How does a female impersonator come to the Turnage?

Published 12:57 am Thursday, June 9, 2011

Your first question might be, “How does a female impersonator come to know about the Turnage Theater?” Well, Washington is my “hometown.” My family moved here in January 1970 when I was 5 years old. I grew up here, attended St. Peter’s Episcopal Church here and made friends with some great people here. Now, after many years absence, I get to give back to the town and theater that inspired my life and career, and I get to introduce the South to Carla Collins.

Probably your next question is, “How did a nice, small-town Southern boy end up on a stage wearing a dress?” Well, you may be surprised to know that lots of talented female impersonators come out of small towns like Washington all the time. For me, it started at the age of 19 when I performed my first-ever number on a dare at Greenville’s old Paddock Club on amateur night. I did not win, but I did begin a 20-year career as a professional female impersonator that would take me to many countries, gain me access to exclusive events and introduce me to celebrities, sports figures and politicians.

While the art of female impersonation may seem rather exotic, it is actually a mainstream aspect of many cultures. Historically, men have been impersonating women onstage since the 13th century when the church forbade female actors, but condoned men and boys disguised as females. In fact, forms of female impersonation can be traced back to the dawn of theater in nearly every culture from Greece to America. For example, Broadway’s Eltinge Theater was named after the great female impersonator Julian Eltinge (1881-1941), and Jack Benny and Milton Berle practiced the high art to great effect. I’m proud to say that it’s an art to which I have dedicated 20 years of my life.

In those years I was able to achieve everything I had set out to accomplish: I won many titles, including the title “Miss International” in 2003; I worked with legendry shows like “An Evening at La Cage;” and I traveled with the famous drag troupes The Great Imposters and Lads n Lashes. I achieved all my goals, save for one thing: I never played my hometown.

When I retired in 2004, I thought the final chapter of my career had been written, but I was wrong. On June 10 and June 11, I will become the first professional female impersonator to take the stage of the Turnage Theater. While I have had many firsts during my career, this one means the most. As a proud son of Washington, I am humbled by the opportunity to perform my art for the people who “knew me when.”

Also, I get to introduce my friend Carla Collins to a whole new audience. Carla, Canada’s darling comedian and author of a bestselling comedic self-help book (which you can purchase and have signed at I Can’t Believe It’s a Book Store today), has been setting Los Angeles on fire. I believe that Washington is going to fall in love with her, too, and I can’t wait to show her my hometown.

This opportunity to take the Turnage stage with Carla Collins by my side will go down as one of the highlights of my life. I get to launch my dear friend in the South and bring my stage career full circle surrounded by the people I love. I hope you will join us on either — or both — Friday or Saturday night at the Turnage Theater.

For tickets call 252-975-1191 or visit

Rush Derr is a native of Washington, and an internationally recognized female impersonator, who will be performing this Friday and Saturday night at the Turnage Theater.