Drag performers take club experience online during COVID-19

by | Mar 25, 2020 | Headlines, News

Emily Wilson, News Reporter

Toronto has fallen quiet amid the COVID-19 outbreak as bars and restaurants close their doors. But the drag king community is anything but silent.

After hearing of the mandatory bar closures, House of Kings founder ZacKey Lime and his co-producer Alexandher Brandy, quickly moved their show online.

“Thank God for the internet, if it wasn’t for the internet we couldn’t continue,” Lime said. 

The show, often held at Glad Day Bookshop in the Church Wellesley Village, had a rough start with uncertainties, but that wasn’t going to stop them.

“Before we started it was nerve-wracking, but then we realized that this is the best thing we’ve ever experienced,” Brandy said. 

Lime said the close-knit community was the main reason they pushed for the show to continue online.

The connection between people can be seen more as a chosen family with a deep emotional link, which was an early reason House of Kings was created in the first place, Lime said.

“House of Kings has never been a party, it’s always been a show where people connect,” Brandy said.

Kit Boulter has been able to find the silver lining in this pandemic experience. They have been a drag performer under the name Captain for two years and fell in love with the emotional connection gender performance has provided.

“It’s hard to be excited during the apocalypse but to see how ready artists are to adapt to feed the human spirit is so beautiful,” Boulter said.

Performing over Instagram Live was particularly hard for them without the energy usually given off from the audience.

Boulter said a connection forms between performers on stage and people watching, a feeling which didn’t transfer easily over the phone.

“I was buzzing until about three in the morning,” due to not having an outlet for their energy, they said.

Moving shows online has also created the ability to expand internationally, as House of Kings did for the first time last Saturday.

In a testament to how close the king circle is, drag king Tony Tesla joined in on the Instagram event from Tampa, Fla.

“It was really weird,” Tesla said. “Just being in my living room, with the cats locked away was strange.”

Tesla said the opportunity showed them the connection within the community.

“The whole king community has always been so welcoming,” they said. “It very much is tight-knit, almost like a family.”

But a lot of that has to do with the everyday vulnerabilities the queer and trans community face outside of the current coronavirus situation. Increased mental health issues, lesser wages and unsafe living conditions are possible difficulties people face.

Without the safe spaces people have made for themselves, self-isolation can seem much more daunting.

“We all depend on this network that we created,” Tesla said. “We create our families and not being able to see them is just heartbreaking.”

“It’s adding insult to injury,” Lime said. “Like kicking us when we’re down.”

Drag kings and gender performers are clearly not going away anytime soon. Boulter said moving these shows online express empowerment and resilience.

“We’re still here, we’re still making these things that make us who we are,” they said. “It allows people to look forward to the day and normalcy.”

Much like the newly formed Club Quarantine, an online club organized by Toronto performers that queer people can join every night, it gives a sense of joy to people stuck inside.

“I feel really bad for people who are not in the queer community, they’re probably struggling really hard if they don’t have a community like we do,” Lime said. “I feel very lucky to be a part of it.”