By Jan Mercker

Ryan Kincade has found a sparkly and hilarious way to get folks to rethink bias and preconceived notions. Kincade’s alter ego, a glamorous and wickedly funny drag queen named Anja Dick, is at the center of a burgeoning drag scene with shows popping up—and selling out—all over Loudoun. And she’s giving Kincade a chance to find his voice and forge connections.

“I really found that the character I could create in drag allows me to say things in a way that people would find offensive if Ryan said them. If Anja says them, they’re 25 percent funnier, and people can laugh at themselves,” Kincade said. “It’s given me this voice that I didn’t think I could ever find.”

Kincade has been developing the Anja character for several years, perfecting her mannerisms, voice and personality. He introduced her at private parties before launching a series of popular small-scale drag shows at Tarbender’s Lounge in Leesburg last summer. Kincade connected with Purcellville-based events promoter Carrie Merlin, who also started organizing drag events last year, and Merlin is now booking monthly drag brunches in Leesburg hosted by Anja, along with evening drag shows hosted by noted DMV drag queen Alexa V. Shontelle.

Kincade, who lives in Leesburg with his husband, spent 20 years in education technology and the past four years doing behavioral science research for PBS Kids. Last year, he quit his day job to focus on the Anja character with a goal of bringing her into the larger media sphere and a dream of bringing her to a national stage.

With his background in education, the Minnesota native uses his over-the-top character to bring in social critique through humor and glam.

One rule of drag shows is not to touch the queens—but they might touch you, as Sabrina Laurence demonstrated at a drag brunch at Old Town Grill in downtown Leesburg Sunday, Jan. 26. [Renss Greene/Loudoun Now]

“I want to go up and talk about social issues kind of like George Carlin used to, but I want to give them the Dolly Parton treatment so that when people laugh at themselves they get a little bit out of it and they’re better the next time,” Kincade said. “That’s my idea of what education is.”

And that education also happens to be fun, entertaining and a little risqué with singing, dancing, amazing costumes, lots of humorous banter and engaging repartee with the audience. For Kinkade, it’s all about creating a connection with the audience.

“When people interact with me and I’m in character, they don’t look at my costume, they don’t look at my makeup, they look me right in the eyes because they see Anja as a person and they’re interacting with that person, and that’s what I’m going for,” Kincade said.

This includes working hard to connect with audience members who may be a little uncomfortable, a talent developed through his behavioral science background and honed at private parties.

“What I’d always do is watch people’s reactions to see who the startled people were and then find a way to make them my best friend throughout the night,” he said.

Since turning to drag full time, Kincade has turned his focus to rehearsing performances, learning to sew, writing music and playing guitar. “All of the things that I’ll need to be able to do well to unleash Anja on the world,” he said.

His efforts to beef up his costuming skills connected him with another Leesburg-based performer and artist who has become an integral part of the Loudoun shows. He met Matthew Perkins, who performs as Crimsyn, through a neighborhood website in Leesburg when Kincade was looking for sewing lessons.

Crimsyn, towering over audience members in her heels, dances at a drag brunch at Old Town Grill in downtown Leesburg Sunday, Jan. 26. [Renss Greene/Loudoun Now]

Perkins is a costume specialist and Heritage High School alum who graduated from James Madison University last year before returning to Leesburg. He discovered cosplay at a video game convention while still in high school, and that experience, along with the reality television series “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” influenced his decision to study art and costuming in college. Perkins was involved with the tight-knit drag community at JMU, and was thrilled to be a part of launching a community in his hometown.

“Learning from these performances and getting to talk to people afterwards, I’ve realized that what we’re doing now is long overdue,” Perkins said. “There are so many supportive people who lie here and want to be a part of a community that’s more tight-knit or interactive with each other. These performances enable these people to be a part of it. I feel like they’ve just been waiting for something like this to happen.”

For Perkins, creating the character of Crimsyn has meant finding a balance between glam and geeky as she develops on stage, and warmth and humor are key.

“I’m starting to figure out more of who Crimsyn is. I do see it as a character and a personality shift, but I’m still finding out exactly what that means,” he said. “I like to look pretty and elaborate and beautiful, but my sense of humor is like a huge Dr. Seuss dad joke type thing. … She looks like she has a mean side, but it’s a huge knock-knock joke once you get to meet her.”

Event promoter Carrie Merlin is also a Loudoun native, an LGBT ally and drag show aficionado. She started her event company CLM Entertainment last year, initially focused on booking ticketed music shows at Purcellville’s Dragon Hops Brewing. After attending a drag show in Miami with friends, she approached Dragon Hops about hosting a local drag show last year. The owners were game, and the inaugural December show sold out in just a few days.

“People were so happy,” Merlin said. “I’ve never seen any place in Purcellville where people were dancing almost as if they were in a club.”

Since then, Merlin has been booking events around Loudoun, including monthly Momma’s Drag Brunches at downtown Leesburg’s Old Town Grill and evening Divas Drag Shows at Chefscape in Village at Leesburg. Merlin says the evening shows tend to be a little more over the top, with music blasting, a full-on party atmosphere, “in your face” humor and a 21+ vibe, while the slightly more laid-back brunches are full of witty innuendo, but both feature great music, costumes and entertainment. Her events tend to have a core demographic of women 35 and over, but guys are welcome and do show up, Merlin said.

Drag shows often get physically intimate, as Anja Dick demonstrated on a man celebrating his 21st birthday at a drag brunch at Old Town Grill in downtown Leesburg Sunday, Jan. 26. [Renss Greene/Loudoun Now]

Merlin’s Mardi Gras Divas evening show Feb. 21 at Chefscape is already sold out, and tickets for a March 1 brunch downtown and an April 24 Chefscape show are going fast. Merlin agrees that an increasingly sophisticated Loudoun is ready for a quintessentially urban style of entertainment.

“It’s not what our bumper stickers look like, but there’s a whole bunch of people here who have lived elsewhere and had other forms of entertainment. They get here and have resigned themselves to the winery circuit, but there are other things to do,” she said.

The DC-based regional chain City Tap House is also tapping into the zeitgeist with its first Loudoun Drag King & Queen Brunch, featuring Anja Dick and Crimsyn along with a list of DMV favorite queens and kings (women dressed as men), at its new One Loudoun restaurant Saturday, Feb. 1 after years of hosting “infamous” drag shows at its Dupont Circle location.

“This event definitely was at the top of our list to bring to One Loudoun. Any timing for this event is good timing, and it has been consistently well-received in our other markets,” said City Tap House partner Jonathan Ball. Tables for Saturday’s show are sold out, but the restaurant is accepting standing room walk-ins the day of the show.

For Kincade, the groundswell of interest is a chance to not only have a blast, but also tap into growing “passive support” for the LGBT community in Loudoun.

“I think there are so many people out there who are willing,” he said. “They just haven’t had an opportunity, and here it is.”

For more information on CLM Entertainment’s upcoming Leesburg drag brunches and evening drag shows, facebook.com/eventbymerlin. For details on City Tap Loudoun’s February 1 drag brunch and other upcoming events, go to facebook.com/citytaploudoun.