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Images of local drag performers collaged together.
Image: Mitchell Moore/Photographs: supplied by the artists

Sydney's drag stars are continuing to perform in isolation, here's where to find them

Night life might be taking a hiatus, but Sydney’s queer culture endures

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It would not be an overstatement to say that for many of us, our world has been turned on its head. For drag artists, many have not only lost multiple income streams, but the space to share their art. When clubs and bars packed with people and touring are your bread and butter, Aunty Rona isn’t a kind visitor. 

But if drag queens, drag kings and drag things have anything in common, it’s ingenuity. They can create a character with nothing but a fabulous, hearty slap of makeup, and now they’re creating performance opportunities and cultivating community out of thin air and a WiFi connection. We checked in with several drag artists who do their thing in Sydney to see how their lives have changed and how they’re adapting to the new normal. 

RECOMMENDED: catch some livestreamed local queer entertainment from home with Loud 'n' Queer on Fridays and Live from Stonewall on Saturdays. 

Penny Tration

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In the beforetime, Penny Tration led a busy life juggling a day job flying around the world as a flight attendant with a night life as a larger than life drag queen, performing all over Sydney and running award-winning GenderBender Bingo nights across several venues. Penny (Daniel Floyd) was on leave in Mexico when Australia started closing its borders. Arriving home to two weeks isolation in a one bedroom apartment, Penny decided to pass the time by hosting digital drag shows. The Tration in Isolation Facebook group has since grown into an online community hosting regular shows.

“I thought, well I’ve got two weeks stuck in this house, I may as well make the most of it. I had a nap and when I woke up all of the clubs had closed and I lost all of my weekly drag jobs and my flight attendant position is indefinitely on hold,” explained Penny.

“What was meant to be a documentation of two weeks in isolation has now ended up a great community that allows me to do a daily show with DJ Dan Murphy, The Lunch Time Lockdown (1pm weekdays), and two weekly drag shows, Frightful Fridays (8.30pm Fridays) and Shift it Back Saturdays (9pm Saturdays). It’s become a welcome interruption and surprisingly has also allowed me to create my own, albeit small, income. At the moment a lot of people feel alone and isolated and I feel that the Tration in Isolation group has created a community where we can connect whilst isolating.”

First night out when we’re allowed to congregate again:
“Once this is all over with, I would love to do a live Tration in Isolation show at a venue that really needs the help when we reopen, that would be fantastic, a get together with the people that have contributed so much to my shows. I’d also love a boozy lunch with my besties down by the Harbour.”

Number one iso lip synch song: 
“Cher’s song ‘For the Lonely’ is a really good one for the moment. But I think the number one lip synch song for the era would have to be ‘I Will Survive’ – luckily I don’t need to learn the words to that one.”

Etcetera Etcetera

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Self proclaimed “glamour bug” Etcetera Etcetera is the epitome of a full time drag queen. Before isolation she was working four to five nights a week across different venues (predominantly the Imperial Hotel and Universal), managing drag events and fielding thousands of dollars worth of corporate and brand work. “I went from being comfortable and securely employed by multiple different businesses in different capacities to being without a single income stream,” said Etcetera. 

In the absence of physical nightlife, Etcetera has been hosting livestream performances on Instagram (with optional PayPal tipping), and partnering with groups like Heaps Gay to do makeup tutorials and guest host weekly livestreamed party Loud ‘n’ Queer TV. You can also purchase personalised video messages from her on Cameo. 

Etcetera’s concern lies not only how they make a living, but the vital place nightlife holds for the queer community. “This is such a heavy blow for a community still recovering from lockouts and the gentrification of queer spaces around the country. Internationally I’ve seen venues closing, hospitality staff out of work, people without homes - it’s heartbreaking,” said Etcetera.

“What makes it worse is the fact that some of the people who frequent these spaces have the resources to help support those out of work. A lot of rich people go clubbing and want drag queens to pay them attention, where are they now? What about the bartenders who have poured your drinks for the last year? There might not be a VIP booth to return to once this is all over if you don’t support those out of work during this time.”

First night out when we’re allowed to congregate again:
“I’ll be back at the Imperial Hotel in Erskineville of course! I miss her, and I miss the people I work with there. I’m ready to perform on the bar top to a packed crowd and then get out of drag and have a sweaty dance sesh in the basement until the lights turn on.”

Number one iso lip synch song: 
“‘Untouched’ by The Veronicas! We all feel a little untouched right now.”

Chloe London (fka Sunday Best)

Chloe London is a performer, hostess, event curator, glamourous zodiac conduit and proud transgender woman working across venues including Ching A Lings and the Imperial Hotel.

“As has been the case for many queer artists and curators who support ourselves entirely or almost entirely off of artistic work, my income suddenly fell to a grand total of nil,” said Chloe. “I think for a lot of my peers the work we do means a lot more than just an income; for me personally, curating events such as Going Zodiac and Honcho Disko meant being able to create safe, supportive environments for queer people, something I think we’re all struggling with the loss of at this time.”

Chloe has been using some of this time to run Instagram live shows and discussion panels with the intention of creating a sense of togetherness for the community. 

“It’s very important for us all to understand that this crisis will disproportionately affect the livelihood, income, safety and wellbeing of already marginalised members of the community, such as many BIPOC, trans, disabled folks who may feel acutely disenfranchised and isolated,” she said. “It is absolutely crucial that the members of our community who have greater levels of access and privilege recognise this and do whatever capacity allows to show support to people in marginalised positions.”

