“You can make a fine living in a pair of heels” – Mitzi Del Bra,
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
With Australia’s first Drag Expo making its way to Melbourne this winter, we figured it’s high time to talk drag!
What does it take to become a fabulous drag queen? What must new queens know before taking on the industry? And what can the audience learn?
We sat down with Hannah Conda, a fabulous staple in Sydney’s vibrant LGBTQI community, to find out what it takes to be a drag queen. Be sure to stick around after for a chinwag with international drag icon Karen from Finance, who will share everything she knows about Australia’s first Drag Expo – along with her take on the unsubtle art of drag.
When Life’s A Drag
The first goal for many budding drag queens is to be swept up by a [fairy] drag mother; an experienced queen who will teach you all the ropes, from walking in heels to dealing with unruly audience members.
But sometimes the journey is more personal…
“I got into drag about 10 years ago and I didn’t really think it was gonna be a job – that it was just gonna be a one-night-only thing,” Hannah said. “As soon as I started doing it, I fell in love with it, and it just snowballed.”
Hannah unknowingly began her career in 2010, gracing the stage at the Court Hotel in Perth every Wednesday night to win the much-coveted $50 bar tab. Eventually, in the midst of being professionally tipsy, Hannah began turning the right heads and started taking on actual gigs, building her way up to producing her own shows as an entertainment manager.
Then, five years into her blossoming career in Perth, Hannah made the big step and flew over to the opposite side of Australia. It was hard work to rebuild her career, but all the drag queen knowledge Hannah had learned in Perth made it a little easier.
“[Being a drag queen] is so multi-faceted,” Hannah said. “Going on the stage is just a small part of the job.
“We become a jack of all trades: hairstylist, makeup artist, sound technicians, show producers, costume makers, choreographers- there are so many elements to it.”
And when you turn your drag into a career, the whole business side comes forward too, from chasing invoices to filing tax returns.
“You become really well-versed in all these different areas.”
Another facet of drag queening is being the face of the rainbow community. Thanks to growing acceptance in Australia over recent years – especially following the marriage equality postal survey – drag queens have spread to the suburbs. In New South Wales, you can now find Drag Trivia and Bingo in Penrith, Campbelltown, Wollongong, Pymble, Merrylands, Wyong and more.
“Drag is not always in gay venues these days,” Hannah said. “We’re going out to pubs and different arenas, we’re meeting different types of people.
“A lot of the time, it is people who haven’t been around it, so you need to be able to educate a little bit. You’re the face of the gay community for a lot of people.”
And when drag becomes a business, you need to take all the opportunities you can get.
“You’re a subcontractor – it’s your own business. So there’s no job security, you’ve gotta work hard; there’s no sick leave, so you push yourself,” Hannah said.
“It’s quite a strenuous job.”
Hannah knows that drag queening is highly competitive thanks to the ongoing success of RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as the growing curiosity among those outside the traditional community. Drag queens who are beginning their fantastical journey will find the industry tough to break into.
“There’s a lot of kids coming out now that chuck on the makeup because they’ve seen it on Drag Race – and they look beautiful, absolutely! – but they don’t understand that for 10 years we’ve been working hard at getting to where we are,” Hannah said.
“So it can take time, and you’ve gotta be okay with that. You wouldn’t walk into any other job and get straight to the top role. You have to build it up and learn the skills.
“You’ll get your break eventually.”
But, as Hannah also states, you need to enjoy the ride.
“I look back now and I think about all those times when I started, all the fun that I had, that’s the stuff I see a lot of new girls are missing because they take it so seriously. Drag doesn’t need to be taken so seriously all the time.”
“Allow it to happen naturally, enjoy the ride because it is so fantastic, and just get to know everyone around you. If you come at it in the right way, we’re all willing to help.”
Australia’s First Drag Expo
Australia’s first Drag Expo will sashay down under to the famed Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre from Friday 7 to Sunday 9 August 2020 – and we’ve got all the goss from Drag Expo ambassador, Karen from Finance.
Karen from Finance is the “premiere ‘corporate’ queen of Melbourne, Australia”. Her speciality is comedy, having headlined at the Melbourne Fringe Festival and the world-renowned Melbourne International Comedy Festival since 2014. And drag has always been part of it.
“I actually never chose to get into drag; drag kinda found me,” Karen said. “I had been surrounding myself with all different types of art forms for years and years and years and it wasn’t until I took an extra step for a costume party at a friend’s birthday that I kinda dabbled in it.
“Once I put my foot in, I was completely submerged. It overtook my life for the better.”
According to Karen, drag queening is different for everybody. Some queens love being showgirls and others prefer to focus on their quirky entertainment.
“For me, it’s a whole package,” she said. “It’s not just entertaining on stage but also being a personality off the stage. It’s being true to yourself and letting your inner fabulousness shine.”
In the past year, Karen from Finance has hosted and entertained at both national and international events. She has been the master of ceremonies for Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 2019 and 2020, on the discussion panels at RuPaul’s Drag Con in Los Angeles, and a host of other soirees across Australia.
And now she can add ambassador of Australia’s first Drag Expo to the list.
“People can expect more than they anticipate at the Drag Expo,” Karen said. “Of course, there’s going to be food stalls and drag performances on the big stage, but the Drag Expo will also offer a wonderful networking experience and a place to feel part of the LGBTI community.
“I like to compare it to going to your first live music concert or festival; even though you go for the music, you also get completely immersed in an amazing community of like-minded people.”
The Drag Expo will be a jamboree of outlandish drag performances, panel discussions, networking opportunities, and plenty of shopping. Revellers are encouraged to come along in drag for a fabulous weekend of chinwagging, photo opportunities and edu-gay-tional experiences.
There’s plenty of time to pack your bags before the launch of Australia’s first Drag Expo in August, but you can start booking those tickets now.
For more information and buy tickets, visit Drag Expo.