From sports to business to education to theater, 2020 has been a pretty challenging and, frankly, miserable year. It was a year which forced us to suddenly stop whatever it was we were doing and almost on a dime re-evaluate how we lived our lives. It was a year of confusion and frustration as information about the worldwide virus came in fast and furious with little clarity, leaving most of us scrambling to figure out how to live our lives with some sense of normalcy until a vaccine was secured. There have been countless stories of loss due to the worldwide situation of Covid 19 but there have also been the inspiring tales of those who have been confronted with adversity and chose to soldier on; surviving and even creating new opportunities for themselves. Paige Turner is one such individual.
According to Wikipedia, the first person to describe himself as “the queen of drag” was William Swann, born a slave in Hancock, Maryland, 1858. In the 1880s and 90s Swann organized a series of parties in Washington, DC in which he and other former slaves dressed in silk and satin frocks as it were, entertaining some of the cities elite. The parties were both popular and notorious as evidenced by the amount of times they were raided by the police. Fast forward about 130 years and the world of drag is more in demand than ever before, spawning Youtube channels, television reality shows and a world of entertainers. As all the performing arts struggle to keep themselves both relevant and solvent without the immediate prospect of a live audience, many artists have embraced technology as a sort of bridge between now and that time when theaters will be full again, and the world of drag is no different. Calling herself the ‘illegitimate love child of Pee Wee Herman and Barbie’, the talented and charismatic Paige Turner has been a fixture in Manhattan for over a decade, often appearing at venues such as Rise Bar, Therapy Bar, the Laurie Beechman Theatre and so forth. Her Christmas show will be outside Don’t Tell Mama’s on 46th Street, December 11th and 12th at 7pm. As 2020 comes to an end, I was curious as to how she and those in the industry dealt with the traumatic events of the past year.
TS: How did Paige Turner originally get started? What put the idea in your head, where did you perform and how did the audience grow?
PT: I was a musical theater performer and i just wanted to entertain and perform and was done with auditioning and constantly worrying about the next job. Every time I did Paige for fun it always got a lot of response and brought me a lot of joy, so the universe basically spoke to me and said – this is what you should be doing! I definitely believe my audience has grown because they can tell how much i love to perform and entertain and that i’m always working on new material and constantly creating.
TS: How has Covid affected not only your work but work for the industry as a whole? Have you talked to other performers during this? How are they coping?
PT: Well, when the pandemic hit I went into panic mode for maybe a day, then was like, no I can make this work. I’m a make it work person. As a drag performer, you are constantly creating, producing and always doing your own thing – that’s a huge reason I wanted to pursue it, because it was my creative control. I’m happy to say that I instantly went online with my show and have been doing shows twice a week since the pandemic hit. Several places that I perform at also had their own “make it work” moment and did outside shows. I was in Provincetown for 6 weeks performing outside this summer! Extremely grateful. Other performers are going through it, but there is some advantage with drag to be online and I believe those that jumped into it are surviving. It’s been way harder for my theater/Broadway friends. You play a role or are cast in roles, so being able to have a creative outlet and make money as a performer has been very hard. My heart really does go out to all performers, it’s incredibly difficult.
TS: What are the changes you’ve had to make between doing your show live and doing it through Zoom?
PT: The shows i do are on Facebook Live and open to the public. Sundays and Thursdays at 9p eastern. I use a lot more props online, let my guard down and the best thing is that my partner has become a huge part of my show as well as my puppets which have been in my shows throughout the year. I actually get to do some things that would be harder to pull off in person. I have also done many zoom parties and just did a show for an elementary school online, which was a great experience.
TS: Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel for all this? How do you think New York will come through this?
PT: Of course things will get better, i mean how can they not?! New York was in bad shape before this. The whole small business/ commercial real estate issue has been a huge issue way before this pandemic. There is a lot that needs to happen to pull this city back to some sort of normalcy and I’m afraid that even with a vaccine, it’s not going to happen overnight.
TS: Given the restrictions and covid cases in New York have you ever given any thoughts to relocating to another city which may have been less affected?
PT: Well, i get out of the city often, which has been a huge blessing. Having been able to leave and perform outside was also great mentally. These winter months will be challenging indoors with weather and no outside shows, but I do have good news. I am doing my Christmas Show outside at Don’t Tell Mamas on W46th street, Fri Dec 11th and Sat Dec 12th at 7pm. Audience is under heat lamps in tent (all outside with NYC safety measures in place). It will be magical and a great way to end 2020.
All photos courtesy of Paige Turner
For more information on Paige Turner, check our her social media.