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Tea with Asia

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On a Friday night around 9:30 p.m., make sure you're poised on a barstool at Talbott Street Nightclub (2145 N. Talbott Street). The doors will have been open for 30 minutes, there's no cover, and the lights will already be low. If you're like me, you'll probably hold your breath when the spotlight hits the stage and Asia LaBouche steps from behind the curtain. At nearly seven feet tall in heels and sometimes a headdress, she cuts an imposing figure well worthy of your attention.

Asia LaBouche
  • Jennifer Lance
  • Asia LaBouche

For nearly 14 years, Asia LaBouche — "Indiana's Largest Living Indoor Attraction" — has been brought to life by Doug Mellinger, who got his start as a female impersonator on a dare at an open stage event sponsored by the now-closed Club Cabaret. He made some money and had fun and now performs five shows a week at Talbott Street, to whom he is indebted for their support and professionalism. He is also an avid supporter of AIDS-awareness fundraisers, such as Spotlight, a benefit for HIV education and prevention in Indiana. Though the annual event has passed, visual artists are hosting a related show, "Spotlight Art: Courage and Hope,” through May 24.

Mellinger has been perfecting the art of impersonation with the help of Talbott and previous connections to the Metro (707 Massachusetts Avenue) and Illusions (1446 East Washington Street), the latter whom he credits for being good for gaining experience and a stage presence. The experience has clearly paid off; LaBouche was crowned Miss Gay Indiana in 2006.

After being a part of corporate culture, Mellinger is now able to make a living as LaBouche, a strictly-theatrical element of his life that he enjoys 'keeping in a bag.' His transformation generally takes about 90 minutes and comes with the challenge of keeping the show fresh. Mellinger notes the expense of the craft, especially if one competes in pageants as he has done. He is able to keep his costs lower by making many of his looks.

Though female impersonation has become more mainstream with the arrival of Ru Paul, the theatrical elements and glimpses at old Hollywood glamour still prevail. Hold out for LaBouche in a purple-and-white, Bob-Mackie-inspired ensemble to truly appreciate the art in the performance.

Shows are Fridays at 9:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., Saturdays at 9:30 p.m., 11:00 p.m., and 1:00 a.m., and Sundays at 9:30 p.m. Call Talbott Street at 317-931-1343 to make reservations. Contact Clowes Hall at 317-940-6444 for information about the Spotlight art show.

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