For years, the Rubi Girls have entertained local audiences, and audiences around the country. In their twenty years together, it's estimated they've helped raise several hundred thousand dollars for HIV/AIDS prevention and research. We spoke with them recently about their history and the fun they have working for a serious cause. Here's part of that interview.
JOHNATHAN MCNEAL: My name is Johnathan McNeal, and my Ruby name is Ileasa Plymouth, and the Ruby Girls actually started performing for one another in the late 1980s in living rooms and attics and whatnot, just for fun, just for each other. They started inviting friends over to watch these performances and it was very impromptu, and very loose, but things progressed and these parties got bigger and bigger - so much so that people were clamoring even on the front porch, looking in windows to see what was happening inside. Eventually bars and other venues realized that there was some money to be made, and asked the girls to do a show. They decided that if they were going to do that, that money would be changing the game. If they were going to do it for 'profit', then the money should go to a charity.
BRENT JOHNSON: I'm Brent Johnson, owner of Square One Salon and Spa, a Ruby Girl, and India Summer. Ruby came from Rubicon St over in the Fairground neighborhood by the University of Dayton. A lot of us went to college around the same time at Sinclair, Wright State, and University of Dayton, and we all lived in this really inexpensive, three-bedroom, one-bathroom, two story house that had a perfect area for a little show every now and then."
JM: These are definitely a group of funny, creative guys, and what started with bedsheets, and lampshades, and just whatever was around the house... people started to introduce new elements as it grew bigger and bigger. Somebody went out and actually bought a dress, and started buying more and more pieces, and wigs, and heels, and more makeup, and started to make it bigger and grander, each step of the way adding more comedic elements to the mix.
JERRY KENNEY: Well let's talk about your charity work because you've actually done quite a bit of fundraising.
JM: I think that transition came somewhere in the mid 90s, where one of the original benefits was for the Gay Bowling League, or the Gay Swimming Team going to the Gay Olympics, those kinds of things... but it started to become too big. Everyone in town was asking us for benefits to do shows for different charities and organizations. Though we're really civic-minded guys, and we'd really like to help out each step of the way, it just became too much.
BJ: It became too much in that we all have full-time responsibilities, both to our families, and to our jobs, and though we would love to raise money for everyone that needs it, there's just no physical way we can do that. Quite frankly, it takes an emotional toll on you - it's an addition to your regular life, and it's hard to find time to rehearse - and to get everything together, and to get eight people, or twelve people together to rehearse a show is very challenging.
JM: It is, because we always try to be bringing new elements to the show, whether it's political, or commenting on pop culture, or bringing headlines into the show, [it's] something that we like to do, so we have to keep it fresh and funny.
Brent: "Another challenge, too, is not just the time or the mental challenge of it, but quite frankly, we're all in our forties; what was not a challenge in our twenties - rolling around on-stage and doing these crazy antics and trudging around in heels for five hours - is physically draining, exhausting. It hurts! It's like a four day recovery. We've thrown out backs, necks, I think we've had cracked ribs, I've had a broken foot, personally... I mean, we have sacrificed, people! [laughing]"
The whole point of the Ruby Girls and having fun is to catch the attention of the people, and once you have their attention, it's like, what do you have to say? We're distracting you with a lot of fun, but we're here to raise money for a really important cause. HIV is still out there, people are still having unprotected sex, people still think it's a disease you can get away from, and it effects everyone. It's something that we truly believe in changing.
JM: We don't take the drag seriously, we take having a good time seriously, and the fund raising, and things that we can do in the community seriously. That element of it is all fun for us. It's just being able to put on that mask and that other persona for a little while, and it's about having a good time.