The Atlanta queen taking your local drag scene to the internet
Thanks to social distancing regulations, nightlife across the world has ground to a halt. Biqtch Puddin' is trying to help artists who rely on gigs for their livelihood with a weekly drag show, still as fabulous as the real thing, but completely online.
Being a full time drag queen is a privilege that many up and coming queer performers can only dream of, but since winning the Boulet Brothers’ Dragula at the start of 2018, it's a privilege that Biqtch Puddin’ has enjoyed. The Atlanta based sensation has in the past two years become nothing short of an international and internet sensation with her mixture of pop culture, cosplay and supermonster performance style. But full time drag demands a serious work ethic and a huge capacity for adaptability, especially in the age of coronavirus.
Pre-lockdown, Puddin' had worked away up from five nights a week performing for tips in Atlanta to US and UK tours and appearances in some of the scene's most famous shows, like Sasha Velour’s Nightgowns and Drag Matinee in Chicago. But just as she reached the point where she was booked and busy for months, COVID-19 hit, closing all the clubs, gigs and stages Puddin', and other queens rely on to make a living, and ending the nightlife scene for the foreseeable.
As drag artists are self-employed, the effect was instantaneous. "Social media exploded," Puddin' tells i-D. "Everyone started posting their Cash Apps, their Venmos, their Paypals, saying ‘I don’t know if I’m working again, for the next couple months I’m not at work, and if you could give me anything I’d really appreciate it.’" The shutdown has been something of an equaliser, effecting the entire community financially; "It wasn’t just the local CVQ hosting the trivia night down the street either," says Puddin'. "It was also Dragula contestants, it was RuPaul contestants, it was everybody.”
As the dust settled, queens began getting creative -- selling merch and pivoting as far as possible to fully online creative ventures. They also began to help each other. Driven not just by her own desperation to perform but also her wish to support her fellow sisters, Puddin' joined the movement. She decided that instead of shutting down the party entirely, she would just move it online, and thus founded her own -- and notably, the first -- Digital Drag Show. Teaming up with co-producer Ben Chase and streaming platform Twitch (a site Puddin’ already used for live game streaming) the Digital Drag Show was something of an experiment. The live stream had flyers as though for a real gig (just circulated on Instagram) and instead of cash tips, there was a suggestied Venmo, PayPal or CashApp donation of $10 for the performers, which each night's takings to be split evenly. But the reaction was overwhelming. Thanks to its popularity, the show has now run for four Friday nights in a row, keeping young queer fans connected to their faves and to each other. It show no signs of stopping, even when quarantine is over.
“I have really big plans for Digital Drag,” says Puddin’. “I’ve always wanted my own show and it’s kind of a perfect storm time to create one.” But she remains coy about her plans for the future of the show, which perhaps makes sense. As quickly as the market has begun it's already become pretty saturated, and streamed drag performances, IG programmes, podcasts and shows have popped up all over the web. But Puddin’ is far from bitter about the copycat online shows, “Before all this there were several hundred drag shows happening each and every night," she shrugs. "So I couldn’t be like, I’m the only one allowed to do an online drag show. I just hope that people mix up the format, try and make something new out of it.”
In fact the seasoned performer encourages other young drag artists, particularly those struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic, to realise they are not alone and instead find strength and inspiration from their sisters in the same situation.
“I’d give a note to any drag performer who’s interested in trying and starting to do drag, look at your community and look at your local scene or I guess on the internet, but it’s out there and see how you can approach it differently.” Puddin’ says. “Make it your own and it could be way more successful than something that’s already been done. You just have to look at it and approach it with your own flavour and style. That’s what makes drag drag, I think the more drag there is in the world, that’s a beautiful world.”
While Puddin’ promotes diversity in drag in conversation -- an issue that has long been a cursed contention between RuPaul and her fans -- she also puts her money where her mouth is with Digital Drag’s cast list. Not only star studded with the likes of RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni Alaska Thunderfuck, Aja and Monique Heart, the performers include drag kings, queer DJs, rappers and performers from across the globe. The diversity is partially thanks to the show's policy of having an open casting process, which the host hopes will inspire more creatives to reach out. “We’re open to anybody auditioning," she says. "So anyone interested in being a part of the Digital Drag Show, whether you’re a tech person and want to help out with tech, or if you’re a queer content creator -- I want to push your content. We have a commercial break, it’s a queer commercial break -– it’s all queer businesses and content creators. If you want to perform, we’re open to all styles of drag.”
Far from allowing big named stars on the scene to dominate the programme, Puddin’ relishes the opportunity to network with artists she might not have known of previously. “We had Gógó Starr from Iceland last week. We had Crystal Lubrikunt from the UK. We had Slaying Mantis, who’s from Australia last week, and they are actually working in the Intensive Care Unit, so they’re handling this virus right now in another way too. I had been texting them and they replied, ‘sorry to get back to you late, I’ve been in the ICU.’ I was like, ‘Are you sick?’ and they were like, ‘No I work there.’”
Aside from the entertainment value of the show itself, the resilience shown by performers like Slaying Mantis who, when given a break from their jobs saving lives, come online to inspire those stuck indoors, is heartwarming. But that makes sense. Because the choice to continue creating art (and platforming it) by Puddin’ and her peers is representative of the incredible heart and healing nature of queer communities. While a streamed lip sync will never have the same atmosphere of standing in a sweaty crowd of queers, the solidarity it sends onto people’s screens -- even those who aren’t just missing their regular club night out, but have never experienced a gay club before -- is invaluable.
"The gay bar is a place where you get to see your family do some shows and congregate and share some love," Puddin' tells us. It’s a safe place and without them it feels really lonely. I’m really happy that, even if it’s online and you’re not technically with those people, it kind of gives you that same vibe and support, which I think is really important.”
If you find yourself feeling the need to create art, be art or see art during this quarantine, Digital Drag is pioneering an online movement that will allow us all to feel represented in repressing conditions. Supporting the queer scene in any way you're able to is more important than ever. “If you don’t have any coin right now but you want to support a show, watch! Watch drag!" Puddin' says. “Share the link, tag your friends, share and support. That’s what you can do. Don’t be intimidated if you can’t give anything. You can shine a light and that’s something. You’re spreading the word about the show. The show’s free, we’re asking for a donation or if you can tip, great, but the show is free.”
You can watch the Digital Drag show on Fridays here.