by Robin Beaudoin | photos by Andrew Stanford + Kevin Reed
“I don’t have any tragic stories. It’s kind of been idyllic,” says Stephen (Steve) Cossitt, alter-ego of the beloved Memphis drag queen Allysun Wunderland as he reflects on her beginnings.
“She was a ‘Halloweener,’ not an ‘in-betweener.’ Presenting as a representation of everyone’s favorite aunt, Allysun was a creation for Halloween. There were groups of friends who would do it up for Halloween. We even had the butch, straight-acting gay boys who wanted to try (drag). They were the weak ones who cried by the end of the night because their feet hurt.”
Allysun’s journey from the very beginning, Cossitt said, was not without persistence and assistance from her friends.
“(Drag queens) Beverly Hills, Camille Collins, Allison Tate would come, so we would do that, and we all came up with names,” Cossitt said. “Allysun didn’t do drag at any other time, until the insistence of my dear friend Ty Phillips, who had a film background, said, “I have an idea – I want to do a cooking show.”
The series, titled At Home with Allysun, began when Cossitt was in his 40s, and is available and free to watch on YouTube.
“We’d go down to my friend’s house because he had the perfect kitchen. Once we waited for a guest to show up, Piper Dandy. She was supposed to be there, but she was out buying stuff for the show. It was the Christmas episode, and we sat around and drank while we waited. She was seven hours late. Needless to say, it was a funny episode, but by the end you can tell I was a little schnockered.”
The YouTube series inspired venues to ask Allysun to emcee and host events at spaces such as Crossroads (since closed), Minglewood Hall, and The Evergreen Theatre. Tracy Love, who is the founder of Friends of George’s (FOG), organized the 2010 reunion of the FOG where Allysun served as red carpet announcer, interviewing guests about their memories of Friends of George’s for the reunion video.
“Following the reunion, some original board members left, and Tracy put me on the board,” recalls Cossitt. One year after the reunion, FOG produced their first FOG event called Flaunt. It wasn’t very well attended. Flaunt was followed by charity shows for OUTMemphis (formerly Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center), a New Year’s Eve party, and an impersonation drag revue called Legends. The board came up with the Friends of George’s bar concept, which evolved into the Truck Stop & Cafe.
“Tracy thought, ‘What if we came up with a scripted show?’ So we came up with the characters and stories.” We put on that first performance in TEN WEEKS, which is unheard of. I’ve heard of people who have done theatre for years, and (they say) nobody does that.
“It was a success, and so we were invited by Theatreworks at Evergreen to become a resident theatre company. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so much fun to see something come from nothing to the stage – and people like it.”
Cossitt is now the current president of the board of Friends of George’s, and Allysun will perform in the holiday show this fall.
Cossitt joined Mystic Krewe of Pegasus Memphis, Memphis’ only Mardi Gras Krewe. He wanted to enrich the community, and rapidly rose to fill the role of current reigning Queen Pegasus XVI.
“I was fortunate enough to be asked by the previous Queen, Nathan Bell. Our ball theme this year is A Night Under the Big Top. The show will be January 25 at Minglewood Hall. Now everything I see is circus- themed!”
In addition to the Pegasus title, Allysun holds Drag Bingo afternoons with other drag performers at Dru’s Place to benefit the Krewe’s charity, the Shelby County Drug Court Foundation. The foundation helps past offenders graduate from a rehabilitation program to give them a new start.
Cossitt expands on the charity’s mission: “To hear their stories and how it’s changed their lives – how they truly get a second chance – is moving. If you successfully attend and complete the program, your record is expunged. A lot of people get arrested who aren’t repeat offenders. There’s the mom from east Memphis, there are fathers providing for their families –it keeps families together, it saves the taxpayers money.
“I wanted to promote our diversity since our Krewe is so diverse. Everybody loves bingo. You play a game, watch drag queens insult each other on stage, and win prizes!
Sunday afternoons at Dru’s Place have become the home of Pegasus’ Drag Bingos, with ten games for $25, and prizes for both winner and bad bingos.”
In addition to performances, Allysun is also half of the re:Focus podcast team, a Focus magazine production.
“Goldie Dee and I were approached by Ray Rico, publisher of Focus Mid-South. They had the idea for a podcast, and they wanted Goldie Dee (Micah Winter, also on the FOG board) and me to do it. We’ve recorded at Goldie’s house during a dinner party (among other places). Goldie and Allysun have a good rapport.”
Guests on the show include favorite allies, local news celebrities, publishers, and area personalities. Re:Focus is free on major podcast platforms.
Cossitt credits Allysun’s drag sisters with her evolution. “With the help of many friends, I’ve morphed into someone more glamorous. It’s all about how you carry yourself and give it all you’ve got. I’m more impressed by a performer that has confidence and isn’t as polished than as one who looks perfect but doesn’t deliver.
“If Ty had not suggested we make the YouTube show, I’d still be a Halloweener. My dear sister Camille Collins helps me not to be so frumpy. Allysun gives voice to the words that Stephen won’t say.
“Three pounds of makeup and a wig is like armor to me – I get away with a whole lot more as Allysun than I would as Stephen!”