found myself in their Clubhouse, I should mention, was as a prequel to one of their largest fundraising events of the year, Masquerage. The biennial event, located at the Dayton Fairgrounds has been billed as “the parties of parties for a cause” and has helped to raise over $1.6 Million for Equitas Health (formerly the AIDS Resource Center Ohio) for their efforts to provide critical funds for HIV/AIDS medical care and treatment, as well as prevention. Additionally, they help to provide primary care services, behavioral counseling, and dental care.

“Dental care is one of the most underserved industries for those with HIV/AIDs,” said Brenden Winn of Equitas Health.

“Our purpose had to evolve as that purpose evolved,” Dana said, “with HIV, yes it’s around, but it’s not as prevalent, so we were like ‘what do we do now?’ and we’ve adjusted. And who knows what is next.”

These were, honestly, some of the nicest, most caring, and welcoming people I have met since living in Dayton.

And while they are a drag troupe, their purpose is not to emulate women; it is to create levity and joy wherever they go.

And joy do they bring.

On Monday, I attended an event at the 5th Street Brew Pub where The Rubi Girls were the guest bartenders. And because it was Halloween, it was probably even more fun than a regular night with the girls.

The place was packed. While the event only went for a few hours, the Pub was filled with people coming in and out the whole time. I must have counted a hundred or so different people in the hour and a half that I was there.

And I must say, the costumes were even better than the last time I saw them. We had everything from The Sanderson Sisters to Stevie Nicks, and if you think regular drag looks good—Halloween drag is even better. And I’m pretty sure that they already had everything they needed for costumes in their Clubhouse.

As I approached the entryway, Dana greeted me with open arms, (she was Winifred Sanderson), and immediately asked if I remembered her. Of course I did. How could anyone ever forget Tina? And it was then that I felt like I was at home. I know it is cheesy, but I felt so welcome. I then saddled up to the bar for a drink. One dollar per beer went to their causes, as did 10 percent of the proceeds, and tips (as always) were appreciated.

I was happy to give them a tip, as while I was there, the entire bar was laughing at their antics. These ladies know how to work a crowd, that’s for sure.

From, ‘Bitch better have my money,’ to ‘thank you, darling’ The Rubi Girls were out for blood. And by blood, I mean donations. Everything in their powers that they could do, they did.

I haven’t seen that level of dedication in a while.

Filmmaker Jonathan McNeal was my main point of contact with the girls. Over a decade ago, as a film student, he directed a documentary short film about The Rubi Girls and became part of the troupe. The documentary was a winner for the Audience Award for best documentary at the Fire Island Film Video Festival as well as the Audience Award, Best of Festival at the Out on Film Fest in Atlanta, GA. The documentary gives viewers backstage access to the girls, just like I was given. It is certainly worth a viewing.

“It just really felt like a family, and I wanted to help,” Ileasa Plymouth (Jonathan), said.

Despite their superhero personas, these ladies were some of the most grounded people I have met, and I personally believe that that is in part because they give a damn. And my idea of a superhero is someone who expects no accolades, one who never views themselves as such, and even though they are (to me), one who will strive to stay humble and remember that their cause is to lift others up.

Regardless of how they are dressed, in drag or without, The Rubi Girls are people I am happy to have met. And I will from here on out, support them in their endeavors. I suggest you do, too. I know that as a journalist, I am supposed to remain unbiased, but…when I see an organization doing something that is as beneficial as what The Rubi Girls are doing, I can’t help but get behind it, (see what I did there?)

But in all seriousness, these men are super women.

I went to an all girls’ school for 11 years, I know a strong woman when I see them. And to see strong men take on the often-awful role of a woman to raise money for their community, is a beautiful thing to see.

And not only do they do it in full hair, makeup, and heels, they do it through comedy. And poignantly. Seemingly always up on the trends, these ladies know how to have a good time.

For this article, it was requested of me that I get before and after photos, however, upon our first meeting these ladies were already half made up. I know that I would never like to be caught half dressed (‘You’re never fully dressed without a smile.’) after all, so I wasn’t going to mess with these women. I mean, all of them could totally take me, but obviously never would. But I didn’t know that then.

Like I said, I know a strong woman when I see her, and over the past couple of weeks, I’ve met a number of great ones. No one ever said you had to have a vagina to be a good or strong woman.

The Rubi Girls introduced me to a part of Dayton that I love, but had only partially realized. Believe it or not, my husband (then fiancé) and I went to Masque for our first big outing in Dayton when we moved here 3 years ago. We both freaking loved it. That is when I learned that Dayton is one of the most LGBTQ friendly cities in the nation, which I respect like crazy.

Okay, he just corrected me. We actually went to MJ’s on Jefferson (so he says, I don›t believe him based on pictures).

In college, I lived in Chicago, and East of San Francisco, and I would have said that Chicago has the best pride week in the nation. I might be correct about the week, but Dayton has the best pride family that I have ever met. And I am proud to call these people my compatriots and companions. These are year round people.

They are people who care about their friends and family. They love wearing costumes, but that’s not what they are about.

They are about love and acceptance, validity in one’s truth, helping each other as brothers and sisters in this crazy time we call 2017 in America.

These Girls have got your back, and I hope you have theirs, too.

If you would like to witness this majesty in person, their largest event is an annual after-Thanksgiving party “The Show Must go on!” at The Coliseum at Montgomery County Fairgrounds at 1043 South Main Street in Dayton at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 25. 

Terms for Admission:

Admission is restricted to guests 21 and over with proper identification. Tickets on sale at the door night of the show. Presale tickets available online until midnight Friday Nov. 24. Print and bring your receipt for entry.

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Dana Walczak
Reach DCP freelance writer Dana Walczak at DanaWalczak@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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