The Buzz

Film festival features film about local drag queen who performs for charity

Pat Patterson is still kind of bitter.

Over a measly $3.

He was referring to last year's Miss Vista Queen Pageant, the annual Trustus Theatre fundraiser featuring glamorous drag queens. Patterson lost the crown, awarded from judges' scorecards and bucket tips, by $3 to Chad Henderson, who (accidentally?) flashed his goods.

"At the end of the day, we're all men dressed up to look like goofy women," Patterson said recently over lunch at Panera Bread.

"You can't take it too seriously."

When Patterson is dressed as the "yard sale with legs" - Patti O' Furniture - you might not take him seriously, but you can't wink at his philanthropy.

He's raised more than $300,000 as Patti, and all of his tips are donated to AIDS and HIV-related charities.

"That's one dirty dollar bill at a time," he said of the money he collects. "It's any money that anybody hands me from the stage."

Patterson's story will be featured in "A Size 18 in Sequins," a documentary selected for the Indie Grits Film Festival, the fourth-annual film crawl that opens Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

Patti O' Furniture doesn't dance, unlike some drag queens.

She doesn't strut or glide, either. She kind of shuffles, arms aloft, a presence that gracefully looms on stage. For eight years, Patti has performed every Tuesday night at PT's Cabaret, the Harden Street club that is closing at the end of the month. (The space lease was not renewed, and shows will temporarily move to PT's 1109 on Assembly Street.)

Her makeup and costumes are elaborate, full of color and, yes, sometimes sequins.

This girl works hard for her money, but she doesn't shop like a diva.

"I earned my nickname for a reason," Patterson, 39, said. "Since I donate all of my tips to charity, I don't have a lot of money to spend.

"So I count on friends and other entertainers to give me stuff or make stuff for me. And every year for my birthday, one of the queens here in town makes me something."

Patterson, like Patti, is a social butterfly, someone who can't seem to sit still.

By day, he is a professor of theater at Midlands Tech and a real estate agent. He's also being certified to teach an exercise program at Gold's Gym. In 2007, Patterson, who then owned Bruster's Real Ice Cream in Forest Acres, made The State's 20 Under 40 list.

One more thing: At Christmas, he runs a home-decorating business.

"I put up people's Christmas trees and take them down for them," he said. "I'm the product of a liberal arts education."

He's also the product of an established political family. His mother is Liz Patterson, a former congresswoman from the Upstate. His grandfather is Olin Johnston, a former South Carolina governor and U.S. senator, the only man to ever beat Strom Thurmond in a general election, Patterson proudly says in the film.

His parents haven't seen him perform.

"My mother is the queen of flat effect," Patterson said. "When I showed her a picture of me in drag years ago, her comment to me was, 'nice legs'," Patterson said.

What did she think of the documentary? They haven't talked about it.

"The next morning it was sitting on the breakfast table," he said, after giving her a copy of the rough cut. "I don't know if she showed my dad; I didn't ask.

"I could tell that it was still probably a little jarring."

"A Size 18 in Sequins" is a 20-minute peek into Patterson's world. The filmmaking team - Blake Garris, Rebecca Boyd and Bryan Fetner - stayed out of the way and allowed Patterson, who has a narrator's boom in his voice, to tell his story.

He does it with eloquence and humor, especially as he puts on makeup before a show at PT's.

When asked in the film if he's ever considered politics, Patterson said, "Somehow, I don't think the South Carolina electorate is ready for a governor and a first lady all in one."

The filmmakers' plan was to document the drag queen experience. Garris contacted two people, but only Patterson responded. Garris, a USC media arts graduate student, did have some concerns about the project.

"The initial concern I had, and I'm still having it, is that we don't want to make it a gay thing," Garris said. "And that seems to be a challenge we're still facing."

The Outflix Festival, hosted by The Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, wants to screen the film in September. Garris wants "A Size 18" to be seen by people unfamiliar with drag queens.

"My real goal was I wanted my Republican grandmother to see it, and she would be interested in another side of people," he said.

She'll see it at Wednesday's 8 p.m. screening at Fox Theatre. It will also be shown at 3 p.m. Friday at The Nickelodeon Theatre, both as part of the festival's student showcase.

Pat Patterson will be at one show, and Patti O' Furniture will be at the other. Is there a difference?

"I'd like to say no, but I realize there is," said Patterson, president of the AIDS Benefit Foundation of South Carolina. "It's the minute I put on the wig. As soon as I put the wig on, the character takes over and I will say and do things that would cause my mother to be embarrassed."

"She'd be embarrassed to know I showed up to an interview like this," he continued, pointing out his green athletic shorts and gray Lehigh University T-shirt.

She was proud when he received an award for his volunteer work. His Wofford fraternity brother, Bill Edens, the former executive director of Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services, PALSS, who died of AIDS complications in 1993, would applaud his efforts.

"When they showed me the near-finished product, it rendered me, the most talkative person in Columbia, speechless," Patterson said.

IF YOU GO

Indie Grits Film Festival

WHEN: Wednesday through Sunday

WHERE: Nickelodeon Theatre, 937 Main St.; Fox Theatre, 1607 Main St.; and other local venues

TICKETS: $50 for festival pass, or pay per screening

INFORMATION: http://www.indiegrits.com or (803) 254-3433

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