With bars and clubs across the state — and most of the nation — closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, the LGBTQ community's beloved drag performers and nightclub entertainers are, like so many, out of work. But now, Jadein Black and her Boylesque drag troupe have taken to performing virtual shows online each week and splitting the profits with local causes and nonprofits.
Black first started doing drag when she was still in her teens.
"When I first started, I was in it for the titles, looks and just pure fun," Black recalled. "As the years went on and pageants and shows came and went, I started to lose my motivation. It felt like my drag didn't really have a purpose anymore. That's how our group, Boylesque Drag, got started."
Black founded the group in 2012 with friend and business partner Chanel Hunter.
"We began using this art form as a way to help others and just give back to the community," she said. "Ever since then, I have continued to love what I do without any hesitation."
Prior to the pandemic, Boyleque, whose home bar is the Tap Room in downtown Ypsilanti, was traveling across the state doing shows in various venues.
"I was doing up to three drag bingos a weekend across the state — and never in the same place twice," Black said. "Each show we did raised money and awareness for a nonprofit/cause and that is what I love. I love being able to use drag in ways to not only help groups and people but to also help them become more openminded about our community."
When at the Tap Room, which is two to three times a month, "our house cast consists of roughly eight performers with a special guest or two every show," Black said. "When we aren't at the Tap Room, we are out of town at shows across the state helping at various fundraisers. Chanel Hunter, Maxi Chanel and myself are the three individuals who do our traveling gigs."
With the clubs closed, Black and Boylesque began getting innovative.
"Up until the pandemic, the majority of our cast has been lucky enough to make drag their full-time job, so I knew we had to think of a way to keep these performers employed and working," Black said. "Plus, now everyone is stuck at home as well with nothing to do. So, with some research and lots of planning, we were able to come up with this idea of virtually bringing our regular shows to everyone's homes.
"This is something we were already doing — just on a bigger scale," Black continued. "For our 'in person' shows, we are able to raise more money for these nonprofits and causes than what we are even earning to perform. Part of the Boylesque Drag mission is that we do our shows to help others — never just for profit. But, like I said before, since our performers are out of work, we are trying our best to still help others while making sure we can still pay our bills."
"During this pandemic, the choice of who to give to is rather easy," Black said. "The individuals who need the most assistance right now are those who are suffering from this illness and those who are working directly with those who are suffering. When I thought about what impact we could make, I wanted to start out with thanking those medical workers who are on the front lines with these patients. So, for last week's show and this week's show, we have raised money for COVID-19 Unit Staff workers and then we are using that money to purchase GrubHub gift cards.
The idea of giving food came naturally.
"We came to this decision by asking our friends what would benefit them and their colleagues the most," Black said. "One thing they all mentioned was food. These workers are exhausted from the crazy hours they are needing to work to keep our loved ones alive and something as simple as making a meal is just not an option some days. Also, not only does this give them a break from having to meal prep, this also helps support those local businesses who are still open during this time."
Black and Boylesque are adding new showtimes and changing cast members every week. For exact dates and times, visit facebook.com/boylesque.michigan. The suggested donation for the show is $10. For a donation of $20 or more, attendees get a shout-out during the show. Tickets can be purchased through Venmo, CashApp or PayPal.