The Pride Issue
Drag's New Dawn in SA
Published: June 26, 2013
Due to Lopez’s consistency with his guests, San Antonio is once again on the map among national headliners in the drag industry. Like a local drag Ziegfeld, Lopez soon had every queen in town asking for a guest spot in his show. Tired of saying no and coming off as callous, he came up with an idea. He created a Wednesday night competition at the Saint called Drag Me to Fame. “So you want to be in my Thursday night? Win Wednesday,” he says with an arch of his left brow.
“He has a certain eye,” says Tencha about Lopez. “He knows who the good ones are going to be and who needs work.” Toni Raven Andrews (aka Toni R. Andrews), one of the stars of his show, says “He’s a drag queen at heart.”
Performing next to visiting headliners must put the pressure on the locals. Instead, however, Andrews finds it rather thrilling. “We are always upping our game because that’s what we have to do,” she says with a bop of her head.
SA drag superiority isn’t a secret, or exclusive to the Saint and the Pegasus. Local drag performers have a particular reputation to live up to when they travel around the country. “To me, this is the drag capital,” Former Mr. Gay UsofA at Large Dakota Whitney, who specializes in boy drag, explains. “We like to compete within…to make sure we are on top of each other...it’s a playful competition but we are always practicing to compete.”
Rodriguez, however, thinks calling SA the drag capital of the world is a bit of a stretch. At least for now.
“It was...for a very long time and we’re getting there [again],” he says thoughtfully. “I’ve been to cities where there’s no drag scene at all. Just a lot of cruisey bars and a lot of bears and stuff like that...you hear about that full-beard campy drag...and you go to San Francisco that’s all you find...you don’t realize what you’ve got here.”
However, purists may point to New York, where performers traditionally sing rather than lip sync, unlike our scene. Star impersonators like Rick Skye as Liza Minnelli, Tommy Femia as Judy Garland, Steven Brinberg as Barbra Streisand, and San Antonio’s own Jimmy James as an unforgettable Marilyn Monroe have created their own unique personas.
New York-based Richard Skipper, 52, who has performed almost exclusively as Carol Channing for the last 20 years, says it's because audiences in the Big Apple have more options when it comes to seeing a live cabaret show. Not only does Skipper not lip sync, he has as rule of only using live musicians when he performs – never tracks.
“There was a time when drag was very mainstream and audiences went to see the Charles Pierces and the Craig Russells and the Jim Baileys of the world,” he says adding that Bailey played Carnegie Hall. “They were highly paid artists.”
“[Then] these artists stopped getting paid and as a result what started...proliferating in the clubs was lip sync artists...they worked in bars and clubs and they worked primarily for tips,” he says. “Not to say that there are not great artists in that area [of drag], but by doing so the bar dropped to the point where mainstream audiences didn't think of drag being anything beyond farcical.”