19 drag artists share their tips for newbies and secrets for success

From practical tips to inspirational words of wisdom, consider these words from the experts.

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Ian Kumamoto
Written by
Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Ian Kumamoto
A drag performer in a white dress and wig.
Photograph: By Emily Tingley | Flamy Grant

RuPaul's Drag Race has taken over the airwaves. Drag brunches are selling out, and everybody's going (even grandmas!). There's drag comedy, drag story hour, and even a drag history tour coming up for Pride Month in New York City

While drag is finally garnering more well-deserved attention, it is still a radical act, especially as the art form is under attack from misguided legislators who seek to ban it. Drag presents a lot of practical challenges for performers: It’s expensive, it takes a ton of confidence, and it can be tough to break into. With that in mind, we asked more than a dozen drag performers to share their tips and tricks for baby queens and kings. While many of these performers are based in New York City, their advice still applies whether you’re reading this from Bushwick, Boise, or Bowling Green.

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Drag performers are storytellers

First, attempt new makeup looks and techniques. Drag is an art form and your face can be a canvas. Play and explore how you can transform your face. Second, while in drag, go and support other drag performers and shows. Buy drinks, tip performers and introduce yourself. Building a network is important in nightlife. Plus sometimes doing this can help you get opportunities to perform and bookings. Finally, drag performers are storytellers. Start to think about who your character is and what they are trying to convey. Your drag alter ego is already in you. So commit to the character. — Miz Jade

Find someone to look up to

If you were looking to start drag, find somebody who you admire in the drag scene and watch their work. Watch the way that they function inside of the scene. Follow them along. Don’t just go to the shows, but if you can, just see how they behave inside of the community and follow their social media because that will tell you a lot about the kind of queen they are. Peachez

A drag performer with a green wig.
Photograph: By Sidewalkkilla | Theydy Bedbug

Take up space

Take the parts of yourself you’ve been told are too much: too loud, too hairy, too emotional, too queer. Derive your power from there. Create your persona from the parts of you that others have tried to squash or silence or sanitize. Drag takes up space! It refuses to be ignored and it forces you to look. So let your drag persona be a place where the parts of you that are Too Much are celebrated. — Theydy Bedbug

Run it like a business 

There's so much drag now, which is beautiful. I love that there's so much drag—it's everywhere. It's all over the world. So many people are doing drag and because of that you have to stand out even more.

So what kind of drag makes you happy? Find your niche, find the thing that makes you stand out and run it like a business. Because it's show business and people are going to try to take advantage of you. So learn how to run it like a business and have your contracts read over. Find a lawyer friend. You need a lawyer friend? I’ll get you a lawyer friend. — Marti Cummings

(You can watch the documentary about Marti’s campaign for city council, Queen of New York, on Advocate Channel until June 30.)

A drag performer in a colorful outfit.
Photograph: By Thomas Evans | Alotta McGriddles

Make your drag say something

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Listen and learn from those who came before you, there’s a reason they’re still around. Make your drag say something, have a point. Otherwise, why be on a mic? Alotta McGriddles

A drag performer in a black leather outfit.
Photograph: Courtesy of Boyish Charm

If you're having fun, the audience is having fun

My advice for someone interested in getting into drag would be to always remember to have fun and not take yourself too seriously. Especially on stage, no matter what you're doing, if you're having fun then the audience is going to be having fun too! Boyish Charm  

A drag performer with a purple/blue spiky wig.
Photograph: Courtesy of Malai

Remember that divine connection

My advice to baby queens: You’re going to want to compare yourself to others. You’re going to feel jealous and left out and overshadowed. Your art will inevitably start to feel like it has to compete. Know that these feelings are normal, but I implore you to think about why you really started doing drag in the first place. There was a divine connection somewhere, and drag spoke to you in a way that you couldn’t really explain. Just listen to that voice and stay in your lane. As long as you follow that voice, truly amazing things will happen to you. — Malai

Go to shows — and tip well

Go to as many drag shows as you want to go to and tip and say hi. Introduce yourself. Don’t just meet these girls and like them and follow them on social media. That’s totally fine. The human connection will go so far. So be kind, ask them questions. Just engage with them, tip and just start to build those relationships.

