With coronavirus continuing to hinder most live entertainment offerings, production companies are finding creative ways to safely present events that promote both social distancing and good times.
Friday night, Voss Entertainment kicked off its three-evening Drive ‘N Drag experience on the grassy lawn adjacent to Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena. The event was originally scheduled for July 24-26 in Downtown Los Angeles, but as it quickly sold out, organizers postponed the event by a week to secure a larger venue that could accommodate more fans.
Drive ‘N Drag featured stars of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which included the evening’s host Asia O’Hara along with Plastique Tiara, Kameron Michaels, Vanessa Vanjie, Violet Chachki and season 12 winner Jaida Essence Hall, who was crowned during the season finale of the award-winning reality series back in February.
The gorgeous queens entertained devotees who sat in and on top of their vehicles in spaces spread out across the grass. The vibe was upbeat and positive with some fans dressed to the nines — some saying for the first time in months — for a night out.
The audience cheered and honked their horns as their favorites took the stage and performed along to video and audio clips of cult classic films like “Clueless” and “Mommie Dearest” and danced and lip-synced to songs by Gwen Stefani, Rihanna, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliot, Jennifer Lopez and Megan Thee Stallion.
The audience vehicles faced a stage that was set up for a large-scale production with tons of lighting, and there were several jumbo screens located throughout the handful of staggered lanes of parking for better viewing of the show. Audio piped out via a number of smaller speakers near the front of the pop-up venue, although fans were tuning into the mix directly from their individual FM radios.
The show, which lasted about an hour and a half, flew by with perhaps the best moments coming from Chachki, who delivered not just a song and dance with beautiful costuming, but an impressive aerial performance on a secondary stage located back by the event soundboard.
As big, bold, lively and fun as the event was, Drive ‘N Drag experienced a few opening night malfunctions. Early on in the show, the cameras following the performers seemed to have a hard time keeping up with the fast-paced action and were sometimes out of focus. But the issue was remedied after a few of the performances.
All fans were required to stay within their vehicles to keep socially distant, which appeared to be respected by attendees. Wearing masks was required — and that was strictly enforced — when heading to the Rose Bowl to use the restrooms or while snagging merch or food from one of the various food trucks or pop-up tents. Alcohol was not sold at this event. Promoters employed an app ordering system, but that did not work as planned.
Staff was handing out flyers to encourage patrons to use the application to order food and receive a text when it was ready for pick-up, but guests were also given the option to walk-up and order. This seemed to cause app orders to get delayed or unheeded, and some fans were left waiting nearly the entire performance to get their dinner or snacks. After 30 minutes or more of waiting, more than a few began requesting refunds from the vendors.
Others, like myself, decided to wait it out and see just how long it would take. After placing my order at 9:32 p.m., I checked on the status at 9:50 p.m. and was told, “It’s coming.” Finally, I received a text at 10:37 p.m. that my order was ready: The show ended just before 11 p.m.
So, there are some major kinks to be worked out with concessions if these events return as the pandemic continues.
The art of drag was hit hard by the pandemic since the livelihood of thousands of performers depends upon the live and more intimate experience in bars, clubs and theaters across the country.
However, the drag community was also one of the quickest to pivot to virtual experiences. As drag entrepreneur RuPaul’s Drag Con, scheduled for May 1-3 in Los Angeles, was canceled, a number of the drag queens kings and other LGBTQ artists participated in the weeklong Digital Drag Fest in late March and early April, which due to overwhelming demand, was extended by nearly a week as dozens of new performers continued to add shows.