Jon Kovach is a talented actor from New York City and is playing the titular character in Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill met with the actor to discuss drag, reprisals, and Sacramento.
Where are you from?
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, raised in the suburb of West Chester. I moved to NYC in 2015 and have happily lived there since.
What was your first experience with drag?
My first experience with drag was during my senior year as a Lakota West Theatre student in high school. A recent graduate was returning home for the weekend, and it was rumored that he had been performing in drag. Everyone is a product of their own environment, right? I joined the theatre program late in high school, and before joining, my exposure to anything other than straight-white-conservative was limited. My friends laughed when I asked what “drag” meant, and that weekend said graduate showed me. He was in the bathroom when I arrived to my friend’s parent’s basement, and 25-30 minutes later she came out in full beat (drag make-up), a long blonde wig, womanly curves hidden under a stunning dress, lip-syncing to a bad-ass pop-diva of the time. I remember being confused; why is he doing this? I remember believing that said graduate must have gotten breast implants (I was wrong, it was padding). I remember being embarrassed for looking at her breasts. I remember her dancing close to me, and touching my face. I remember being uncomfortable, and shortly thereafter kindly excusing myself from the event. This opened up a great dialogue with my friends about learning from that discomfort, and growing to be more open-minded. A few summers later, after moving out of my hometown for college, touring the US with a rock-band, and exposing myself to much beyond West Chester, I was performing in Band Geeks! the musical at Human Race Theatre Co. in Dayton, Ohio. Remembering my experience from high school, I tentatively followed our ensemble to a drag show after one of our performances. Surely I had grown, right? Drag queens danced close to me, touched my face, and shoved my hand into their padded breasts when I offered a dollar bill. I still didn’t “get it” fully, at first; the spirit of drag, but I wasn’t uncomfortable. I was curious as opposed to confused. Using my theatre training at Miami University to discern performance choices I asked myself: why lip-syncing as opposed to just singing? Why so much make-up, and overly-bright clothing? Why am I enjoying this so much? Then it clicked. That joy is why. The freedom that drag brings to the audience, the performers, and to myself is why. A freedom from reality, singing without any limitations of what live bodies/voices allow. Freedom from societal gender norms, constraints, clothing trends, and practicalities. Freedom from the discomfort of a homogenous closed-minded upbringing.
You’ve done this show before. What is it like to return to play this role again?
This is my first time reprising a role, and I am enjoying it more than I thought that I would. Typically, I am cast in a role 1-2 months in advance, then 3-4 weeks of rehearsal, then 3-4 weeks of performances. On this schedule, I am given enough time to form a solid character by opening night, and to be confident in my choices by closing. When the show closes, I may stop working on the story, but the story continues working on me. Meaning, problems/goals will happen in my life that imitate what happens in the script and on stage, and I am able to use what I’ve learned from working on the play in order to solve a problem/achieve a goal in my own life. So I return to Casey at B Street with a much better understanding of the character and the story than I ever could have been able to the last time I performed the role at The Hippodrome Theatre in Gainesville, FL last year (a performance I am also very proud of). And, funny enough, this is the second time that I am playing Casey, but the third time that I have gotten an offer for the role. I was offered the part in Fall of 2016, but turned it down at the opportunity to work at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA in Abigail/1702. So, Casey and The Legend of Georgia McBride have been sitting with me since I read the play the first time in Fall 2016, and I’ve never rolled into an opening night feeling more confident in understanding a character, a story than I am for this performance.
Are you enjoying working at B Street Theatre?
I have thoroughly enjoyed working at B Street Theatre. What a treat to perform in such a beautiful brand-new facility. The staff is so dedicated and passionate to balance so much programming at the quality they produce. This is the hardest-working and most-diversely-skilled intern company that I’ve seen in a regional theatre. Our director, Jerry Montoya, said early in our rehearsal process that B Street focuses mainly on finding strong actors, and that has shown. Between the performance that I caught in Ironbound and the actors that I have the pleasure of sharing the stage with in The Legend of Georgia McBride, this theatre knows how to pick actors.
What are your impressions of Sacramento?
My time outside of rehearsal has been limited. This show is physically and emotionally draining for me, Casey goes through quite the journey. What I have seen I’ve really enjoyed. I caught a drag show at Capitol Garage, and had great vegan food during vegan chef challenge month. The bicycle costume parade on Halloween sure was fun. I went for a hike through the river access at Watt Avenue which was fantastic. The weather this time of year is to die for, 80’s around noon and 50’s at night is supreme. Also the variety of plant life if stunning, how can one climate foster evergreens and palm trees?
Why is this show relevant in 2018?
To briefly echo some points I brought up earlier: it is always important to encourage open-mindedness, to express joy, and celebrate freedom. One of my main concerns in 2018 is the continued push-back against civil rights. Why has the White House chosen to remove any/all LGBTQ terminology from their website/database? Why has the White House recently refused to recognize trans persons’ gender identity? Why does the Republican party continue to endorse a candidate proudly claiming nationalism (rhetoric strongly used by members of the KKK, Neo-Nazis, & white supremacists; groups known for oppressing, beating, and murdering LGBTQ persons)? Drag is different than LGBTQ, straight people perform in drag all of the time, but drag is closely connected to the LGBTQ community, and providing exposure to the LGBTQ community in any way is positive for society. We must continue to fight for LGBTQ rights and representation.
Who are some drag queens that inspire you?
Anita Cocktail in Provincetown, MA, is incredible. I worked with Anita’s creator Mike Steers at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors’ Theatre. She’s quite the queen, and hosts a benefit drag show every year for the AIDS foundation. I am recently quite the fan of Mercury Rising, right here in Sacramento, CA. She is endlessly charismatic, witty, has fabulous costumes, and can perform the best death drop (a well-known and incredibly difficult drag dance move) I’ve ever seen.
If you created your own drag persona, what would she be named?
Miss Tracy Mills from Georgia McBride says to make a drag name on-the-fly use your mother’s birthplace (Sharonville, OH) and the name of the first girl you’ve ever kissed (Brittany Leeland), so I’d start with: Sharon Leeland. That would probably develop into a play on the name Sharon and the word “sharing” to something clever like: Sharon Secrets, Sharon Abed, or Sharon Undies.
The Legend of Georgia McBride continues on the Mainstage this week and runs until December 9. Come see Jon and the rest of the cast find their inner queen.