Binge Fringe Magazine

INTERVIEW: A Digital Pint with… Les Kurkendaal-Barrett, landing with ‘The Real Black Swann’ at Prague Fringe 2023

The story of America’s first Black Drag Queen and pioneering Queer activist William Dorsey Swann is being taken to the Prague Fringe stage this year in Kurkendaal-Barrett Productions’ The Real Black Swann: Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen. The story follows Swann from ‘American Slave’ to ‘Queen of Drag’, and with a draw-in like that, it’s hardly surprising that we wanted to sit down with the show’s creator. Performer Les claims that Dorsey Swann was the first Queer activist on record, and we wanted to get to know more about how the story found it’s way to Prague, and how the story is still relevant to Queer politics today.

You can catch The Real Black Swann: Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen at the Museum of Alchemists between August 22nd and 27th (times vary by day). Tickets are available through the Prague Fringe Box Office.

Jake: Hi Les! Tell us all about the story of William Dorsey Swann, Washington D.C’s “Queen of Drag” in the 1800s, and how you found yourself putting it together into a show.

Les: William Dorsey Swann was a former slave who became the ‘Queen of Drag’ in the late 1800’s . He was also the first queer activist on record in the US. I got a text from my friend Eleanor with a magazine article about the story of William Dorsey Swann with a note that said “Here is your next solo show”. I read the article and knew immediately that my friend was right! This was during the Black Lives Matter protests in the US and the atmosphere inspired me to write.

Jake: You’ve described Swann as the first Queer activist in the U.S – what about the story have you managed to capture in the piece and how are you hoping it will impact on the audience?

Les: Yes, William Dorsey Swann was the first Queer activist on record. The sad thing is with certain states making Drag illegal, we are literally fighting the same fight that William fought over one hundred years ago.  I find that this resonates with audiences who see the show because it tells us that society is in danger of going backwards. It tells the audience why it’s important for us to stay vigilant.

Jake: Give us an idea of the process of taking a queer historical figure and turning their life story and essence into a show for Prague Fringe.

Les: It was actually very difficult because it was hard to find information about William Dorsey Swann. When I Googled, I quickly found that the majority of the information was the same magazine article that had been regurgitated over and over again. There was not a lot of information out there. So I really had to work hard to find the essence of William but I think that I succeeded. One of the things that I did was to ask myself ” How would I feel if I was back in the 1800’s? How would I feel if I had to endure the same racism and homophobia that William did?”.

Jake: Now that we’re gearing up for Prague Fringe, what are you most excited for?

Les: The thing that I am most excited about is coming to Prague and making new friends and having new adventures.

Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if your show was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why?

Les: My show would be a chocolate milkshake. and the reason why is because the show is sweet and fulfilling.

Jake Mace

Our Lead Editor & Edinburgh Editor. Jake loves putting together novel-length reviews that try to heat-seek the essence of everything they watch. They are interested in New Writing, Literary Adaptations, Musicals, Cabaret, and Stand-Up. Jake aims to cover themes like Class, Nationality, Identity, Queerness, and AI/Automation.

Festivals: EdFringe (2018-2023), Brighton Fringe (2019), Paris Fringe (2020), VAULT Festival (2023), Prague Fringe (2023), Dundee Fringe (2023)
Pronouns: They/Them