How to become a drag queen — inside regional Australia’s first free drag ‘school’
Married middle-aged man Ben Hamilton and young Indigenous psychology student Maddi Sivyer don’t have all that much in common and may never have crossed paths had they not discovered a life-changing passion for drag.
The pair now consider themselves part of an extended family, one created when the regional far north Queensland city of Cairns started its first drag school.
Cairns Drag co-founder Stuart Crockart said the workshops, which started towards the end of 2018, invited anyone to come along and learn how to become drag kings or queens — for free.
Many of the students had never tried drag before but after two months they were performing alongside seasoned queens. (Supplied: Cairns Drag)
“To our knowledge there was nothing like this available in any regional town across Australia,” he said.
“Trying to break into drag is extremely hard.
“It’s quite daunting, people [are] concerned how the public will take it, how their family will deal with it and they needed a safe space where they could explore this whole concept with the right teachers and mentors to help them along their journey.”
Cairns Drag partnered with the Queensland AIDS Council to run the eight-week course which covered everything from the history of drag, to a session on self-awareness and self-confidence and, of course, clothes, hair and make-up.
City’s drag population triples in two months
Veteran drag queen and transgender woman Delvine Scott, who performs as Delvine De Filme, has worked the Cairns scene for decades and mentored the budding performers as they learned the art.
She said now the 10 students had graduated, the drag population of Cairns had more than tripled.
Hairdresser and drag queen Delvine De Filme mentored the up-and-coming performers. (ABC Far North: Anna Hartley)
“Drag is stepping outside the world you live in and we’re so proud of all of our kings and queens,” she said.
As someone who had been threatened and vilified when she first started her career, Ms De Filme said it was a joy to see the students be able to walk down the Cairns Esplanade or perform on stage with love and support.
“My career began almost 20 years ago in this town, there was no such thing as Google or online tutorials, so it was trial and error,” she said.
“The first place we started out in was a pub in the city and you’d have to wait in the car until no one was walking past to enter the building — you used to get abused.
“Some performers were bashed so there was a lot of homophobia and transphobia.
“It’s changed a lot. With things like [reality TV show] Ru Paul’s Drag Race, it’s acceptable for the younger generation to come out.
“Now when you go out, people will say ‘you’re fabulous’ — the world has done a dramatic turnaround.”
Chronically ill student says drag changed her life
Drag king Maddi Sivyer, who transforms into cheeky, confident Leonardo da Inci on stage, said the course not only helped her learn a new skill but also helped her get through her chronic disease.
“We’ve become our own little family and it’s a creative outlet,” she said.
“I’m a full-time university student, I am chronically ill, in and out of hospital all the time, plus I’m a young queer woman who is just trying to navigate being 20 so having a group of people I know I can count on is really heart-warming.
“I have cystic fibrosis and was diagnosed at six weeks old. I’ve come out of hospital just to do the drag workshops because no matter how rubbish I feel coming here always helps me feel better.”
Ms Sivyer said she hoped the idea would spread across regional cities and towns throughout Australia.
“There is a bit of a stigma especially in Indigenous cultures,” she said.
“I hope other young Indigenous men and women see what I’m doing and know they can do it too.
Stuart Crockart helped start the workshop and says it also helped him learn a lot about the art of drag. (ABC Far North: Anna Hartley)
“It would be helpful for regional communities to hold things like this. It’d be brilliant, honestly.”
Once the workshops finished, students had a month to rehearse before performing their Haus of Drag Extravaganza show with special drag stars flown in from interstate, including world-famous Millie Minogue.
“It is a lot to fit into eight weeks and it’s a start for them to further their career,” Mr Crockart said.
“They have all formed an amazing bond through the drag. I couldn’t be prouder.”
From reality TV show to reality
Student Keaton Williams said he had heard of drag in the same way many people in his generation had — through the rise of popular reality show Ru Paul’s Drag Race but he never thought he would have something like the workshops so close to home.
“It wasn’t until I started watching [the TV show] until I realised this is what I wanted to do,” he said.
“As soon as someone said ‘drag workshop’ I got so excited, I got online and bought a pair of heels straight away.
“Since then we’ve come so far, it’s insane the massive growth we’ve all had. Now I want to put Cairns on the map for drag.”
After the success of the 2018 season, organisers say they have no choice but to run another workshop this year.
“Drag needs to be out and easily accessible for everyone to try,” Mr Crockart said.