Drag’s gone boom not bust during COVID-19, says Toronto promoter

RuPaul and Canada’s Drag Race have put it more into the mainstream

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Call it drag’s “perfect storm.”

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As Canadian clubs suffered through COVID-19 related closures and then re-openings with much reduced capacities, spaced seating, mask wearing, and other restrictions, drag shows were one of the few live acts that still worked.

At the same time, Canada’s Drag Race started on CRAVE last summer (following in the footsteps of RuPaul’s Drag Race which premiered in 2009) thrusting our country’s own drag stars, like first season winner Priyanka, into the mainstream amid the show’s success as the station’s highest rated original production in the history of CRAVE.

In other words, instead of bust time, it’s been boom time for Toronto drag promoter Alex Dooley who’s been booking shows throughout Canada since setting up his business last July including at Toronto’s Phoenix and Stackt Market and Vancouver’s Hollywood Theatre, to name three venues.

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“(Drag) was in the mainstream, but I think even more so now especially because Canada’s Drag Race, Season One, came out during the pandemic and Canada’s Drag Race, Season Two, has now come out this year,” said the Liverpool-born, Toronto-based Alex Dooley of Dooley Noted Productions.

“And it’s actually given us a chance to do drag shows with more local performers (because international acts weren’t travelling) in bigger venues because the venues were lower capacity and seated.”

Gia Metric at ICONS Vancouver at Hollywood Theatre. (Gia Metric – Canada’s Drag Race Season 2 contestant).
Gia Metric at ICONS Vancouver at Hollywood Theatre. (Gia Metric – Canada’s Drag Race Season 2 contestant). Photo by Megan Gialloreto

Dooley says during complete club closures drag queens and kings were also doing shows remotely online or via Instagram live “and it became part of people’s entertainment when they were home during the pandemic. I think the drag community, they helped them get through the pandemic. So when we reopened it was even more exciting ‘cause we could actually see them in person.”

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Lisa Zbitnew, owner of the 1,300-capacity Phoenix, says drag shows have been a way to keep making money during the pandemic. (Just this past Friday, concert venues, seated or not, were given the go-head to return to 100% capacity in Ontario.)

“Drag was the first thing we brought back in for the brief time we were open in August and September of 2020,” said Zbitnew.  “We were only allowed to go to a 100 person capacity. We’d done a lot of drag shows previously. But programming to that number seated limited things we could do as a music venue but it worked quite well with drag.”

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For his part, Dooley says he can’t keep up with demand.

“I get calls every week from different venues trying to get things into their venue but I can’t do everything,” said Dooley who previously managed Toronto’s private members club, Soho House, where he staged some drag-related events.

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“I kind of saw a niche because I’d done so many shows at Soho House it felt like this is the direction I should go in. It was kind of lucky because (bookers) were trying to find things that could fill the venues (at reduced capacity with spaced seating) and drag just happened to one of those things that fit perfectly.”

Brooke Lynn Hytes at ICONS TORONTO at The Phoenix. Brooke Lynn is The Host Of Canada's Drag Race - Season 2 is currently airing on Crave on Thursday's 9pm ET).
Brooke Lynn Hytes at ICONS TORONTO at The Phoenix. Brooke Lynn is The Host Of Canada’s Drag Race – Season 2 is currently airing on Crave on Thursday’s 9pm ET). Photo by Drag Coven

Dooley Noted Productions current shows:

Oct. 30 – Twisted with Scarlett Bobo, Pythia & BOA, Phoenix, Toronto (co-production with Pitbull Events)

Oct. 31 – Halloween @Stackt (for the entire family), 12-6 p.m., Stackt Market, Toronto

Nov. 4 – Canada’s Drag Race Viewing Party with Synthia Kiss, Beth, Kiara, Phoenix, Toronto

Nov. 11 – Canada’s Drag Race Viewing Party w/Gia Metric & Priyanka, Phoenix, Toronto

Nov. 18 – Canada’s Drag Race Viewing Party with Gia Metric & Icesis Couture, Hollywood Theatre, Vancouver

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