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Can we agree this year has been a huge drag, and not in the fun way? But now that you mention it …
All the intersecting global crises aside, this Labor Day weekend will be one for the books. Or now, more appropriately, the digital archives. For the entire weekend, over 100 “queens, kings, and queers from all over the Bay Area and beyond” will take to one of the internet’s biggest virtual stages, Twitch, to bring you the glamour, the drama, artistry, innovation and community that’s been missing since March.
This is Oaklash 2020.
If she had to put it into words, Oaklash co-founder Mama Celeste would call it “MTV Spring Break meets Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”
This is Oaklash’s first year as a registered nonprofit, and its third overall. The idea came to Celeste and her co-founder Beatrix LaHaine, to create a platform to put the Bay Area’s drag community on the map and elevate it to the reputations of larger cities like New York and Chicago that host full-on drag festivals.
“Our goal is to elevate what’s going on in the world of drag, and that’s what’s going on,” Celeste said. “It’s honestly incredible, the innovation that’s come out of the last few months and the skills queens have had to teach themselves. It’s been this renaissance, for learning editing, aftereffects, streaming services. Drag queens are filmmakers now. The opportunities with digital drag are endless. Drag queens have always been resourceful.”
The festival runs all weekend, beginning on Friday with a “Digital Drag Takeover,” hosted by Biqtch Puddin and Nicki Jizz, featuring over a dozen names in drag, including Peaches Christ, Celeste and LaHaine, Florida Man and Cash Monet.
Saturday afternoon will feature topical panels that address the intersections of drag’s political aspects, such as racial justice, disability activism and how the art form must adapt to the circumstances of a pandemic.
Saturday night will feature another lineup of performers not only from the Bay Area, but also queens from Texas, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, and runs late into Sunday morning. Don’t worry, you can power nap before the Sunday performances, including a red carpet, culminating in “The Main Event,” a livestream show that will broadcast “from SF to Oakland” at 5 p.m.
The San Francisco livestream will take place at Oasis, thanks to stage manager and female drag queen Snaxx, who reached out to Celeste after The Stud, the once-thriving drag venue and bar, had closed. Like everything else, there are some pros and cons to working from home.
“The easier thing has been, when it’s time for my show I can open a beer and sit,” Snaxx says of managing performances. But when it comes to her own upcoming performance on Saturday night, “I’ve barely even sat down to figure out what I’m doing.”
Despite shows now limited to “house tours,” as she calls them, there are still so many means of expression to explore. Snaxx says even the way she does her makeup has changed.
“Drag queens are so innovative.” she said. “This is the platform we have now, so let’s figure it out. I didn’t know how to use iMovie at all, and now I feel like I need a new computer. Besides costumes and wigs and makeup and sets, now we’re all video editors too,” says Snaxx.
Nicki Jizz, Friday night’s co-host, performer, production board member and a longtime friend of Celeste, couldn’t agree more. Drag is a communal experience, regardless of the medium. The transition has come with its own challenges.
“I have this addiction to performing,” Nicki said. “When things had to go digital, I was like ‘OK, whatever I have to do to make it work.’ It’s been rough, because I feed off the energy of an audience, seeing people’s faces, the interactions. And I love snatching money out of people’s hands! There’s been times I do online shows and cry afterwards. Yes, I still get to do my art, but something’s missing. I’m so appreciative we have a way of expressing ourselves. I’ve had a lot of time to think about drag and the future of it. With the internet, anything you think of can become true.”
But as the physical crowd changes, the opportunities not just for performers, but fans, supporters and curious onlookers, expand. People who were previously constrained, whether by geography, personal interest or a physical obstacle, can now participate.
“There have been some really great aspects of the virtual,” Nicki said. “This means for people with chronic illnesses or people who are disabled, now with COVID, everyone has to start from the same place. Now they have a way to be a part of it.”
Resilience is palpable, and for most, the only option. Despite an unclear forecast for 2021, Celeste says they will be ready, Lysol in hand.
“I’ve got dreams; I’ve got ideas.” she said. “Even if we are able to do a festival, we’re going to have to think about the digital element. We’re dreaming that we can throw our normal party in 2021, even if we have to come in the fiercest hazmat suits we can find.”
* Oaklash 2020 starts at 7 p.m. Friday, and runs through 10 p.m. Sunday. Stream on Twitch. Also consider donating to Oaklash, Bay Area Queer Night Life Coalition, The Stud, and other sponsors. And don’t forget to tip the performers!