The New Normal,
or How Creatives Stay Creative
Coronavirus kills, but life streams.
According to a March 24 article in The Guardian, around 20% of the world’s population is currently under some form of a lockdown due to COVID-19, or coronavirus. With the disease quickly spreading and affecting the entire world, as of March 25, 2020, around 2.6 billion people (about one-third of the world’s population) are under government-mandated lockdowns and quarantines, with half of those people being in India, according to data provided by Statista. Some countries are implementing stricter lockdown laws than others: Jordan’s residents are not allowed to take walks or even grocery shop – anyone caught outside could face a jail term of up to one year; while in Italy, which quickly became the epicenter of the pandemic after China and currently has the highest death toll from the virus, people are still allowed outside for a limited time and only when necessary; Puerto Rico, one of the unincorporated US territories, implemented a mandatory curfew until April 12, from 9 PM–5 AM – certain professionals are excluded from the curfew, and others can only leave their home during that time for emergency purposes only; anyone who breaks the curfew and doesn’t meet the mandated criteria will face a fine of $5,000.
While the US was ranked #1 in Global Pandemic Preparedness, according to a pre-COVID-19 report, the 2019 Global Health Security Index, the Trump administration’s dismantling of the team in charge of pandemic responses in early 2018, and downplaying the coronavirus threat from the very beginning, didn’t do us any favors. WHO’s morbid prediction on March 24 about the United States possibly becoming the next coronavirus hot spot has now in a matter of days become the reality – as of today (March 31), the number of COVID-19 infections in the United States has surpassed China and Italy, with over 171,684 confirmed cases (live numbers here) and counting, with the death toll quickly approaching ,4000.
With over 172 million people currently under an at least partly enforced lockdown within the US, and with the virus that is well on its way to 1 million officially confirmed infections all over the world, Trump’s initial plan to get back to usual business by Easter was very ambitious, if not laughable. On Sunday, March 29, Trump announced extension of federal guidance on social distancing through April, with the peak death toll still two weeks away. In their turn, infectious-disease researchers recommend that the public continue to practice social distancing until some genius invents a vaccine, which could take 18 months.
A large number of people who have been laid off or simply not allowed to go to work due to closures of all non-essential businesses have found themselves wondering how the fuck they can afford to live another day. The recently approved unprecedented $2 trillion relief package aimed to help affected individuals with a one-time payment of $1,200 at most (based on a sliding scale) will also be used to expand unemployment benefits and help small businesses stay afloat. Even though the stimulus package can greatly help a certain chunk of the population (good luck getting through the unemployment call center), many freelancers and artists who depend on odd jobs are left in the dark about their own future. For many creatives, $1,200 can only go so far (forget about seeing this money if you are an immigrant without a social security number); with many businesses closed indefinitely and with the US stock market almost failing every other day, there is no telling when freelancers will get any commissioned jobs even when we are past the days of quarantine.
But leave it up to the artistic community to make the best out of a shitty situation, keep themselves busy and, hopefully, paid. Livestreamed shows have become as ubiquitous as the absence of toilet paper in supermarkets. These days it’s impossible to turn on your Instagram and not see at least half a dozen livestreams happening at the same moment. After only a matter of a few days into quarantine, people figured out that they could use the very available livestreaming services that a myriad of platforms offer for free to share their art with digital fans and, in some cases, earn a coin.
Amongst the first few live shows that we were able to catch were Charlene Incarnate and Tyler Ashley’s Baby Tea Brunch that was livestreamed from a rooftop in Brooklyn instead of from its usual site, lesbian-owned farm-to-table Superfine restaurant; Miami’s Counter Corner party that was hosted by the Ultimate Miami Drag Queen 2019 Karla Croqueta from the comfort of her home; and The Rosemont’s Oops! that was livestreamed right from the living rooms of the party’s creators, Juku and West Dakota.
