This Saturday, June 15, as part of June's Pride Month celebrations, Latinx arts nonprofit Conecta Miami Arts is hosting Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) at Microtheater Miami. The event is a collaboration with Centro Cultural Español.
The original DQSH, which began in New York, inspired Conecta's Melissa Messulam to create a chapter in Miami. With her support and guidance, DQSH became a reality in South Florida, with the first story hour taking place this past April on Lincoln Road. This weekend's event is part of a series Messulam and cofounders Neher Jacqueline Briceño and Belen Castres White plan to develop throughout 2019.
The three Latinx women founded Conecta two years ago. Their vision was to create a multidisciplinary arts organization that produces and presents socially engaged artistic experiences for young people.
Messulam says their mission is to develop the next generation of culturally sensitive artists, audiences, philanthropists, and arts officers in Miami by producing and presenting contemporary and relevant performances of high artistic excellence.
"We wanted to do the kind of activities that we thought were important on a cultural level for children and us... We're risk-oriented, and we like to do activities that create conversation," Messulam says. "The mission behind this company is to connect us all through our cultural similarities."
Past events have included bringing a circus physical theater group from Argentina to perform in Little Haiti. For Drag Queen Story Hour, Conecta was commissioned by the New York group to present this weekend's activity. Leonardo Van Schermbeek will give a Spanish-language reading of Daniel Errico's best-selling children's book, The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived; then drag queen Missy Meyakie LePaige will read in English. There will also be an exclusive screening of the animated series inspired by the story, which will debut later this month on Hulu.
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Messulam knows that homophobic and transphobic cultural attitudes could give some parents pause about taking their children to a drag event — but that doesn't hold the team back. The women behind Conecta have more than a decade of combined experience, and Messulam says New York has given them best practices and guidelines when answering children's questions. (The event is recommended for children from infancy through 10 years old.)
The best part, she says, is seeing the children's curiosity. She says some kids are oblivious to the drag performers, and others walk up and ask questions. The goal is to educate and provide a safe space where children and adults can learn.
"The beauty of this event is that you're doing something very normal and common for kids, which is story time. You're introducing drag culture, which is not traditionally seen as children's material. The way we approach this and communicate this to parents is that this is about tolerance, inclusion, and diversity," Messulam says. "When you go into an event like this, it's about drawing a parallel. The same imagination and creativity that goes into a book are the same that goes into a drag [performance]. We're doing something beautiful and creative. It's all about the imagination. Children are a great audience because they are the most receptive and most honest. There's a big perception that with drag culture, it's a sexualized activity, and it can be. But it's not [always]. It has to do with expression and creativity."
Drag Queen Story Hour. 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 15, at Microtheater Miami, 1490 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-904-6568; conectamiamiarts.org. Admission is free.