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This Tampa Bay drag queen has started hosting weekly virtual shows

Drag queens from across the country add a little sashay to our social distancing with virtual drag shows.

With bars and restaurants forced to close or move to takeout only because of concerns over the coronavirus, more than 1,000 drag queens were left jobless in Florida. One popular local drag queen with national connections found a solution and came up with Daphne and Friends: The Socially Distant Drag Show.

The show will go live every Friday on Instagram with a changing lineup of performers, and the audience will be invited to tip them through cash applications. Others, such as Tampa Pride grand marshal Angelique Padro, are also organizing virtual drag shows to benefit performers.

“When everything started hitting the fan, the bars started closing down and everybody was laid off from their jobs. A lot of my really good friends became unemployed,” said Daphne Ferraro, show hostess and emcee at Enigma in St. Petersburg. “As a show director, I felt it was my obligation, duty and privilege to put something together and help girls where I could.”

Reaching out to Facebook friends across the country, Ferraro asked if any unemployed performers would like to do a virtual drag show. She was flooded with volunteers.

“Responses started rolling in. I had Fifi DuBois (New York City), Mystique Summers from RuPaul’s Drag Race, Addison Taylor from Orlando and local girls like Lilith Black and Juno Vibrantz, all interested in the show,” she said.

Kenny Lawson performs as Juno Vibrantz during a drag show at Hamburger Mary's in Clearwater in 2016. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2016)]

The format for the 90-minute show is simple. Each week, Ferraro chooses the first six to nine drag queens interested in appearing on the show. She starts with a little parody and monologue. At assigned times, she interviews the performers via Instagram, asking how things are going. Then, the camera turns to them.

“Each girl gets a 10-minute spot,” she said. “They do a number in their car, some on their bed and some clear out their living rooms and go for it.”

During each performance, the girls’ Venmo accounts and other payment apps appear on the screen.

“I share the information so people can tip them during their performance, from their own homes, at a safe distance,” she said.

With the spontaneity of the show, Ferraro said this is more real than most reality TV.

“It’s more reality TV than RuPaul’s Drag Race,” she said. “It’s unedited. It’s raw. It’s real.”

CoCo Montrese from "RuPaul's Drag Race" will take part in the weekly virtual drag show designed to allow performers to take tips online.

Monique Summers, who has appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race, said she loved doing the show.

“I participated because I was going stir-crazy. It was fun to ... perform without having to drive anywhere.”

When asked about the “reality” of virtual drag shows, Summers said: “With shows like this, (will) everyone go back to the bars when they reopen, or just wait for more online shows?”

After the first show, one of the performers told Ferraro it helped pay some bills.

“I was able to go to the grocery store and pay a couple bills to stay afloat while looking for other ways to make income,” said Addison Taylor.

Besides monetary needs, the show was also designed to provide a sense of connection. It allows people who don’t usually go to drag show venues the opportunity to check in on people.

“It exposes these girls to a totally different audience,” Ferraro said. “My mom had to sign up (for Instagram) and her best friend, who loves drag queens, signed up (for Instagram) just to see me perform and know how I’m doing.”

After each show, the energy turns to therapy and connecting with the world.

“I stay open after the show and people from all over just pop in to say hi,” Ferraro said. “This is therapy for me, too. It gives me a sense of normality.”

Buoyed by the success of the first shows, Ferraro said she will hold them as long as there is a need.

“I feel this was a great success. I’m down for doing it every week as long as I have people that have needs,” she said.

Tune in

Daphne and Friends: The Socially Distant Drag Show: Follow Daphne Ferraro on Facebook Live @daphneferraro. The show goes live at 9:30 p.m. every Friday.

Other virtual drag shows: Tampa Pride grand marshal Angelique Padro, known as Lady Janet, has organized Lady Janet’s Digital Drag Show, which benefits and stars area drag dancer Robyn Demornay. It will be live at 7 p.m. April 11 at facebook.com/AngeliquePadro. Donations can be made through Cash App at $TheLadyJanet and $Robyndemornay.

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