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Drag show organizers hope audiences feel 'OK to come out'
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Drag show organizers hope audiences feel 'OK to come out'

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Ask Executive Director Jen Waters why it’s time to produce a live show at the Whiteside Theatre and she’ll tell you it’s to give a financial boost to the performers.

Ask the performers the same question and they’ll tell you it’s to give that financial boost right back to the Whiteside.

Really, however, both answers are the same, say organizers of “Coming Out of Queerantine,” a Dam Right Drag Night production set at the Whiteside later this month. The arts and cultural community — both audience and performers — is interdependent, both on and off the stage.

“I think the feeling of reciprocity is mutual,” said Luke Kawasaki of Corvallis, aka Lucielle S. Ballz, who will emcee the show.

Barring any further restrictions on businesses operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, “Coming Out of Queerantine” is scheduled for 8 p.m Saturday, July 25, at the theater, 361 S.W. Madison Ave.

Tickets are $12 and must be purchased in advance via the Whiteside website, https://www.whitesidetheatre.org/. All ages are welcome, but organizers warn the show will essentially carry an R rating for language and adult humor.

This will be the first live show the Whiteside has held since Gov. Kate Brown shut down businesses in mid-March to reduce exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Both Waters and Dam Right Drag Night are poised to pull the plug if necessary, but right now, both say they’re doing everything they can to keep both the performers and the people in the audience safe for an in-person production.

The Whiteside has already reopened for movies and will handle this event the same way, Waters said: limited entry, masks required, assigned seating that blocks off anyone who might sit nearby, and frequent sanitizing of any stationary surface. And possibly even those that aren’t.

“We bought two gallons of 2 Towns hand sanitizer. Liquid, not gel,” Waters said. “We have six spray bottles. We just go around and spray everything."

Performers who want to be a part of the production but aren’t comfortable appearing in person have been invited to perform by video, Waters said. The event also will be recorded for later streaming so people who might have been worried about being in a live audience can still catch the show.

So with all the uncertainty, why again is this going on? That gets back to the answers above: Waters wanted to help performers financially, which is hard to do without ticket sales. Dam Right Drag Night wanted to make sure the venues that showcase its work don’t go underwater, which is also hard to do without ticket sales.

Both also felt they could offer something to support a community that has always supported them.

“I was talking to one of my board members the other day, ruminating on doing stuff or not, video versus live, and he was saying, ‘There's just nothing to do here right now. There’s just nothing,’” Waters said. "I feel like we have a unique opportunity to be able to do these things, and I hope people will start to feel a little bit safe about going back out in general.

“I hope this is a positive experience. Me and my staff are going to do everything in our power to make it a positive experience,” she went on. "I hope we can just set a precedent that in this way, it is OK to come out."

Drag is important to the community as well, Kawasaki said.

On the surface, drag performances are essentially variety shows with music, dancing, costumes and comedic social commentary. But to everyone involved, she said, they are so much more.

Describing a drag show is “like trying to describe how love feels,” Kawasaki said.

“Coming to a drag show is radical self-celebration in a way that is liberating, not just for the performers, but by extension to the audience, to see liberation from constructs."

Whatever box society has put us in, she went on — boxes based on race, ability, gender, nationality — "drag is an opportunity to shed those and create something intentional for ourselves and for other people."

Dam Right Drag Night was born in January 2017, the day Donald Trump was inaugurated as the nation’s 45th president, said organizer Allyson Dean, who goes by King Kween when performing.

That was a particularly hard day for members of the LGBTQ+ community, she said. Establishing a drag group with regular performances became important as a safe and welcoming space.

"Continuing that is the lifeblood of why we do this,” Dean said.

Organizer Kelsey Beers, who goes by Miss Leading when in drag, said they’ve brought out their full drag gear at times even while socially isolating.

“But to live in that experience is a very powerful piece of me,” they said. “It makes me feel empowered. It makes me feel good about myself.”

The hope is the audience will feel that way, too, Dean said, experiencing “maybe a momentary departure from a space that's really difficult. I think so many people are really struggling right now. Anything to turn to that will help you remember joy, that will help you remember that you are important, that your joy is important — that's what I hope for."

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