Vaxxed, unmasked and ready to party: Juneau Drag brings hundreds out for live show

A person in drag stands on stage raising their  hands
Gigi Monroe (James Hoagland) performs during Juneau Drag’s first live show in 15 months on Saturday in Juneau. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Over the weekend, Juneau Drag performers hosted their first live show in 15 months. They invited people for a rowdy night of in-person, maskless entertainment — with just one catch. You had to be vaccinated to get in the door of the Red Dog Saloon, and you had to prove it. 

A short line snaked out of the door just before the 10 p.m. show Saturday night. People waited to show their vaccine cards and IDs as Gigi Monroe’s voice drifted out from the swinging saloon doors.

“We’re putting the final touches on our drag backstage. Showtime in five minutes,” she said.

Abi Spofford shows her COVID-19 vaccination card to get into a live drag show on Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
Abi Spofford shows her COVID-19 vaccination card to get into a live drag show. Spofford said she would love to attend other events in Juneau where people are required to be vaccinated. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Once you got inside, it was a little like stepping back in time — or into an alternate reality where the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t exist. 

People were hugging. It was hot and sweaty and vibrantly queer, with lots of glitter and gender-bending. A shirtless bartender in suspenders. Virtually no one was wearing a mask. 

Attendees said this was the first time they’ve gathered with so many others in a long time. 

“It’s strange but it makes me feel safe,” said Abi Spofford, after she showed her vaccine card and walked into the bar. “I would support doing it in other places.”

As the music started to come up, people settled into their seats and looked up at the glittery black curtained stage expectantly.

Gigi Monroe (James Hoagland) chats up the audience after her opening number for Juneau Drag's live, in-person show on Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. The drag troupe offered the maskless, in-person drag event to people who brought proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
Gigi Monroe (James Hoagland) chats up the audience after her opening number for Juneau Drag’s live, in-person show on Saturday in Juneau. The drag troupe offered the maskless, in-person drag event to people who brought proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Then suddenly, in a flouncy pile of black tulle and an impossibly tall rainbow feathered headdress — Juneau’s drag mom, Gigi Monroe (James Hoagland) appeared behind the crowd.   

“Get this party started on a Saturday night,” she crooned along with Pink, whose iconic song set the tone for the night.

It was a classic bait and switch. People’s mouths dropped open. The energy was high and the excitement palpable — for Monroe, it was a moment of realization. 

“As soon as I came out and I saw that our audience, instead of sharing like — the balcony level and the floor level to spread out more, everybody clustered together on the floor level and got as close as they could because they were just dying to have that experience and that was my signal that everyone was ready for it,” she said.

Monroe and I caught up later in the week to chat about the show. Days later, she was still a little hoarse. 

“I completely forgot how to use a microphone,” she said, laughing.

It was an adjustment to go from more than a year of digital drag shows — where she really only had to be dressed from the belly up — to a night of wearing high heels and cinching herself back into fully-corset outfits.

And there were other worries, too. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and City and Borough of Juneau guidelines relaxed vaccinated, indoor gatherings, Monroe said she wasn’t sure people were ready to pack back into nightclubs and live shows.

Audience members watch as Juneau Drag performers put on a show on Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. Audience members were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and mostly maskless for the evening. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
Audience members watch as Juneau Drag performers put on a show on Saturday in Juneau. Audience members were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and mostly maskless for the evening. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

She mapped out possibilities with husband Jeff Rogers — essentially things to do if the audience seemed uncomfortable or reserved.

“He went through, well, you know, maybe you might need to lead them through like ‘Turn and wave to your neighbor, and then shake your neighbor’s hand’, and then eventually throughout the show it ends with — you know — ‘Hug somebody.’ This incremental process of getting people ready for physicality and intimacy. But they were ready to go right out the gate,” Monroe said.

For the most part, everything went smoothly. No one forgets how to be social or how to enjoy a live show, she said — they just sometimes need to be coaxed back into it.

Audience members packed in together to cheer on Juneau Drag queens and kings on Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. It was the troupe's first in-person, performance and they required audience members and Red Dog Saloon staff members to provide proof of full vaccination to attend. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
Audience members packed in together to cheer on Juneau Drag queens and kings on Saturday in Juneau. It was the troupe’s first in-person, performance and they required audience members and Red Dog Saloon staff members to provide proof of full vaccination to attend. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

But some things were different. If you paid close attention, you’d notice Monroe kept a bit of distance from the crowd. Other performers did, too. 

Usually, they weave through the audience — amping up the crowd, teasing tips out of them. But Monroe said they discouraged that during this show, asking people to consider tipping digitally or tossing money into buckets near the stage.

Audience members were asked to tip by throwing money into buckets by the stage or by tipping digitally during Juneau Drag's first in-person show in 15 months on Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
Audience members were asked to tip by throwing money into buckets by the stage or by tipping digitally during Juneau Drag’s first in-person show in 15 months on Saturday in Juneau. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

And for the most part, people complied with the rules. They kept their distance from performers. No one at the door seemed to mind showing their vaccine cards. I did see one woman get in mid-show who hadn’t bought a ticket or brought her vaccine card, though she swore up and down to the door guy that she had been vaccinated. At any other time, it would have been a normal part of going to a live show — but it felt particularly weird when show organizers were clearly trying to create a safe space for people.  

The troupe did two shows, one early and one late. Each was capped at 100 tickets. Both sold out. Monroe said there was some uncertainty in hosting an event that large. 

“I kept waiting for someone else to do it – someone else to be the first big event, whether it was for vaccinated-only or not. But just to try to host something indoors that was for a larger audience. And no one had done it, so. As time went on I said ‘Ok, I really didn’t want to be the first one to push this. But, I really believe in it,’” she said.

Some people in the Juneau Drag troupe were hesitant, too. 

“I think on the performer side of things, it was a smaller cast because not everybody was ready to take that leap with me,” she said.

For now, the troupe is done with digital drag. Monroe said for performers or audiences who don’t want to be indoors yet, they’ve got two live outdoor shows in Skagway and Sitka coming up this summer. 

Audience members and performers gather after a drag show on Saturday, May 22, 2021, at the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
Audience members and performers gather after a drag show on Saturday at the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
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Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk , she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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