Film is a powerful medium for education, advocacy and entertainment. Jonathan McNeal, who many know as the manager of The Neon Movies downtown, is a filmmaker with a story to tell. He created a short that shared some of the stories of the Rubi Girls and their great work in HIV/AIDS awareness and entertainment. McNeal’s film is a centerpiece of a special event planned for August 3 – their Decade of Decadence Party.
The Rubi Girls documentary premiered in San Francisco in 2003 and has garnered awards and played around the world. In celebration of the tenth anniversary, The Rubi Girls invite you to their Decade of Decadence Party and Film Screening. Combining live performance, interview and archival footage, the documentary not only traces the history of the group and their madcap antics, but also attempts to redefine the term family values. The evening will include the film screening, a live Rubi Girls show and a Q&A followed by the kind of after party you’d expect to be thrown for this milestone event. The after party will include a DJ, a few additional Rubi performances, hors d’ouvres catered by Veritas Events, operator of Roost and Leo Bistro at The Dayton Art Institute, cash bars and other terrific Rubi surprises. (More info and tickets)
The Rubi Girls are Dayton’s beloved, comedic drag troupe…who now have helped to raise over 1 Million Dollars for HIV and LGBT-related causes. What started as something just for laughs on Rubicon Street in the late 1980’s has blossomed into a FUNdraising phenomenon. FilmDayton spoke to filmmaker and Rubi Girl Jonathan McNeal to learn more about the evening and his experience with how his film has sparked conversation and advocacy.
Q: How long have you been involved with the Rubi Girls and what has your experience been like?
I’ve been with The Rubi Girls since the late 1990’s. I was a fan first…a groupie even. Once they found out I was a film student, they asked me to start videotaping their shows. Eventually, as I got closer with the group, I started taking the camera backstage, too. (Backstage was just as fun as what was happening on-stage.) After a year or more, I started to really become part of the family dynamic that was happening, and they eventually asked me to start performing with them. Though I never would have asked on my own, it was what I wanted all along.
I did research on a different documentary for about a year, and I determined it would be too expensive to pursue. A friend said, “There’s a great story happening right in your own backyard. It might be familiar to you, but it’d be a fresh story for a lot of people.” That’s when I decided to start exploring the idea and asking if The Girls would be game.
I was still relatively fresh to the group when we started filming. Though I had performed for almost two years with the troupe, I had missed out on over a decade of their evolution. Asking questions and digging for answers taught me a lot about the history that I didn’t know. In addition, the process of making the documentary helped me realize why the group was personally so important to me.
The movie premiered in June of 2003 in San Francisco. Immediately after that first screening, numerous LGBT film fests invited THE RUBI GIRLS to screen at their festivals. That was a really great way to see the country…it played in Seattle, Chicago, Reno, Atlanta, Fire Island and many other cities. Audiences loved the movie and loved the Girls, and a few awards were garnered along the way.
It’s great to bring the film back to the community where it all started, but interestingly, the movie has had continual play since its premiere. Several colleges and organizations have used the film over the years for various reasons – either as an educational tool or part of a festival or celebration.
The goal of August 3 is true with the mission of The Rubi Girls. We want to create a space that is vibrant with fun and creativity…that also allows us to spread the word about what’s important to us and our causes. We always bring some component of HIV/AIDS awareness to our shows, and fundraising is a major aspect of what we do. The Rubi Girls have now helped to raise over 1 Million Dollars for HIV and LGBT-related causes…and that’s something we’re very proud of. The money raised during this event will be split between The Dayton Art Institute (to be used for sound upgrades in their auditorium) and RubiBenefits (to assist with a variety of causes that we support).
The support of the Dayton community has been incredible. The love from the press, the admiration and generosity from the fans, and the willingness to assist from so many local businesses has been instrumental to our success. This embrace, combined with the success of the documentary, has allowed us to spread our message to numerous cities across the country, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.