How do drag performers network? What resources do new or developing drag performers have when it comes to getting their work seen by the right people? What might it look like to create an organization devoted to education and promotion of drag-related issues?
These were among the questions Jamie Bancroft started to ask himself last spring when he began the development of the first Austin International Drag Festival. Bancroft was working as a stage manager for SXSW, and he said meeting members of the community and seeing the inner workings of a large-scale festival started the gears working in his head.
Bancroft initially considered smaller ideas like a fashion show or club party, but "It was always in me to do something big," he said. Bancroft found that there were already several LGBTQ music festivals, and wanted to address a need not yet being met in the LGBTQ community. Then, he started thinking about some of his friends who were drag performers. How could he help them get a foot in the door and a leg up in the industry, using a platform which would allow them to be seen by as many people as possible?
Bancroft created a non-profit organization to support, educate, and promote the drag community, both locally and globally. Bancroft said moving forward, the organization could host a drag tour, serve as the home to a drag theatre, or even serve as a booking agency which helps performers get gigs and filters any proceeds into social services which support the drag and trans communities.
Bancroft has an undergraduate degree in Theatre from St Edwards, so for the organization's first project, he decided to combine that experience with his work with SXSW and create the Austin International Drag Festival. Bancroft approached clubs across Austin, and festival performances will be hosted by a variety of Austin venues, including V Night Club, Elysium, Beerland, Red Eye Fly, Cheer Up Charlies, and the North Door. Oil Can Harry's and the Highland Lounge will host event parties.
The festival will feature over 200 performers, from both across the United States and abroad, including England and Canada, and around 40 performers will be Austin locals. For this year, Bancroft didn't turn down any performer who applied. Next year, he hopes to have a performer from each of the 50 states and more from Asia and Europe.
The festival will feature performances by both drag queens and kings, including two full drag king showcases. Headliners include:
Landon Cider, a CA king known for his illusion make-up, including impersonations such as George Michael, Adam Lambert, Peter Pan, Ron Burgundy (from "Anchorman"), Beetlejuice, Freddy Krueger, Frankenstein, and Weird Al. Cider performs Saturday, May 2 at Cheer Up Charlies.
Holly Woodlawn, a long-time drag performer who worked with Andy Warhol in the 1970s, and then moved on to cabaret. Woodlawn can currently be seen on Transparent. In addition to the screening of film clips, Woodlawn will also participate in a Q&A on Sunday afternoon at the North Door as part of the drag film showcase, providing a queer history lesson to all who attend.
Charles Busch will also participate in the drag film showcase. Busch is known for such plays as The Divine Sister, The Lady in Question, Red Scare on Sunset and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. He also wrote and starred in the film versions of his plays, Psycho Beach Party and Die Mommie Die, the latter of which will be screened at the festival.
An episode of the web show "Hey Qween!" will film at the festival, as well as an episode of the Feast of Fun podcast. A documentary film crew is taping some of the queens from England and will be shooting more footage at the festival. There will also be events such as the VIP party and drag brunch which will allow attendees to sit back and relax.
With so much going on, Bancroft emphasized that to him, the mission of the festival is the most important thing. "I had to bring headliners to attract an audience so the up and coming performers can be seen," he explained. "Next year, I may not bring as many." Bancroft said once performers network and build a presence in the industry, they can command more money from the clubs, and maybe one day even unionize.
Bancroft said he feels society is progressing in its acceptance of gender fluidity. "People are seeing past gender," he said. "I feel like I've evolved this past year meeting so many people and becoming a trans ally." Bancroft said he met many trans individuals in the drag community who do drag to feel accepted. Speaking of the festival, Bancroft explained, "I wanted to help that community as well.
The Austin International Drag Festival runs May 1-3. Tickets for the full festival are $99 with a code and VIP tickets are an extra $99. Warner Bros will be sponsoring the VIP party to publicize their new film Hot Pursuit. Those who wish to attend the festival but are strapped for cash can purchase a nightly pass or tickets for an individual event at the door. The festival will have access to several Sixt rental cars to shuttle attendees between the La Quinta hotel, the various bars, the vendor fair, and the festival hospitality lounge.
"It's been a trip," Bancroft said. "I don't think I fully realized how big this was going to be." The Austin International Drag Festival came in at #7 in Huffington Post's "Top 15 LGBT must-dos in 2015" and made Austin #2 in Orbitz's Hottest Gay Destinations of 2015.Though he started the work alone, Bancroft emphasized that the festival wouldn't be happening without his team and all the volunteers. "There were points where I couldn't do it alone," he said, and added that more volunteers are still needed for the festival.
This article was originally published by The Horn on 04/30/2015.