Innovation in Heels

Rhea Litre found a way to keep performing during the COVID-19 lockdown

Nobody can keep a good queen down.

For proof, look no further than Rhea Litre, fixture of the West Hollywood drag scene. In a time of global pandemic–in which bars and clubs have shuttered, thus depriving drag queens of their audiences and livelihoods–Litre refuses to admit defeat. Last week, she launched #QuarantineQueen, a new, online drag show that puts drag artists back to work, and gives their audiences something to look forward to.

Litre has assembled a broad spectrum of queens and taken her act to Instagram live. Each week, she will present two drag shows in which drag artists can perform a virtual act, and give viewers an opportunity to tip. Not only does this innovation allow drag queens to continue their creative outlet and make an income, but it also broadens their audiences from the confines of a nightclub stage to a worldwide viewership.

Queerty snagged some time to chat with Litre about her new show, her plans for the future, and how she’s staying sane amid a citywide lockdown. #QuarantineQueen streams on Litre’s Instagram live Monday and Wednesday nights at 8pm PST.  

So in the midst of all this crazy, how are you handling it all?

Nothing like this has ever happened. It’s crazy to try and normalize it.

I hope we can’t normalize it. I hope this isn’t the new normal. I’ll lose my mind.

Absolutely. Well, that’s kind of how the Quarantine Queen came about. I was like what are we going to do as drag queens? Sit around and not make money? As someone who works in nightlife, I was like what are we going to do? And that’s why I created #QuarantineQueen for Instagram live.

When did you come up with the idea?

I was talking to my drag sister on the phone. She was like bitch, you know you like to throw a pageant. You should do a quarantine pageant. And I said “quarantine queen.” And she goes “Oh my God, that’s a thing, bitch.”

[Laughter]

That’s awesome.

And she said “Bitch, I wanna do it with you. Have me on as a guest.” So, I did. And March 15, 2020 was the first digital drag show ever.

Fantastic. How are you handling logistics? Is everyone performing in the same area?

Absolutely not. Everyone is confined to their own homes, wherever they are at. I sign on to Instagram live, and JoJo Guads, my cohost and roommate, he helps me bring eveybody in. So while I’m doing wardrobe changes, he’s bringing the other girls in and helps introduce them. It’s honestly run the way I run my drag shows in West Hollywood. I usually have an emcee come in an introduce me, and to co-host the show. We banter back and forth. The beauty of this is that everyone is in their own apartment, and it’s actually really getting them to be creative as performers.

How so?

I’ve personally heard from queens that have said doing #QuarantineQueen has helped them with their mental health. They’re stuck in their house without their alter ego to go to. We’re used to getting our power from our drag personas. Not having that is really hard on a queen. So it’s really great to give them a reason to put their armor on, to give them a reason to put their makeup on. The last one we had Barbie’s Addiction do a death drop into a pool.

That’s hilarious. So do you have a certain number you’re scheduling for the lineup?

I try to do five to six because I like to keep it under an hour. Instagram live is only an hour. And I like having that cut off. The last episode we did we went over, and so people had to come back in and we kind of had to reset the mood and tone of the show. I try to have a bartender or a gogo dancer or someone from some other aspect of nightlife. I started this because I wanted to give queens a way to express ourselves and see each other again.

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Sure.

After one of my “lives,” my friend texted me and said “Oh my God, I feel like I’m out with all our friends tonight.” My friend Chanel, she got up the next morning and thought she had to apologize for being drunk in public.

[Laughter]

So you’re creating a virtual community.

Absolutely. As gay people, we are very social. So to take us out of a nightclub is a big f*cking deal. So why not bring the nightclub to your friends?

Well said. Now, obviously tipping is a big deal for queens during a performance. Are viewers able to tip in #QuarantineQueen?

Viewers are able to tip the queens. We pin a link on Instagram so that when the videos going, and the queens can put their Venmo handle, their PayPal email while they’re performing so viewers can tip a dollar.

Fantastic. Who do you have signed up in the coming weeks?

Oh God. Monday is the biggest show we’ve had so far. It features RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Raja. We have Willam from Drag Race. Mayhem from Drag Race Season 10. We have 6, and she’s on a new HBO series with Eureka, Bob [The Drag Queen] and Shangela. And we have Murray Swanby from Sex on the Beach. So I’m like pulling all the stops. If people want to see a show, I’m going to bring my friends up in this, and entertain them. Even Mayhem and Raja and Willam are doing this because it reminds them of back when we did drag for fun.

Oh wow.

It’s brand new to us. We’re nightclub girls. So to be able to do this on the stream and have a wider audience is actually something that I think we’ve been waiting for. We’ve been waiting for something new. So these queens are excited about this.

Are you rehearsing? Is there new material?

Let me tell you: I’ve always, always wanted to do the Britney “Oops, I Did It Again/Satisfaction” number from the VMAs. Never in a hundred years would I have performed it in a nightclub. And I performed it on #QuarantineQueen in my living room with a projection of Mars on the wall. It was so amazing. It brings so much life to me.

Drag is such a versatile art form.

Absolutely. And I encourage other queens to live. I’m a leader, so I’m used to people following stuff that I do. So now there’s about five or six virtual drag shows going on. And I say the more the merrier. In reality, there are drag shows all over the world. Let’s have drag shows on the internet and entertain people who need to be entertained. People need to feel good again. People feel trapped an lost, and this is a way to escape into fantasy.

Fantastic. So as a drag artist, how can you use drag to comment on our current predicament?

Oh my God. So many ways! The first is with performance, so this week I did Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.” There was an artist named Estities, and she did a whole coronavirus number with Cardi in it, and mixed survivor songs into the mix. It was incredible. Kiki Extravaganza, same thing. She brought her mask on to the scene, and people were loving it. I think being a drag queen you get to poke fun at the political and social climate in a way that other people really can’t. We’re kind of characters doing this, and we can get away with it by putting a wig on. But it’s really amazing to see that transpire on your phone or on a page. We haven’t really realized that until now.

So besides the show, what are you doing to get by and keep sane?

My roommate is awesome. My cats are cool. Honestly, the way I cope with my problems and life turmoil is to have a drag show. It’s just a testament to how f*cked up my brain is. So to keep my mind off my own issues, I ended up throwing a digital drag show. I’m coping by producing the show. It’s giving me more of a reason to interact with my friends and people that I love. I encourage everyone to do that while we’re under quarantine. Talk to the people you love. Talk to your friends. The people who are always too busy? They’re not busy right now.

#QuarantineQueen streams every Monday & Wednesday at 8pm PST on Rhea Litre’s Instagram live.