If there’s a silver lining to be found in our current moment of COVID-conscious digital drag, it’s that the art form now feels more accessible than ever. Not every town has a booming drag scene, but now many of the world’s best performers are just a click away, serving some wildly creative performances telegraphed from their own living rooms. That idea of accessibility is also reflected in casting, something that RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 winner Sasha Velour has been thrilled to see: “It’s not limited by who is in the radius of the bar,” Velour told The A.V. Club when asked about drag’s adaptation to virtual platforms. “And I’m seeing some diversity in lineups too. Drag needs to have all the diversity of the queer community—a good drag show is filled with people who don’t look like each other, and people who don’t do drag like each other.”
That latter point has been a foundational belief of Sasha Velour’s own show, NightGowns, an instantly legendary, Brooklyn-based drag revue that will celebrate its 5th anniversary this weekend with the NightGowns Forever virtual showcase. Praised as the “drag artist’s drag show,” NightGowns has created an unabashedly queer theatrical experience, providing space for drag queens, drag kings, and trans and gender-nonconforming drag performers to create the biggest and boldest show imaginable. With NightGowns Forever, Velour has assembled unreleased footage from the show’s five-year history to highlight the best of the art form via 30 eye-popping performances. The virtual revue will premiere online on Sunday, August 9 at 7 p.m. EDT for free, with a suggested $15 donation to benefit organizations working for the betterment of Black trans lives.
Earlier this year, Quibi subscribers got a glimpse of what makes NightGowns so unique thanks to its standout series following the revue’s production, a hybrid documentary and performance piece that provided a peek behind the (literal) curtain. In our review, we lauded Velour’s vision of a compassionate and inclusive world of drag, a vision that remains at the heart of NightGowns and the community it’s created. “We’ve yet to see a celebration of drag in the mainstream that’s not centered on this idea of us being in competition with each other,” Velour said in a conversation previewing the digital show. “I can see how much that’s colored audience perception of drag. And I think we’ve got to do some healing, so NightGowns is always a space for some healing.”
As for NightGowns Forever, healing comes in the form of a killer (and inclusive) roster of talent from Drag Race and beyond, offering up an eclectic blend of drag styles. Velour teased, “I’m always trying to get a mixture of people bringing in comedy, bringing dance, bringing dramatics, standing in one place, bringing projections—there’s room for all of it. We have a little bit of everything.” And, in drag’s great tradition as a political art form, the virtual show makes space for some powerful performances from the past five years, including a 2017 Bob The Drag Queen number that addressed the themes of the Black Lives Matter movement. “The people [we’ve worked with on NightGowns] have always spoken to the time and been ahead of the conversation, in many respects. And I think it’s important to have this archive because, otherwise, they just would be these amazing fleeting drag numbers. But, we [always filmed them], just in case. And now I think we’re able to create something that can show how relevant these conversations continue to be, how relevant the art is, and why it needs to be preserved.”
Another performance Velour previewed was that of her Season 9 sister Shea Couleé, the most recent inductee into the Drag Race Hall Of Fame. On Couleé’s All-Stars win, Velour said, “It felt amazing. I’d love to see all of the top four of my season get crowns; it feels very anarchic and kind of anti-competition, and it’s very true to my vision of that season. But I feel kind of vindicated—it’s like, ‘look at how hard I had to work,’ because now they all have crowns.” As Velour revealed, Couleé’s NightGowns Forever performance—originally filmed during a NightGowns live show in 2018—will look very prophetic: Not only does she completely slay a Janelle Monáe lip sync, but she does it in the same checkered bodysuit she wore for the All-Stars 5 finale “Clap Back” routine.
In the end, NightGowns always has been (and forever will be) about amplifying queer voices and giving back to the community, which is why Sasha Velour and her team will direct all proceeds from NightGowns Forever to a number of grassroots organizations working in support of Black trans lives, including the Trans Justice Funding Project, For the GWORLS, G.L.I.T.S. Inc., Brave Space Alliance, and The Okra Project. “[These organizations are] dealing with legal costs, with housing and food insecurity—[donating to them] has been part of NightGowns every month that we’ve had it. The more I learn about the history of drag, I see how crucial it is to raise money and distribute resources in the context of a drag show. That can’t be something that we lose—that’s what drag is all about.” By remaining conscious of its past and highlighting the diversity of talent working today, Sasha Velour’s NightGowns Forever aims to pave the way for a more inclusive future of drag.
Sasha Velour’s NightGowns Forever—a virtual drag revue—will premiere on Sunday, August 9 at 7 at p.m. EDT. Follow @sasha_velour On Twitter and Instagram for updates, and to find the show link when it goes live. Check out the official show poster below for the full performance lineup and more.