Prizm News / May 20, 2019 / By Ken Schneck

Drag Queen Veranda L’Ni

Cleveland is about to host its first official Drag Queen Story Hour

By Ken Schneck

Sure, Cleveland might not have the first drag queen to host a Children’s Story Hour. But they might just have the tallest!

On Saturday, June 15, Cleveland’s Near West Theatre will host Drag Queen Story Hour with Veranda L’ni reading stories to children in an event described as “a welcoming environment that celebrates diversity and inclusion, challenging all of us to look beyond gender stereotypes.”

The free event is the perfect fit for the Near West Theatre, which has been shaping and changing lives through transformational theatre arts experiences for more than 40 years. 

“Focusing on ages 3-8 is important to us because of the natural curiosity they have for the world around them,” says Mike Obertacz, Near West Theatre’s executive director. “Celebrating everything that makes us diverse and special is so meaningful for this age group because of their openness. This is also a win for Near West Theatre because it introduces these families to our community at a much earlier age so that we can build a relationship with them for the future.”

To get the full fairy tale before the event, Prizm spoke with Veranda L’Ni, Cleveland’s legendary and tallest drag entertainer and host of many shows, including her extraordinarily-philanthropic drag bingo. 

How did you come to be involved with Drag Queen Story Hour?

I reached out to the main chapter of Drag Queen Story Hour in Brooklyn, NY to figure out how to have my own chapter in Cleveland. It then took about a year’s worth of work to figure out all of the logistics, like securing a venue that would be viable for having kids between the ages of 3-8 and all of their parents. 

Why bring this to Cleveland?

Drag Queen Story Hour is needed here in our hometown. The event has been around since 2015 and we haven’t seen it in Cleveland yet. I believe it will bring a sense of calm and inclusiveness for parents as well as kids. Believe it or not, the parents will likely get more out of it than the kids, knowing that these kids are engaged, happy, and wanting to be included. It’s a crucial age developmentally, and this could be a positive part of their growth. 

How do you go about selecting which books to read?

The Brooklyn Public Library has a great selection that they provide for these events with a wide range of preschool books. The first is called Just Add Glitter, which is obviously perfect. But the hour is not just about reading. It’s a full program where the kids can sing, dance, and make art. 

We would imagine that picking an outfit for an audience of 3-8 year-olds is different than what you might choose for a bar appearance. 

<laughs> Yes. We’re going for bright and colorful here, not that not I’m always that! But this selection will be geared to softer and more familiar tones, rainbow-y and sparkly. Most definitely not a nightclub outfit. 

Drag Queen Story Hours have had their share of detractors, including some pushback just last week in Maine. What do you have to say to those who think such events are inappropriate?

I would say to the naysayers that this is about the kids. This is not about you. The children are here to enjoy themselves and dance around and laugh and giggle. What better way to do that than with a bright, colorful drag queen?

Drag Queen Story Hour will be held at Cleveland’s Near West Theatre (6702 Detroit Avenue) on Saturday, June 15 at 11:30am. It is a free event, but you must register to attend