First night out when we’re allowed to congregate again:
"After I French kiss each of my close friends for 45 minutes at a time, I think I’ll look to throw an accessible, all inclusive event (hopefully free or as close to it as can be) as quickly as possible to remind all of us how powerful we are, as each of our beautiful selves and as a community."

Number one iso lip synch song: 
“‘Don’t Start Now’ by Dua Lipa is definitely the winner. The line “don’t show up, don’t come out”, though it breaks my heart, has certainly helped bring a smile to my quarantine-weary face.” 

Betty Grumble

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Betty Grumble is an enigma. This drag-adjacent, genre smashing performance critter harnesses the tropes and strategies of drag in ecosexual, feminist sex clown acts. 

During isolation, she is hosting a daily livestreamed version of Grumble Boogie, an “aerobic dance ritual” to get you moving and grooving at home. This streams every day, excluding Sundays, at 10am on Facebook and Instagram. While this is free to access, those who can afford to can donate on PayPal. These funds go towards Betty’s ongoing practice and artist fees for Grumble ‘n’ Friends, a weekly digital cabaret livestreaming on Betty’s channels, from 8pm on Saturday nights.

“I have, like most if not all performance based practitioners, seen work suspended until we are on the other side of this crisis. Tours have been cancelled, regular gigs are unable to go ahead,” said Betty. “Our whole tapestry of living has unravelled. It is a very strange adjustment and most of us are still in shock. Our bodies and our health and community come first. So we listen to each other and wait.”

First night out when we’re allowed to congregate again:
"I will be at the Bearded Tit, the Red Rattler Theatre and swimming in the ocean."

Number one iso lip synch song: 
"The bagpipes."

Timberlina

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Timberlina could easily be the most hard working drag queen in New South Wales. This performer, event producer, MC, podcaster and marriage celebrant has had her busy working schedule totally gutted. While this Newcastle based queen would usually be working across up to five venues a week around the state, including Sydney, she is now streaming events out of her apartment. 

Timberlina is now hosting virtual Drag Queen Bingo twice a week on Zoom. She is also producing an Instagram livestream version of BLUSH, an all inclusive evening for drag performers, where viewers can ‘tip’ their favourite performers via PayPal. 

“I feel like the biggest thing was (and still is) self-teaching myself about all the IT and tech that goes into creating interactive online events. I had to give myself a crash course as to all things IT so that I could quickly navigate the ever-changing online world, and order everything before the tech sold out!” said Timberlina. 

“There are many elements required behind the scenes to produce an online event – audio mixing and sound testing, camera set-up, ensuring it all syncs and works on multiple platforms...That’s not to mention the usual behind the scenes pre-show set-up – ticketing, generating and emailing out bingo cards, etc.”

First night out when we’re allowed to congregate again:
"I cannot wait to be back in front of an audience! And dance my heart out for them! I want to feel that joy in a room like I did before this all happened!”

Number one iso lip synch song: 
“I have been ending a few shows with ‘Absolutely Everybody’ by Vanessa Amorosi, a very popular crowd favourite. On a personal level, I love performing ‘The Greatest Medley Ever’ from Sister Act.”

Marlena Dali

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A Sydney-based drag king and gutsy immigrant carnie hailing from the Venice Beach Freakshow, Marlena has been bringing weirdness and sublime androgyny to the local drag scene for some time now. They have a knack for creating inclusive spaces for subversive performances, including The Oyster Club: Glamdroynous Freakshow.

“Career? There's something familiar about that word, but I can't quite recall the meaning. As a (former?) full-time drag performer, I have lost every source of income. I might have a booking in August? Maybe NYE? No one knows,” said Marlena. “Currently I am begging for donations from my friends and family. Thanks guys.” 

While access to equipment has initially been prohibitive to Marlena’s foray into the livestreaming world, stay tuned to their Instagram for upcoming digital performances.

First night out when we’re allowed to congregate again:
"So, I have a free extravagant dinner and drinks for me and a close circle at the Imperial Hotel Erskineville for some work I did there that I was saving for after Mardi Gras, then all this happened. So I'll do that, and wear the nicest suit I have. I also want to host a queer Medieval faire. I'm serious."

Number one iso lip synch song: 
“‘We'll Meet Again’ by Vera Lynn.”

Molly Poppinz

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Before now, this drag queen who thrives on conceptual comedic performances was performing every week between Sydney and Newcastle while juggling two day jobs in the service industry. Molly is seeing the loss of a lot of gigs and travelling opportunities, including performing in clubs and cafes, and private events like hen’s parties.

In this brave new world, Molly Poppinz is participating in livestreamed shows most weeks on Instagram and Facebook. Some of these are with Blush and her Newcastle sister Timberlina, and some are hosted by Canadian queens in Vancouver, where she first cut her teeth in drag and built a name for herself.

Molly says she has been surprised by the generosity of tips from people watching the livestreams, especially since tipping isn’t usually much of a thing in the Australian scene; “But at the end of the day I’m doing these shows for the passion of it, as drag is something that keeps me sane and makes me happy. So creating my art is also keeping me productive at this time.”

First night out when we’re allowed to congregate again:
“I’ll be off to my favourite drag nights in Sydney and Newcastle as soon as possible. I also had plans to travel and perform in the States and Canada in the coming month which obviously is not happening now or anytime soon, so I’m excited for when I’m able to do that.”

Number one iso lip synch song: 
“Literally just Cardi B saying “Coronavirus!” on loop.”

After more iso-tainment? Check out our guide to how to have the most Sydney day ever (without leaving your house).

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