Originally published on visualcultureweekly.wordpress.com on April 24, 2020.
As bars and theaters are closed in many parts of the world due to special measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, many entertainers find themselves in a difficult position. These new circumstances mean a dampened nightlife and an abrupt change in revenue streams for many performers. For some, the answer has been turning to new and even old platforms to reach their audiences and regain some lost income. With Radio-Canada reintroducing radio theater to a mainstream audience and Canada’s National Art Center teaming up with Facebook to provide Canadian artists the resources to organize streamed versions of their acts, there are many examples of how the arts are adapting and changing under the current circumstances.
Probably one of the most rapid transitions to this new reality has been that of queer nightlife performers who have been using digital platforms to stay afloat throughout the pandemic in ways that simultaneously highlight the financial precarity of their work, and the community’s immeasurable resilience, creativity, and transgressive nature.
Many drag artists are turning to Instagram’s live broadcasting feature and hosting weekly drag shows featuring different performers from around the world. As these performers sometimes depend solely on money made from tipping during performances and, for many around the world, cannot count on government emergency benefit programs, these digital events are crucial to the continuity of a cultural tradition. Because of these factors, emphasis is placed on micro donations to individual performers through various money transfer applications, imitating the traditional act of tipping drag performers in bars. While a very understandable and logical adaptation to a traditional practice, this does expose how quickly some communities and employment sectors have been left out of economic relief efforts in many jurisdictions. The importance of audience participation is also made evident.
While mostly small in scale, some of these digital drag shows have become quite large endeavours. One particular weekly event, called Digital Drag, is hosted by drag artist and winner of season two of the Boulet Brother’s Dragula, Biqtch Puddin. Organized through the host’s Twitch account, Digital Drag is a Friday night showcase of drag artists from around the world who either perform live or send a pre-recorded performance. A rapidly growing following has formed around the show and participation in the form of tipping and commenting through the live chat feature have made Digital Drag an interactive, queer, community space for fans of the artform.
Digital Drag goes live every Friday night at 10pm eastern time on Biqtch Puddin’s Twitch account.