From Priscilla to Mardi Gras, Sydney’s history has always had rainbow-coloured undertones. But the hit American show RuPaul’s Drag Race has well and truly catapulted drag culture into the mainstream, Sydney-based drag queen Hannah Conda told Urban Village.
Once existent only on society’s cultural fringe, drag artists and performers are now highly sought after by a growing number of big corporations and brands, and by local venues to host trivia and bingo nights as well as perform their own shows.
Despite the lockouts you can find drag queens performing across venues like Newtown Hotel, The Imperial, Stonewall, Arq, The Oxford Hotel, and The Colombian every night of the week.
Hannah Conda, aka Chris Collins, is among Sydney’s most prolific drag queens. She’s amassed an impressive collection of awards and stage performances (for the Drag Race fans, she opened for Bianca Del Rio on her Australian tour) and can be found across local venues like The Carrington where she hosts trivia every Tuesday.
According to Hannah, Drag Race can be attributed to drag’s recent surge in popularity. But the glossy television portrayal of drag queens in the show has left some fans with inaccurate preconceptions of what the art form is all about.
Sydney drag queens hold themselves to an incredibly high standard of production and performance, often on a shoestring budget.
“I think part of the magic is you can see little household items popping up in drag shows that have been spray-painted into something else. You have to be really critical and think about how you’re going to create things – there’s a lot of planning involved,” said Hannah.
“People often get confused by what we do because it isn’t what they’ve seen on Drag Race.
“I’ve always said it’s exactly how a builder must feel about a show like The Block – people watch what you do for a living on a reality TV show and suddenly they’re an expert.”
What the couch critics might not realise is that the definition of drag is unique to each performer and artist, and the style of drag will differ with each venue.
“Oxford Street drag is very show-girly whereas you get to the Imperial or Newtown Hotel and it goes into a more queer art scene, drag kings – performers that don’t fit into that mainstream style of drag,” said Hannah.
With marriage equality and the increased presence of GLBTQI+ groups in mass media, people who may not have engaged with this community before are now exploring this ever-growing facet of Sydney life.
“We’ve had massive crowds of people that come to the gender bender bingos and trivias and they just adore us, they become friends with us,” said Hannah.
“They realise that behind the crazy make up is just another human.”
Drag Race has undoubtedly changed the industry on a global level – people can see the individuality of each queen through reality TV, and get the chance to relate to them in a way that hasn’t been possible before.
“We have been and will continue to be a mouthpiece for the GLBTQI+ community,” said Hannah. Drag now acts as an important tool for dialogue and education across communities. Plus, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more talented and innovative group of artists.
Where you’ll find drag shows in Sydney:
- Newtown Hotel: Catch Hannah and friends Minnie Cooper and Tora Hymen perform two shows every Friday night.
- The Oxford Hotel: On Wednesdays from 10pm the venue holds Slay 4 Pay, its own drag comp hosted by Charisma Belle and Carmen Geddit. On Saturdays you can catch a bigger drag show.
- The Imperial Hotel: you’ll find queens at the Impy every night at Drag N Dine, and performing on Friday and Saturday nights. The Impy also hosts the monthly Heaps Gay and Honcho Disko parties.
- Secret Garden Bar – Canned Fruit: Wednesdays from 7pm in Enmore.
- Knox Street Bar – The Oyster Club: Held on the second Thursday of every month, this sell out show features avant-garde queer performance.
- Stonewall: This Oxford Street institution features live drag performances seven nights a week.
- Arq: You can catch drag shows at Arq from Thursday to Sunday.
- The Colombian: Travesty Supreme live show every Friday night from 9pm, and Trans Glamore, a celebration of trans performers held on the first Thursday of every month.