Just before Juku’s and West Dakota’s first number, the pair expressed how this was already their biggest Oops! showing, with around 300 people tuning in to what the girls had in store for the night. The girls, known for their sharp wit and out-of-the-box creative performances, kept the viewers captivated, and the performance garnered a write-up in Vice magazine.
Biqtch Puddiń, the winner of Dragula Season 2, came up with the very first Digital Drag show, livestreamed on Twitch, the world’s leading platform for gamers. During the streaming of the show’s first installment, at some point during the night the viewership went up as high as 10,000 people watching the stream at the same time. During the broadcast Biqtch Puddiń confessed that she didn’t expect her Digital Drag show to gain such momentum on social media.
During these digital drag shows, a performer’s preferred payment information is displayed and the viewers are free to tip if they wish to support. It seems that for many drag performers, this has become their livelihood now that no more bar and club appearances are being booked. Biqtch Puddiń stated that the reason she wanted to do the Digital Drag show was to help out performers in trouble. All of the tips donated to the general account were promised to be distributed evenly between the performers, but everyone was encouraged to tip their favorites personally as well.
Within the first week of the closure of all non-essential businesses, Sidewalkkilla started a fundraiser on its Instagram page, inspired by queer writer and speaker Fran Tirado’s tweet. After receiving a few donations, we decided to split the total donated amount into $50 payments to people who have provided their payment info in the comments under our Instagram post. To our surprise, one of the randomly chosen benefactors, Laurel Charleston, passed up the donation in favor of another trans performer. She expressed that she received a good amount of donations from performing on Biqtch Puddiń’s first airing of the Digital Drag show, which helped her get out of a “fucked” situation. In turn, Laurel was inspired to give back to the community herself and is hosting her own first livestream drag brunch show on Sunday, March 29.
MTHR TRSA’s Hole Pics made its digital debut on Saturday, March 21, with an almost half-hour long opening performance that involved a lot of weed, drama, and clever camera work.
“What happens when we get back to actual clubs, like it’s gonna be live, but not on our phones, it’s gonna be so weird,”
MTHR TRSA, also known as New York-based artist Dylan Thomas, exclaimed at the end of the 2-hour livestream.
Not all creatives use livestreaming for drag shows. There are makeup tutorials, gossip, DJing, games, Q&As, yoga, workouts, and meditation – you name it, you will find it.
One of NYC’s drag staples CT Hedden started a live show called Makeup Hour, inviting all the high-profile people he knows for a quick beat and tea-spilling. His guests so far have been supermodel Winnie Harlow, actress-turned-activist Rose McGowan, American Ballet Theater prima ballerina Misty Copeland, and an indie pop star Allie X.
CT Hedden with Rose McGowan during Makeup Hour
“I think it’s gonna last a lot longer than people think,”
said Rose McGowan during her Makeup Hour with CT.
At the time of the stream Rose was quarantined at her friend’s place in Atlanta, saying that she would be leaving soon to wait out the pandemic in Mexico.
“A couple of days ago DOJ was seeking to suspend constitutional rights. I’m not staying in this country during a military coup,”
Rose went on,
“this is like a cultural reset, a lot more people will understand what refugees go through.”
Miley Cyrus during Bright Minded IG show with Alicia Keys
MTHR TRSA drowning in weed during
Juku as a top and West Dakota as a bottom during Oops!
Just a couple of days before LA ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses and mandated social distancing by the public, Miley Cyrus started a talk show named Bright Minded with the help of her own Instagram account. From Monday to Friday, Miley hosts special (all of them obviously famous) guests to talk about “staying LIT in dark times.”
“How do we come out of this? We don’t want to come back to the pre-COVID-19 world, we want to go back to a better world, one that’s more connected, one that’s more compassionate. Right now everyone is stopping everything that they got going on just to protect the vulnerable and we don’t always do that, that’s not a part of our everyday routine. So we actually might be becoming better people through the virus. Or actually even saying, ‘Hey what we got going on in our life isn’t actually worth jeopardizing someone else’s health’ and we don’t always do that – we drive in big cars and pollute the environment. . . What positive effect would you like to come out of this experience and what world do you wanna step back into?”
