America’s first Black drag queen brought to life in MN theater festival

Les Kurkendaal-Barrett is the creator of “The Real Black Swann: Confessions of America’s First Black Drag Queen.” It’s the true story of William Dorsey Swann, a formerly enslaved man who become a drag queen in the late 1800s and is the first American gay activist on recored.



“In the show I talk about all the things she had to go through, being not only a person of color but a person of color who dressed in drag,” Les explained. “If you think there’s disrtcimnation now in 2022, imagine how it was in 1896! She went through alot and so I talk about that and how she rose above it all and did not stop fighting and did not give up and did not back down.”

Les feels it’s important to share Swann’s legacy, and not just with the LTBTQ+ community.


“It goes beyond being a gay thing because it turned out William Dorsey Swan was one of the first pioneers of civil rights. Because at the end of the day she was just speaking up and fighting for her rights and so I think think that's important too.”


Les originally got involved in theater at the age of 14 while living in Spain.


“I’ve just always loved it. We had a career day in high school and I remember saying ‘I wanna be an actor’ and the guidance counselor going ‘no you don't wanna to be an actor you want to be an acting teacher’ and i'm like ‘NO I wanna be actor’ and so I just went for it.”

Les has been involved in the Fringe Festival circuit for many years, performing at venues across the country. He’s been in the Minnesota Fringe since 2004. Even though he is based in Los Angeles, he says he comes to the Twin Cities often to stay involved in theater.


“I actually host a monthly show called “Workplace Drama” over at Strike Theater,” said Les. “So I’m here like once a month. I really enjoy the Twin Cities - I like the theater community here.”

The Minnesota Fringe Festival runs through August 14th.