Local Drag Queens Get Creative In Quarantine
June 30 is the last day of Pride Month.
When you think about seeing a drag show, you might picture being in a dark bar or a dance club.
Of course, until just recently bars had been closed in Michigan due to the coronavirus pandemic, so where do drag queens perform in lockdown?
Some performers from south Michigan took to the Kalamazoo River to do a socially-distanced show in June.
Each of the queens performed a number walking from the banks into the water, splashing and waving to passing kayakers. Jimmy Sims performs as Sasha Banks in Battle Creek. He organized the show as part of his series “Sundays with Sasha.” He lip synced to the song, 'How Far I'll Go' from the Disney movie, Moana.
"We were on an island. We did our little costume changes, and I've got my cute little bikini with my grass skirt. I was feeling my Moana fantasy for everyone."
Sims broadcast the show on Facebook Live. During quarantine, drag performers around the world have turned to online streaming platforms to keep doing shows from their homes, parks and, yes, on a tubing trip.
"We could just keep doing shows in the basement with our little curtain background, but if we're going to do it virtually, we may as well change it up and find somewhere cool to do a show, you know?" Sims said.
Shane Barrera lives in Kalamazoo. He describes his drag persona, Miss Moscato, as just like the wine: bubbly and sweet. He also took part in Sims’ show on the river.
Drag queens have had to get creative in quarantine to put on the same kind of production their audience expects in a bar.
Barrera said he usually loves to dance during his numbers.
"I like to skip. I like to hop around. I like to do the splits. I can't do that. I live in an apartment. I live in a second story. I can't do that. My neighbors may think somebody died if I do that."
Sims said it can be hard not to have the audience in the same room.
"If you're doing a slow ballad, sometimes, you get in your feelings and just seeing everybody there reacting to it kind of eggs it on," he said. If you're trying to feel connection but you're staring at a phone screen, it's harder to like, feel that connection,"
Barrera says drag is like his second job, but putting together virtual drag shows is about more than just money.
"We weren't there for tips. We were there for one, to express our art, and two, to really maintain that, you know, that kind of peace of mind, and well, at least we still have drag shows to hang on to."
Meanwhile, in Battle Creek, the LGBTQ+ community lost its only gay bar last year. So, Sims began organizing monthly shows at a bar called the Music Factory.
At the beginning of the year, they gained enough momentum to be able to perform weekly, but that all came to a halt because of the pandemic.
"I wanted to make sure we still had our audience base and we still kept people wanting to see more shows," he said.
Now, as Michigan re-opens and some bars go back to business, drag performers like Sims and Barrera are ready to get back on stage though they acknowledge there’s going to be some differences, like using a tip jar instead of audience members directly handing dollars to queens.
Sims also says he’s says he’s taken the time in lockdown to step up his game for his next in-person performances.
"So, hopefully when you come see our show, you'll see new costumes, new outfits and basically a whole new me," Sims said.
The Music Factory in Battle Creek hosted its first drag show in months on June 25. Sims, as Sasha Banks, performed in a lip sync battle against another queen to Katy Perry’s Firework.
A video of the performance shows the queens dancing behind a barrier. A contrast to a typical drag show, which is loaded with audience interaction.
But, despite the fact that they can’t currently reach out and touch their audience members, not much else is different about Sims being on stage and entertaining.