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Drag in the Midst of the Pandemic: An Interview with Lacey Drawers and Brenda Newport

I met both Lacey Drawers and Brenda Newport following a performance at Bar DKDC‘s Drag Night. I was fairly unfamiliar with drag before I attended the event; in fact, my exposure was limited to what I saw through the media, but the performers that night opened my eyes to the bold, bewitching business that is local drag.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has affected their careers and performances, just like it has affected so many other Memphians. If you’re unfamiliar with the drag scene in Memphis, consider this your first meet and greet. Keep reading to learn how these ladies got started, are adapting to this “new normal,” and are looking toward the future.

Pictured left to right: Lacey Drawers & Brenda Newport

Emily Zachry: To get started, tell me a little bit about yourselves.

Brenda Newport: Hello, my name is Brenda Newport. I’m the addiction you just can’t quit! I’m a local drag entertainer here in Memphis, Tennessee and have been doing drag for roughly two years—so not very long in the grand scheme of things. But I find that what I do, I do well and have made a decent name for myself in this short period of time.

Lacey Drawers: Hi there! My name is Lacey Drawers, For over a decade, I have been entertaining people all over the world with funny and political drag performances. I’ve always been unconventional in the arts of beauty makeup, special effect makeup, cosplay and drag. I consider myself a loving and caring self-expression expert, and I am also well-versed in tough love and teaching others to stand their ground. Having been through divorce, cancer scares, a two-week coma, sexual assault, domestic violence, physical trauma, bipolar disorder and suicidal ideation, this proud Gryffindor has learned the secret to finding inspiration and creating joy in my life. I am a proud and happy gender fluid demisexual of fun!

EZ: What are your preferred pronouns?

LD: My preferred pronouns are they/them.

BN: As for my pronouns, in drag I typically go by she/her. In my personal life, it has typically been he/him, but I’m currently exploring the realm of non-binary pronouns such as they/them. As someone who plays with gender on a regular basis, I find the gender lines blurring more and more and, to me, I find myself somewhere in between.

EZ: How did you first get into drag?

BN: Through a friend of mine who became a very crucial member of my drag family named Moth Moth Moth. I saw her performing one night at Club Spectrum for a benefit show and was truly inspired. I introduced myself to her, and then began to show up at all the shows I could. At the time I was 19, maybe 20.

When I would attend those shows, I would show up in drag—working on my craft and seeking approval and critiques from her. After several months of that, she asked me if I would like to perform one night. Moth Moth Moth gave me my first platform and concept for drag and drag life, and I cherish it to this day.

LD:  I started in drag about thirteen years ago when I saw it performed for the first time. I begged the host to show me how to do it, they invited me to their makeup class the next day, and they put me on stage that next night! I took it from there, traveling and performing from Seattle to Massachusetts, California to Florida, London, Paris and Toronto!

EZ: Who are your biggest inspirations?

BN: I pull inspiration from a multitude of sources. My whole drag aesthetic has been built around the concept of being the exaggerated, unrealistic female representation of a cartoon woman, hence the big eyes and huge lips. I pull a lot of my inspiration from cartoon women such as Jessica Rabbit from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and Ms. Bellum from “The Power Puff Girls”. I also find inspiration from real people such as Amy Winehouse and other various drag entertainers like Milk and Trixie Mattel.

LD: I am an introverted person by nature, I prefer my alone time. In that time, I like to draw inspiration from art, literature, film, comic books, tv, and theatre.

“Covid-19 is completely wrecking all sense of normality for everyone, including drag queens.” -Brenda Newport

EZ: What makes the Memphis drag scene different?

BN: There’s a saying among the local queens here in town that says, “If you can make it in drag in Memphis, you can make it anywhere.” I believe that’s said because this community is so small and niched that trying to break through and create a name for yourself here is rather difficult. With that being said, the level of community that I have found with my drag brothers and sisters is insane. I have been able to ban together with a group of incredible entertainers and ride to the top. We have all come such a long way and have put ourselves in the forefront of Memphis drag. As queer people, we get the opportunity to choose our family, and I have found that family in the local drag scene and I don’t know if anywhere else can come close to the sense of community you’ll find here.

EZ: How has the pandemic affected your shows?

LD: I was actually scheduled to tour this year with one of my best friends from Denver. We had been scheduled in Denver, Orlando, New York, New Jersey, California, Iowa, etc. All of the shows were cancelled during the beginning stages of the quarantine.

BN: Covid-19 has completely wrecked all sense of normality for everyone, including drag queens. With the mandatory closures back in March, we were working very little, if at all. We played with the concept of streaming our shows on Facebook for a while, with no audience, but we were encouraged to stop doing that by the city. As time went on and reopening began, everyone quickly jumped back on. We were still streaming our shows online with half capacity audiences and that was going okay, but as someone who is attentive to the COVID-19 news regarding our local area, I quickly saw how that wouldn’t last—and it didn’t. After returning to the stage about a month ago, our bar was required to shut down – leaving us all unemployed, yet again.

EZ: Have you been able to make any appearances online? (I know Facebook has been promoting live events. Have you been able to hop on any of those?)

