By Andy Smith
With inspiration from sources as diverse as Elaine Stritch: at Liberty and memoirist James Frey, 27-year old Andrew Levitt created a sold-out AIDS fundraiser on his first try, selling out Columbus, Ohio’s Axis dance club and raising $5,000 for charity in the process.
Of that, $2,500 went to Broadway Cares, the rest to Columbus AIDS Task Force.
“A Million Little Ninas” featured Andrew as his alter ego Nina West along with six other Columbus drag queens – Virginia West, Samantha Rollins, Beverly Ford, Sherri Dribblelipz, Alexis Stevens, and Selma Love — all of whom contributed their time and a tremendous amount of energy to make the event a hit.
“They not only donated their time and appearance fees, but helped create decoupage wig heads of their characters,” he says. The wig heads, along with items donated by BC/EFA, local organizations and from celebrities like Kristin Chenoweth and Patti LuPone, were auctioned off with great success.
“The auction raised $4,210 and the rest (of the $5000) was from the door and table sales,” Andrew says. “My goal was $2,000. So I was shocked by the result and by the generosity of everyone involved.”
Andrew, a video editor/programmer by day, already produces two big shows a year (the other is in October) and says this fall he’ll start planning another BC/EFA benefit for spring 2007. And, thanks to support from friends, auction donors and Columbus’s thriving gay community, he expects to do at least as well next year. “No one else has been doing events like this in Columbus and I think we proved how successful they can be,” he says.
A Bit About Nina
Andrew started developing his character shortly after graduating from Granville, Ohio’s Denison University with a theatre degree. Inspired by a friend who was doing drag, Andrew started performing as Nina West in 2001. “Comparing her to some other performers, I’d say she’s more comic and ridiculous than filthy,” he says. “One of Nina’s signature numbers is singing Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ while sitting in a wheelchair.”
However, serious political topics do work their way into Nina’s act. “How could they not? I grew up in Canton, Ohio, home of the ‘Football Hall of Fame,” says the youngest of three children. “And both my parents work fulltime for the Republican Party. So holidays are intriguing.”
Andrew says an Oprah interview with author James Frey – before A Million Little Pieces, the author’s memoir of drug addiction, was discredited – generated more than his show’s title. “Something about that episode left me inspired and wanting to give back.” Stritch’s autobiographical one-woman show also provided creative stimulation. “She’s incredible. Initially, I was going to make up stories similar to hers, but then I found myself working my own experiences into Nina’s personal stories,” he admits.
One final question: where does Nina find her substantial shoes? “I wear a 13 and Nina wears a woman’s size 15,” Andrew says. “I either find her shoes at Payless or I have to go online.”
For more on Nina, visit http://www.superdragqueen.com/