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A self-love Valentine's Day letter, from Madison Ray

Madison Ray sings into a microphone in a black and white image.
Mark Lage

Dearly beloved,

I would like to tell you about my friend: Yazmine DeMornay.

We spent many nights sharing a dressing room, having some of those big, show all your teeth kind of laughs, which usually turned into me warming myself on the glow of her encouragement. That’s what a pillar looks like, gracefully carrying the weight and looking effortlessly fabulous all the while. We had the pleasure of being colleagues, but more than that, I’m a fan because she was always holding it down for the culture and representing for the Black queens. She was my big sis and she called me brother like it was my first name.

She’s no longer with us, but her legacy lives on in Des Moines' East Village, in The Garden’s show lounge, which is dedicated in her name. It's a space and stage intended for inclusivity of all people and talents, no matter your shape, size or identity. That’s what community looks like. That’s what love looks like. I cannot imagine a more fitting tribute.

My name is Madison Ray, and I’ve been producing shows in Iowa since 2012: concerts, fashion shows, theater, television & radio specials. I’ve had the honor to build so many stages and empower incredibly diverse and captivating talent. Through the creative process, we often become close - like play-cousins - and I get the joy of discovering the person that lies at the core of these magnificent gifts. It’s important that we are able to see and hear each other for who we really are.

Identity breathes in every song, every poem, every dance step

Lucius Pham

It’s personal. Sacred in a way. Yet we are also compelled to show the whole world who we are. So many artists embrace the increasingly wide range of queerness, yet often not recognizing that a community is ready to embrace and celebrate you as you are. With a new location, new management and new perspective, so much potential is growing in Des Moines through The Garden. As definitions and communities broaden, the culture is shifting and our creative possibilities are more open than they’ve ever been. The notion of simply checking boxes is drying up, and visible authenticity is blossoming in our backyard.

Madeleine C King

From musicians to actors, designers, drag artists, burlesque dancers, comedians, circus & sideshow acts and professional wrestlers. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and chatting (and heavily drinking) with many of the incredible artists here in Iowa, along with some traveling through the heartland, and often there’s a dream or creative vision they’re trying to build. A few lessons I’ve picked up if you’re just stepping into our industry:

  • Keep learning and stay flexible. The appetite to grow and develop keeps you sharp and grants the range to create any and every part of your dream. In complacency, we lose our edge (which is where the magic happens). Our work can manifest in the most unexpected ways and our eyes must stay open to recognize when opportunity is happening, especially when it doesn’t look the way we expect.
  • Be willing to build a bigger table. Speaking your vision aloud will often attract people who can help you grow and develop that vision to fruition, but only if you are willing to let them in.
  • Creation absolutely takes a village, and contributions come in all shapes and sizes. All of those offerings matter.
  • There is merit in creation, even when it’s bad. The act of doing “the thing” is part of the process, and practice makes proficient. People rarely remember the failures and will celebrate your victories. Be courageous as you grind through to get to your best work.
Madeleine C King

I promise that someone is holding space for you and your gifts will pave the way. I want to encourage you to be bold and brave, authentic and kind. And please reach out to my friends at The Garden.

Tell them that Madison sent you.

All the best.

If you'd like to support Madison and The Garden, spend your Valentine's Day with his band The Finesse and enjoy a unique burlesque dinner experience! Tickets are available here.

If you've already got Valentine's Day plans, Madison and The Finesse are planning a Japan tour, with a kick-off show at xBk in Des Moines on Feb. 28.