The Pandemic's Impact on Drag Queens

Written by Denise Yan on Saturday, 14 August 2021. Posted in RMHS

Photo Courtesy of Artem Gavrysh via Unsplash

 

Taking the entertainment industry by storm, drag is a space for anybody to express themselves freely through dancing, comedy, or lip-syncing, and more. Although all drag queens have different styles (and paychecks), every performer’s career revolves directly around interacting with their audience. However, drag queens have been restricted from their stages since the pandemic, leaving them to explore other methods to how they can keep their career and make money during COVID-19.

 

“It has to [pay] around $100 [per gig] or you’re getting ripped off… it should be the minimum wage for drag...” New York drag queen, Sasha Velour, believes these are normal rates for drag queens before the pandemic. It’s clear that the struggle of making money has been around before any pandemic or lockdown— Sasha also mentions that some queens sometimes perform for free as a chance to get their name known. During the lockdown, drag queens report they lost upwards of $100,000 as a result of tour and performance cancellations, followed by difficulties with producing and distributing their merchandise.

 

But even amidst the risky time, drag icon, Rupaul Charles, continued his Emmy winning show, “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” for a thirteenth season. RuPaul’s Drag Race has been a long-time favorite show within the LGBTQ+ community, making RuPaul an estimated amount of $50,000 per episode back in 2013— since then, Drag Race’s production has branched out to the UK and Australia. Combined with profit from his tours, albums, and “DragCon,” the amount RuPaul makes can only be expected to rise higher and higher. However, RuPaul is not the only queen that has benefitted from the show’s popularity; drag queens who have competed on RuPaul’s Drag Race are all expected to earn more than $500,000 per year from the show’s scheduled tours, as well as endorsements from other companies— many clubs have even shown a bias towards Drag Race contestants, keeping money and bookings away from less popular drag queens. 

 

 In their newest season, RuPaul’s Drag Race presents a cash prize of $100,000 for the winner, giving new drag performers an opportunity for financial relief, and more importantly, a chance to put their names in the spotlight. During their production, Rupaul’s Drag Race also released a covid-19 documentary titled “Corona Can’t Keep a Good Queen Down,” in which the contestants were interviewed on their life since the virus. 

 

A big chunk of a drag queen’s budget is reserved for makeup and outfits, as well as materials to make their outfits. In the COVID-19 documentary, Denali (season 13 contestant) explains that “All of these easily accessible [materials] that wouldn’t be a problem are all of a sudden really difficult.” The closures of many non-essential shops posed a problem for many performers as they no longer have access to the things they need, resulting in a stressful wig shortage. Former RuPaul’s Drag Race stars, Katya and Alyssa Edwards, report that wigs do not come at a cheap price either— ranging from $35 for a cheap low quality wig to $450 for a custom fitted piece. The prices rise even higher for shoes and gowns where prices range in the hundreds and even thousands. However, most performers found solutions to expensive items through thrifting and DIY projects at home— in the COVID documentary, Rosé paints her shoes different colors when those shoes can’t be bought.

 

While bars close and even go out of business, drag queens look to different methods to reach out to their fans and find a way to make money—luckily, many drag queens, such as RuPaul and other former contestants on Drag Race, have had musical careers even before the pandemic, making money from releasing albums while using their media presence as advertisement. Others found that Instagram and TikTok lives were outlets for drag queens to connect and perform for their audience virtually, as well as a way to obtain donations and charity— one of the season 13 contestants, Elliot with 2 T’s, mentioned on the COVID-19 documentary that she started her series, “Boozy Bo and the Queen.” Drag queens Trixie Mattel and Katya have also started their own podcast during the pandemic, “The Bald and the Beautiful,” in which they can rely on sponsors to support the production of the series.

 

Although COVID-19 changed the future of their careers, most queens had no problem using their own creativity to make a living and push them through a trying time. As lockdown restrictions begin to loosen, bars and clubs can expect drag performers to return with enthusiasm and fresh ideas.

About the Author

Denise Yan

Denise Yan

Denise is a Business Staff Writer at the RMHS chapter of Girls For Business.

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