Trio Rogue Performer Previews: The Real Black Swann/Trudy Carmichael Presents/Rosegold

Feb 20, 2021 | 2021 Articles, Rogue Festival

by Les Kurkendaal,
Robin Rothman
& Donna Kay Yarborough

Rogue Festival is almost here! But just like most things, this year will be different, as it will be virtual. However, KRL will still have performer preview articles, an article about virtual Rogue, reviews (all can be found in our Rogue Festival section), and an event page. So I hope you all check out Rogue this year and all of our articles! You can also learn more on the Rogue Festival website. We also have an article up now about Virtual Rogue.

Les Kurkendaal: The Real Black Swann, Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen to the Rogue Festival

Les Kurkendaal- Barrett is bringing his brand new show The Real Black Swann, Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen to the Rogue Festival. This is a storytelling show about William Dorsey Swann, a former slave who threw drag balls in the 1800s. Kurkendaal-Barrett says, “I saw this story and I feel that this was a story that needed to be told. This man was ahead of his time. And when you think about it, without Swann there would be no Ru Paul, there would be no Laverne Cox, and I wouldn’t be able to do the things that I do onstage. I am a proud gay man, but without William Dorsey Swann paving the way, I would not be able to be as open as I am about my life.”

Les Kurkendaal

“One thing that I learned while researching is the more things change the more things stay the same. Swann had to deal with a ton of racism and homophobia. An example is one of his drag balls got busted because this was back when doing drag was a crime. All of the black men were arrested and all of the white men were not only set free, they were forced to testify against the black men.”

Kurkendaal says, “Learning about all of this stuff was eye opening for me. William Dorsey Swann was so ahead of his time. And one piece of information that is not out there is that Swann was the first LGBTQ people to openly protest and fight for LGBTQ rights. My goal for doing this show is to get the word out there about Swann. There is very little information about him. There is only one book, and that’s not even going to be published until next year.” You can find more info about this at Fresno Rogue Festival website.

Trudy Carmichael Presents The Improvised One-Woman Show!
by Robin Rothman

I began my training in long-form improv comedy at New York City’s UCB and Magnet Theaters in 2006 and stumbled upon a team called “I Eat Pandas” performing long-form musical improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade. I was a comedy and Musical Theater nerd, so obviously, I fell in love with them instantly and could not wait to figure out how I could do exactly what they were doing. The problem was long-form musical improv was still relatively new on the scene, so resources and performance opportunities were few and far between, but I decided that the many years of making up songs in my bedroom throughout my childhood had prepared me for this moment and I was determined to create my own opportunity and produce a show of my own.

Not long after making that bold decision, I went on a family trip to Las Vegas, where we happened upon a very old school Vegas lounge act at the now defunct Barbary Coast Hotel and Casino. I adored the kitschy aesthetic of the singers and musicians, and I thought, “This is it! This is what I want my show to be!” As soon as I returned to New York, I hired one of the performers from “I Eat Pandas” to direct us and held auditions with other musical-minded improvisers. Once cast, we were all tasked with improvising characters during rehearsal and it was there that Trudy Carmichael and ‘The Royal Flushes’ were born.

We performed together from 2005-2007 at improv and cabaret theaters around NYC until it was time to part ways, but I never gave up on Trudy. My passion for musical improv never waned, and in 2009, I partnered with my dear friend, T.J. Mannix, to co-produce The First Annual New York Musical Improv Festival. It was there that I brought Trudy out of semi-retirement to host a Musical Improv Mixer during the festival.

That opportunity breathed new life into the character, and the festival sparked an even greater amount of interest in the art of musical improv from the community. It wasn’t long before more musical improv classes were being offered, and the Musical Magnet Mixer became a weekly event at the Magnet theater and the destination for improvisers new to musical improv to cut their teeth. Having the opportunity to mix and mingle with so many faces new to the scene was thrilling, and I am always deeply touched when a now-veteran performer recounts how their scene with Trudy was their first time ever performing musical improv.

After almost seven years of hosting the Musical Magnet Mixer, I finally, and literally, got my act together to take Trudy out on the road for the opportunity to shine on her own as a solo act. The idea of going solo and improvising an entire show on the spot on my own seemed terrifying at first, but it was something that I knew I had been preparing for since I was that little girl making up songs in my bedroom.

The form of this show is a high-energy, jazzy, cabaret where Trudy weaves together an improvised musical based on the suggestion of a made-up show title. Trudy often breaks the fourth wall to engage with the audience throughout the show, taking full advantage of the unpredictability of the art of improv comedy. The biggest reward of performing an unscripted piece is that the audience becomes my collaborator. Each One Night Only performance is unique to that audience, and we all get to unwrap the show together moment by moment.

