by BJ Colangelo
Unless you’ve been etching endless tally marks into your wall to count just how long it’s been since you’ve been able to see the outside world without feeling like we’re living in an Orwellian nightmare, you’ve probably lost track just how long the COVID-19 pandemic has left you quarantined. Those that make a living and express their art through mass gatherings, however, are acutely aware of just how long it has been since they’ve been able to put on a show.
Artists of all mediums have been hit hard by the pandemic, but drag performers are in a unique predicament, as the intimate connection a performer makes with their fans is unlike most bands, comedians, or theatre productions. Sure, a drag show may start on a stage, but the likelihood that a lip sync or dance will spill out into the audience ready and willing to personally hand over tips into the performer’s hand is almost guaranteed. Dusty Bucket, the drag performer and brainchild behind Drag News Ohio was kind enough to talk with The Buckeye Flame to tell us more about how the drag community has been enduring all of (gestures wildly) this.
When the pandemic forced everyone to go digital and distanced, drag performers were some of the first to take charge. Instagram Live, Twitch, YouTube Live, Facebook Live, and Zoom quickly took the place of nightclubs and dance halls for fans looking to get their drag fix. “It opened up the possibilities of pre-recording and making highly edited videos, which adds all these new crazy possibilities with drag that I love to see,” Dusty Bucket tells us. “I thrive in an edit, I can make as many mistakes as I want and no one will know.”
Live streams on social media require the same level of energy seen on a stage, but done from the silence of a living room. As beneficial as pre-recording videos can be, issues surrounding a digital performance is not limited to the absence of energy one would typically feed off of from a live audience. “Instagram has been known to shut down live shows if there’s music playing that is used without a license, which ends any lipsync,” says Ms. Bucket. “[This has] called me to make drag in a way that just can’t be replicated on a stage.”
Dusty’s drag style has grown and expanded thanks to quarantine, and has opened their eyes on the various ways to execute drag. “The energy of a live show is amazing and irreplaceable, but it feels like now I can work on something until it’s as good as it can possibly be,” she says. “So often I do a number and I don’t know when I’ll bring it out again.” Bucket continues, “I’ll make mistakes, and usually the first time I’m ever doing it is in front of a crowd, it’s been a lot less pressure to work this way, plus, I don’t have to stay up until 3 a.m.”
Now that the spatial limitations are nonexistent, performers can be seen anywhere in the world. Throughout quarantine, Dusty Bucket has been ‘seen’ by audiences central to Birmingham, England, San Francisco, New York City, and Pittsburgh. Outside of performing, it’s also allowed folx like Dusty Bucket to watch drag shows they’d normally never see without traveling outside of Ohio. “I’ve been able to enjoy some absolutely delicious drag from the Goddess’ show on Twitch, which is not only extremely talented, avant garde, and artistic, but also inclusive of Kings, Nonbinary drag, AFAB queens, and people of color. Really hoping Kat Sass notices me and I get to be in on that one day.”
Dusty Bucket also runs the website and social media channels for Drag News Ohio, the premiere resource for all things drag in Ohio. As digital drag has expanded, keeping track of what everyone is doing, and where, has brought its own brand of difficulty. “Promoting really lives on Instagram and Facebook, and sometimes that algorithm will slip past me and I’ll find out about something a day late!” With drag performers popping up on shows hosted all over the globe, the idea of a local scene is somewhat on pause. “Every show could technically be an Ohio show,” Bucket says.
Considering how COVID has obliterated the livelihood of just about everyone (save for the billionaires continuing to get richer), tipping on digital drag shows haven’t been as good as a live show, but that hasn’t stopped drag performers from continuing to put on shows. “We’re really out here because we love to do it and love to see other people working that inspire us,” she says. As the future of live performances and a return to mass gatherings remain unpredictable every day, digital drag shows remain as a way to keep one of the biggest staples of queer culture alive.
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BJ Colangelo is a recovering child beauty queen that fancies herself the lovechild of Christopher Sarandon in “Fright Night” and Susan Sarandon in “The Hunger”. BJ is a social emotional theatre teaching artist and a professional horror film journalist and theorist. She writes about horror, wrestling, sex, kicking pancreatic cancer’s ass, and being a fat queer all over the Internet. Her work has been featured in publications like Blumhouse, Medium, Playboy, Vulture, Birth. Movies. Death., Autostraddle, and The Daily Dot, and has contributed essays to the books When Animals Attack!, Creepy Bitches, and Hidden Horror 101. Follow her on Twitter.