Spyro is the gag of the season.
Arson Nicki has discovered that Spyro is the gag of the season.

Whenever someone types "this is the future of" something, it is virtually guaranteed that it will not, in fact, turn out to resemble the future in any way. (My favorite of this kind of fortune-telling is a prediction I heard when touch-screen phones first came out that the future of journalism would be readers stroking news articles like cats to indicate their approval of the day's headlines.)

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So to be clear, I'm not saying that livestreaming is The Future of Drag. It's probably not! Watching lip-syncs on a screen isn't the same as doing it in a dingy basement bar. But judging by some wonderful experiments by local performers, it's probably A future of drag.

"Honestly, it's been so good," says Arson Nicki, who started streaming two months ago when venues closed.

Rather than streaming music and lip-syncs, Arson's Twitch channel is devoted to games, mostly classics and remakes of Spyro, Sonic, and Crash Bandicoot titles.

I've worked closely with Arson on the podcast Queens of Adventure, which features drag performers playing Dungeons & Dragons; having seen the nerdy side of many local queens, I've been hoping for years that they'd start streaming games. It's a thrill that now, at last, audiences can experience the gamer side of performers like Arson, which you might never even know they have if you only know them from nightlife.

At heart, all drag queens are nerds.

"Every drag performer I run into on Twitch is throwing each other shoutouts and watching each other's streams and subscribing and tipping each other," Arson says. "It doesn’t come with an expectation of 'what’s in it for me,' it’s all very genuine. We all want to see each other grow and succeed. The more one person succeeds, the more we all succeed."

Sorry, drama-seekers, online drag is a best-friend race. Streamers, whether in or out of face, thrive on collaboration, so performers who play well with others tend to be the ones who succeed.

Streaming isn't limited to gamer-queens, of course. During the lockdown, R Place developed a new weekly show called Lashes Living Room in which local performers send in pre-recorded lip-syncs played back-to-back with Venmo details displayed on-screen. Ladie Chablis, Miss Texas, and Irene Dubois have all put in appearances, with Mila Skyy making a particularly stunning impression with a slick music video.

Betty Wetter and Cookie Couture, always slam-dunk entertainers, have been streaming as well. Catch their Bedroom Bingo trivia games every Tuesday at 8 pm on Zoom with the room ID 216-614-9359.

And Stacey Starstruck has been livestreaming Queer Bar's Son of a Bedroom Brunch over on Twitch every Sunday. (Don't go looking for any mention of the streams anywhere on Queer Bar's website, though. Shrug emoji!) As with the R Place show, you get a little bit of hosting interspersed between clips sent in my regular performers, with plenty of tipportunties.

For a change of pace, you might also enjoy the art streams of Fraya Love, another of my Queens of Adventure colleagues. Fraya usually goes online around 9:30 am — I didn't know drag performers were aware of hours that early — and paints digital art while chatting with viewers. It's like spending time with Bob Ross' coy sister.

"I'm not sure when we can go back to the bars," Fraya says, so instead, "I'm being productive by showcasing my art." Pokemon players, set your alarms for tomorrow morning—Thursday, May 14—when Fraya will be giving away some legendary Pokemon on her stream.

And for even more chill, the makeup and game streams of Londyn Bradshaw are about as placid as they come. Sometimes you'll get a little peaceful time in front of the mirror, other streams feature some deep-concentration Star Wars gaming.

"It’s confusing but I’m getting the hang of it," Londyn says, noting that there's a lot of technical fiddling that streaming requires. (I created a how-to video guide for drag streamers to help with initial setup.)

"I don’t think it’ll take the place of live shows," says Londyn. "There are things people can do on stage that are different from digital. ... I miss dancing. The bar and in-person interaction."

I can hear a crestfallen tone in her voice when she notes that even when she's really cooking on a livestream, "there’s no cheering of the crowd at the end."

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You may note a trend with a lot of these streamers: Venues aren't doing everything they can to make streams findable; promoting a drag show with a long URLs and Zoom codes is awkward to say the least; and everyone's platforms and schedules vary wildly. The whole ecosystem of online drag is not exactly what you'd call convenient, which is why I'm in no rush to declare it THE future of anything.

If I were in the future-predicting business, I'd say that the extent to which streaming will remain a component of local drag depends on how well each performer manages to get the word out, make themselves discoverable, and maintain an audience. Arson, who is one of the most organized and detail-oriented people I've ever met even outside of drag, has a schedule of events planned for her channel stretching into the summer (watch for her Pride stream-a-thon in June).

"My approach in the last six months has been making things that can be enjoyed by people no matter where they are, as long as they have an Internet connection," she says. "I think that's going to make in-person performances feel a little more special."

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