It’s been a long journey to the Sydney Opera House stage for performer Ricky Beirao, AKA drag queen Rhubarb Rouge: from humble beginnings in his home country of Brazil, to a tough stint as a bullied teen in New Zealand to a new life here in Australia. This globetrotting life forms the basis for his new show, Confessions of a Drag Queen.
“It’s the story of my life, how I moved to New Zealand and started doing drag, but with a little bit of fiction and fantasy thrown in too. I’ve created a story around Rhubarb, my drag alter-ego, and her journey from the slums of Brazil to being a singing superstar in Australia,” he told the Star Observer.
Beirao and his family emigrated from Brazil to New Zealand when he was a 13-year-old who barely spoke a word of English.
“On my first day of school, some of the kids were like, ‘Fuck you, Brazilian faggot!’ and I was thinking, ‘Wow, people here are so welcoming! They love me!’” he chuckled.
“It was hard, but once I fell into drama it really helped. After high school I went to drama school in New Zealand, and that’s when I started doing drag.”
And so Rhubarb Rouge was born. Beirao has been doing drag for six years, and was crowned Miss Drag Wellington in 2009. Like many a gay man who turns to drag as a form of self-expression, Beirao admitted there were certain things he could only get away with when frocking up.
Beirao had a strict Catholic upbringing and, while faith is still a part of his life (“I think Jesus loves me for who I am – he’s not going to mind if I’m a drag queen,”) he explained that his family initially took some adjusting to his sexuality. The blow had been somewhat softened, though, by the fact his sister had already come out to the family.
“At first my mum was fine with it, but only as long as I promised to be a ‘discreet gay’ who didn’t do drag or anything. A year later she was making my costumes and coming to my shows!”
Ricky’s supportive mother is but one of many characters he plays throughout Confessions of a Drag Queen – as one would expect, Rhubarb takes much of the limelight, but supporting characters also include a crazed shop assistant and an overenthusiastic Zumba instructor. Think of it as a slice of what life’s like for a drag queen – something that struck a chord with audience members during the show’s recent Melbourne run.
“We got some great feedback from the audience, including one drag queen who came along and just loved it. It was great to have a drag queen come up to me after the show and tell me she could see so much of herself in my story.”
INFO: Confessions of a Drag Queen, Sydney Opera House, March 1. www.rhubarbrouge.com