With endless opportunities to attend drag bingo at Houston diners like Hamburger Mary’s or drag story hour at Brazos bookstore, the Houston drag scene has grown exponentially over the years. With the new all-inclusive drag show “Smoke Break”, co-director Austin Beck helps create a new drag show that is open to anyone who loves to perform with no rules attached.
So, what is drag?
When we think of drag, we think of men who dress up in women’s clothing; however, drag is ever-changing in the current Rupaul-era that we’re in. Drag is becoming more inclusive for anyone who wants to perform and integrate themselves in the culture, whether a woman, man, straight or gay.
“Drag is for anyone who wants to put on makeup, turn a look, and perform,” said Austin Beck, the co-director and co-founder of the new Houston alternative drag show “Smoke Break”.
Some drag performers enjoy being a part of drag because once their outfits, wigs and makeup come on, they become someone else entirely. It’s as if the person underneath the clothes disappears for a while, and the queen emerges to party, lip-sync and runway the night away.
“They (drag queens) represent a rebellion against heteronormativity,” said Steven Dean Ford, a senior at UH who is also very involved with the drag community. “It’s an art form that capitalizes on femininity by using a masculine medium.” Ford believes that drag’s entrance into mainstream started with Rupaul’s Drag Race. It became officially mainstream when it received 12 Emmy nominations by the 10th season. “While the reality show is popular, local drag is thriving,” Ford said. “You can always find Houston queens in Montrose at Rich’s or other gay bars.”
Most performers will also create their own costumes and wear whatever they feel will express them best during their performance whether it be overalls, lace, etc. While each drag performer has
their own reason for partaking in drag, the community is stronger than ever with queens and kings and all performers coming to venues to express themselves in many different ways whether it be through a certain look or personality.
“(Being a drag queen) is a celebration of being glamorous and expressing yourself,” said Beck.
To Ford, drag is a form of entertainment that questions and actively complicates gender roles. “Drag queens are prominent figures in the community because of that active complication,” said Ford.
An all-inclusive Houston drag show
For the first Thursday of every month at Guava Lamp, BECK and Barbacoa, the two co-directors of Smoke Break, will take to the stage with a series of alternative performances alongside other drag queens. Smoke Break is supposed to signify the performances the audience will usually take a smoke break during. For example, if someone is performing
a song you don’t like, you might go outside for a smoke break. The name is supposed to signify that every performance is a smoke break opportunity, which makes the show an alternative showcase compared to other drag shows in the city.
Most drag shows usually consist of lip-syncing, dancing and runway walking; however, Smoke Break wants to have performances like these and more.
“I’m not knocking normal drag shows; some people do like structure. We decided to do this because we wanted to create an all-inclusive environment for queens,” said Beck. “You don’t have to just lip-sync or dance, you can do whatever you feel expresses you best.”
Tonya Huynh, a UH alumni, performed in the first Smoke Break drag show, and she believes that Smoke Break showcases different ways in which people utilize drag to express themselves. For her drag appearances, Huynh becomes Duke Diesel, a drag performer known for their many talents. Huynh uses drag as a complement to her own practice of performance art.
Beck mentioned that some queens and kings enjoyed pole dancing or DJing, and they would have a place to do performances like that at Smoke Break.
“For the performances we just want to give people a platform to do something out of the box,” said Beck. “There’s a lot of competitions going around where you have to do a specific challenge This show is for performers who can perform without any rules set and stone.”
Huynh says that the Smoke Break show provides audiences with a different perspective of drag. Drag performer, Vincent Vangoku, had a gore-esq performance during Smoke Break’s first show on Oct. 4, which Huynh said was different than what a lot of audiences anticipated.
“Drag gets me out of dark places a lot of the time. If I can just dress up, go out and socialize and just connect with people, I’ll end up feeling way happier by the end of the night,” said Beck. “This show is meant to bring the community together,” said Beck.
“Each performer subverted some sort of expectation,” said Huynh. “Everyone had an element to their drag that made their performance unique.”
The next Smoke Break show will be Thursday, Nov. 1 at 10 p.m. at Guava Lamp.