Drag performers are hard to miss. Their tall hair, flamboyant makeup and outgoing personalities are meant to be noticed as they snatch wigs, throw shade and produce lively shows on stage.
However, with coronavirus concerns temporarily quashing entertainment and live performances, beloved fans of drag are left missing their favorite kings and queens. And those local kings and queens say what they miss the most about this quarantine is lively engagement with the audience.
Mona Lott (portrayed by Todd Simmonds), who performs at Wicked Tequila Room in Loveland, said this pandemic came as a total shock.
“In fact, I had a show the Thursday night before everything went crazy, and we were joking about it,” Simmonds said. “(Mona) came out on stage wrapped in cellophane and we were laughing. Then the next day everything just stopped. It seemed like everything happened overnight.”
Having performed in various capacities for years, Simmonds is used to adapting to keep Mona Lott’s career alive. In fact, the Loveland-raised comedian adopted the character in response to an audition listing while working in Las Vegas. The show sought unique characters, so Simmonds donned a wig and Mona Lott was born.
Mona Lott is the weekly host of Drag Queen Bingo in Loveland and Longmont, as well as a frequent face on stage at Denver clubs. However, this health situation is something that no one, including drag royalty, has experienced before. Since bars and clubs have temporarily ceased operations, entertainment was one of the first industries to be shutout, leaving local entertainers reeling.
“It sounds cliche, but in a lot of ways the hardest thing has been losing the interaction with my audience and my fans,” Simmonds said. “Even though I live in Denver, Loveland is my hometown, and going back to Wicked to do this show every week has allowed me to reconnect. I’ve built so many relationships with people who come to the show every week, so it’s hard not to go there and make people laugh.”
For some kings and queens, this has been an opportunity to perfect new routines and looks while trapped at home. While not working for the University of Northern Colorado as both a student and an employee, queen Soña Rita (portrayed by Eddie Chavez) has been spending free hours livestreaming makeup looks and using this newly found creative time to develop new show concepts.
This downtime has allowed Chavez to dedicate more resources to perfecting Soña Rita’s looks and personality.
“I’ve had a lot of creative time, which is gonna be fun when this is all done,” Chavez said. “I haven’t gotten to do a livestream show, and I don’t know if I would take the opportunity because it just doesn’t feel the same without a physical audience there — and that’s what I love about it. But I also think this has been a great time to grow a social media audience.”
Soña Rita is one of more than 30 creatives participating in an online photo and music video competition by Weirdo Denver. Denver queen Izzy Dead started a “Weirdo Mx. Quarantine” competition where the drag star whose content garners the most likes will be awarded the Mx. Quarantine title and sash.
“Every single performer I know has made it a point to share how they want to be supported online if they want to be supported,” Chavez said.
Be it Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Patreon or any number of platforms, there are ways to support your favorite queer performers — you can even offer tips via Venmo and PayPal.
Simon Hyperion (portrayed by Simone Perry), a drag king who is often found at Patrick’s Irish Pub in Greeley, is one of several international kings who recently participated in a Drag King Story Hour via Zoom. Although Perry is not planning to do livestreams or digital performances, this gave them the opportunity to continue to entertain and connect with kings they otherwise may not have had the chance to work with.
“I’ve done a lot of drag story hours in Northern Colorado and they were a lot of fun,” Perry said. “Unfortunately, if you’re reading in front of a camera you’re not able to see the kid’s faces and hear their laughter and enjoyment, which is the best thing about it. But I can still read a story without that engagement.”
While playing Hyperion over the years, Perry has had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of performers as the producer and host of “Greeley Does Drag.” However, there is a limited drag scene in Northern Colorado — and an even more limited number of drag kings.
For Simmonds, this has meant putting his newly gained audio/visual production degree to work in order to create the “Bitch and Mona Lott” show, where Lott discusses “different things in society that drive me crazy.” Originally, Simmonds’ plan was to create a variety show, but with guests hard to come by during quarantine, this show is the next best thing, for now, Simmonds said.
“People keep saying to do stuff online, but even online it’s hard to make money off of stuff like that,” Simmonds said. “It’s hard as an entertainer, because most of what I do relies so much on the interaction with my audience, so to be online and not have that interaction, it just doesn’t work.”
Wicked Tequila Room has stepped up to support its regular entertainers with a T-shirt fundraiser, but not all organizations are able to do so.
But when artists are unable to work online or in person, they’re often left scrambling. As of deadline Tuesday, none of Colorado’s drag stars are eligible for unemployment, according to the Colorado Department of Labor, because they are categorized as independent contractors.
Gig workers, like drag kings and queens, are not traditionally eligible for unemployment insurance because they do not have a specific employer, but instead work at a variety of venues. The federal CARES Act would allow states to include such workers as eligible recipients and extend the period of time that these benefits can be received, providing needed relief to those unable to work, or rather, werk.
But for Perry, the biggest loss that has come from recent events hasn’t been the income, but rather the community that’s been built through the semi-monthly “Greely Does Drag” events. With queer-friendly spaces hard to find in rural Northern Colorado, this deals an emotional blow that’s much greater than the fiscal.
“The most difficult thing for me right now is feeling like I can’t contribute to my community in that way,” Perry said. “Especially knowing that I have friends who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community who are at home in toxic situations. For some of them, going out one night a month to the drag show and feeling wholly accepted and validated has been their escape.
“I think it’s been really healing and therapeutic for people, myself included, so not having that is hard.”
Whether it’s following the performers’ social media sites, helping to pay their bills or simply offering friendship in these difficult times, now is the time to support local drag royalty.
— to www.timescall.com