Getting started in Drag by Molly Hemsley / Heather Duster
Drag can often be a very daunting scene of late nights, endless contour palettes, blood, sweat, rhinestones and tears! Drag has come into the mainstream in recent years and the sequins and eco-glitter are now being welcomed by the masses. I’ll be honest though, it isn’t all big wigs and glamour. A LOT of Drag is lugging bags of costumes all over London and a lot of time dedicated to admin and emails. But if the thought has even crossed your mind for a second then you need to try it! It can absolutely be one of the most inspiring, freeing and rewards things you ever do! Everyone can do Drag. In fact I believe everyone should try Drag… at least once!
My name is Heather Duster, I am a Drag Artist and Theatre Maker. I’m an AFAB performer which stands for assigned female at birth. Heather Duster is the world’s only Drag Queen Cleaner… (probably!) She’s an absolute diva who is serves practical glamour and all purpose performance! Whether it’s a lip sync, live singing or just some overdue hoovering as a 99.9% bacteria free Queen she always cleans up!
I’ve dabbled with Drag since 2016 but at the start of this year I decided to go all in and dedicate myself to Drag! Since making this decision I’ve performed at events like Sink the Pink Street Party, run my own Drag makeup hen do and I came second in The Gold Rush Drag competition! It’s been a whirlwind year but I’m still very new to the scene and always on the lookout for more gigs and new venues. But going back in time I want to talk about how it all started as this can often be the most daunting part for new performers. Where to start? What to do and who to talk to?! It can feel like an awfully big task taking the first steps but don’t fret because I’ve put together a few tips for getting you started!
Tip 1) Just do it! Support the community and the community will support you!
Go to shows! Talk to people! Say to people you meet that you’re interested in Drag and have an act you’d like to try! Once you’ve said it aloud and put it into the universe you can make it happen. Going to shows is honestly so important, you’ll get inspired you’ll see what’s possible and you’ll have a great night! I started by meeting up with a friend (@Izzyalright) and we decided to encourage each other by doing two drag related things together a month! So we’d meet up at mine and practise makeup together or one day we’d go ‘Drag Shopping!’ or go and see a show together.
You can always start by just going for a night out in Drag!! Get some supportive friends together and go to a LGBTQ+ venue like the Glory, Dalston superstore, Heaven etc for a night out or even better to go and watch a show! I guarantee people will start talking to you if you’re out in Drag! Or perhaps when your all up in face you’ll have the confidence to approach the performers/host of the show and say ‘hey look how gorgeous I am!’ or ‘this is what I do! Can I please have a slot in…’ whatever the next event is.
And if you’re thinking this is something you’d enjoy but you have no stage experience then even more of a reason to try it! The phrase ‘try something that scares you every day’ comes to mind. Follow Drag and Cabaret veterans some of whom offer their expertise in workshops and seminars for example Rubyyy Jones offers loads of courses and workshops etc for people starting out. Crayola The Queen also offers coaching sessions in groups or one to one.
There are amazing free resources on the internet if you want to work on your makeup skills for example. I started by following along Youtube tutorials by various different Drag artists then I started to take bits from each technique. I learnt what I found best suited Heather and in fact I still watch many Youtube tutorials as makeup trends are evolving all the time.
Learning all these skills will take time but they’re invaluable once you’ve got them! Another big one for me was learning to edit my own tracks – I downloaded ‘Audacity’ it’s free and pretty user friendly! I started by dedicating a few evenings a week to playing around with the programme – I’m by no means a tech wizard but practise makes perfect!
Tip 2) Social Media – Networking at your fingertips! Turn your scrolling into stage time!
Make use of your social media Instagram, Twitter and Facebook! Use it as a creative networking tool! I started out by creating an Instagram account for Heather Duster and followed loads of London based drag artists, venues, promoters honestly anyone that is working in the scene! Use this approach to build your network in your area I find most drag artists / venues will use Instagram in particular to promote their shows so make sure you’re following everyone to stay in the loop.
