Queens in Quarantine: Three Drag Race Winners Talk Lockdown

Queens in Quarantine: Three Drag Race Winners Talk Lockdown

Queens in Quarantine: Three Drag Race Winners Talk Lockdown

Ahead of this weekend's Werq the World: Battle Royale fundraiser, Aquaria, Violet Chachki, and Yvie Oddly tell us how they're managing during these uncertain times.

Ahead of this weekend's Werq the World: Battle Royale fundraiser, Aquaria, Violet Chachki, and Yvie Oddly tell us how they're managing during these uncertain times.

Text: Ryan Killian Krause

Nightlife might be on hold right now - the doors may be locked and the lights may be off - but, honey, that does not mean the drag has stopped. Queens all over the world have taken their acts to the internet - turning to social media and live-streaming to keep us all entertained through these difficult times. But as the shutdowns drag on and the venues continue to be closed, the financial burden on many continues to worsen, especially on the local drag entertainers.

That's why this coming Saturday, May 2nd, some of our absolute favorite drag queens are once again facing off in epic virtual battle royale to benefit local drag performers who've lost their income due to the coronavirus pandemic. The event, which will be hosted by Bianca Del Rio and Lady Bunny and will be live-streamed from empty venues across the country, will pit Drag Race fan favorites against each other in what promises to be an evening of show-stopping lip-syncs and quarantined-couture runway challenges. The matchups include Alyssa Edwards vs. Plastique Tiara, Aquaria vs. Kameron Michaels, Asia O'Hara vs. Brooke Lynn Hytes, Gigi Goode vs. Violet Chachki, and Vanessa Vanjie Mateo vs. reigning Drag Race champion Yvie Oddly.

Leading up to the event, V caught up with Drag Race champions Aquaria, Violet Chachki, and Yvie Oddly to discuss how they're staying creative in quarantine, what it's like performing digital drag, and the importance of supporting other queer artists.

Violet Chachki shot by Jasper Rischen (@jasperrischen)

V: It's an understatement to say that we're living in weird and uncertain times. What impact has the lockdown and the larger state of the world had on you and your work?

Violet Chachki: Every day is like a different emotion. Some days are great and some days are harder. It's always the grass is always greener for me, so when I'm on tour I'm like, ‘Oh my God, I can't wait to be home’ And now, I'm like, ‘Oh my God, I miss my life.’

Creatively, I try to do at least one or two things a week just to feel like I'm doing something, whether that's creating a YouTube video or, I mean, that's really all I can do (laughs), just create some sort of online content.

Yvie Oddly: I don't want to spin Covid as something that is any less serious and impactful than it has been for everyone, but in a strange way, it has afforded me all these blessings that I was thirsting for before lockdown. I say that because, for the last year and a half since my name got announced on drag race, it's just been going and going. I haven't really had a whole lot of time to invest back into the artistry of my drag and to do one-off performances and really throw my all into the creative concept.

It's kind of strange to not have been able to do that since that's what the entire fan base fell in love with me on the show for. It's nice because it's a return to my roots, to the person who is literally making everything themselves and working to express their creative ideas to the world. It's given me time to work with my roommates again. My roommates are the people who helped me get ready for a drag race and helped me and supported me my entire career in Denver. It's nice to get to work with those people one more time and make some art while we're all stuck together.

Aquaria: I've always been a very independent person who can be kind of a one-woman production, so while being able to do all this creative stuff from home has been very difficult and trying, it has also been very inspiring and challenging in a good way. It’s definitely made me think outside of the box.  I obviously don't have much to do otherwise - it's not like I'm traveling for tour anytime soon -  so my brain's been geared up and I'm almost thinking creatively in the way that I used to before life was busy for me. Obviously we can't talk very highly of the times right now, but I think something extremely important is appreciating or recognizing the part of the current moment that you can make work for yourself. So, there's good and plenty of bad.

Aquaria

V: Has that led to any changes in your drag? Have you had to retool it at all?

VC: I'm definitely getting craftier. There are definitely projects and things that I've been wanting to do. I had a bunch of costumes that needed to be embellished and needed to rhinestoned. The number that I'm doing for the Werq the World live stream coming up is one that I've had in my mind for a really, really long time. So I had this costume made almost two years ago, and it just never saw the light of day. So I'm pulling things out from bins and archives and revisiting them.

YO:  For me, it's just been a return to full-on storytelling. A lot of my numbers that I take on the road are little clips of stories, but there's only so much you can get out in a live performance setting in three and a half minutes. With the ability to actually videotape everything and chop it together and layer it with music, I've been able to find a new or a more evolved form of storytelling, flushing out complete characters for different numbers.

When you get on "Drag Race", people expect you to have this sort of Renaissance, this rebirth in your drag, because you now have a lot more money and connections than ever before. But for me, that didn't really allow me the ability to put the love and artistry into my drag and to put out a conceptual specific point of view, which is my favorite thing to do. When there's no time to create, you just make whatever will entertain the most people without putting your all into it. Now, I get to be my own director. I get to make my own costumes. I get to be my own editor. I get full control of my artistry and that's the reason I fell in love with drag in the first place.

A: When I'm on tour, either with Werq the World or my own shows, I'm usually doing a couple of numbers in an evening, a meet and greet, et cetera, so, I keep my makeup and my look more - I would call it more of a pop star look. Compared to the crazy nonsense that I come up with at home just for an Instagram post or a digital performance or something. It's very refreshing being able to just focus on one idea and kind of let my imagination run wild with that rather than having to do something more generic so that it will work with all of my performances for an evening.

