The Imperial Court of New York: Night of a Thousand Gowns

Gary Cosgrove, Madison Mansfield & Henry Bastos

There is nothing as prominent and prestigious as royalty. Recently I was completely honored to have a chance to speak with Gary Cosgrove, the president of  The Imperial Court of New York; Madison Mansfield, the soon-to-be-crowned new empress; and Henry Bastos, who is a count—all real royalty representing The Imperial Court of New York. I considered my conversation comparable to interviewing the Queen of England herself!

The charitable work this organization does cannot be acknowledged enough, and their upcoming epic extravaganza Night of a Thousand Gowns is an event of a lifetime.

Where is Night of a Thousand Gowns this year?
Cosgrove: Night of a Thousand Gowns, our 29th annual, is April 11, 2015, at the Marriott Marquis in the heart of Times Square.

What can those who attend expect that night?
Mansfield: It’s a night of glitz and glam and glamor. We have Jody Watley performing. We have Avenue Q performing. We have stars of stage and screen. Our monarchs will also be performing, and a stepping down ceremony, and we’ll be crowing our new emperor and empress.

Who is the new empress?
Mansfield: I shall be crowned the new empress of the Imperial Court of New York, along with Opi N. Yated, who will be my emperor.

Gary, tell me the history behind this, of the Imperial Court and Night of a Thousand Gowns.Cosgrove: The Imperial Court of New York was started in 1986, and it was in response to the AIDS crisis that year. We raised money back then to help those living with HIV, because they didn’t have anything, and as the years went on our mission started to include other LGBT direct-service organizations, LGBT homeless youth, and then we started giving away youth enrichment scholarships to LGBT kids going away to college. We are all under the umbrella of the International Court system, which was started 50 years ago in San Francisco by our founder Empress Jose Sario. This 2015 is our 50th anniversary. We are one of 70 courts around the United States and in Mexico. We play a game called King and Queen, Emperor and Empress. It’s a social organization that gives everyone a safe place to be themselves, dress as they wanna dress. We’re a very diverse organization, especially here in New York, and we just love raising money and dressing as royalty. I had the pleasure of being the tenth elected emperor back in 2000, and I’m currently serving my ninth year as president. It never gets old for me. The giving back is the most important thing to me. Dressing is the fun part. People like Madison Mansfield are members; she’s been with us for five years now. Amazing people from Long Island she’s brought with her. She even brought this guy Henry Bastos with her from Long Island.

Hi, Henry.
He’s one of our good members.

I never knew he was a member, and I’ve known him forever.
Cosgrove: You knew Eileen forever?
Bastos: Yes, we go back like 10 years.

Henry, introduce yourself.
Bastos: Henry Bastos, and I’m here with the court 4 years.
Cosgrove: And he’s a count.
Bastos: I’m a count, Count Harrington.

Madison, how long have you been doing drag?
Mansfield: I’m on my 15th year of doing drag. It started out as a Halloween gag, and it evolved into pageants, and then turned into doing charity work. It brought me to the Imperial Court of New York, and now this is like the ultimate. I’ve done everything in the drag community, and this is pretty much the ultimate in drag that I’ve done, to be honored to be the Empress of the Imperial Court of New York. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Now Gary, have you done drag?
Cosgrove: I have done drag. We do a thing in the court every year called Tough Drag where the men of the court dress up and the woman of the court don’t have to dress up. But the key to Tough Drag is you don’t shave. You keep your mustaches, keep your beard, so you do pretty rough, tough drag. It’s a lot of fun, but I give a lot of credit to my girls who do drag. I could not do it like they do it. I could not shave like they shave. It’s an art.

I’m a real girl, and I can’t wear heels like that.
Cosgrove: Drag is an art. A lot of our girls are artists.

Mansfield: Honestly, the best part about the Imperial court of New York is that you don’t have to be a drag queen; we have gentlemen that dress up in high glamour. We have transgendered, we have straight members. We really are inclusive to the entire community. So it’s not just a drag organization. It’s about an organization that’s inclusive to all.

Tell us more about the event.
Cosgrove: Our beneficiaries are the National LGBTQ Task Force and the LGBT Center in New York City. Our honorary chairs for the evening are Dionne Warwick; Candice Cayne, one of the first transgender actresses to make it on TV; and Deborah Harry. They’ll all be present.  Dionne’s coming because her granddaughter, Cheyenne Elliott, is performing. They did a duet together on Cheyenne’s new album, so we’re hoping that we can coax Dionne to come out and sing, but she’ll definitely be there to introduce her granddaughter. Madison mentioned the cast of Avenue Q; Bravo reality star Artie Thompson will be doing his cabaret act that night, and Rockell from the late ‘90s will be performing. So we have a great cast performing. Oh, and “Drag Race” season one star Rebecca Glasscock will be coming.

We love Rebecca.
Cosgrove: One of the hot drag queens. It’s gonna be really an amazing time.
Bastos: It’s going to be amazing. Jody Watley and Le Chic.
Cosgrove: We don’t wanna forget our stepping-down monarchs Tony Monteleone and Empress Twinkle Montgomery. They have had a spectacular year, and this is the culmination of that year. At midnight we crown the new Emperor and Empress Madison and Opi N. Yated, and we’re looking for another fun year with those two.

Madison, how’s your husband?
Mansfield: My husband is doing fabulous. My husband has joined the Imperial Court of New York as well. We’re going on 14 years of marriage; everything is wonderful. I’m still living on Long Island with our four little furry babies and enjoying life.

And Gary, where are you from?
Cosgrove: From Lodi, New Jersey. Born and bread in New Jersey, strictly New Jersey. I was Jersey Shore before there was Jersey Shore. I live there with my husband, who I’ve been married to for three years but have been with for 18-plus years, and him, Damian Ross, Mark Costanzo and Champ Knecht are amazing executive producers for Night of a Thousand Gowns.

Sounds like it’s going to be an amazing evening. So what time, from when to when, how do people get tickets…?
Cosgrove: We run 6 p.m. to midnight, for tickets. We have $450 full gala tickets or $150 sapphire tickets for those who want to come at 10 and watch the show. The whole night is open bar. How can you beat that?

Cosgrove: The food is great, the party is great, and we want “Get Out!” magazine to be there!

And we love you. Make sure you write that in the interview!

Night of a Thousand Gowns

Eileen Shapiro

Best selling author of "The Star Trek Medical Reference Manual", and feature celebrity correspondent for Get Out Magazine, Louder Than War, and Huffington Post contributor, I've interviewed artists from Adam Ant, Cyndi Lauper, and Annie Lennox to Jennifer Hudson, Rick Springfield, LeAnn Rimes, and thousands in between. My interviews challenge the threat of imagination....

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