BN: As mentioned before, Dru’s Bar, a “home bar” for many performers, invested in a camera set-up allowing us to stream our performances on Facebook. That was interesting given that the majority of the time we were performing to an empty room. It definitely was a beneficial thing especially at the beginning of quarantine because people were looking for any type of distraction or escape. We definitely provided that for many people and that is so rewarding. I also know of many other entertainers hopping on various live streams via Twitch, Vimeo and Facebook. I personally haven’t done that because my living set up isn’t exactly ready for in-house drag performances.

LD: I have been included in a few shows online hosted by performers I’ve worked with in Memphis, Denver and New York. I have mostly been doing my own online shows, including streaming shows on Twitch, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

“This is personal for us. We are all basically on hold. Whether you’re in Memphis or not, reach out to your entertainer friends and make sure they’re okay.” -Lacey Drawers

EZ: What are your favorite drag spots around the city? Are these places adapting to the closures/making shows available for streaming?

BN: I love Memphis because there’s always some sort of drag show happening during the week. Some of my personal favorites consist of Dru’s Bar on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Bar DKDC on Monday nights, and The Second Line for their monthly drag brunch the last Saturday of the month. Unfortunately, none of those business are able to, in good conscious, remain open and host shows. That’s mainly because of sizing and social distancing in some of these areas are rather difficult.

Photo: Brenda Newport, Moth Moth Moth, & Louise Page on set of Page’s video shoot for Blue Romance (captured by Rachel Williamson Davis

LD: I really appreciate all of the hard work that Tami has put in at Dru’s to make sure that the employees and performers there have had a chance to continue making money. A lot of performers out here do drag as their full time job, and thus may not be eligible for unemployment benefits. Tami has made sure to follow CDC guidelines, always doing more than bare minimum. She made quick adjustments to not only improve the bar like building on an awesome new back porch and not allowing smoking inside, but she’s continued to provide a spot for entertainers to collect their coins via Venmo/CashApp ticket sales. She really cares about the community and it shows.

EZ: What advice do you have for young queens trying to make it in the scene?

LD: In a world full of drama, be kind.

BN: My advice to young queens (or kings!) who want to make it here, or anywhere, is work hard. Drag changed my life and the way I navigate the world in so many ways, and it is a lot of work and dedication to maintain this double life (so to speak). Drag is so fulfilling and satisfying and liberating, and I am so blessed to have experienced that in my own life. I do hope others get the chance to live that, too. Anyone can do it, but you have to work extra hard to do it well. Be unique, be authentic, be entertaining, and most importantly, be fearless!

“The future for everyone including drag performers will never be the same. A new normal is on the horizon, I’m just not sure we know what that is yet.” – Brenda Newport

EZ: What long term impacts do you think that COVID-19 will have on the drag scene here in Memphis?

BN: As COVID-19 is running rampant with no end in sight, I foresee this as a long, difficult journey for drag performers. The spaces we perform in typically are all closed, and no one knows when they will be open – let alone host large crowds for live entertainment. We have already seen the changes going forward for how we will navigate future events. Dru’s Bar has implemented no contact methods. Performers are no longer allowed to accept tips directly from the hands of audience members. Instead, we now have a tip bucket at the end of the runway. We also are no longer allowed to leave the stage, like before. We used to be able to mingle around the audience but obviously, now, that’s unsafe. The future for everyone including drag performers will never be the same. A new normal is on the horizon, I’m just not sure we know what that is yet.

LD: A lot of places are still closed, and there are places that are closed for good. I’ve heard of businesses filing for bankruptcy and more and more people losing their jobs and performance spaces. A lot of entertainers are out of work, or they’re not comfortable going back into the world yet; I know I’m not. I don’t know when I’ll be called out to perform again, or if I’ll be ready at that time.

There are over 12 million people in the US in the performing arts industry, who can’t really do anything in this field until mass gatherings can happen again. So let me just say this, when your entertainment friends are begging you to wear your mask or stay home, understand that we are watching the performing arts industry crumble around us. Tami cannot carry this on her own. Broadway is closed until 2021. Cirque de Soleil has filed bankruptcy and cut 3500+ jobs. This is personal for us. We are all basically on hold. Whether you’re in Memphis or not, reach out to your entertainer friends and make sure they’re okay. Be grateful if you were able to return to work. This country is not doing great at reducing the spread of this, so please wear your mask (over your mouth AND nose) and wash your hands!

EZ: Will we see you perform in the coming weeks?

BN: If anyone is interested in seeing one of my performances or another entertainer from Memphis, I’m not sure what to tell you. As of now, we have nothing. Add us on social media to see what upcoming online content could be happening. I have plenty of projects in the works currently, but nothing particularly concrete to share. Support your local artists, if you can, and please support the local businesses that give us our platform. We’re all hurting right now and we don’t know what will happen in the future.

LD: Right now, I am not performing. I have found that across the nation, a lot of our black and trans performers are not receiving the spotlight that they deserve. With the police brutality and systematic racism that our country was built on, I feel it is time for the white performers to use their privilege to highlight our brothers and sisters of color.

As both Lacey and Brenda mentioned, now is the time to show your local artists and performers some love! That will look different for everyone, but a great first step is to keep up with them on social media.

You can find Brenda on Instagram, or see her in Louise Page‘s music video. Similarly, you can keep up with Lacey Drawers on their website, Facebook and Youtube!

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