Theatre Chat: Nina Does Cbus
Andrew Levitt never planned to call Columbus home. Rather, he thought he would hang around for a bit and test out a drag character, Nina West, for a few months before heading to New York. That was 2001. He never left.
Levitt received a BFA in Theatre from Denison University in the spring of 2001; during that summer, per the encouragement of queen Virginia West, Levitt tried out the theatricality of Nina West. He imagined he would go to New York in the fall, but with September 11th his plans were postponed. Not quite a year ago, the now famed Columbus arts advocate Levitt and drag celebrity Nina West thought about taking the plunge to the eastern city, and decided to devise a farewell show.
Nina Does Cbus came about when Levitt reached an impasse in his life about whether to really lay down roots in the capitol city or to make that transition. During the six month creation and writing process, he realized that he had to stay. “Columbus has always been like this love affair for me. I really love this city. It always comes back to the people for me.”
Thus spoke Levitt, and thus will speak Nina as she celebrates Columbus starting this weekend at Nina Does Cbus. Do not expect a typical Nina show; the usual twenty person cast downsized to seven and the writing flows a bit more introspectively. Levitt found a new challenge drawing from his experiences in the city to translate them to Nina’s perspective. He tries to combine reality with the colorful, fun, brightness that people love with a drag show.
“People expect the unexpected and expect to be entertained. I really think I’m delivering on that.” The high production value remains, with video, boisterous costumes, and other refined technical elements that Columbus audiences expect of their drag shows, but the piece offers a slightly different feel than usual. “[The audience] will like it or they’ll hate it, but they’re still going to be entertained.”
The collaborative nature of the show does a lot to shape the story. All of the other drag queens and kings brought something different to the production process and added their favorite spots to the mix, including the Columbus Zoo; Hollywood Casino; Jeni’s; Late Night Slice; and Red, White, and Boom. Collectively, the performers create a list of the finest attributes and quirks of the city, while highlighting the uniqueness of the city’s drag scene. “People walk away having connected to the show and to the entertainers and the LGBT community in a different way. We’re really lucky here. That’s something I’m celebrating.”
Levitt interviewed many Columbusites to prepare this show, and it always came back to the same idea. No one anticipated calling Columbus home, but one thing or another occurred, and they all ended up staying. That holds true for Levitt and Nina, as they love their home base of Columbus and nurture their roots. “In Columbus, you can do anything and you can be anybody.”
While he has no immediate plans for the next step, he never wants for work and likes to keep his options open for creative opportunities. As Columbus grows, Levitt and Nina both grow, and all three shape each other. “I’m really thrilled that I stumbled upon this city. [Staying here has] become one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.”
Nina Does Cbus opens Friday, March 29 and runs through April 7 at Axis Night Club, 775 North High Street. Show times vary, but the doors open one hour prior to the performance. Tickets available at axisonhigh.com.
Photo by Elizabeth Lessner.