Swirling in sequins, artfully applying each eyelash, Gilda Wabbit is the embodiment of Pride. She rose from an unlikely background to the center of the stage, crafting the life she craved and was born for.
A performer since childhood, shining the star on baby Jesus in a church Christmas pageant, she owned each role, even answering the call to trade the alto sax for a tuba at middle school band camp. To say her mother was surprised is an understatement.
Expectations were never something that hindered her. Even those of gender. Born in Fern Creek and raised in Frankfort, Gilda recalls always feeling comfortable across the gender spectrum. People would comment to young Sam Themer, “Why are you such a girl?” But, these words felt anything but negative, a foreshadowing of her future ownership of all expressions of her person.
Music performance became her passion and she followed it first to the University of Kentucky, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in vocal performance, specifically opera, and then to New York City. Sadly, the Big Apple opera scene, like many artistic avenues had huge gaps between the barely paid places and the stage elite. Gilda booked job after job, but there were voids in both the budget and in her happiness.
Gilda Wabbit first graced the stage at the West End Lounge in what she describes as “the saddest wig” and a Goodwill dress. Her material? Singing all three parts of the trio from Company, the 1970 Tony Award-Winning musical. She wasn’t sure how it would go over, but the audience lost their minds in the best possible way, and a hunger for a full time professional life in drag set in.
She organized and performed in variety shows, splitting tips with others for pay, did every competition she could find, lost them all, and still managed to juggle a job as a restaurant manager. Then one day the tide started to turn and it looked like it could be possible to quit the day job, balance regular shows and guest appearances, and make the money ends meet. Her partner of three years and husband, Calvin, had never been anything but a champion for her dreams. So they decided to go for it. Then just one week after taking the plunge, a bar that was important to the plan suddenly closed.
Rather than cave in crisis, Gilda took this as the charge she needed to hustle in high gear, booking as many shows as possible, refusing to let her drag dream die.
And it paid off.
She was on the rise in New York City. The stars had aligned. Possibilities were endless and there was no speed bump in sight. Until Calvin was offered his own dream job back home in Kentucky, one that he could absolutely not refuse. The power couple did long distance for one year, until she decided to return to the Bluegrass with him.
Her friends and fellow performers thought she was crazy. Build a full time drag career in Kentucky? How?
In true Gilda form, that question was met with a quest to meet, connect, and collaborate with the best queens in the Commonwealth. She found them at Play Louisville.
Unafraid to put it all out there, she showed up for Hot Mess Wednesday, a regular open stage night, to mingle with the stars of the Louisville scene. That night turned out to be an audition, and she nailed it. With compliments from host Leah Halston and her friend Josh who worked the bar, she gained confidence and a contract. Less than three months later, she was full time. That was in the fall of 2018 and since then she has become a Louisville favorite, sharing her sincere sass and powerful pipes with loyal fans every Friday and Saturday night.
Gilda loves the Play community, calling her fellow performers sisters, and exchanging feisty banter as a love language backstage. She had heard of queens like Jade Jolie and Karmen Kazzi before becoming their co-worker, but it’s “something special to know them and share their stage.” She freely compliments the cast, too, recognizing the importance of always supporting the ensemble.
Gilda believes drag is a privilege that allows her to explore and express her feminine side in a safe space. She is honored that this art can be the way she makes her living.
The daily commute from Lexington is worth it, and she loves getting to know the regulars who follow her show. She even has fans like Rebecca and Josh, who live in Indiana, that have traveled as far as Chicago to see her perform, and has lunch with them when they’re in town. The appreciation people like them show has fueled her passion further, birthing Gilda’s Wabbit’s Big Gay Opera Show. From Philly to Cincy to Nashville and more, she’s excited to share her classical skills with an inclusive audience who prefer her evolved sparkly style.
Calvin still loves watching her perform and she can’t say enough about having a teammate in life that is 100% IN with her every day. That commitment goes both ways.
This Pride Month Gilda has a message for all of us, especially the allies in the community. She challenges every straight cis gender person to speak up for their neighbors, co-workers, family and friends who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, to be sure they feel safe in every space. To support them, love them, and to remember that keeping silent in the face of hate is not the act of an ally.
We thank you, Gilda Wabbit, for allowing us to celebrate your story, and for reminding us that we all have a story to celebrate. We’ll see you on stage, fierce femme!
Find Gilda’s travel show dates on GildaWabbit.com and more information about Gilda Wabbit’s Big Gay Opera Show HERE. Follow Gilda on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and be sure to catch her show at Play Louisville on Friday and Saturday nights at 10PM.