Deserted queens: losing balls leaves dressers cross

Centrelink is such a drag     Charisma Belle,  left, Minnie Cooper, rear, and Kitty Glitter in their dressing room at the Arq nightclub in Darlinghurst.

Centrelink is such a drag Charisma Belle, left, Minnie Cooper, rear, and Kitty Glitter in their dressing room at the Arq nightclub in Darlinghurst.
Photo: Jon Reid

Sunanda Creagh Urban Affairs Reporter
November 24, 2007

THE drag queens of Sydney are all dressed up with nowhere to go.

"There are enough performers out there. There just aren't enough venues," said Mitzi Macintosh, a 13-year veteran of the drag scene. "And without a flower bed, nothing can bloom."

The closure of two of Sydney's most famous drag venues has many performers facing the prospect of a trip to Centrelink.

Erskineville's Imperial Hotel is shut until next year for renovations and King Street's Newtown Hotel closed dramatically early this month after relations between the building owners and the licensee broke down over a lease agreement.

Other stalwarts of the scene, such as Oxford Street's Midnight Shift and Stonewall and Arq in Flinders Street, are paring back their drag show offerings and relying increasingly on unpaid novices performing at open-mic nights.

All that leaves professionals such as Mitzi with limited work opportunities. "I might have to busk on the street," she joked.

"I think the social scene is going through a change.

"Before, people used to sit around and have a drink and enjoy a show," she said. "I don't know if recreational drugs has changed that."

The drag superstar Vanessa Wagner had her 15-show contract with the Newtown Hotel abruptly terminated when the venue closed.

"I am an unemployed drag queen," she said yesterday. "The broader scene is in dire discombobulation, in my opinion. A lot of gay and lesbian people are just enjoying being consumers, happy to stay home in their expensive white apartments rather than get out and about and see shows."

Cheaper liquor licences might inspire some performers to start their own venues, but the cost of leasing a building and getting council permission will be a big turn-off for most.

"I do believe the lack of affordable, intimate venues is a crucial [issue] for our culture. It's not just about drinking alcohol and picking up."

However, Minnie Cooper, Charisma Belle and Kitty Glitter, who perform weekly at Arq nightclub, are confident the scene will live on.

"I think it's just going through a phase. Some drag queens have lost work for the moment but there's a few of us A-list girls who keep working," Glitter said.

"I will survive."

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