Drag shows go digital in South Texas

Three Texas drag queens discuss how they turned the party digitally

Drag is an art form loved by many in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has slowed down gigs for several performers, leaving some queens to turn the party on digital platforms.

SAN ANTONIO – Drag is an art form loved by many in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond, but the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has slowed down gigs for several performers, leaving some queens to turn the party on digital platforms.

Tencha La Jefa

Tencha La Jefa is a longtime San Antonio drag queen who has hosted many shows at venues on the Main Avenue strip in the gay business district downtown.

“Before the pandemic, I was actually starting to slow down a bit because I used to do, like, I would say, six shows a month — six to seven — but then I started slowing down to three,” he said.

Tencha La Jefa says performing in drag was more of a side job for him. But as a hairdresser, he was really hit hard by the pandemic due to the closure of salons and barbershops in Texas for months.

“At first, it was scary that we had to stay home, but then I started seeing the (other drag queens) performing on Facebook and doing their videos,” he said. “That kind of brought me up a little bit.”

Tencha La Jefa decided to follow in the steps of other queens and put on his own digital drag show. However, his came with a twist — he also sold Tupperware while performing in drag.

“There’s a lot of preparation and a lot of nervousness and a lot of figuring out to do. So it was pretty scary. But once you do it, it’s pretty fun,” he said.

The adjustment for Tencha La Jefa was trying to get used to performing without an audience.

“The audience — that’s where we get our energy from. That’s where we get out life from,” he said.

“We develop a relationship with a lot of the people that go to our shows. We see them all the time, and we miss seeing them, and I can’t wait to see them,” he continued.

(Tencha La Jefa)

Miss Toni Andrews

Miss Toni Andrews is no stranger to the spotlight at several venues around San Antonio and the nation. From drag brunches to club dance floors, he has also had to dabble in the world of digital drag to continue his performing career during the pandemic.

“Prior to the pandemic, I had enjoyed an amazing career in performing for amazing people across the city, state and nation,” he said. “A lot of us performers have always enjoyed interacting with our audience, going out there … letting them know how much we’re so grateful for them and getting to know them more and more.”

Andrews says the interaction between drag performers and the audience is what created a fun atmosphere during his nightlife shows and brunches.

“When you’re on stage, you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. And a lot of entertainers across the city especially have incredible passion for what they do and what they portray,” Andrews said.

Andrews said before the closures of venues went into effect, people started being more cautious when attending drag shows.

“People were terrified. They were wary about what they were going to do, what to expect,” he said. “We still had out dedicated fanbase … they were so supportive.”

Digital drag shows allowed Andrews to continue performing beyond the closures and give the fans a party online.

“Getting to go live and somehow attract out audience and to keep them, you know, wanting more in a different perspective was so fun,” Andrews said. “Because all of us had to use our creative minds to figure out ‘How do we make this show better than just going live in your living room? What can we do to make people want to keep watching?’”

Andrews said putting on a digital show didn’t come without its share of difficulties, especially when you include other drag queens.

“We literally looked like we were just a bunch of amateurs trying to make something happen. As time went on, we figured out how to do it. So we all collectively decided, ‘OK, we’re going to keep doing these brunches, our digital brunch. We’re going to do digital quarantine shows here and there,” Andrews said. “Some of us did a lot more, you know, to go above and beyond. But it really showcased what we are as performers and as artists, what we can do with the song.”

Once restaurants and bars started to reopen, Andrews began to perform at drag brunch shows again. But the shows had a different feel — not like they were before.

“It was good to see everybody there. But the guidelines were very frustrating for us at first because we have to, of course, perform with a mask,” Andrews said. “They look like regular shields with little glasses, and we put them over our (head). But it was kind of tough because you could see our breath. We had to wear gloves. There was a lot we had to do.”

“We couldn’t grab the money from you anymore and give you a hug and say thank you. And to me, it took out that sincerity of it. Like, ‘Thank you so much for tipping me, and thank you so much for coming.’ I feel like the boundary was set,” Andrews continued.

Andrews says right now, the venue he performs at is considered a lounge. He’s looking forward to being able to perform in a larger space.

“So, me, just being a dancer, I just can’t wait to (expletive) up every inch of that stage. I’m sorry, that’s just how I really feel,” Andrews said with a laugh.

(Miss Toni Andrews)

Jacob Ramirez/Jodie Galilei

Jacob Ramirez, who goes by the stage name Jodie Galilei when performing in drag, has been working to put on his second digital drag show for his company, NuQueer & Co. The show will serve as a fundraiser for the Homeless Black Trans Women Fund.

“I have my own little drag company. It’s more of like a queer production company. We don’t just have drag entertainers. We have all forms of entertainment that we work with, that we’ve performed for,” Ramirez said. “Me and my drag mother both started the company about a year ago.”

The show titled “OUT!” will include informative and educational segments in the lineup and several performers. It also has a message of standing up for racial justice.

“We’re very involved in activism. Every year, we do pick one cause to donate to. Last year, we did two. I was, like, super grateful we were able to do two actual charity shows,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez will be performing as Jodie Galilei in the “OUT!” show. He said this performance would be a lot different than others.

“It seemed a little bit more like I could explore a different side of my drag by doing it, like, sitting on my bed with like a backdrop and lip-synching. I still did some movement,” Ramirez said.

The “OUT!” show will be held on June 20 online. Click here for more information.

Jodie Galilei (Jacob Ramirez)

About the Authors:

Ivan Herrera has worked as a journalist in San Antonio since 2016. His work for KSAT 12 and KSAT.com includes covering breaking news of the day, as well as producing Q&As and content for the "South Texas Pride" and "KSAT Money" series.