Since venues that host long-standing drag shows like R Place, Queer/Bar, and Kremwerk + Timbre Room Complex have temporarily shuttered their doors due to COVID-19, Seattle’s drag performers are quickly mastering a new tool of the trade: online performance.
Drag queen Betty Wetter hosts bingo via Zoom, for example, and Queer/Bar maintains its Sunday Drag Brunch at noon on Twitch. Drag Queens, Kings, and nonbinary peformers are now learning video editing, camera skills, or increased competence with platforms like Vimeo or Twitch.
“That’s the thing about all this, drag is great because it’s a consolidation of a bunch of mediums put together. You have to be good at a bunch of things, but none of those things [before] were video making. So all these queens are now having to learn a bunch of skills they didn’t have,” said One, a Colombian-born, Seattle-based drag performer.
With a background in fine art and performance, One is known for their artsy, conceptual drag looks: their avant-garde makeup and garments designed and constructed themselves. One is couture-inspired, but eschews the typical polish that comes with it for the freedom of clown and camp. Case in point, they are the current Miss Bacon Strip, a drag show known for “it’s mostly campy, gross, Divine-type drag.”
DRAG ONLINE AND VIDEOCONFERENCE TIPS
We all find ourselves on stage and in front of the camera a little more often these days. Check out these tips from drag king Vincent Milay, and drag performer One about how to look your best.
- “Test it first,” urges Milay. “Try recording it first on your phone, and play it back. Does it sound good? Is the lighting good? Your makeup can be anything, your clothes can be anything–we’re in the middle of COVID, nothing matters–but those two things: lighting and speaker volume, definitely matter.”
- Ask a Queen! Respectfully, that is. Drag is a community affair by nature. Have a question about makeup? See if a performer you like has a makeup tutorial, or message them. “Send me your video, I’ll watch it, I’ll give you constructive criticism,” Milay welcomes.
- Embrace DIY Drag. “Don’t invest $300 in lighting, don’t invest $300 in a camera,” One advises. “If anything, use this time as an exercise in creativity. Especially for Seattle drag, we’re known for a different vision of drag, something a little less Drag Race-centric and hopefully a little more grassroots. Whatever you have at home, make that work.” In other words, save your stimulus check, and challenge yourself to work with what you have.
- Follow and support your local Drag Queens, Kings, and performers. Following (and tipping) drag performers on social media isn’t just good community etiquette, it’s how you learn about new opportunities and drag “challenges.” Drag performer Beau Degas rolled out a week-long event called Pay Me Daddy, which was “basically like a costume party online,” One explains. “She set out a schedule, and every week there was a theme, and people would just upload looks of whatever the theme was everyday, and everyone did it. Truly, like half of the queens in town did it.”
One is the creator of Glory Hole, a monthly show that happens in art spaces, primarily at Studio Current. “That show is basically anything you want. Everyone who is involved does drag in some capacity. Everyone also has a background in art, or non-drag related [fields]. We’ve done everything from modernist shows, to puppetry. We did a show about trauma. We did a storytelling show,” One said.
Their most recent Glory Hole show, Climax, with Bitch Hazel, Miss Texas 1988, Angel Baby Kill Kill Kill, and Femme Daddy, was slated to debut at Studio Current, but COVID had other plans, so Climax was made available on Vimeo. Each performer shot their own video, One edited them together, and released the show on Vimeo’s premium version, which charges viewers per rental. Proceeds were divvied up equally among the performers.
According to drag king Vincent Milay, performers quickly found out which online platforms to invest in. Milay has performed “theatrical goth” live performance and lip sync for the last few years at Kremwerk, Unicorn, Wildrose, Queer/Bar and more, and records his own content for R Place’s virtual drag show, which happens every Friday at 10 PM on Twitch. The R Place Twitch stream features the cast of Lashes, including Amora DiorBlack, Ladie Chablis, and Londyn Bradshaw. Performers send their recorded content to R Place, which is then streamed via Twitch, “kind of like MTV.”
Milay noted that at the beginning of quarantine, performers eagerly embraced Instagram Live. While being accessible, it turned out IG Live has some drawbacks for performers. “The issue with that is you have people commenting, scrolling, people’s internet [connection] isn’t the same. Lip syncs can be off when you do it that way,” Milay said.
Most drag performers use Twitch because they can stream pre-recorded videos, and the platform won’t cut or mute a song that’s copyrighted, a problem with Facebook livestream. Milay observed, “They’re not going to cut you for content. Which is really cool. Facebook is automatic. If you’re doing your makeup and they hear music in the background, they’ll either cut your feed or they’ll mute your stuff later on playback.”
Drag performers like Arson Nikki and Londyn Bradshaw can be found on Twitch, playing video games in drag makeup. Bradshaw, Miss Gay Seattle 53, regularly performed at R Place, Kremwerk, and Timbre Room before quarantine. She described her style as “a little bit of Black Panther, Wakanda Forever type-stuff, more like tomboyish drag, sporty drag, athleisure.” Her pre-COVID performances were high-key and active, involving a lot of dance and lip syncs. Recording in her home has brought new challenges. “I don’t have a lot of space to move around without knocking things over. That’s really pushed my limits,” she said.
Since the stay-at-home order, Bradshaw has recorded music videos for R Place and Queer/Bar’s digital drag shows. “I did a Frozen music video, ‘Into the Unknown.’ It was about leaving my house for milk during quarantine,” Bradshaw said. “My other one was a little more depressing. It was about checking in on your friends during this time because you never know, checking in could make somebody’s day or help them through something that they might be going through.”
COVID-19’s shutdown of bars and clubs has been devastating for live entertainers, but some are welcoming quarantine as a birthplace for new drag, with online platforms as inroads for drag hopefuls. “It’s a great time to try something out,” asserted Milay. “I look forward to all our new baby performers.”
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