Bluegrass drag queens, event coordinators get extra creative during COVID-19

by Allie Fireel

In the 2010’s the drag scene in Louisville Kentucky flowered and grew.  From large venues like Play, to pop up drag and burlesque shows at The Limbo, all way to queens appearing in broad daylight -Gasp!!- at one of the multiple Drag Brunches available in Louisville. Queens even read stories to kids The Louisville Free Public Library.

Enter Covid-19, stage left, to grab the spotlight and shut down every performing venue in town. But like a whole lot of other performing and creative artists in Covid-ville, queens are taking it to the internet, streaming live shows on sites like Instagram, Twitch,  and  Facebook.

For performers, the web page is a different stage with a lot of familiar problems, but these problems all take new forms in the digital landscape.

Louisville based queen Dolly Parts talked about how hard it is to look good on the internet. “Makeup and lighting are still something I’m tryin to figure out.”

A big part of that difficulty comes from the fact that the camera and the stage are so drastically different in some aspects. 

 “It makes it hard to know what kind of makeup to do, typically for a spotlight you know how it’s going to pick up the lights and darks of your face. But overhead lighting on an iPhone? 

Another Louisville based queen, Umi Naughty, talked about other possible problems. 

“I’m always concerned if the video is going to get kicked off for the songs.”

Naughty is talking about extra legal challenges on the net, especially when it comes to copy written music. Getting something played at the club is very different from putting the same song on the world wide web. Media companies can use software that searches the internet for their intellectual property, which leads to problems for performers; they get their live stream cut off.  Naughty ran into this problem at a recent show. 

“Right before my second number the live feed was temporarily cut due to a copyright issue with the previous performer. We got it (back) up pretty quickly after, but I wasn’t sure how much of the audience rejoined the live stream.”

 Just like a live show, keeping your audience engaged is key, and online it only takes a single click for them to move on.

The audiences aren’t only offering eyeballs, often they’ve brought  money for tips, virtually speaking. It’s become standard for artists all over Qurantown to receive payment directly from the audience through Venmo, Paypal, and other online monetary platforms.

Daniel Cole is a drag producer who has worked in several cities in the last 13 years. He’s known in Louisville for Hard Candy, and Drag Brunch at Le Moo. Cole has produced digital events that collect money, but said he’s not keeping any of it. 

“ I know most (queens) are struggling even more than myself. I’m also aware that a lot of people watching our shows are in similar situations financially, so they can’t always afford to donate or tip.”

Naughty performed at Cole’s recent virtual drag brunch. “There is a gofundme available that not only sends funds to help the performers, but also the DJs, production team, basically anyone behind the scenes who’s helped in the past.”

Naughty and Parts both talked about the biggest change; performing without a live audience.

“There’s no direct energy to play off,” said Parts. “ I find myself glancing to see if comments are coming in, or if people are using the react buttons, that typically helps keep me going knowing that people are responding.”

“Performing for an empty room is definitely weird,” said Naughty. “I like to utilize a lot of audience interaction during my numbers, so it’s a bit strange to look dead ahead for four minutes in a small confined space.”

Performing isn’t all that Parts is doing during the quarantine. She’s exploring other ways of virtually connecting with her audiences; live make up tutorials.

 “I’ll talk through the process and share techniques and things. I also like answering questions people have about makeup! And sometimes I do decide to get in drag first and then go live and talk to people”

Though they put plenty of energy into keeping drag from completely disappearing, there is still a lot of down time for Naughty, Parts, and Cole. 

Cole says it’s weird, even though he’s self employed and used to a schedule that has many speed settings.

“It just feels very odd to have all this down time  when I would normally be ramping up for a very busy spring and summer,” said Cole.  

Naughty and Parts are also using this time to recharge, and even get ready for life after Covid. 

Parts is trying out new makeup looks. 

“Having time to creatively reset is a blessing honestly! It can get so tiring just going to gig after gig and painting the same face that works for a few different numbers, and not having time to plan or do more creative things.”

Naughty is focusing on new costumes. “It’s allowed me to tinker with some outfit concepts I’ve pondered in the past but haven’t got a chance to really flesh out. I know how to sew and this break has revitalized me to really start creating new pieces again.”

Hopefully we’ll all get a chance to see the fruits of their labor live and in person sooner rather than later, but you can catch them online in the meantime. And don’t forget to bring your virtual dollars bills.