Although Miss Richfield 1981, the somewhat clueless creation of performer Russ King, may arrive at the Illusion Theater each December for a holiday show, don’t expect 2015’s Cone of Silence to be like any of the others.
“I have a new show every year, and I take that show across the country. I work with a charter company and on cruise ships. In the summer, I do 60 shows in Provincetown, Massachusettes,” King says. “When I come back to the Twin Cities, no one has seen the show.”
The first half of the Illusion run of Cone of Silence features material that King has worked on throughout the year. The second half features a mix of new and old Christmas-tinged material. “I always open with a new song that they haven’t heard. There is a new activity with the audience. I always do a sing-along that they haven’t heard,” he says.
The fresh material puts the Miss Richfield 1981 show apart from many holiday shows. “They can be repetitive. [The variety] is how we are able to maintain crowds. They come back and see something different each year,” King says.
The Miss Richfield 1981 show always includes new videos. “My mother is in one of them. I always wanted to get her into a video. This year I was able to do it. About two or three months after, she grew into bad health and would not have been able to do it. Having her in one of my videos is a real highlight for the year,” King says.
Miss Richfield 1981 has always been a politically incorrect character. King plays on that in Cone of Silence.
“She feels a little advanced. She thinks she is, but she is not," says King. "People connect with that because you see people do that all the time. The character lends itself to things you would not be able to talk about, but does it in a really sweet sort of way. She is a well-meaning gal who is trying to reach out and do good in the world, but in the meantime is starting a war.”
King doesn’t soften or really change the material for the Twin Cities. “The audiences here are more theater-going people, and I get a very mixed crowd. In many cases, it is more straight than gay. Everyone is welcome,” he says.
The history of Miss Richfield 1981 goes back decades. Like a character from the Magnetic Fields tune "Andrew in Drag," he did it as a gag. “I just went to a party for fun and the character took off. I was working as the communication director of the Minnesota AIDS Project. They saw photos of what I had done and told me that I should perform it onstage,” King says.
That led to a run at the Gay 90's. It was something of a traditional drag act, with Miss Richfield 1981 lip syncing to different tunes, though admittedly to the likes of Doris Day instead of ABBA.
Once the character started hosting events, the ideas became more fleshed out. The annual gig at Illusion has been part of King’s life for 17 years. And once he started playing in Provincetown, he was able to make Miss Richfield 1981 his full-time job.
“It has been great. It has allowed me to travel; allowed me to make a decent living, with health insurance and a car. I have all the things normal people have that artists normally don’t have,” King says.
IF YOU GO:
Miss Richfield 1981’s Christmas Cone of Silence
Friday through Dec. 20
Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts, 8th Floor
528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612-339-4944 or visit online.