The D.C. Kings, a local drag king troupe, had their final performance Sunday night at the Bier Baron Tavern. Founder Kendra Kuliga (who performs as Ken Vegas) said she could no longer keep the group operating at the same level with other demands on her time.
“There were times when I had to really sacrifice work in order to really make the Kings continue,” she said. “Looking at where I am in my life now, I really can’t do that anymore.”
Kuliga has her own graphic design business and said she will focus more on that. The Kings, which celebrated their 15th anniversary in February, had about 25-30 active performers over the last year and performed monthly. Vegas credits the late Cheryl Spector with getting D.C. lesbians excited about drag king performance. In 1996, she suggested a drag king contest for the Dyke March event. Kuliga entered and won. Monthly shows started at Chaos after the Kings performed at Capital Pride in 1999.
More than 400 kings performed about 500 monthly shows since the group’s inception. For years, the group performed at Phase 1, D.C.’s well-known lesbian nightclub. When it closed for renovations early this year, the Kings started performing elsewhere. Although the bar reopened, Kuliga said it would have been hard to continue there without former Phase 1 manager Angela Lombardi.
“She’s the real reason we were able to stay there so long,” Kuliga said. “She always made sure we had our space at the Phase.”
Kuliga said turning the group over to another organizer wasn’t feasible.
“I built a brand with the Kings … in a very intentional way,” she said. “To give that over to someone else would mean I could never really walk away.”
She said she’s confident, though, that local kings will find other performance opportunities. She said most of the kings “were very supportive” of her decision. She will continue to produce other shows and said D.C. has not seen the last of Vegas, her drag alter ego.
About 160 people attended last weekend’s final performance, Kuliga said.