I knew that I had to throw myself right into the deep end, but felt that it might be a bit less nerve-wracking to do so in front of a bunch of complete strangers, rather than my peers in NYC, so my first ever performance of Trudy Carmichael Presents The Improvised One-Woman Show! was at The Providence Improv Festival in 2017. The audience was incredibly supportive, and I had the time of my life! I left that stage knowing that this was what I was supposed to be doing, and I couldn’t wait to do it all over again for the very first time. That is the beauty of musical improv.

Now that the show is being performed virtually in front of a computer screen, I encourage the audience to engage with me through live comments. It’s not nearly the same, but in the world of improv you embrace challenges and turn them into gifts. No matter what, you make it work! This is my first time performing at The Rogue Festival, and I am grateful for the opportunity to perform virtually – especially as a New Yorker – even though I am currently sheltering with my family in Las Vegas.

Trudy Carmichael Presents The Improvised One-Woman Show!
in The Virtual Rogue Festival 2021 will be performed online at 6 p.m. (PST)/ 9 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, March 7 and 2 p.m. (PST)/5 p.m. (EST) on Saturday, March 13 with a running time of 45 minutes. No two shows are ever the same! Ages 14+
For more info visit:

Veteran Rogue Performer D.K.Yarborough Brings Horror to Fresno with Rosegold
by Donna Kay Yarborough

Lovely folx,

Thanks for making a moment of stillness to read my little personal essay (a.k.a. ramble) about this horror show. “Which horror show?”, you may ask, considering what we have all been through lately. Thankfully, I am speaking of an actual horror show, called Rosegold.

Rosegold was born last year, falling out of my brain like a Zeus-ian god-child, coming out close to fully-formed. Since coming to Rogue Festival in 2015, all of my show-behbehs have been comedies: comedy music, comedy storytelling, comedy TED talk…comedy beyond my control. I have always been seen as a comedian, whether I wanted it or not. But, this new show-behbeh, this god-child formed of fears and altered memories and half-truths, feels like it was seeded by my greatest love: Horror.

I have always loved Horror. It has always been in me. At the age of five, I made a picture book called, “The Two Lovers: A Story of Love and Death”—My parents helped me spell the title. It was a classic star-cross’d lovers tale. Two “Indians” in love with each other could not be together because they were from different tribes, so they tried to run away together, but they were killed by king cobras. The End.

Forbidden love, lust, and Cobras. From a five-year-old. That’s me!

All those formative years of watching late-night horror movies, tearing through Stephen King novels, playing Ouija by myself, telling ghost stories, absorbing all aspects of the occult made me a…Comedian.

Since I became involved with Fringe theatre festivals, I have been trying to figure out a way to make a live show that is genuinely disturbing and, well, scary. Comedy shows come a dime a dozen. Heart-wrenching confessionals are award-winning staples. Magic, clowns, musical revues, general avant-garde weirdness—all expected and marvelously executed at Fringe festivals. But, I’ve seen very few real attempts at Horror. Why? It’s hard to do in person! The audience at a live show doesn’t get a forced point of view or a sense of isolation. They will not be close enough to the actors to feel threat…unless they’re in an extreme “horror house.”

**This is where I take a moment to acknowledge “The Coldhearts,” a duo out of NYC. They use distinct characters and music to create marvelously dark shows. Look them up.

So how would I make a Horror show by myself?

I made a deal with a devil, so to speak.

Will y’all permit me to get a little woo-woo-y for a moment? If that is not your thing, feel free to skip ahead past the brackets. I won’t blame you one bit.

[Many people can tell you what it’s like to have a something latched on to you. Not like a leech or a lamphrey; they nurture themselves with flesh and blood. This is a something that feeds off of your spirit, your fear, your energy. This thing is like an intangible tick. And, you sometimes feel nothing, and sometimes it makes your whole system sick. I had an intangible tick. I made a bargain with it. If it would leave me to let my mind function, I would make it part of my story. So I did.]

Alright, you skeptics can come back in again.

Rosegold is ultimately about addiction. Set at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, the other meeting-goers (that’s you, the audience) will hear a woman named Jamie speak up for the first time, sharing her “how-it-got-to-here” story, her reasons for drinking. And trust me when I say her reasons are more than anyone bargained for. Some-things stay with you forever.

So, did I make a good story-behbeh? Did I achieve my goal? Did I make the Horror happen? You’re going to have to figure that out for yourself. But let me sweeten you up with with these words from reviewer John Chapman—2nd from Bottom:

“…this American tale may send you to bed with the horrors – both of the unknown which is in the darkness and that which constitutes addiction.”

You can see the COVID version of Rosegold as part of the 2021 Fresno Rogue Festival Online. Streaming times are Saturday, March 6, 2 p.m. (PST), and Sunday, March 14, 6 p.m. For more information go to Fresno Rogue Festival website. To follow my escapades and link up with my social media, go to


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