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Dragged Around the World

Drag superstar Sasha Velour on the best places to see (or do) drag.

The thing that I love most about drag is the way that it bridges the space between the theater and the nightclub, existing in these spaces where there's not as much of a divide between what is happening on stage and the audience.

SINCE SNATCHING THE CROWN as winner of season nine of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Sasha Velour has proven herself to be one of the most dynamic and innovative queens to ever emerge from the show. Though she’s based in New York City, Velour has spent the past five years traveling the world, bringing her own unique brand of art-inflected, high-fashion, uniquely conceptual drag to the masses. Like so many drag performers who spent the past year doing digital shows or filming makeup tutorials from home, Velour is keen to be back in front of live audiences. Having just wrapped a short New York City run of her musical drag revue, “NightGowns,” she will spend the bulk of 2022 taking her solo show, “Smoke & Mirrors,” out on a world tour, where she will play in 33 cities across 16 different countries. Here, Velour takes a break from packing up her frocks and wigs to discuss what makes the experience of a great drag show so special. She also gives us the rundown of the best venues around the world to see — and be seen in — drag.


As both a performer and a viewer, what makes for a good drag show? And what should the ideal drag viewing experience provide?


The thing that I love most about drag is the way that it bridges the space between the theater and the nightclub, existing in these spaces where there's not as much of a divide between what is happening on stage and the audience. When I'm working in a big theater — like on my tour, it's usually these grand, European opera houses rather than fun, quirky clubs — I try to turn them into the quirky clubs where I've always performed drag because I love that feeling of connection with the audience. Doing digital shows is just not the same. Even though there have been many really impressive digital shows, which have provided people a platform to share their art and perform, it’s just not the same experience. You don't get that feedback from the audience. You don't get that exchange of eyesight and energy with each other that just lights up the space. Drag is about what happens in the room, the energy and unpredictability of it. Most of the spaces I’m recommending here are places that I've performed in, but I've also gotten to see shows at these venues and have been part of the audience, and these are places that have great energy. That fluid kind of phenomenon is what I love about good gay bars and queer spaces. Working in bars is not always amazing. Sometimes the treatment in bars is not fantastic. Sometimes the pay is abysmal. But there are these rare spaces that actually do treat performers and the people coming in to party with respect, spaces that take good care of their crowds. That's what I'm always looking for.

Bushwig (New York City)

“The ORIGINAL Brooklyn Festival of Drag, Music, Love, and Unity”

I love that Bushwig is not a place, it's a phenomenon. It was one of the first things I did when I moved to New York. I always knew I wanted to come to Brooklyn because of the queer scene here and the inclusivity of the Brooklyn drag scene. The second week after I arrived, I went to Bushwick in drag. I didn't know anyone. I think it was the second year that they hosted it at a place called Secret Project Robot, which at the time was basically a big gravel yard. And then the next year I performed at Bushwig for the first time, which was only my second performance in New York City. I just immediately made friends there. Something I love about Bushwig in particular is that it's easy to get a slot on stage and have a chance to perform. Everyone who's there is very willing to meet new people and make new connections, which is so important. Those kinds of personal relationships are the real way that the drag economy works — that’s how you get bookings and form connections and forge creative partnerships that will last throughout your entire career. I made lifelong friendships backstage at Bushwig, all while wiping the fake blood and sweat off each other. And that has lasted for years and years. The other great thing about Bushwig is that it’s a drag festival where, if you look around, half the people in attendance are in drag — everyone is a performer to some degree and the shows even sometimes are happening in the audience as well as on stage. I feel like it's more about celebrating the overall power of drag and not the specific names of people performing. Bushwig is a fantastic example of the diversity of the drag community as a whole, as you see so many different representations of gender and different approaches to drag. Seeing that on display really taught me a lot about what drag is supposed to be and what drag can be. Also, Bushwig is just insanely fun, which is such an important part of drag too. I think to the extent that a show like “Drag Race” has pushed everyone to want to be a super professional drag queen, Bushwig reminds us that we’re all just amateurs out there having fun in the mud — and we need that!

Oasis (San Francisco)

“San Francisco’s internationally acclaimed drag show nightclub/cabaret”

Oasis was founded by Heklina and D'Arcy Drollinger, and its popularity grew out of a very legendary party that was held there called "Mother." I had never been to Oasis before I was booked to perform there, but I’d always heard about it being a very gay, very inclusive place. There is something so unique about Oasis specifically, and you really felt like it has been built by drag performers. Not just because the dressing room and stage are stunning, well-lit, and have plenty of room for ridiculous costumes, but because the energy in the space during the afternoon was so, so gay and so open — and that is something that you don't always experience. I got the feeling that everyone who worked there loved their job and felt like they were a part of the community. Also, most importantly, the shows there are incredible. They have such an incredible roster of talent, and performers really experiment on that stage; and the audience is there for it and pays attention. I also love that during the pandemic they continued to operate with tons of digital programming. They launched a kind of drag TV station on their website and have figured out ways to keep people employed and to keep the work going. I just love everything they do. It's a good model for me about how to run queer nightlife as a business that is responsible, doesn't exploit people, and brings in new talent and new energy all the time. To me, it is the gold standard of drag.


