Imagine a living, 6-foot-plus Barbie doll with the same relative bust-to-hip ratio and requisite long, flowing blond hair. That’s the Inga whom I have seen perform, admire and got to know almost two decades ago.
She’s a Swedish bombshell who arrived in Key West on Aug. 5, 1997, looking like a model for haute couture, albeit with more curves. Two days later, she burst onto the local drag scene on stage at the 801 “in a black velvet dress with the butt cheeks cut out.” It was quite a debut, and is remembered still.
Born in a small town south of Stockholm, Roger Hultman began acting on stage as a 10-year-old and became fascinated by the artistic theater crafts of costuming and makeup. By 17 he was a head designer costuming entire musicals.
The Inga persona was born when Hultman started doing drag at 19. “I’m 21 now, so it’s two years,” Inga said coyly, deep dimple flashing.
Our conversation took place as she sat for a portrait by watercolorist and parttime Key Wester Joan Becker; the setting was Mark “Marco” Schreiber’s year-old Rockhouse Masterpieces gallery at Julia and Whitehead streets.
The venue was perfect for an interview; the subject was captive, in a flouncy, colorful costume and with huge hair and full trademark makeup.
Over the years, Inga has grown considerably bigger and taller. Capitalizing on size, the character has graduated into higher and higher heels and bigger and bigger hair. She’s close to 7 feet tall now.
Her warm, show-biz personality, sense of humor and immense talent for makeup and costuming have grown right along with her, and now she is a vision to be reckoned with.
After his original drag debut at a place called Stars and Stripes in Gottenberg, Hultman took a job with a travel company. He also worked with a choreographer, costuming casts in Spain, Greece and Cyprus, three months at a time, in the spring and fall. They moved among hotels in European tourist towns, two weeks at each hotel. That was when the tropical bug bit — resulting in an affection for “palm trees and heat,” Inga explained. “It was great. I did drag in the off-season.
“A friend from Sweden was working here in Key West, and I decided I wanted to check it out.”
Inga was part of Sushi’s original company, the 801 Girls, which included Gugi, Kiley, MaJohn, Mila and RV. She has also appeared at LaTeDa, Epoch, Diva’s and KWest and for the last 16 years has been at Aqua.
As the Roger persona, he lives alone with his two dogs, “my bitches, Spencer and Darla.” As show director at Aqua he works five or six days a week, two or three shows a night.
“I love it. I’m happy,” he says. “It’s something I wanted to do and I’m happy I can do it for a living. Michael and Kimball are great people, great bosses.”
The demanding schedule is mitigated by the fact that he doesn’t require a lot of sleep — 1-6 a.m., he says, and he always takes a nap from 3-5 p.m.
“I’m happy,” he said for the third time.
The guy really, really is happy.
Inga can be seen Tuesday and Sunday at 9 p.m. and, in addition, at 7 and 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. ¦