Yvie Oddly

V: And what kind of things are you doing to help you cope during this time?

YO: I've been also taking the time to step away from social media and my work. I realize it's our only way to really connect with each other right now, but this is also a really good time for reflection. It's really been about having conversations with myself about what I need. I've been taking walks. I've been taking the time to learn new skills. I've been taking the time to actually listen to my body and my desires. I'm getting lost in a routine, not getting lost in the routine of day to day life, and finding something new to engage me every day is really what keeps me happy.

A: I've always been really into food and cooking, so being able to stay at home and make different concoctions is something that I've really enjoyed. I love myself a good stoner meal, but my quarantine meals have proven to be ten times more creative and twenty times more delicious.

V: Nightlife venues are all shut down right now. Tours have been postponed or canceled. How has it been transitioning to 100% virtual performances over the last month?

VC: Honestly, it's been hard and I don't like it. I kind of feel like a phony. I feel like I've really worked to get to a certain level with my aesthetic and with the materials and quality in my work. I have a lot of control over that. So, now I'm really having to be more resourceful and be more creative and learn a lot more about just about creating content.

I feel like a con artist a bit like I'm trying to fake it till I make it with producing online content. But, it's one of those things that the more you do, the better you get. There's no way to start making YouTube videos and just immediately be the best at it. And I'm not used to that. A lot of times, I start something and I don't want to show the public until I feel like it's at a certain level. I'm really having to be a bit more vulnerable.

YO: The platform is a little bit disassociated. It doesn't give me the same pleasure as performing for a live audience because it really does rob you of the exchange of energy that happens there. It's weird to hear your jokes told and your punchline go but there's no reaction. And it's weird to want to seduce the audience and not get to actually experience that. In a way, it's kind of exactly like what being on Drag Race was like because while all of that did happen and I did perform all of that, it didn't end up speaking to an audience until a long time after I had already processed it.

A: I have a pretty decent audience online, I would say, which I've been so grateful to have and has definitely made it past a couple of months a little more bearable for me.

Violet Chachki shot by Jasper Rischen (@jasperrischen)

V: Are there things that other performers are doing right now that really excite you?

VC: I've been tuning into local entertainers live streams. I have lots of friends from when I was a local entertainer, working locally in Atlanta. I'm thoroughly entertained. I think it's inspiring actually to see what everyone's doing, especially because it seems like everyone now is getting a platform because everyone else is stuck inside.

YO: I think it's forcing not only myself but others to actually make statements about what's going on in their lives. Drag is this nice art form because it helps you escape reality, but I feel like a lot of people do still get trapped in a routine of drag. Now with us being forced to perform creatively, everyone has to rethink what their skillsets are and come up with innovative ways to entertain the audiences.

A: I'll pop into some of my friend's shows that I know from New York or Chicago, LA, just to see what monstrosities they're creating. Sometimes people are super artistic and curated and all prepared with their streaming experiences. And then sometimes people are just balls to the wall and slaying in their living rooms doing the most ridiculous, wild things, and it's so entertaining. I know that so many people are putting in such a large effort to help uplift their local community. There are many girls from RuPaul's Drag Race and other big names from across the world who are joining into those streams to benefit the local artists. And I think that's incredibly inspiring and special. I encourage everyone to search those shows out because these girls are definitely advertising the hell out of everything. So, if you're not joining one of those live streams, you're missing out.

Aquaria

V: Do you have any tips for other performers, who may be less well-established, on how to make the most of these digital shows? 

VC: No one really has anything to do besides watch videos, and so it seems like local entertainers are having more eyes on them. People really are paying attention more to what's going on in the digital sphere. So, while it's hard because everyone is out of a job, I think it is sort of ushering in a new era and a new way to perform and create art.

YO: I say right now, more than ever, the playing field has been evened because no matter how experienced you are, no matter how many resources you have in the industry, we're all putting on the same types of shows, which is nice that it's accessible for everyone. And so if you cannot find your way into one of the bigger shows, create something amazing that's going to catch people's eyes. We have all the time, we have all the resources at home, and I believe if you have a vision for something, whether it's funny or sad or dramatic or shocking, right now is the time where people really are going to give everyone and everything a  chance.

I think it's just important to explore the entire realm of possibilities. We don't really know what the future holds. It's funny because this has stripped away any sense of normality and you've been able to see how kind of ridiculous a lot of our routines are. So I'm telling people to go with the flow and try new things that scare them and that they may have never given the time of day before. I assure you, you're going to find something crazy and cool to not only entertain yourself but will hopefully give you a little bit of hope for the future too.

V: Speaking of supporting local drag performers, what does it mean to you to be taking part in this upcoming fundraiser? 

VC: I think it's super important to look out for our own community. And I think drag queens have always done that. Drag queens have always been there for their community. We have an innate desire to entertain and an innate desire to be motherly figures. I think that's what's going on. We look out for our own because historically and politically, we haven't been looked out for. Especially during this political era that we're in right now, this sense of community has been even more heightened. I think people are wanting an escape, and I think that's what drag is really. I mean, that's what my drag aims to do - give people a way to escape from reality.

We should definitely encourage and enable as many people to do that as possible.

You can register for the event and donate here. The live-stream will begin at 8 PM EDT.

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