Henrique Beirao, aka Rhubarb Rouge, is changing both the New Zealand drag scene and his hometown of Palmerston North. In October, Henrique will produce and perform in Aotearoa’s first three-day drag festival, Palmy Drag Fest, an ambitious event he is producing independently. Express caught up with the drag entrepreneur to discover his inspiration and long-term goals.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO SETTLE IN PALMERSTON NORTH?
I lived in Palmy when I was a teenager with my family and had a great time. About 5 years ago, Centrepoint Theatre, the only professional regional theatre left in NZ, was looking for a production manager. I needed a change from living in Melbourne and wanted to go back to working full-time in theatre, so jumped at the chance! I am Brazilian and proud to be, but Aotearoa is my home, and I love sharing both cultures.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PUT ON PALMY DRAG FEST?
The first Palmy Drag Fest was in 2021 at the Small Globe Theatre in Palmy. We sold out of our 300 available tickets five months in advance. I wanted to be able to bring more variety and diversity to the local drag scene so performers could learn more about their craft from artists from all over Since 2021 sold out, it was only natural for us to go bigger, better, and gayer in 2022 and move to the Regent on Broadway, the biggest and most fabulous theatre in Manawatu. We sold out last year with over 1300 people!
A love of drag, the passion of our performers, and the community are what inspired me to put this together. I love to perform, but I also love to be able to give back and create a safe, fun environment for everyone who loves drag.
WERE YOU SURPRISED BY THE EVENT’S SELL-OUT SUCCESS?
Yes and no! I know how much people love drag and how amazing our lineup was. I was surprised at how supportive and welcoming Palmerston North was. Every drag event I produce in Palmy is always a success. People make out that Palmy is a shitty place, but they are wrong! Palmy is vibrant, with a huge arts scene, and there is always something on.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE PROCESS OF TURNING A ONE-NIGHT-ONLY SHOW INTO THE FULL-ON THREE-DAY FESTIVAL WE WILL SEE IN OCTOBER.
It’s a nightmare! I work full-time for Auckland Theatre Company in Auckland as an events manager, and then I finish work at 5, come home, have dinner, and watch Shortland Street, then work till late on the Festival! It feels like I have two full-time jobs. But the support I get from the community has been delightful.
We are really turning Palmy into the capital of drag in New Zealand! Palmy Drag Fest 2023 will be the biggest drag show ever held in Aotearoa, and my dream is to grow it more each year and make this a show as big as the World of Wearable Arts Show (WOW) so everyone will travel to Palmy to come see it. Watch out, Drag Con!
WHO IS ON THE LINEUP FOR PALMY DRAG FEST 2023?
This will be the homecoming show for RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Two Winner Spankie Jackzon! We’ve got legends like Australia’s Vanity and Art Simone and New Zealand’s Buckwheat, Tess Tickle, and Anita. There will be something for everyone, with more to be announced and a few surprises up our sleeves.
WHY SHOULD EVERY EXPRESS READER BE BOOKING A TICKET TO PALMY DRAG FEST?
To be part of history at New Zealand’s first Drag festival!