Bushwig Grows Up - The New York Times

The annual festival celebrated 10 years of drag, queerness and art this month, but some local queens want more. Bushwig, the late-s...


The annual festival celebrated 10 years of drag, queerness and art this month, but some local queens want more.

Bushwig, the late-summer drag weekend extravaganza held every year in New York City, was born out of simple envy.

It was 2012, and drag queens Horrorchata, 36, and Merrie Cherry, 38, were having a day out with their friend Simone Moss, 41, at a bar in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. At one point, Horrorchata recalls in a recent phone call, she realized, “All my friends are hanging out.” And: “I wanted to see all my friends on stage. “

A decade later, the annual festival created by Horrorchata and Ms. Moss has grown from a modest affair, held in someone’s backyard, to a two-day jamboree that attracts all types of performance artists. , singers, dancers and stylish queer people on one stage. , for an audience of over 5,000 people.

“It’s the gay Super Bowl, gay Christmas – an annual event,” Horrorchata said. “It’s basically the Met Gala for aliens.”

This year Bushwig took place September 11-12 at the Knockdown Center (the festival was once in Bushwick but is now in the Maspeth section of Queens) and featured over 200 performers, including the former “RuPaul’s Drag Race” competitors Heidi N Closet and Scarlet envy; the Boulet brothers (hosts of the horror-drag competition Dragula); Brittany Broski (from “Kombucha girl“celebrity); and the nightlife diva Amanda Lepore.

While television on the pickup often celebrates polish – perfectly painted makeup, perfectly tailored dresses, and stunt-laden lip syncing – Bushwig is a festival that also celebrates the alternate and messy sides of the art form.

This year there were performances that included a disheveled mermaid singing in front of imaginary sailors and a queen falling to the Super Mario theme song. Ostrich-feathered gloves and long, jeweled acrylic nails flew through the air to applaud the queens as they performed original songs; the duck has come down the track; and delivered a dramatic recreation of Lady Gaga’s 2009 VMA performance from “Paparazzi,” with fake blood.

It was also a year in which the growing pains of the event became more public. Bushwig started paying non-star performers in 2019 and this year offered local queens two compensation options: $ 60, or a pass for the day of the festival they weren’t performing.

Mthr Trsa, a 26-year-old local queen who performed on the first night of the festival, used the Bushwig stage to criticize the arrangement.

As she strutted the catwalk in a tight nude mini dress and gave the crowd imperious glances, a flashing screen behind her scanned the words “GASLIGHT”, “GATEKEEP” and “GIRLBOSS” before reading: “PAY ME. “(” Gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss “is a viral phrase who laughs at capitalist feminism.)

After the festival ended, she made her position known even more clearly on Instagram.

“, the caption of a message. “This festival was built on some local drag talent, but here we are spending the money on headliners that made some artists so uncomfortable that they had to give up.” (Two of the headliners – rapper Azealia Banks and YouTuber Nikita Dragun – have strained relationships with the gay and trans communities, as they each posted offensive comments on social media.)

“It was really shocking,” said Laurel Charleston, 25, who performed on the first night. “The fact that you have to choose between an ultimatum to go someday and get a measly $ 60 – which doesn’t even pay for safe transportation to and from the event – and go there ‘other day to support and see your friends is really not OK.

“A lot of these performers are trans and transfeminated people, and having transportation when they come in drag is really just for the sake of safety. So knowing that you are already in the hole because you had to make an outfit, you had to buy makeup, but then you are in the hole for transport again, is disappointing.

Yet for many queens, the scope of the stage and the attraction of reaching a larger community was more important in their minds than the potential compensation.

West Dakota, 27, who performed her fourth Bushwig this year – in a white cat costume with red fingernails and a powder blue bow – said, in a phone interview, “What’s so amazing about this thing, it’s because it’s an equal platform for all of these performers.

“Whether or not you start dragging, whether you are a veteran or not, whether or not you are on TV, you have five minutes on stage and you are thriving fully at that time. “

Gil Ogen, 40, and her husband, Eli Blachman, 41, hired a babysitter for both nights and planned coordinated outfits to attend Bushwig. This is their fourth year attending and they have said that seeing more avant-garde or unrefined artists and performances than expected is part of the draw.

“It’s Brooklyn – it’s rougher around the edges,” Mr. Blachman said. “So we don’t like everything we see, but we appreciate it.”

In many ways, the rambling nature of the festival is what helped it grow. Even last year, as pandemic restrictions shut down most of the city’s entertainment venues, Bushwig adapted into a smaller outdoor event at McCarren Park in Williamsburg.

“There’s not a lot of infrastructure in place to support the artists, to support the people who work in the nightlife,” West Dakota said. “But I think on that same token, I realized that the support system that was there from the start was our community. This is what made us move forward. “

For participants and artists alike, the potential for elaborate outfits is one of the biggest draws. This year there were gorgeous ball gowns, sculptural wigs, and creative accessories; a rear end decorated to resemble a chest (with a chic royal blue bodice); and an outfit in which red wedge shoes hung from shirt sleeves where the hands might have been. Neon mesh, open leggings, colorful mules and fishnets in all its forms graced many members of the crowd, many of whom were no doubt captured by the constant photo snaps.

Bushwig promotes itself as a space to celebrate queer and trans artists of color. This year, Ceyenne Doroshow, founder of GLITS (Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society), was the festival’s guest of honor. Bushwig’s popularity also offered smaller collectives like In Living Color, which looks like “Very melancholy and extravagant in terms of genre”, a chance to connect with a wider audience.

“In bars and clubs, you often see the same cohesive faces,” said Junior Mintt, a 26-year-old performance artist and community organizer who founded In Living Color.

“But in Bushwig I looked out and saw a lot of cis faces and white faces and all these different faces that like I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, you’re the people I need. to say this message to. ‘”

That’s not to say that she thinks there isn’t room for improvement.

“I get paid more if a bar books me a brunch than if I am going to perform at the two-day Bushwig festival” Junior currency noted. “As a black trans woman, the reason I do what I do – and the reason I built the events in the spaces and the stages that I built – is because I’m tired. to hear that I get a stain at the table, and then the table is crooked, uneven and broken.

Ultimately, however, she noted, “Bushwig is a place of unbridled expression, and whether that expression is artistic, emotional or mechanical, people have decided to express themselves in whatever way is right for them. “

“That’s the beauty of it,” she said. “Because I’ve seen people in sandals and socks rocking just a baseball cap, then I’ve seen people with head-to-toe monochrome looks with nine inches to please to.”



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