Right before this all began around a month ago — a few days before I would even hear the words “social distancing” for the first time — I shouldered through the crowd at a packed little club in Astoria, Queens to meet my partner and friend at a high-top table. We’d snagged great seats up near the front of the stage for a one-night-only drag show featuring RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Monique Heart and Dusty Ray Bottoms. After appearing on Drag Race, it’s particularly rare to be able to see these queens up-close-and-personal in a setting like this, so it was a much-deserved treat after an exhausting (but exciting) week of work. We belly-laughed at their social commentary, sang along as Monique delivered an impressive Celine Dion lip-sync, and generously threw dollar bills at the stage to reward them for putting on a stellar show. In that moment, our minds were taken off our worries and the gathering storm in the outside world.
As this “new normal” has begun to set in, I’ve been reflecting a lot on what has given me joy and peace in times of stress or crisis. And I realized that drag is an art form I’ve turned to for release throughout my entire life.
During my college days in Huntington, WV, the sickening moves of Olivia Knowles at the Stonewall Nightclub helped me dance through the sadness of my grandmother’s passing. While performing at a summer stock theatre near Columbus, Ohio, Nina West’s special brand of camp and comedy had us in stitches at the Axis Nightclub during our weekend breaks away from a strenuous rehearsal process. And of course, RuPaul’s Drag Race had just made its way onto our screens while I was working for another theatre in Michigan where fellow acting apprentices and I would cram episodes on our lunch and dinner breaks.
This love of drag multiplied when I moved to New York City to pursue musical theatre professionally. This city has some of the hardest working drag performers in the world. From the hilarious, belting musical theatre queens of Hell’s Kitchen like Sutton Lee Seymour to the incredible avant-garde drag from the likes of Juku and others in Brooklyn, these performances helped me through everything from bad auditions to gigs I didn’t book to messy breakups. After the Pulse nightclub shooting devastated the LGBTQIA+ community back in 2016, we tried to not let fear consume us. We cautiously gathered in our safe spaces, even though they had been compromised. We danced through tears as fear began to dissuade, and courageous drag performers all over the country led celebrations of life and pride.
However, given the importance of social distancing and avoiding large gatherings during this global pandemic, my usual outlets have been temporarily shut down and these performers have lost their primary source of income (along with so many other artists across the globe). These sparkling, talented, and brave leaders are now unable to rally us in person at their workplaces. But that hasn’t stopped them. So many of these drag performers are still finding ways to reach their audiences to provide them comfort during this turbulent time, from delivering show-stopping performances online, to make-up tutorials, to offering special deals on their merchandise.
As cabin fever is setting in, one of the best ways I’ve found to mimic the excitement of going out to a drag show is by attending the Digital Drag Festival presented by StageIt. This virtual festival features a variety of performers and shows, all streamed live from each performer in quarantine. The audience can tip the artist during the show, many of whom are sharing portions of the proceeds with organizations raising emergency funds. For example, Jackie Cox from Rupaul’s Drag Race Season 12 is donating half the proceeds she receives from tips to Broadway Cares Equity FightsAids’ COVID-19 Fund.
So, in lieu of throwing dollar bills at the club to celebrate these amazing performers, I’ll be tipping them virtually from home for the joy they’ve brought into my life and continue to do so even in this time of crisis. I know that after every storm there is a rainbow, and we will find each other on the dance floor one day soon. But until that day, I’ll keep snapping, YAS’ing, and cheering you all on from home.
Below are some resources for how you can send some love to queer artists around the globe!
- You can purchase “tickets” for a variety of live-streamed performances here.
- Many of these artists are offering personalized videos that can be sent as gifts via Cameo to benefit The Actors Fund, No Kid Hungry, and other organizations in need.
- Indya Moore, who plays Angel Evangelista in the FX television show Pose, is collecting money to redistribute to queer folks in need (you can find them on CashApp).
- For theGworls, artists who throw monthly parties in NYC to benefit black trans folks, are raising money virtually on social media.
- A master list of resources for queer artists can be found here.
- Chances are your favorite artist also has a Venmo or CashApp, trying checking out their individual social media accounts for more info!