If you’re one of those die-hard Madonna fans who thought the Material Girl should have either embraced life’s natural aging process or hung it up the second she hit 50, you’re sure to appreciate the dedication, talents and natural beauty of these incredible aging drag performers.
Senior drag queens Olivia Hart, Donna Personna, and Collette LeGrande are performers at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, the only remaining gay bar in San Francisco’s once super-LGBT-friendly Tenderloin district, and the subject of photographer and filmmaker James Hosking’s new documentary, Beautiful by Night.
Upon moving from New York to The City by the Bay in 2009, Hosking discovered the nightclub in an alternative newspaper and was immediately intrigued by the three tireless performers who, after all these years, were still working the floor. (Aunt Charlie’s has no stage, and the performers lip sync their tunes while mingling with the audience.)
As he tells Slate, he was fascinated by their history and curious to know why they continued performing. “They open themselves to ridicule because of their age, yet they seem to relish the opportunity for provocation and confrontation,” he says.
With long nights that involve two-and-a-half hours of makeup beginning at 6:30 p.m. and showtime from 10:30 to 12:30, the drag queens work for dollar tips and change outfits with each new number.
Why do they continue doing it? Therapeutic reasons, says Hosking: Donna suffers from anxiety, which she confronts with the help of her stage persona; performing motivates Olivia to maintain her sobriety; and Collette needs to express herself and her feminine side.
It’s not just a living, he says, it’s a lifelong passion. “I think they’d miss it if they stopped,” he says.
Check out the documentary below.
Photos © James Hosking