Do you have advice for getting started in drag?
It’s THE number question i get asked in my email, messenger, and Insta DM’s from women who want to be drag queens (often called female drag queens, faux queens, divas, lady queens, and bio queens) — and the #1 question i’ve set my career sites on answering!
After years of answering this question one-on-one, i finally decided to pack all my best advice and answers some place safe and easy to find for anyone one searching for “how to be a drag queen” or “female drag queen” or “break into the drag business” could find.
So without further ado . . .
Here are 12 pieces of advice to get you started in the art of drag – whether you’re a female drag queen, faux queen, or any other nontraditional drag artist.
1. Most important:: don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do drag because you’re a girl or something other than the traditional gay cisgender male. Or that what you’re doing is not drag because you’re a girl, because you’re trans, because you’re different than what they are used to seeing as represented as drag on TV. Because they will at some point. Even though i didn’t encounter a lot of them when i first started out, as my career and name progressed so did the naysayers. The stronger we nontraditional drag artists grow, the louder our haters become. Fuck ’em and do it anyway.
2. Get involved with your local drag community. Seriously THIS. IS. THE. BEST. THING. YOU. CAN. DO. FOR. YOUR. CAREER. AND. ART. Volunteer, attend shows, get yourself out there and into the local scene. This more than anything will jump start your drag career. Plus its just a good thing to do period. If you want to be a part of the club, you’ve got to know who the members are. Seriously. Google a local drag show and go. Do it now! (And don’t forget to tip!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
3. Get clear on what style of drag do you want to do. There are sooo many styles of drag – camp, glam, pageant, genderfuck. You can be a pageant queen, look queen, a bucking queen. With so many styles available to you my best advice is to go with the style that is calling to you the most right now and make that your drag home base. You can always change your mind later. This is just your jumping off point to creating something that’s all your own.
The beauty of drag there are NO rules. Just commit to doing something 100%, see how it feels, and adjust accordingly.
4. Find a drag artist that closely resembles the style of drag you want to do and model (not carbon copy) yourself after them. All creatives do this when they are first starting out and learning their art form. Artists study and emulate the strokes of the masters, dancers like Twyla Tharp study how the greats move their bodies, and baby queens find someone to look up to, a mentor, and model themselves after them. It’s called finding inspiration, studying what works, and swirling a lot of YOU to create your own art. Twyla Tharp calls it scratching in her book The Creative Habit. Austin Kleon calls it Steal[ing] Like an Artist. i call it one of the most important parts of any drag process.
5. Immerse yourself in all things drag. Movies, TV, videos, YouTube, documentaries, shows, saturate yourself in ALL styles of drag. Live it. Breathe it. Sell it. Here are a few of my favorites::
6. Know the history of the art form. Listen up future queens of America, this one is SUPER IMPORTANTE. And while i feel like this nugget of wisdom, should go without saying, so many people jump right in without understanding the roots of the art they are wanting to be a part of. Yes, drag is a lot of fun, but it’s also subversive. It is also more than just throwing on a wig, beating a mug, and sashaying out the door. Drag has a rich history rooted in social and political activism and it’s uber important to not blur that out — or ignore it.
7. Create a name that needs no introduction. Meaning = your name should give us a glimpse at who you are and what kind of drag you do before you even hit the stage. A name like Hazzard Strange or May May Graves conjures up all kinds of unconventional images in our mind and we know that we are about to be blown away by something beautifully and artistically strange. Their name is an integral part of their drag persona. Yours should be too.
8. Play (heavily) in make-up. Watch lots of tutorials – this is one of my FAVS. Attend make-up workshops and classes – Miss Fame has one as do a lot of queens. And here’s a shameless plug: i do too! It’s called Drag Me Over and it’s a one-on-one online Skype session where we deep dive into all your personal drag mug needs, struggles, and problem areas. Email me here to find out more.
Also, make sure you buy products that can double up to save money (always good when you’re first starting out!) – here’s a list of some of my favorite cruelty-free products!
And play. A lot.
(And follow Ryan Burke on Instagram. Seriously.)
9. Build your drag closet, creatively. There is no one way to build your drag closet. Regardless of your drag budget, there is always a way to build a costume collection you love — and one that’s right on brand for you. (Hell, you can even build your lack of funds INTO your brand. One of my fav local queens in Dallas Stephanie Mykles did this with her PABST beer. Now she’s known for it and her friends and fans make awesome PABST beer things like this. So fucking her and oh-so-on brand!).
Visit thrift shops and deconstruct looks to recreate them in your drag persona’s image. Costume shops sometimes have a “for sale” section that is filled with awesome markdowns! Or learn how to sew and make your own! Start by just adding on to pieces you already own (just don’t forget the rhinestones 😉 )!
10. Be open to suggestions, but leery of “you shoulds.” This really goes for anything in life. Whenever a suggestion of growth begins with the words “You know you really should” — such as “you should really wear hip pads” or “you should really do a top 40 song” or “you should really be more draggy” — and it doesn’t immediately resonate or create a genuine A-HA moment for you, don’t waste your time or energy on it. People will always let you know what they think you should be doing, but the only person who should be doing the dictating is yourself. Let that should be your guide.
11. Find your stage. i started off doing charity work and charity pageants. Which then turned into invites to local gigs which turned into a 2014 Miss Diva USofA world tour. When you’re first starting out don’t worry if the stage is big enough just get on one and share your art. Worried that you don’t have a local venue to perform at? The whole cyber-world is your stage on YouTube. That’s right drag it up at home or on location and upload your brilliance to YouTube. There are no excuses. Just do it.
12. And find your tribe. Since i started doing drag back in 2004, there has been an influx of online female drag communities where you can ask questions, get support, and connect with other female drag lovers. In 2010, i created this online website as well as a female drag queen Facebook group and page.
And because i know how hard it can be at times, here are a few love notes for you as you begin this awesome journey!
:: If you love what you are doing, the audience will too. If you’re emotionally connected and committed they will be too!
:: Be graceful, gracious, and grateful – always.
:: Be free with your knowledge once you “arrive.” Share your advice, tips, and tricks. It not only helps our community grow but you as an artist as well.
:: Be show ready anytime you go out tipping. Carry a CD or USB with your music at all times.
:: You will never be able to please everyone, but that doesn’t mean you’re not doing “it” right.
:: Don’t let the shade of some smolder your shine.
And always always always = do it with love.
In love, light & lifetime of drag,
PS. If you’re living for what you just read and want to go deeper into creating and crafting yourself and your drag, check out my book The Craft of Drag – A Werkbook for Female Drag Queens and other Nontraditional Drag Artists.
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