One of the best things I did for my mental health this year was stop using my personal Instagram account and start using only my Heather Duster account. This way I detached my personal life from the pressures of social media I’m no longer counting likes on my selfies, obsessing over followers or comparing my boring Wednesday to some supermodel billionaire. Instead I’m seeing like-minded inspiring Drag artists when I scroll and using it purely as a tool to progress my Drag work. I now see my social media as an extension of my Drag work instead of a reflection of my actual day to day life.
Take lots of pictures! Of yourself, your Drag face, costumes you make of other artists …you get the idea just take lots of photos! Tag people you’ve met in those photos (everyone loves being able to add a photo to their insta story!) Put the work into your social media because before you have videos of your performances this is how people will see what you do. I’ve been offered gigs on Instagram so treat your instagram like you would checking your emails.
Tip 3) Try something new! Scratch Nights and Open Mic slots
Scratch nights and open mics are a great place to start because the facilitators create a really supportive and encouraging atmosphere! Don’t worry that your work isn’t ‘mainstream’ you don’t need to be death dropping, lip syncing and look like a model to perform. Especially in London, the weirder the better! Some of the best work I’ve ever seen has been at scratch nights because all the pressure is off and the performers have full ownership of their work.
Don’t be afraid to try your act whatever stage it’s in trust me your work will never be fully ‘finished’ so you might as well get it out there.
One scratch night that I’ve participated in more than once and that I can highly recommend is
‘Werk in Progress’. This monthly event is hosted by Xnthony at The Glory, East London. This experimental night is completely dedicated to new artists trying out new work in a highly supportive atmosphere. To top it all off: it’s free so go along either way!
Other brilliant scratch nights that I’ve performed at are:
Pxssy Liquor Scratch
Tell ‘Em Tuesday by Blindside Theatre at Peckham Springs
Here are a few more nights/performers that give open mic slots that I can personally recommend:
‘Crayolas Mad House’ hosted by Crayola The Queen
‘Boulangerie’ hosted by Wanda Whatever
Bar Wotever at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern
These are just some of the London based nights but there are many many more all over the country. Remember to follow all these artists/events on Instagram for details of the next upcoming show. And if you think you’ve followed everyone in your area, searched venues high and low and still can’t find anything in your local area then consider starting your own night for new Drag work!
Tip 4) Competitions – And no I don’t mean Drag Race!
Another way to get your foot in the door is to enter a local Drag competition. I started by entering Lip Sync 1000 first and didn’t get through (unsurprisingly!) Then then entered The Gold Rush and came second! The Gold Rush is run by Taylor Trash and is essentially Drag boot camp! It’s one of the best things I did this year and has lead to many more opportunities. I finished the competition with a whole repertoire of acts I can now use.
Don’t be deterred from entering competitions just because you don’t think you’ll win! Taylor Trash once said to me “see everything you enter as a performance opportunity” and this way you’ll always be winning! At these competitions the judges are most likely people who are booking acts so you want to be seen by them! You’ll get to know so many like-minded people in just one night of entering a competition, their so worthwhile. I met
Make sure you do your research on these competitions as I’m sure some will suit you much more than others for example if you act is mostly live singing then maybe lip sync 1000 isn’t for you. And for the Gold Rush you need to be available at the same time every week so plan for this! However, remember what I said about everything being a performance opportunity?! I know plenty of people who never lip sync in their acts but still enter these competitions to meet new people, get some great photos of them onstage and have a great night in drag!! Remember most importantly when you enter these things it’s about having fun!
London based competitions to enter: The Gold Rush, The Crown, Man Up, Lip Sync 1000.
Again like scratch nights, there are plenty more Drag competitions in London and all over the country, so do your research and use your social media to network in your area and find what’s near you.
Tip 5) Probably the most important one…
Stay true to yourself! And stay true to your art. It’s the most cheesy but probably the best advice I can give. Trust yourself and make work that you enjoy doing and that way you can’t go wrong! Be yourself, be too much, be outside of the boring hetronormative boxes and have fun with your Drag!
Also very importantly follow @heatherduster on instagram and @heather_duster on Twitter! And please feel free to DM me if you have any questions!