'Beneva Fruitville’s Drag Queen Bingo Bonanza' and Black Diamond Burlesque turn 9.
Two queens walk into a bar.
“We’ll be at Shady Pines doing bingo someday,” Berry Ayers says to friend and manager Laura Daniel Gale.
“I’ll be wearing one of Tami’s house coats,” Daniel Gale responds.
“I’ll be wearing caftans — only caftans!” Ayers cackles back.
Ayers, aka Beneva Fruitville, and Daniel Gale, aka Lady La La, are two of Sarasota’s most recognizable performers. They’re also behind Sarasota’s two longest-running live shows, both celebrating their ninth anniversaries this summer.
Ayers moved to Sarasota in 2004 with no intention of staying for long. But once she got a three-show contract at the Golden Apple Dinner Theater, she fell into the close-knit group of Sarasota’s performance community. Daniel Gale was also in that social circle, but it wasn’t until Ayers created a show of her own that the pair got to know each other.
Ayers was cast in a production of “La Cage Aux Folles” in 2008 that required her to dress in drag — and she loved it. Soon after, she developed that original show.
“Beneva Fruitville’s Drag Queen Bingo Bonanza” was born. Part bingo night and part scripted production, the show combines comedy, drag performances and sometimes a dash of burlesque (cross-pollinating with Daniel Gale’s performance group, Black Diamond Burlesque).
The show grew quickly, and in April 2015, Ayers was in need of management. Daniel Gale had started LDG Productions around the same time — a perfect fit.
“We joke that from day one, I’ve been her momager,” Daniel Gale says affectionately.
Black Diamond started performing in 2010 just a month after drag queen bingo began. She’s quick to note that Ayers barely beat her for the title of longest-running live show in Sarasota.
The burlesque group’s first two shows were held at Selva, but when Les McCurdy attended one, he pulled Daniel Gale aside.
“Will you call me on Monday?” she recalls him saying. “I think you’ve got something special.”
Her group has been performing themed burlesque shows at McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre — the same venue as bingo — ever since. She says it’s such a strong partnership that McCurdy has even made physical changes to the venue to accommodate the group.
Ayers and Daniel Gale agree their shows give back to audiences — especially those who feel like an outsider in their community.
“People come up to us after and say, … ‘I needed to see a strong voice on stage that made me feel like I belong,’” Daniel Gale says. “For Black Diamond, it tends to be women feeling empowered about their bodies and their sexuality. … We celebrate all versions of beauty in our show.”
At Beneva Fruitville’s show, members of the LGBTQ community can find a safe place to celebrate who they are.
“Beneva kind of saved my life,” Ayers says. “So [I learned to] go find that strength within you and put on a wig and live your best life. Throw on some makeup or whatever it is that makes you feel that empowerment, and go out and say, ‘[Screw] it.’”