How Non-Binary Drag Queen Dvvsk Found Strength Away From The Stage
A year ago, when pandemic restrictions forced most L.A. County venues to stop hosting live indoor performances, many entertainers found themselves struggling to make a living. Singers, dancers, musicians, strippers, drag queens and other performers suddenly had to hustle to find new income streams. Many turned to Instagram Live, OnlyFans, Cameo, Twitch and other online outlets to support themselves, reshaping not only their personal business models but the relationship between artists and fans.
With California slated to lift most COVID-19 business restrictions on June 15, drag performers are, once again, adjusting to a shift in the entertainment economy. But not everyone is rushing to go back to the way things were.
A New Stage
During the pandemic, non-binary drag artist Dvvsk (pronounced "dusk") turned to performing on Twitch and Instagram Live while working as a freelance make-up artist and dancer. Coping with the lack of an in-person nightlife scene wasn't easy, but it gave them the chance to think about their long-term goals. They ended up turning their attention to other pursuits — creating self-portraits and making music.
"I focused on what I wanted to do and the messages I wanted to say in my art, and I allowed that time of meditation and centering to keep me going," Dvvsk says. "I had strong faith and hope that things were gonna work out for the better. Even if they didn't, what am I going to do? I'm not going to sit around and let it happen. I'm still gonna do what I'm here to do."
I first saw Dvvsk perform in 2019 at a pageant put on by the now defunct Club Scum ELA. Covered in body paint with light blue contact lenses, they were like a lost alien whirling around the stage of the Regent Theatre, draped in spiraling tree branch garlands. After winning the competition, Dvvsk dedicated their victory to non-binary drag performers and left the stage to greet the rapturous crowd.
Fast forward two years. The pandemic has been brutal for artists, especially queer artists, many of whom were just barely scraping by, but it has also had its silver linings. As drag performers joined forces to promote each other's virtual shows and make Cash App donations, "It kind of brought our community more together. It really gave me strength to continue to do art and survive that year," Dvvsk says.
Dvvsk recalls one particular online performance that helped them stay sane.
"I am this clown figure and I'm singing this sad song and my head is stuck in this box. It's very circus-y horror. By the end of the piece, these black hands are coming out of different parts of the box and painting my face pitch black," Dvvsk says.
Wearing a frilly, white silk blouse and a black-and-white striped conical hat (which Dvvsk has used for other performances), they lip synced to Joji's "Slow Dancing in the Dark." It was a chance to exorcise the pain of a lopsided relationship.
"The message behind everything that I do is duality, either rage and deep sadness or love and extreme heartbreak. I play with the mix of those emotions, how they battle and how we feel them at their rawest form. We, as the human race, have become so accustomed to pushing back those feelings. Be sad, if you're sad. If you're upset, be upset. Let that be a moment but then grow from that," Dvvsk says.
The Creative Cocoon
When California and L.A. County announced their COVID-19 restrictions, Dvvsk was, like most people, overwhelmed but they soon settled into this new reality. "It was a good start, at least, to what we could do to get a hand on the situation. I kind of accepted that and took precautions and quarantined myself," they say.
Unlike many comedians and musicians, Dvvsk has done fine without the glow of a live audience. Since the pandemic started, they've only done one in-person performance, at a recent pop-up event. In fact, they say they've found more intimacy through their online shows.
"I love solitude when I'm creating. I enjoy silence because I tend to take myself to places, to different emotions to get even more inspiration," Dvvsk says. Will it bring them acclaim and opportunities? "I've never really cared about what people have thought or said."
As they prepare to emerge from this creative cocoon, Dvvsk has no immediate plans to book any indoor appearances although distanced, outdoor shows are on the table. For now, they're focusing on their music. They hope that when in-person drag shows return, the spirit of camaraderie fostered by the pandemic will stick around. "Having performed all across L.A. — East Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Downtown — and seeing the divide in each community," Dvvsk says they want to see "more genuine love. I see it already happening. It's gonna be a big coalition of these different tribes coming together as one, and really making a mark."