Boy or girl, Alex Copeland has found ways to make the city of Columbus smile.
Since graduating from Ohio State in 2013, he’s become a consistent fixture in drag shows around the city and said his female persona, Plenty O’ Smiles, gives him a chance to show a different side.
“One of the things on my bucket list was community theater, and I count drag as community theater,” he said. “I say this because you’re putting on a mask and you’re playing a different character, but it’s even better because you’re not just doing one show. It’s an ongoing performance where I constantly play the same role, which I think is really awesome.”
But drag shows aren’t his only creative outlet — he’s also got a fashion side-project that blossomed from being at the right place at the right time.
He couldn’t have known the owner of Bink Davies — a retail store based in the Short North — would approach him about the bow tie he was wearing while browsing the store’s Easton Town Center branch early this year.
Copeland explained to the owner that he designed the tie, and shortly after, Bink Davies offered to sell the designs in their store and also gave him a job.
Copeland said he got the inspiration for his designs when a friend gave him a multicolored bow tie as a Christmas gift. He was drawn to the bow tie’s unconventional design — which seemed to materialize straight out of a video game — and with permission from his friend, Copeland decided to make some of his own.
“It’s just something that happened to happen, and I thought it would be awesome, so I bought the supplies, and if it went somewhere, it went somewhere,” Copeland said.
He creates his vivid bow ties by ironing together fusible, plastic beads in assorted colors and patterns, which yields a digitally pixelated look that fits in well with the other novelty items at Bink Davies, said Spencer Johnson, Bink Davies’ retail division manager at the store’s Easton location.
“My style is almost like business trendy. It’s something fun and different,” Copeland said. “Some people are into that, some people aren’t, but it’s really fun, and it just goes with my style.”
This stay-true-to-yourself, happy-go-lucky attitude is also constant in his performances on stage. Like Copeland as a designer, Plenty O’ Smiles has no difficulty contributing to the progressive scene of Columbus.
“You wear that personality and you become that person, so it’s great meeting people out like that — and in boy form,” he said. “So I think it’s awesome and getting that close relationship, and it’s a fun atmosphere. It’s just exciting.”
Ever since his drag queen debut in OSU’s annual Divalicious Drag Show, his on-stage identity has grown in courage, poise and skill, said Andrew Levitt (aka Nina West), one of Copeland’s fellow drag performers and symbolic, adoptive “drag mother.”
“When I first came out, I wasn’t confident at all,” Copeland said. “But getting into the community and meeting tons of new people has helped me overcome that. I’m able to talk to people who are complete strangers and just have fun.”
In addition to a boost in confidence, Copeland’s drag queen-counterpart has evolved in style since his first time doing drag, when his boyfriend did his makeup and he decided to try out 6 1/2-inch heels, which he said he fell in a couple of times.
“I think the most difficult part is finding out who you are,” Copeland said. “I know I’m not the best dancer, but I can own being super friendly and silly on stage because it’s what I love to do, and if that’s my strength, I’m going to play to it.”
After learning how to do his own makeup and doing a few loads of laundry in heels to break them in, Copeland can transfigure into the stunning vision that is Plenty O’ Smiles in just an hour and a half.
“I sometimes use a brown wig, but I love blonde hair the most because blonde is associated with being bubbly, which fits my character,” Copeland said. “I want to be as big and over-the-top and as crazy of a character as I can be. I love big hair, I wish I could have more big hair.”
Copeland said that being a part of the West family — a group of drag queens that includes notable Columbus queens Nina and Virginia West, as well as others — has helped him improve in both ability and morale. They helped him see that, like any art form, there is more than one stylistic approach to drag performing, and that he should embrace what he wanted to do instead of trying to be good at something because someone else is.
For Plenty O’ Smiles, that means doing songs he wants to perform instead of going with more mainstream songs that might get more attention but don’t fit his personality.
“So instead of doing a Nicki Minaj song, which might be great and get more attention, it just doesn’t fit who I am, and it’s not going to come across right on stage,” he said. “But if I do a poppy, cute and happy song that I really feel, then it’s going to come off that I’m actually having fun.”
Other than bow tie-designing and drag-performing, Copeland has found a way to tie in skills from his degree in strategic communication to his job at Bink Davies, where he was recently promoted to run their social media. He said he is mainly focusing on drag shows, which occasionally provides money, but will likely follow his bow tie designs if there are more opportunities.
Copeland’s bow ties can be bought at Bink Davies for about $25, and Plenty O’ Smiles can routinely be seen gracing the stages of Columbus night clubs, such as Short North bars Axis and Union.
“When Plenty is on stage, she is always smiling. People are just drawn to her,” Levitt said. “We are just seeing the beginning of what I think will be a long and successful drag career.”