Halifax drag community keeps shows alive and spirits high during pandemic

Wigs and Waffles keeps fans entertained

The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped Halifax drag trio the Haus of Rivers from finding ways to safely entertain audiences.

When Nova Scotia public health officials began easing restrictions on public gatherings, the trio — Racheal (Dylan Phillips), Brooke Rivers (Kevin Lemieux) and Trinity Foxx (Dale Lemieux) — began exploring avenues for safe live performances.

One example is the Wigs and Waffles brunch, held on Oct. 17 at The Carleton in downtown Halifax.

“We were like, ‘You know what? Let’s figure out a way for us to do it,’” Racheal said in an interview right after the show.

The Haus of Rivers onstage at The Carleton with special guest drag king Felix Static (second from left).   Darrell Roberts

After consulting with staff over the summer at The Carleton, the trio began offering Wigs and Waffles once or twice a month. Wigs and Waffles is just as entertaining as a traditional drag show, but the tables are socially distanced and performers wear clear face shields.

“We take (COVID-19) precautions seriously,” Racheal said. “We just want people to enjoy life right now, because it’s been a struggle for a really long time for everyone. This is giving people the opportunity to get out of their homes and still feel safe.”

Before the pandemic, Chris Pelrine, who performs in drag as Kristi Davidson, hosted a weekly RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing party at the since-closed LGBTQ+ bar Menz & Mollyz. After realizing that he would no longer be able to host the event in person, he took the party to Instagram Live.

“I had a loyal group of people that would come every week,” Pelrine said. “I wanted to interact with people. I wanted them to still have that community.”

Chris Pelrine performs under the drag name Kristi Davidson.   Darrell Roberts

He began filming lip sync videos and performed on Zoom with other local drag artists. Although he was disappointed he could no longer perform live, Pelrine pointed to the positive aspects of online performances.

“You open yourself up to a whole bunch of people that normally can’t come to a bar,” Pelrine said. “People that are under 19 years old can log on to a Zoom show and experience drag — sometimes for the first time.”

Bre O’Handley is a master’s student at Trent University. She’s part of a team of researchers who produced a study examining the experiences of LGBTQ+ people during the early days of the pandemic.

The study found that LGBTQ+ participants experienced higher levels of depression, anxiety and social isolation during the early stages of the pandemic than non-LGBTQ+ participants. Researchers also found that 11 per cent of LGBTQ+ participants felt that their ability to be out about their identity had changed because of the pandemic.

Younger participants felt worried about their parents finding out about their LGBTQ+ identity while they were stuck at home. One even worried that their parents might kick them out of the house.

O’Handley explained that for LGBTQ+ people, community events like drag shows or Pride festivals are not just entertainment. Rather, they provide social support and act as a positive affirmation of LGBTQ+ identity.

“You go and you do feel like you’re a part of a community and you feel like you’re a part of something when you’re there,” O’Handley said.

The study found that 19.1 per cent of LGBTQ+ participants felt that their access to social support had changed due to COVID-19. However, LGBTQ+ participants reported positive experiences attending online events like the ones hosted by Pelrine.

“I think that (creating online events) was absolutely the right move for fostering that sense of community,” O’Handley said.

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