Enter stage left: Philly’s drag community, which is stepping up to provide a virtual shot of silly right to your preferred electronic device. For while the show can’t go on — it can go online.
“Dragged Into A Computer” — a drag variety show featuring eight drag kings and queens from across the city — will air at 8 p.m. Wednesday on West Philly drag queen Swan Flambé’s Facebook page.
Robyn Bonacci, who portrays Swan Flambé, said a big part of drag is about finding the joy in being silly and absurd, something the world is in short supply of these days.
“There’s so much heavy stuff going on that it’s really easy to forget to take a moment and put that aside for a while,” Bonacci said. “It’s important to worry and cry, but I think it’s just as important to put time aside to just laugh and enjoy being silly.”
With so many performers out of work because of the bans on public gatherings to stem the spread of the coronavirus, organizers are using the show as a fund-raiser. A donation/entry fee of $10 via Venmo is requested for those who attend the show, but the show is free for people unable to pay. The money will support the performers of the show and the Philadelphia Performance Artists’ Emergency Fund, Bonacci said.
“I wanted to support the vision of that fund and also keep the spirit of queer performance alive while having gatherings wasn’t possible,” Bonacci said. “I figured if ever there was a time to do this, it’s now.”
The Philadelphia Performance Artists’ Emergency Fund has already raised more than $12,000 in donations to fulfill specific requests like rent and medication assistance for area artists, according to Icon Ebony Fierce, a Philly drag queen and one of the organizers of the fund.
While $10,000 of that money raised through GoFundMe remains on hold while fund organizers go through a series of standard verifications by the website, more than $2,000 raised through other avenues like PayPal and Venmo has already been distributed to 32 artists in need, Fierce said.
But with more than 200 artists on the applicant wait list to receive funds — which are allocated in grants of $250 or less — the need continues.
Initially, organizers of “Dragged Into A Computer” hoped to gather in Bonacci’s living room to perform their drag show together live, but growing social distancing precautions and mandates have made that impossible. Instead, the performers will prerecord their performances, and the submissions will be produced into a “TV variety-style episode” in advance.
“We’ll be funneling in performances from different places at different times and live-streaming them in the moment,” Bonacci said. “A lot of time travel will be happening all at once.”
Many of those participating in the show were a part of last summer’s West Philly sinkhole-inspired drag show, “Sinkhole Summer: The Drag Jawn," including drag queen Fran Zea (pronounced like the boxed wine, but not spelled like it) and drag king Henlo Bullfrog, who is performed by Joy Taney.
Henlo is a “trickster folk tale character” that Taney, 33, of West Philly, based partly on her father. For Wednesday’s show, Henlo will perform a song called “Bei Mir Bistu Schoen,” with verses in both Yiddish and English, and he’ll play the trombone, Taney said.
“You’re never totally safe with drag performance — pushing boundaries, living on the edge, and pointing out that the emperor has no clothes are pillars of the art form," Taney said. “'Dragged Into A Computer" is designed to spirit away not just the audience from their present moment and anxieties and through our funhouse mirror; it’s art therapy for the artists behind the face paint and wigs and outlandish clothes, too.”
While there’s no set theme to the show, Bonacci said several performances — including Swan Flambé’s — will touch on the coronavirus and all that’s going on in a way that “will hopefully bring some tasteful levity for a while.”
One performance will even make use of a pole in Bonacci’s West Philly living room, though the details of that act are being kept tightly under wraps.
The show even has a sponsor — the New York Toy Collective — which specializes in toys of the adult variety.
Depending on the show’s success, the organizers hope to hold more virtual drag shows in the future.
Bonacci — who turns 28 on Wednesday — had been planning to celebrate their birthday hanging out with friends, but now will be celebrating Philly’s drag community online instead.
“With all that’s going on, this really is the best birthday I could imagine,” Bonacci said.