Confessions of a 'Workhorse Queen': 'Drag Race' Alum Mrs. Kasha Davis on Her Marvelous Drag Career

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday February 17, 2021

Mrs. Kasha Davis is the drag persona and stage name of Ed Popil, and the subject of Angela Washko's documentary film "Workhorse Queen."

After preparing and sending in numerous audition tapes — not to mention posting hundreds of YouTube videos that her husband, Steve, helped to create — Mrs. Kasha Davis was a contestant on Season 7 of "RuPaul's Drag Race." One of 14 contestants that season, Mrs. Kasha Davis was the fifth to "sashay away," not returning to Rochester, N.Y., where she is a popular part of the local drag scene, but also to fresh opportunities on the national and international world of drag performance.

Washko's film delves deep into Popil's career (not to mention the closets of himself and friends and fellow drag artists like Aggy Dune, Ambrosia Salad, and Darienne Lake), and Popil is unreserved in sharing the details of a career in drag: The wigs, the travel, the highs and lows... and, not incidentally, the roadblocks, such as ageism, that litter the path.

Mrs. Kasha Davis chatted with EDGE recently, a conversation that took place by phone but was anything but phoned in. Sharp, smart, and funny, Mrs. Kasha Davis made our day.


EDGE: You say in the film you were always meant to be an entertainer. If drag hadn't been the art you found your way to, what other form of entertainment do you think you might have gone into? Standup comedy, maybe?

Mrs. Kasha Davis: Standup is something I have more recently been exploring. But I think the avenue I would have gone in would have been live theater. I went to school for theater and I loved really digging in and learning about a character: What they ate, where they slept, what their past was, and thinking about these types of things to bring to the stage to develop who the person is. And I think that's what I got the opportunity to do with Mrs. Kasha Davis.

EDGE: It seems like when you are in Mrs. Kasha Davis costume and character, you could live in that character.

Mrs. Kasha Davis: When I get into costume and character I feel like the process begins and I look into the mirror and I think to myself: "It's me, but it's some other dimension of me." It's kind of exciting, because even my husband Steve will be, like, "Well, I know you're there, but there's this person that comes out."

EDGE: Your husband is just fantastic. It's wonderful how supportive he is.

Mrs. Kasha Davis: Oh my gosh — you said it! He is fantastic. Right from the beginning when I thought about the idea of doing drag, he was there. Mr. Davis and I are partners in life, but, really, partners in the Mrs. Kasha Davis business.

EDGE: From your time in drag — both in the local scene in Rochester and what you've experienced of the television and international circles — do you have a sense of what makes drag so popular in the mainstream now?

Mrs. Kasha Davis: I think there are a lot of reasons. For some [performers] it's the escape; it's the idea where they can become and fantasize about being another person. I think for a lot of our audience members, we have a lot of young women, and there's this whole expectation in the fashion world and in general of how a woman needs to portray herself. Drag smashes that, and exaggerates it, and celebrates all shapes and sizes, which I think is wonderful, because it's not all about just the svelte runway model. And now we have even more celebration of drag where we have beards and hairy chests and the whole bit — that whole fantasy aspect. I think what it comes down to is that all genders have expectations, and what drag does is open up the spectrum more for people.

EDGE: And yet, ironically, as you touch on in the film, there's a strain of ageism in the drag world.

Mrs. Kasha Davis: I think the majority of the "Drag Race" fans are younger, and I think that in general the audience might be younger, but I think that prior to "Drag Race" there was what I consider the "celebrity drag queen." The local celebrity would be any age, but then the people that I recognize as "making it" would be the Lady Bunnys, the Coco Perus, of course RuPaul, Dina Martina, Miss Richfield 1981 — all these different queens who are all cabaret artists and are definitely older.

I think what's happening now is because of "Drag Race" and the idea of social media and the audience itself is appealing to a younger generation, and, honestly, if you attend Drag Con there are children. Which is one of the things that inspired me to get into Storytime. That's a place where [drag] has not been represented historically, and what a wonderful place to encourage acceptance and diversity — not just for those kids, but for their parents.

