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Arts & Life

Local screening of 'We're Here' brings Watertown residents together

Amy Rambow, We're Here
Stel Kline
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Amy Rambow on stage at the Watertown screening of We're Here

Watertown, South Dakota is in the HBO spotlight with a new episode of the docu-series “We’re Here.” The show travels across the country to small towns with three drag queens, Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela and Eureka.

The cast and crew filmed in Watertown for ten days in July while each queen was paired with a resident culminating in a public performance at the Goss Opera House.

The parings are created intentionally with folks who have a connection to the queer community. Shangela was paired with Amy Rambow, who started the group Watertown Love in 2019. Though Amy is cisgender and heterosexual, she was moved to start a support group when a young person in the community took their life. Her teenage son Alex had already come out to her, and she saw something had to change. The realization that she could lose her son, scared her.

“There was no form of support in northeast South Dakota at that point so I’m like, what can I do?” Rambow said. “We started a Facebook group and it just went crazy.”

Eureka was paired with Erik, formerly of Watertown, who now lives in Aberdeen with his wife Amy and runs the comic shop FlashBax. He proudly identifies as pansexual and as a crossdresser, and says he became more comfortable with the latter of the two identities by participating in the show. Bob The Drag Queen became the Drag Mother to Justice and Jaadon, identical twins who grew up and graduated from high school in Watertown. Justice is gay and Jaadon is not - just one of many differences between the brothers.

When the HBO crew was filming during the summer, Watertown’s Republican legislative Representative Fred Deutsch talked to the local newspaper. He said the crew had every right to film the episode but it “should have been done at night and not open to the public and not to be shown to our children.”

A month before filming, Watertown elected a new mayor Republican Ried Holein. In contrast to Deutsch, Holein said people have freedom of speech and that includes how you dress. Amy Rambow believes the mayor put it well.

“We weren’t doing anything wrong we had every right to do the show here,” she said. “I spoke to him last week, and I’m hoping it will foster a relationship. It’s a good starting point but let’s see where it goes from here [rather] than just saying 'they have every right to be there.' Where can we can go from there.“

Watertown Love, the group Amy Rambow founded, held a watch party for the episode’s premiere at the city’s Event Center. Over 100 guests attended to watch the episode together. Erik and Amy’s wigs and costumes were proudly displayed on the stage – and an added bonus, everyone got to keep the outfits they wore in the show.

Some of the people at the premiere party had a close connection to the show. Scott Stone is Alex Rambow’s Social Studies teacher at Watertown High.

It almost enraged me to hear that there are still folks in Watertown, South Dakota, that their safety, their physical safety is a concern,” he said. “I call on the governor, the politicians that be to say 'hey, if this is the law and order state that we claim to have, where are these people’s safety?' They have just as much right to be here as anybody else - they vote, they pay their taxes, they’re law abiding citizens. They just identify differently.”

Other people at the premiere had no connection to cast and crew. Karen and her neighbor Georgia who say they are not part of the queer community, just showed up to learn something new.

“We want to be more understanding… and educated! What’s it all about, you know?” the two women said, finishing each other’s sentences.

To an outsider last summer, the HBO shoot may have looked like a downtown drag show. Those involved in the production say as the episode unfolds, “We’re Here” brings more than drag to rural America, also the healing power of community to the queer folks here.

The Watertown-based episode of “We’re Here” is currently streaming online on HBO Max. If you or someone you know is in need of support, Translifeline offers a peer support phone service run by trans people for trans and questioning peers. The number is 877-565-8860.