Social Distance Drag Show Brings Queens to LGBTQ Seniors During Coronavirus Pandemic

Posted on: May 23, 2020

Source: Datebook

Posted by Tony Bravo | Saturday, May 23, 2020

Princess Panocha applies make up before she performs in a social distance drag show for queer elders living at Openhouse LGBTQ senior housing in San Francisco.

Drag queens Mary Vice and Princess Panocha have a pandemic makeup tip: avoid lip gloss.

“Matte lipstick is fine, but gloss makes your mask get stuck on your face,” Mary Vice said. “It’s a mess.”

The queens learned that the hard way as they got ready to perform in “Live Drag for our LGBTQ Elders” at Openhouse, a San Francisco LGBTQ senior housing development in the Lower Haight.  The show was a collaborative event benefiting the housing community as well as the Queer Nightlife Fund and Tenderloin Museum. Performers Mary Vice, Princess Panocha, Dulce De Leche, Per Sia and Shane Zaldivar danced and lip-synced in outdoor locations at Openhouse where residents were able to view them from their windows. The show, which also streamed live on Twitch, was hosted on Friday, May 22, which would have been San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk’s 90th birthday. Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California and represented the Castro district before he was assassinated in 1978.

“The amount of work that goes into a one-hour drag show at a senior apartment done safely is not a small amount of work,” said Openhouse Executive Director Karyn Skultety. “But we did a good job keeping people 6 feet apart, getting masks on people.”

Shane Zaldivar performs during a social distance drag show Friday, May 22, for queer elders living at Openhouse LGBTQ senior housing in San Francisco. Photo: Paul Kuroda, Special to The Chronicle

That afternoon, Openhouse’s courtyard and balconies became stages for the queens to strut and perform for the building’s upper floors. Several people from neighboring buildings even watched from their balconies. And they weren’t the only ones eager for a live performance after 11 weeks of sheltering; San Francisco drag community leader Juanita More, who helped organize the event’s talent, said the queens had been especially excited to get out of their homes in drag.

“I  know they’re all doing big powerhouse numbers,” she reported before the show. “They want to give a great, big show for the people here. I trust these girls to do that.”

Dulce De Leche performs in social distance drag show on Friday, May 22, in San Francisco.

With more space to move and emote than in their living rooms, the queens’ performances were bursting with energy and loaded with drama. There were costume changes and even props. Digital drag shows haven’t replaced the feeling of live performing, they all agreed.

“This feels amazing to perform for this community,” Per Sia said. “I haven’t been in front of a live audience since February.”

A resident watches a performance during an outdoor staging of “Live Drag for our LGBTQ Elders” for people living at Openhouse LGBTQ senior housing in San Francisco. Photo: Paul Kuroda, Special to The Chronicle

Eddie Henderson rings a bell in appreciation of the social distance drag performance at Openhouse LGBTQ senior housing.

During Dulce de Leche’s lip sync to Patti LaBelle’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the rainbow Gay Pride flag flapped appropriately behind her on the balcony, with Dulce de Leche’s red sequin gown sparkling like ruby slippers. A floor above her, Openhouse residents watched from a window and cheered.

“Look!” Dulce de Leche yelled at the end of the song. “I swear, there’s a real rainbow above me!” as she pointed to a multicolored light refraction.

Shane Zaldivar was thrilled when her drag mother, activist and playwright Donna Personna, came downstairs from her apartment at Openhouse to watch her perform in the courtyard. In honor of Milk, the queen intercut excerpts from the politician’s  famous “Hope” speech with Julie Andrews singing “I Have Confidence” from “The Sound of Music.” At the end of her set, she held up a sign reading “hope.”

“She’s a wonderful artist,” Personna said. “I’m very proud of my drag daughter.”

Per Sia wears a mask before performing in a social distance drag show for queer elders in San Francisco.

Mary Vice closed the event lip-syncing to Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby” on a balcony facing Laguna Street. People on the sidewalk below stopped to watch, whistled and shouted approval.

“This is what senior housing looks like!” Skultety yelled to them after the number.

For Openhouse resident Lulu, the event wasn’t just a celebration of Milk. The senior drag performer said that between their community fundraising, activism and talent as entertainers, “drag queens are the backbone of our community.”

Shane Zaldivar in social distance drag show for queer elders living at Openhouse LGBTQ senior housing.

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