Watch out world, drag’s gone mainstream, and exhibitions have noticed.
For the past nine years the world of drag has been undergoing a transformation.
Evolving from a fringe cultural interest to a phenomenon capable of filling exhibition centres, drag has become thoroughly mainstream, inspiring exhibitions such as the New York City-based DragCon and the newly launched UK DragWorld.
“It’s very much a growing audience that we’ve embraced,” Nathan Stone, creative director of MJR Group, tells EN. MJR Group is predominantly a concert promotion company, owning a couple of UK venues and promoting 2,500 events annually in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
“We started very much promoting the likes of the pop and rock gigs, and then we reached out to the drag market on the success of the TV show, and spoke to some of the artists’ managers,” Stone continues.
The ‘TV show’ he refers to is RuPaul’s Drag Race, a US TV programme which exploded onto screens in 2009 as a drag hybrid of American Idol and America’s Next Top Model. Since airing in the UK the show has amassed a loyal following in the country, which made Stone and his colleagues think it was time to bring drag into a bigger venue.
“Even up until three years ago there wasn’t the audience there to comfortably sell out 3,000 people at a concert,” he explains. “There definitely wasn’t enough for us to consider taking out a 12,000-capacity convention hall.”
But times have changed, and now UK DragWorld expects thousands of drag fans to descend on Olympia London in August for the inaugural event.
Visitors, says Stone, are going to be split into two quite distinct demographics.
“There’s really two different groups,” he says. “There’s the 14-19 year olds – who are predominantly female and fans of the show – and then we have the 20-plus group, which is the general LGBT scene and probably about 70 per cent male.
“Both audiences fully support the TV show, but we paired up with a lot of UK favourites and US favourites to add that secondary element.
“What we’ve seen from both sets of people is that they just want a place to meet other like-minded people. They want a safe place where they can come in drag, see their friends in drag, and sometimes meet friends that they’ve only ever spoken to on the internet, and all come together.”
The show will have an extensive meet and greet element, where visitors will be able to meet their heroes from the television show and the UK and US drag scenes.
There will also be educational sessions and panel discussions covering a wide range of topics and issues affecting the drag and LGBT community.
In terms of exhibitors, the show will be welcoming a range of high street cosmetic brands, wigmakers, costume producers, tattoo artists and many more.
“Largely exhibitors are in the industry already,” says Stone. “There are a few household names that have passed over but largely they’re all LGBT-focused.”
How, asks EN, did Stone and his colleagues get to know the drag community, and discover what kind of show they’d be interested in attending?
“We’ve spent two years touring drag queens and Drag Race branded shows,” he explains. “We felt we had enough of an understanding of the customer that we could get them into London. We could put on something that they would want to come and see.
“We’ve got a really good data set, and can see where people are buying tickets from. We’ve had people coming from as far as Turkey, from all over Europe, and one of our biggest sets is from Scandinavia. It’s going to be a fully international event, and we’re looking forward to seeing all the different types of drag from all the different countries.”
Looking to the future, UK DragWorld already has interest from a wider range of exhibitors for its 2018 iteration. Next year’s show will coincide with the 10th season of the television show, sparking even more interest in drag as a cultural and social phenomenon.
Stone is hoping to to create a safe space for a community of like-minded individuals, a place where online communities can come together and meet each other, their heroes and exhibitors who cater to their interests.
It may be his first large consumer show, but it seems that he’s got the formula just right.