For the longest time drag shows were a form of entertainment that could only be found at gay bars. Not an environment that everyone feels confident about visiting. However, since the dawn of TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, there has been much more interest in experiencing this entertainment live.
Live performances can now be found in a wider range of late-night clubs and bars, however, for first-timers, it can get a little confusing as to what makes for acceptable drag show etiquette. Watching these shows from the comfort of your own home is much different from the real deal. Not only is it a far more exciting and memorable experience, but it is also one that requires you to follow certain rules so that everyone involved can comfortably have a good time.
Much of it revolves around tipping and being respectful. If you are looking forward to attending your first live drag performance, here are a few rules to be mindful of so you know how to interact with the performers and other attendees.
So, what is drag show etiquette?
Know where to sit
The first thing you want to do when you get into the club or bar is know where to sit for the performance. The location of the stage should be obvious. If you have some anxieties, especially about being in the spotlight, keep off the front row. Many performances involve interactions with the audience and require a certain level of confidence and willingness to participate. If you prefer to just watch and not be an actual part of the show, sit further away from the stage. Those sitting at the front should also be more prepared to tip for each performance.
Everything that goes into drag can cost a lot. If you have ever been to where to buy drag queen clothes, shoes, and makeup, then you know that gear does not come cheap, especially for performers that have an image to uphold. While many clubs and bars will pay performers some base rate, this is often hardly enough to cover their traveling costs to the venue.
If you are having fun, then do tip. It is a great way to compensate the performers for their efforts and show your appreciation for the entertainment. Keep in mind that it is not just the costs associated with drag performances that are being covered. For some of these queens, this work is all they have to take care of the bills. It could be the only source of income they have so be kind and do not hold out. The more fun you are having, the more you should offer rewards in tip form. Do the same for others serving you including waiters, bartenders, and the DJ.
Also, ensure that when tipping, you do so respectfully. It is not uncommon for some audience members to use this opportunity to act lewdly or make discriminatory remarks. While most drag queens can give as good as they get, this is not a space to bring in your trans or homophobia. Nor is it a chance for you to get handsy without permission or try to goad performers to reach into your pants for the cash. Behavior like trying to insert money in their clothing or making them beg you to let go of cash you are holding on to tightly is just as insulting.
Simply have the cash in hand and extend your arm towards the queen so it is visible and the performer will retrieve it. Avoid doing this when the performer is in the middle of an act. Wait till they are less busy to tip. If given direction by the artists on what to do, just go along with it. Also, do not step into the performance area to tip, unless directed to do so. Queens are on the lookout for tips so just extending your arm where it will be visible should be enough.
Shows typically have several performers lined up so try to tip each one, even if it is a small amount each time. The standard is one to five dollars, but if a performance really wows you, feel free to up the ante. Try to be prepared even before the show with loose bills, performers do not have the time nor the inclination to get you change. If the bartender has cash, they may be able to break your bill
Do not come just for the show. The bar or club is hosting the event because they also want to make money. It is bad form to just sit and enjoy the show without making it profitable for them. It is all part of supporting the art form. So be prepared to enjoy some drinks with your party. It is all part of the fun.
Drag shows are a wild time but are also meant to be fun, inclusive, and memorable. Queens are people too and should be respected just the same. Whether you are tipping or not, there is no reason to put your hands on a performer, no matter the intention behind it. Yes, they are showing off but it is all part of the act, not an opportunity for audience members to put their hands on their bodies. Feast with your eyes alone.
Even where the shows can get a bit raunchy on stage, you need to have restraint. Many drag shows are performed in clubs and bars where alcohol is flowing freely. Many audience members can get inebriated and lose inhibitions. This is however no excuse to disrespect performers. Do not touch them or interfere with their performance.
Don’t block the view
Avoid standing up during performances or walking in front of the stage and blocking the view. It is just like in cinemas, but this time the actors on the screen can talk back at you. The last thing you want is to have the performer draw attention to you because they are pissed since you obviously do not want it on them.
The rest of the audience is here for the same fun time and deserves to have a good view of the show. Even if you are celebrating a special occasion like a bachelorette party, be respectful of other audience members that have just as much right to the same entertainment. Do not expect preferential treatment.
Cheer, don’t interfere
Drag shows allow and even encourage audiences to have fun and add to the jovial mood by cheering, dancing, and clapping. It pumps them up and keeps the mood up throughout the performance. This raucous behavior lets them know the audience is having fun and approve of the performance. Whether it is a punchline or high note, performers feed off the energy that comes from the audience.
While hooting and hollering are acceptable, be attuned to how the performance is going. Do not be so noisy as to cause the performer to have to pause because the audience cannot hear them over the sound of your shouting. Being obnoxious about it can even force them to stop and put you on blast. The spotlight should always remain on the performers. Have fun but let them get on with the show.
Again, do not climb up on stage, unless you have been invited to do so. And even if you are invited, remain respectful. Just because you have the chance to get up close and personal does not mean you have the right to try and feel them up. If you want to know what a padded backside feels like, buy your own outfit.
Support local acts
You do not have to wait for queens from Drag Race to have a show in your area to enjoy this entertainment. Chances are some local performers have shows at venues near you. Though lesser known, many put a lot of time, effort, and money into developing their acts and are well worth a gander.
Check out posters and social media posts about your local nightlife. You can probably also ask your bartender or waitress if know of any performances in the neighborhood. Word gets around quickly in the industry so they can likely point you the right way.
Enjoy the show
Leave your ego and inhibitions at the door. Drag shows are meant to be a fun time and coming in with an open mind and mentality is the best way to make the most of this experience. You may find yourself being the target of their jokes, but know that it is nothing personal, just entertainment. They are not trying to make people laugh at you, just laugh and have fun.
Try not to take offense, even if a joke is in poor taste. Many performers make use of self-deprecating humor but will also target audience members for more engagement. Know that no subject is off limits and that drag shows do not make for safe spaces. Do not take them or yourself too seriously in such situations. As said, in the first rule, if you cannot take the heat, stay away from the fire. Sit as far away from the stage as you can so you are less likely to be picked upon for fun.