Weekend-long Oakland drag festival Oaklash (Fri/4-Sun/6 at www.twitch.tv/oaklash2020) has become such an integral part of the Bay Area queer performance scene that I was taken aback—aback, I say—when I remembered it’s only been around for three years. Part of the reason it’s sunk its sequined talons so deep, so quickly is its holistic approach to the usual dragstravaganza. You don’t just get numbers, you get numbers—plus community panels, health and safety information, multiple dance floor moments, and a red carpet, all with a focus on showcasing Black and POC trans and queer people.
This year alone there are discussions about racism in drag, surviving as a performer during and after the COVID era, disability drag (hosted by Glamputee, natch), and even a “Little Radicals” queer family extravaganza for kids.
But of course you also get shows, shows, shows from dozens of queens with themes like “Media Meltdown” and “Backlash,” plus synergistic fusion with some of the hottest drag shows already on Twitch, like the Stud’s Drag Alive. Fabulous stars Peaches Christ, Honey Mahogany, Nicki Jizz, Dulce de Leche, and more are scheduled to tear it up onscreen.
And while many performances are personal video masterworks, the “Main Event” show itself was filmed at 7th West in Oakland and Oasis in SF, re-enlivening shuttered venues for a little bit of nostalgic dazzle-dazzle. (Remember when we all shared a dressing room rather than a chat room?)
I chatted via email with Mama Celeste, who founded Oaklash in 2018 with Beatrix LaHaine about what’s in store this weekend—and in our collective drag future.
48 HILLS BIG changes this year! So many performers have had to adjust to the digital stage. How is the transition affecting Oaklash, and how has that potentially opened up opportunities for you and the featured queens? How did you put it all together?
MAMA CELESTE YES, the world of drag has undergone a whole renaissance in the last few months, with performers and artists turning to our new digital audience. Drag performers no longer just have to learn how to keep a wig glued down, we also now have to know how to do our own lighting and sound, how to edit videos, how to run a live stream, and all while looking FABULOUS! This has led to a whole new level of innovative performances and Oaklash would be blind not to follow suit! Digital drag is here to stay, and we’re lucky to have a lot of amazing talent and expertise now in the drag community to make this event possible. We’re not doing anything that hasn’t already been done, we’re just using our platform to draw attention to the amazing things that performers and producers are already doing to keep this artform alive here in the Bay and around the world. That’s why we decided to program takeovers of shows including Biqtch Puddin’s Digital Drag and the Stud’s Drag Alive and more. We’re just tapping in to what is already there.
This new digital platform has also opened up a lot of opportunity for us to do things we’ve never been able to do before including our Saturday panel discussions & all ages programming in collaboration with some of the producers of Drag Queen Story Hour for our Little Radicals Show on Sunday afternoon. It also allows us to add live closed captioning for our hosts and to stream directly into people’s homes to make this more accessible than any live event ever could.
48H Oaklash has been so instrumental in not only repping the East Bay but also TQBIPOC performers and activists—how do you feel Oaklash is important now, in the face of the events of this year? How is that reflected in your programming? (I LOVE the panels!)
MC Just earlier this year, Oaklash became our own 501c3 and giving back to our community, investing in artists and performers, and ensuring racial, gender, sexual, and economic equity are all key to our organizational mission. Oakland is rooted in its history of diversity, and our goal has always been to showcase that. With the Bay Area Queer Nightlife Coalition’s recent town hall discussion and in the wake of the revolution against police brutality and the prison industrial system in this country, we knew this year had to reflect that and include conversations directly focused on how nightlife can strive to do better and to set the example for the kinds of spaces that we need in order for our community to survive and to thrive.
48H What and who are you extra excited about on the lineup?
MC I’m particularly excited for our Sunday show which I keep describing as MTV Spring Break meets Sasha Velour’s Nightgowns. The idea is that we’re going to have 12 performers from Oasis in San Francisco and 12 performers from 7th West in Oakland and all of it will be simultaneously streamed through our Twitch channel. It’s a super ambitious project and, other than the VMAs, hasn’t really been done yet. We’re putting all of our resources, all of our community’s expertise, and all of our production value into this live-streamed extravaganza which will kick off Oakland Pride week and I’m VERY NERVOUS about technical difficulties but no matter what happens it’s going to be amazing!!!! (And we have very strict COVID procedures for all our venues and performers, don’t get me cancelled, haha.)
48H Any thoughts on the future of drag in the Bay Area if we don’t get a damn vaccine and guaranteed access to healthcare for all?
MC Drag hasn’t gone anywhere in quarentine, and if anything, it has proven how resilient our community is and how willing we are to adapt to keep this artform alive. I think it will be a long time before we’re able to party like we used to, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate. We just need to continue to innovate to keep our community safe! For Oaklash weekend we’re encouraging people to host watch parties with their social bubbles, to get dressed up and post their looks online (and tag us at #oaklashbestdressed or #oaklashworstdressed to be part of our Sunday Red Carpet show), and of course to support all of the 100+ kings, queens, djs, freaks, and idiots who make this event happen (donate now at paypal.me/oaklash) 😉