EDGE: It's interesting how Drag Storytime is so controversial. When clowns or stage magicians or any other sort of theatrical art form first emerged, did people get so upset about it? What makes people think drag is so terrible? Kids certainly don't seem to mind it.

Mrs. Kasha Davis: Right, and kids believe in the idea of the exaggerated and the fantasy and, you know, when you ask then "What will you be when you grow up?" the answer could be anything from an actual career to a fantasy answer like, "A unicorn," or "A fish." Kids just believe that this is Mrs. Kasha Davis, and she actually lives in the theater, and she loves to read books, and she just loves to dress up. If this world is meant for us to explore and learn and play, then as adults we can continue to foster and teach that. It doesn't have to at all be a sexualized conversation.

Certainly, there's the anomaly where someone's particular drag doesn't fit for performing with children, but that's fine.

EDGE: But then, you wouldn't have someone like Lenny Bruce come do the show at your office party or your kid's birthday party.

Mrs. Kasha Davis: Exactly. So you find the individual that suits that audience. Just looking back to my childhood, there was not an example of anyone gay or flamboyant that wasn't a joke. They were meant to be weirdos, light in the loafers, and sort of a tragic story. It wasn't a celebrated individual who was living a happy, healthy life.

EDGE: Is drag performance another way of reclamation for our community?

Mrs. Kasha Davis: I think for me, there was so much suppression of my feminine soul, by both by my parents and my grandparents. I was told "You must act a certain way, you must make certain choices in what you like in terms of what toys you play with," and, as I got older, "what colors and what clothes you wear," and then, "what careers you choose." Sometimes I think that's why I gravitated toward theater, because I could be silly and still be color in my movements and my acting on stage, but I had to stand and act a certain way and speak lower [in my everyday life]. So, drag is a little bit of an opportunity for me to have some rebellion and to say, "Yeah, this is who I am. I'm most free being all of these color of the rainbow, all of these shapes."

EDGE: Speaking of reclamation, I did want to ask you about the film's title. It comes from a comment that a "Drag Race" judge made — he called you a "workhorse queen," and he made it sound utterly dismissive.

Mrs. Kasha Davis: It was, and I love that. I love when you can, as Tina Turner says in a lot of her interviews, turn the poison into medicine. I've been called "basic," and I created a song about "basic." I've been called "a seasoned queen," which means that you're old, so I released a song about that. So, in that respect, a "workhorse queen" is meant to be sort of a dig, and I am proud of that. I grew up in the coal mining town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and I am proud of the fact that my parents taught me to work for whatever it is that I'm aspiring to. I think it's that idea of, yes, it's a bit blue collar, it's a bit get down and dirty, rather than sit and wait for life and your dreams to happen, and to work at them.

EDGE: What does it cost to outfit yourself with the wardrobe, the makeup, the wigs, and everything else you need to go out on stage as Mrs. Kasha Davis?

Mrs. Kasha Davis: Well, if you ask me, I never have enough! If you ask Mr. Davis, he's going to say, "Where did this one come from?" or "Did you buy another three wigs?!"

[Laughter]

Mrs. Kasha Davis: It is a little but tougher, I believe, in the time of social media, because so much gets photographed and put out to the world, and then they've seen it. And I think it depends on the queen and their take. Are they a "look queen?" Are they a "comedy queen?" Are they a "campy queen?" And those things end up helping to dictate what you're spending and what you're doing. There are some queens who really have a general look, and that's fine, because they go out and they're comedians, and people aren't coming to see what costumes they're wearing. I like to play around with nods to the vintage '50s, '60s, and '70s housewife [look] and add my spin on it, and then sometimes Mrs. Kasha Davis is a little bit of a showgirl. So, I get lavish with some of those costumes, but I am fortunate enough to have worked with a couple of designers who make "size man" for me, because I am a broad-shouldered diva. It can go anywhere from a couple hundred to a thousand or more for an outfit. If I had the opportunity to get cast on "Drag Race All Stars," that's a large, large investment to compete, because you may have fifteen, sixteen, twenty looks at a couple thousand dollars each.

