After years of Catholic education, Mike McKay has developed a different type of congregation.
Black Mass is a year-old monthly alternative drag queen and king, and everything in between, show curated by Mike. He grew up in Cleveland attending Parma’s St. Francis School. His vivid imagination ran wild as he sat through endless Roman Catholic masses and religion classes, imagining dark, sinful situations that would surely land him in a meeting with principals, priests, and nuns.
On a fateful day in Mike’s early adolescence, he strolled past a VHS tape in a local Blockbuster titled Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. Nothing was ever the same. Now that Mike knew he wasn’t alone in his infatuation with everything glamorous and evil, he started to see what else may be out there for him to absorb. Enter Macaulay Culkin and his 2003 role as Michael Alig in Party Monster. Mike first saw Party Monster in seventh grade and realized the world he imagined and desired was real and that he wasn’t the only sprinkle on a very vanilla planet.
“I was sneaking into punk shows when I was 16 and 17, and then drag shows when I was 18 – I wanted both experiences at the same time,” Mike says. “I talked about it since I was 18, like ‘why is no one doing this?’”
Right around that time, Now That’s Class started holding In Training, a dance party focused around the LGBTQ community. In Training “was a step in the right direction” according to Mike, but he still “needed the drag performances to be a part of it.”
Fast forward to a year ago. The Chamber is swarmed in rumors that it and all of its sister venues will soon close. Naturally, attendance is down and booking is rough. Mike sees an opportunity and books the very first Black Mass three weeks out from the available date with no performers, no DJs, and very little plan. Mike knew that it was time to take charge of what he had been trying to get other people to do for years. Cleveland longed for an all-inclusive, one-of-a-kind drag show, and Mike was the messiah we needed.
“I saw these amazing shows in Chicago and Pittsburgh, and I realized if I wanted this to happen in Cleveland, I was going to have to do it myself,” Mike explains.
Quickly picking the name Black Mass and contacting everyone he knew in the scene, Mike put together the first blood-soaked and critically-acclaimed alternative drag shows in the city.
After three successful shows at The Chamber, Mike changed venues to The Five O’Clock Lounge. The Five offered him a monthly Saturday show for a year. He took it.
“The Five O’clock has taken Black Mass to a new level, because we have our own seperate room to go crazy in,” Mike gushes about his new home. “We hit our stride in February with the John Waters-themed show, and the religion-themed show after was insane.”
Another local drag show that ran when Black Mass started told its performers they could not vogue, swear, or get political on stage. As a result, Mike welcomed vogueing, swearing, and getting super political at his open casting calls. Now he hand selects performers for his shows.
Was starting a drag show named Black Mass an act of rebellion against his religious upbringing? Yes. This encapsulates the entire vibe of Black Mass. Will Black mass push everyone’s boundaries? Yes. Do they care about your sensitivities? No. Is it exactly what we need in a time that we desperately need it? Go and make your own decision.
Want to join the congregation? Check Black Mass out on Instagram at @blackmasscle or see the show live at Black Mass XI: Summer Camp Saturday, June 29 or at PressureFest Saturday, Aug. 10.