Don't expect that you're going to have a drag mother just from one of doing that like. You've got to build that relationship but that's where you find your friends who are also doing the same thing and build that community. Nancy Nogood

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Have fun with it

One, buy a lot of glue. Two, have fun. Just really have fun with it. Because if you’re having fun, the audience is. Really make decisions out of faith and love and not out of panic and fear. I think that’s something that has been instilled in me not only in drag but outside of it. And it’s led me to a much more fruitful life. — Reina No Buena (See Nancy and Reina perform together at Pride at the Coney Island sideshow on June 14.)

A drag performer sits on a bench.
Photograph: By Jose A Guzman Colon | Tammie Brown

Just be yourself

What would I suggest for people to do their first time in drag? I would suggest—and I’ve said it before—just be yourself. It’s your imagination. Tammie Brown (Celebrate RuPaul's Drag Race favorite at Jubilee: Celebrating 25 Years of Tammie Brown on Thursday, June 13, at Laurie Beechman Theatre in Hell’s Kitchen.)

A drag performer in a white dress and wig.
Photograph: By Emily Tingley | Flamy Grant

Don’t be afraid to shave your eyebrows

Don’t be afraid to shave your eyebrows! They’ll grow back. And in the meantime, you can experiment with extra fabulous, extraterrestrial androgynous looks. Save the glue stick for your craft projects and go bald, baby! Flamy Grant

A drag queen poses in a black dress.
Photograph: By Caroline Alden | RuAfza

Don't sweat the small stuff

Don’t worry too much about getting it perfect! Some of the best performances come from unblended contours and sharp lines. You don’t have to live up to a standard on the television, this is queer art, let it be a little fucked! The girls might read you but they’ll also help you get better. — RuAfza

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Know that drag is a major commitment 

Wait until June is over, so you don't sweat through your first mug.

It’s loud, proud and socially completely irregular and attention-drawing and spectacular. Couldn’t recommend it more to the people who are ready for it. It is the biggest commitment I’ve ever made, she’s ever made, to acting a fool and being a mess. It’s great, you should try it. Selma Nilla

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A post shared by P L A S M A (@plasmanyc)

Be prepared to make sacrifices for your art

Drag's hard. Be prepared to spend a lot of money you don't have. Be prepared to hurt a lot. But be prepared to have the time of your life. Plasma (Catch Plasma perform at “The Drowsy Chapelle Roan” on June 3 at Red Eye at 8pm.)

A performer dressed up like a Toy Story character at Distorted Diznee.
Photograph: By Max Ruby | Holly Dae

Drag is about you

My best advice is that drag is about you, no one else. If you look in the mirror and feel fabulous, strong and powerful … then baby you’re in drag! — Holly Dae (See Holly Dae at Distorted Diznee on Friday, June 21 at Laurie Beechman Theatre in Hell's Kitchen.) 

A drag performer in a nun's habit.
Photograph: Courtesy of Sister Mary

Find your unique appeal

Find something that makes your drag unique, a fun quirk in their personality or even their physical appearance like a smudged lipstick, or a pair of glasses. Also maybe a catchphrase.” — Sister Mary (See international drag comedy sensation Sister Mary's drag comedy "sister act" on Thursday, June 20 at Laurie Beechman Theatre in Hells Kitchen.) 

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Memorize these two words

Good lighting. Xunami Muse

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A post shared by KANDY MUSE (@thekandymuse)

Don't be hard on yourself

Finding little time hacks too because sometimes you’re not gonna have the time in the world, but you got to still show up to the game and do it. Most importantly, Rome was not built in a day. I think sometimes as artists, we’re our biggest critics, and we like to nitpick at little things. Drag is fun, drag is an art form. Drag is expressive, so you grow as time goes on, so you can’t be perfect from the second you pop out. Don’t be hard on yourself. Kandy Muse

A drag queen poses in a purple dress.
Photograph: By Ben Seagren

Never lose track of yourself under the makeup

Everybody has a “booger phase;” we all start somewhere. The first few times should be celebrated because it’s about having fun and expressing yourself—not being perfect. Your makeup SHOULD be busted when you start, your dancing should look like you have two left feet if that’s not your forte before you start. You have elements of yourself that got you into drag but there are multitudes of talents you have to at least have an understanding of as an entertainer these days to be a “professional” drag entertainer; mic skills, comedy, dancing, lip-syncing, acting, graphic design, producing, sewing, sculpting, or event planning, just to name a few.

Start drag because it brings you joy, and you have an inner queen or king inside you that wants to be seen. Express that part of yourself but never lose track of who you are under the makeup in the process. — Zenon TeaVee

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