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The George (Dublin, Ireland)

“The heart of LGBT Ireland”

The George is a world-respected drag club in Dublin that has been around for over 30 years. It has multiple stories and it feels like there are ancient drag stars who have just been living up in the attic for decades! When I first visited, they took me upstairs, which was filled with cigarette smoke, and rooms filled with gorgeous sequins and feathers. They have a roster of resident queens who perform there, and seeing their show was absolutely brilliant. I don’t even know how to describe it. Just imagine a wild, Irish, drunken drag show. It was perfect. I haven’t actually performed there myself; I just went there to see a drag show and I basically got my entire life. The queens did mostly group numbers — four or five drag queens of very different ages and styles just doing a number together. Clearly they had rehearsed and they had their choreography down; there was fierce lip-syncing, but there was a chaos to those group numbers that I absolutely adored. As much as we love to see every queen getting her star moment, when you work together like that in an ensemble cast, it's really, really fun. The George is another example of a place that you know feels like home for everyone there. It reminds you that the emphasis needs to be on the quality of the experience and the community that is created by the artists, queens, and kings working together. That's not necessarily a feeling reflected in a lot of the big, flashy drag shows that you can go see now, where it’s often more about the big production. When I go out, I choose spaces that give me good energy, that feel like these sacred queer homes that you can escape to, and you can find them anywhere in the world.



The Back Door (Bloomington, Indiana)

“Bloomington's only dedicated LGBTQIA+ space”

One of my favorite drag performances I've ever done was at The Back Door. It is a tiny Midwestern queer bar, but they have a gorgeous curtain that opens and a lovely spotlight, which is all you need. I'm from the Midwest. I grew up in Urbana, Illinois, which is not so far from Bloomington, Indiana, and is very similar. I wish I had had a space like The Back Door when I was younger. We need spaces like this in every part of the country. You know, fierce, lesbian-owned gay bars, small-town gay bars, true community spaces. The people who were there didn't necessarily have a huge range of options in terms of queer spaces, so they really took care of the one they have. It was beautiful to see, and the energy, the attention, the excitement of the other performers and the audience was so, so powerful. It really felt like I was coming home by performing there. And like I was saying, I try to make every big theater feel like a tiny Midwestern gay bar [as much] as I possibly can, because that's what people want in their heart of hearts. When you are touring around, you really see how important these kinds of smaller queer spaces truly are. I feel like the sense of inclusion is even stronger in places like this, and the support everyone has for each other is very strong, particularly in a place where people really need each other. We always have that solidarity in queer spaces, but I think it's especially true when you get further away from the big cities.

Nectar (Manila, Philippines)

“Luxury LGBTQ+ nightclub in the heart of Manila”

This is the farthest I have ever traveled abroad to perform. I never thought I would end up in the Philippines, but it was incredible and really exciting to get to perform on stage with the Nectarines, as the queens there call themselves. Nectar provides a really diverse drag show — stuff like horror drag and abstract, artistic drag all on the same stage. Some of the queens mentioned that they had seen my show “NightGowns” in New York, and they were doing their own version of that at Nectar, putting together big productions with lots of different types of drag, including drag kings, all kinds of things. I just love that. It was also a beautiful reminder that we are in a community of people doing this all over the world. Wherever you go in the world, you can find your community. Performing in Manila, I thought about how there's nothing new or particularly unique in drag, but that's also the best thing about it because it unites us in a shared struggle to do something new with it. I felt so connected to everyone. Even though we were struggling to communicate with each other in the same language, we were one hundred percent on the same page about what it is we do on stage. It was so fun, and such a good night. If you find yourself in Manila, go there.

Ex Bunker (Santiago, Chile)

“Chile’s premier gay dance club"

This is a big club that offers all kinds of shows, right in the middle of Santiago. It’s a former military bunker of some sort that has been transformed into this wild theater and nightclub. They have big parties, lots of gay events, and they do these drag shows that are totally packed. I have never in my life been to such a crowded venue! Just tons of people packed into this theater, screaming and having an amazing time underneath all of this beautiful lighting. If you are a performer, they have this amazing stage. A performance fantasy of mine finally came true here, which was that I descended from the ceiling on a swing in a cloud of smoke, wearing an orange ostrich feather coat. I had to wait suspended above the stage for five minutes before the show started and I remember thinking, Is this a dream? But then suddenly I was being lowered down to the stage in front of this wild audience and it was thrilling. I’ve actually performed here twice and one of the other things I loved about it was that they also always book drag kings as well. It’s frustrating to me that there are so many venues that don’t do this, that there are so many venues that aren’t open to drag kings or even just alternative representations of gender and drag. In my opinion, it’s not a drag show when it's just traditional drag queens. Sorry about it. So I celebrate spaces that really feel diverse and inclusive.