This was a deep question, throwing Alicia off for a minute, but undoubtedly making everyone watching contemplate on it as well.
In the current climate it seems that everything is pointing towards people spending more time inside their homes in the near future, whether because Netflix just dropped all 10 seasons of your favorite show, you are afraid of being blown up to bits at a crowded place, or simply because you are living in the current reality of World War III with the invisible and, at least for now, invincible enemy that is COVID-19.
Without a lie, this stay-at-home directive was sort of fun in the beginning, it was almost like someone let you play hookie and relieved you of all adult responsibilities, well, like going to work for example. Queef Latina, the creator and director of South Florida’s biggest queer performance festival Wigwood, expressed that she was happy to sleep and relax.
When we suggested that maybe, nowhere to spend = no need to earn, she retorted,
“Very true, except we still need to eat.”
Damn, forgot about that one…
“I stay in so often that there is not much difference to me. We need a document to go outside just in case of police checks, but I haven’t been checked yet, because I mostly go out to walk my dog. It’s nowhere as strict as China. People are still allowed to be outside an hour a day or exercise.”
Even if we do turn into couch potatoes in the near future and have robots serving us freshly baked pizza out of their ass, most people are eager to be freed from this lockdown, if not for the love of socializing, then at least for the sake of earning money to pay the rent and buy canned tuna for their cat.
Nightlife photographer Mark Minton losing it, after moving to Tennessee and narrowly escaping the virus in NYC.
One of the questions that begs the answer is, will the livestream shows continue its momentum after the coronavirus is a thing of the past?
Dynasty, an eclectic Asian drag queen and writer for The Cut and New York Magazine, doesn’t think so:
“I don’t think streaming will continue after quarantine because they’ve sprung up out of necessity. Drag relies so much on a live audience and being with the community in real life. So I think everyone will be super excited to get back into real-life shows and being able to experience that together again.”
Dynasty’s close friend that shared the stage with her many a time, West Dakota, seems to be in the middle,
“I think that quarantine is forcing us to explore how we are connecting with our audiences and is going to open up new avenues for us to do so. Our weekly show that we’ve taken digital since the quarantine is reaching a lot more people than our physical space can accommodate. That being said I think that sharing space, intimacy, and touch are all irreplaceable parts of performing. I don’t think things will ever return to ‘normal’ but we’ll have new understandings of what it means to connect.”
“Having an audience is always nice to feed off the energy of the room. I think after quarantine the girls, myself included, will definitely consider more online shows, but I will be so excited to be back in a bar,”
says MTHR TRSA.
Even though most people are adapting to “the new normal” or the current reality, some performers seem to have a hard time imagining digital communication as humanity’s future fate.
Brooklyn-based trans self-appointed “post-drag priestess” Charlene Incarnate shared in one of her Facebook posts, just after Baby Tea’s rooftop livestream performance,
“I’m seeing the narrative being woven of the resilience and adaptability of drag queens to take their shows online, that video and streaming is ‘the future’ etc. and that happy hour with your friends on Zoom isn’t so bad. BUT I have to say that it’s a completely untenable and unsustainable practice – for my art and for me personally. I can deal with change, I have my whole life. I can deal with stock markets crashing, an impending ‘next great depression,’ the end of the world as we know it – hell, I’ve been turning nothing into something for a decade. But a world without live gathering is truly, truly not one I care to be a part of.”
Whichever way this is headed, only time will tell, but for now it looks like we will have to assimilate into the new reality and stay in contact mostly through the digital medium. As nightlife photographer and Sidewalkkilla contributor Mark Minton, who moved to Tennessee right before the shit hit the fan, simply put it,
“I just want to work without killing my parents.”