Can't Think Straight
Here’s the thing about drag queens: they’re a blast to watch perform, but don’t sit in the front row.
Let me be more specific: don’t sit in the front row with someone who knows the drag queens, unless you, being the “cute boy in the plaid” (her words, not mine), want to be subjected to nearly three hours of ridicule and harassment, where you will essentially be bullied into drinking way more than you had planned to only to please them.
Drag queens may be bitchy, but boy, do they know how to do a fundraiser.
AIDS Programming South Saskatchewan (APSS) held its annual AIDS benefit show at the Gay and Lesbian Community of Regina (GLCR) on Saturday with the help of the Regal Social Association of Regina (RSAR) and the Prairie Pride Chorus. The show was hosted by Avaughna and Bruce Sanoir, and was, with the exception of two performances by the Prairie Pride Chorus, a regular drag show.
Don’t get me wrong, I love drag shows just as much as the next gay guy. But three hours of drag performances interspersed with bitchy banter from Bruce and Avaughna really does get tiresome if you don’t have enough drinks in you. Maybe that’s why Avaughna wouldn’t leave me alone and kept berating me into buying more gin and tonics.
In any case, drag shows have to be the most successful fundraisers in the queer community purely because the drag kings and queens won’t leave you alone until you donate all of your spare change to the big metal bucket. And if you don’t have any spare change, they’ll force you over to the bar to buy another drink so you can have more spare change.
Moreover, drag shows are successful fundraisers because the vast majority of the kings and queens performing on stage will donate their tips back to the cause. As an audience, you’re expected to tip the drag performers, as the amount of money and time they put into the performance is essentially a part-time job, and costs the kings and queens boatloads of cash. Late in the night, Bruce recounted a story about how Avaughna has a whole floor of their house devoted to gowns and wigs.
Now, before you decry drag performances as contributors to late-stage capitalism – and really, you’re right – it’s useful to note that RSAR is part of the international drag court, which means they’re more or less charities. Drag courts exist essentially as charitable bodies that donate a large portion of their tips back to community organizations. The organization is structured as this weird amalgam of 19th century French monarchy and representational democracy, complete with emperors, empresses, and a parliament.
Whole books could be written just trying to make sense of how the system works, but, as an audience member, all you’re interested in is the performance, and it’s the performance that is key to a good drag show. The problem with a lot of drag shows is that once you’ve seen one, you’ve essentially seen them all, with noted exceptions. The first two hours of this three hour ordeal were overlong and repetitive, essentially just drag queens and kings lip-syncing to the music, and not really doing much of a performance beyond their gender-bending dress.
Generally speaking, the illusion of lip-syncing is hid almost as well as their sexed body behind their performed gender, but sitting in the front row you become particularly aware of the huge disconnect between the music and the performer, because even though you’re close enough to hear their voice, there’s nothing there. It’s almost like bad ventriloquism.
That being said, however, not all performances were particularly jarring, nor were any of the performances really that bad. One couple did a performance to “No Day But Today” from Rent that was absolutely phenomenal, and the lone performer from Saskatoon did a particularly interesting performance of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Am What I Am.”
But there were only two drag queens on Saturday night that really knew how to give a performance: Yada Ya-Oughta-Book-Ahead and Jenny Talia. Yada and Jenny consistently give solid and rousing performances that are more than just lip-syncing and kind of swaying your hips to music. Yada doesn’t really do anything different than other drag queens, but she gets right into her performance and could, if there was the floor space, get everyone to their feet.
And Jenny always amazes with the effort she puts into her costumes and into the elements of the performance itself. Jenny gave a performance of Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” that was complete with a dress fitted with coloured lights, and a handful of drag queens in the background holding birthday sparklers. Sure, it’s super campy and a bit too obvious, but that’s exactly what makes it so much fun.