30 May 2020

Quiet please there’s no ladies on stage

Colleen Windsor

Bugger this COVID 19 for ripping the arse out of life. Sure, everyone has been affected but let’s spare a thought, for the moment, on the desolation in the drag performers world.   

These performers bring joy, entertaining the community both in our gay bars and throughout suburbia.  Until Rona showed up just a short time ago, 2020 was going very well with lots of work around, covering a broad mix of product, as creative and as entertaining as any in recent years.

Then their spotlight faded to dark.

Glen Hansen, the marketing and promotions manager at Stonewall Hotel, one of Oxfords Street’s main presenters of drag performance, told me how heartbreaking it was to wave the girls on their way to – well, who knows what.

Drag industry performers are mainly sole businesses, always have been and always will be, it’s never been an industry to choose to make any kind of decent money. So, the majority are now sitting on the Job Seeker Allowance.  Fingers crossed the Government doesn’t wind it back to dole level before this industry can return to a ‘new normal’.  

This drag industry is a community – it’s a very Sydney thing that I’m pleased to report is as tight and relevant as it ever was. I was a performer way back last century and the sense you were part of a community within Sydney’s LGBTQI greater community was one of the most fabulous connections to carry with you.  

Sydney Showgirls backstage at Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Party 

You may have heard of a recent social media phenomenon The Make-up Brush Challenge.  The team at the Diva Awards took on the challenge, made by the showgirls of the Melbourne scene, to create the Sydney version.

But we have this rich community bond remember, so the plan was set to make our version something extra. Use it to show support for the current performers, solidarity for the situation they find themselves in and to create a time capsule of our community for the record.

Almost overnight a team was formed to collaborate, Penelope Tration from Gender Bender Bingo, Charisma Belle from Drag Royalty and DJ Dan Murphy to mix a track.  The premise is to catch a make-up brush, rub the brush at the camera lens then film a second video pulling the brush away from the camera and there you are in full regalia.

Past, present and emerging performers took part - a splendid roll call of our broad tribe.  Sheila Bliege, the Diva leader, said “We had such an overwhelming response to our call out for girls to participate in our little video, which we were able to edit into a sharp piece of art that we can all be proud of”.

Meanwhile I’ve discovered that with this situation hitting everyone at once the girls are all doing what they can to stick together. Sharing knowhow on how to manoeuvre the bureaucracy of finding financial assistance. To lending creative and technical support as the queens create home studios and put themselves out there into the world of virtual entertainment. 

You can find many of your favourite showgirls performing online through the Facebook Live and Instagram Live platforms. Adapting and innovating to stay connected with their audiences in new and entertaining ways.

For all of us in isolation at home, it certainly brings different and exciting viewing into our 

lounge rooms, beats the endless streaming of TV series and films for a bit of zooish.

Oxford Streets Universal and Stonewall Hotel have transferred offerings online. Universal’s popular talent quest has become Slay Live, hosted, in partnership with Drag Royalty, by the fabulous dynamic duo Carmen Geddit and Charisma Belle. Contestants compete by video which brings an exciting injection to the production value. 

Live from Stonewall is a weekly streaming comedy entertainment show starring Minnie Cooper along with an impressive line-up of weekly guests. Verushka Darling has seamlessly transferred her long running popular Let’s Talk About Sex from the bar to your lounge room and picked up a huge audience gain in doing so.

Penny Tration has created a new brand Tration in Isolation,  streaming on Friday and Saturdays, its raw, real and something you couldn’t perform in a venue. Penny has always given good talk show, but here she takes the concept in a fresh direction. 

If you love a bit of drag bingo then Prada Clutch over at Sydney Drag Queen presents the online version via the Zoom platform, with Prada invading your lounge room with so much energy you won’t be able to sleep after.   

That’s just the start of it, there’s lots more happening. Find a guide to many more online offerings over at the Sydney Mardi Gras website. https://www.mardigras.org.au

Time will tell how the glamour and glitter will look on its return. But evidence, based on years past, is that the Sydney drag scene is resilient.  For now, seek out an online show and please consider a PayPal tip in appreciation – it will mean the world.   

See The Make-up Brush Challenge on Instagram and Facebook