It feels like people are more enamored with drag right now than ever before. Has there been an evolution in thinking in terms of what drag is, and who kind of owns that space and what it means?


I do think there has been a shift. I feel like people who do drag seriously have always known — or they should have known — that it doesn't belong to any of us. And that it's meant to be an open and evolving space. Throughout my whole drag career, I’ve always had a sense that what we're meant to be doing is encouraging each other and not putting up the kind of gatekeeping functions that exist in every other industry and every other form of art. I would say the biggest shift around drag has been with the audience. And as drag shifts more into the mainstream, I know that this isn't a linear movement at all. We've been there at different times in the past, and I'm sure we will take a step back and step forward again, as the audience for drag shifts. So how do these queer spaces adjust to an influx of people who have never been to a drag show before, but are now suddenly interested? As performers, I think what we should be going for is making sure that all the people who come into our spaces are a little more queer by the time they leave.


Stylist —
Willyum Beck
Header image — Schiaparelli dress and earrings, Fluevog shoes.

Sasha Velour’s Guide to Drag Show Etiquette

The legendary stage star shares the do’s and don’ts for enjoying a drag show.

  • Be loud!

    Any time you see a drag performer on stage is an appropriate time to show some encouragement. You can clap, scream, laugh, stamp your feet, whatever you are moved to do! Drag performance is a very emotional experience, and the audience gets to take part by reacting loudly. A drag show is not the time to be shy or stuffy! A grumpy or totally non-reactive audience member can even ruin the experience for others around them.

  • Don't be afraid to dress up

    Performers love to see an audience that looks WILD. We want to see you being your most brave, fabulous self! Take any drag performance as an opportunity to wear something you’ve been wanting to try but were too scared. Put on a little makeup, some sequins, an evening glove, etc.!

  • Bring a friend, make a friend

    Introduce someone new to drag! You never know who is going to love it! And while you are at it, get to know someone in the audience you’ve never met before. It’s meant to be a loving and positive environment. Ask a stranger a question or give them a personal compliment as an ice-breaker. One of the best parts of the live drag show are the connections formed in the audience!

  • Be sure to tip

    Bring whatever extra money you have and throw it around. These days it can be done virtually as well. Tip the performers and any bartenders or servers. The best way to show your appreciation is to keep the art and artists working!

  • Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T

    With all the freedoms of drag, there are still some “don’ts.” Showing up in the audience means the night is not about you. You have to let the drag king or queens on stage be the ONLY divas! Stay flexible and don’t make demands. Be aware of the other people in the audience and their boundaries. And lastly, don’t even for a second act like you are getting on stage or backstage — unless you are invited!

  • Be loud!

    Any time you see a drag performer on stage is an appropriate time to show some encouragement. You can clap, scream, laugh, stamp your feet, whatever you are moved to do! Drag performance is a very emotional experience, and the audience gets to take part by reacting loudly. A drag show is not the time to be shy or stuffy! A grumpy or totally non-reactive audience member can even ruin the experience for others around them.

  • Be sure to tip

    Bring whatever extra money you have and throw it around. These days it can be done virtually as well. Tip the performers and any bartenders or servers. The best way to show your appreciation is to keep the art and artists working!

  • Don't be afraid to dress up

    Performers love to see an audience that looks WILD. We want to see you being your most brave, fabulous self! Take any drag performance as an opportunity to wear something you’ve been wanting to try but were too scared. Put on a little makeup, some sequins, an evening glove, etc.!

  • Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T

    With all the freedoms of drag, there are still some “don’ts.” Showing up in the audience means the night is not about you. You have to let the drag king or queens on stage be the ONLY divas! Stay flexible and don’t make demands. Be aware of the other people in the audience and their boundaries. And lastly, don’t even for a second act like you are getting on stage or backstage — unless you are invited!

  • Bring a friend, make a friend

    Introduce someone new to drag! You never know who is going to love it! And while you are at it, get to know someone in the audience you’ve never met before. It’s meant to be a loving and positive environment. Ask a stranger a question or give them a personal compliment as an ice-breaker. One of the best parts of the live drag show are the connections formed in the audience!

Our Contributors

Sasha Velour Writer

Sasha Velour is a gender-fluid drag queen, global theater star, actor, writer, creative director, and award-winning television producer. As the founder of House of Velour, she produces live theater, television, film, charity events, merchandise, graphic design, photography, books, and excellent lists.

Ryan Pfluger Photographer

Ryan Pfluger is a photographer from New York with an MFA in photo, video and related media from the School of Visual Arts. Pfluger is currently residing in Los Angeles with dog Sarah Connor.

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