EDGE: With that sort of investment, it makes sense when you tell us in the film that it doesn't really feel worth it to travel a long way for a show if you don't have an audience. But do enthusiastic smaller audiences make up for the occasional lack of large crowds when you're on the road, or for large audiences that maybe don't get it?

Mrs. Kasha Davis: Absolutely. I mean, that is the reality of any performer who's out on the road. And they're not necessarily willing to tell you that there was not a crowd. There are times when you're working, for instance, a place in P-Town, and you're barking on the street, and sometimes you get 60 people, but then other times you get six. As performers it's our responsibility to give those six people the same energy and level, because word of mouth is everything. If they are in a vacation town and they go to dinner and they tell people, "I just saw Mrs. Kasha Davis, and all she did was complain that there were only six people in the audience," that will spread faster than anything. You don't want that!

EDGE: How did you happen to connect with the filmmaker, Angela Washko?

Mrs. Kasha Davis: I was sitting at home and I received an email. Angela expressed interest in telling my story, and she explained that she was a professor at Carnegie-Mellon, and I thought, "Okay, this is better than a student; she's a professor." We connected and we spent some time together, and she explained what her intentions were, and I thought, "Oh, good, this will be done in a couple of weeks, and she'll put this out." Well, three years later, here we are at the stage where it will be appearing.

I am so humbled by the fact that somebody wanted to tell my story, and someone said that not enough was told on TV, and then she really... I mean, talk about doing the work! At the time I had a crazy schedule where I was in New York, LA, Rochester, of course, and then Australia, and she flew around and just spent the time and really got to know what it was like to be a drag queen who was on "RuPaul's Drag Race," and also one who was not among the top four of a season. I would say to her, "Oh my gosh, Angela, you're filming this and there's no one in the audience!" She'd say, "Well, this is the real story. We don't want this to be something that is just a showoff puff piece." It's the reality of the perspective that she sees from my life.

EDGE: This film makes a lot of use of home movies that your husband took of you over the course of your career. Had you envisioned maybe making a movie of your own from all this footage some day?

Mrs. Kasha Davis: We thought, "Let's just keep documenting this and putting he videos out there." Over the years, we realized there are hundred and hundreds of videos we've put out on YouTube, and we would joke, "I wonder if anybody's ever going to have any interest in these?" Angela mentioned that one of the reasons why she was so interested was when she looked up Mrs. Kasha Davis in YouTube, she found a plethora of footage that could also be accessed. Steve was so proud to have made that contribution.

EDGE: Where are you now with respect to yearning to be the kind of star that, say, Alaska Thunderfuck has become? Is it important at all at this point, when you've got such a vibrant community you contribute to and you're part of?

Mrs. Kasha Davis: I think that it's a nice drive to always have a "What if?" And I think that the universe gives you want you really want, and I have had the opportunity — like the rest of us in 2020, and 2021 now — to take a real good look at what really matters, and what really matters is right in front of my eyes: My husband, our daughters and future son-in-law, and fabulous dog, Max. And then that circle opens up in my personal life with regard to my sober community, and then my sisters that I perform with locally.

That being said, would I accept the opportunity to compete on "All Stars?" Yes. Would I change myself to try to deliver what "RuPaul's Drag Race," or the world in general, is looking for in terms of that celebrity drag queen? No. I love what we've put together in the last several years with regard to standup shows and our brunch shows. Yes, it's great to travel, but to be on the road eleven months out of the year and not be with my family? That's probably never been much of an interest. There is more realization of, "What can I do with what it is that I do now?"

EDGE: Your film is heading into the film festival circuit. Other than that, what might you have coming up?

Mrs. Kasha Davis: We have two other film projects in the works. One is "So I married a Drag Queen," and that's about drag couples. And then another is "Imagination Station," which is the Storytime variety show that I do live. I'd like to bring it to a streaming network. And I have a new children's book in development. In terms of my show, it's leaning more toward standup: The idea of having a set and then having a couple of my sisters that appear in the film — Ambrosia, Aggy, Darrien — I would love to see that group travel and do some standup.


Workhorse Queen" premieres at Slamdance Film Festival 2021 on Feb. 21. For festival information, follow this link.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.