Drag shows are known for being interactive performances between the queens and the audience; however, like many other things, COVID-19 has caused the interactive nature of drag shows to change.
“We switched from being able to walk around the crowd and mingle with the audience,” says Landon Patterson, who performs as Lana Luxx at Hamburger Mary’s. “And that was a big part of it you know, getting off stage and performing throughout the restaurant. Now we are strictly to stay on stage and perform.”
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Hamburger Mary’s is the only place in the Kansas City area still featuring drag performances, while places like Missy B’s and local spot The Jazzhaus are still closed. This is because Hamburger Mary’s is a bar and grill restaurant, rather than strictly a bar. This has allowed them to still put on drag shows as long as they follow restaurant regulations.
“We're a restaurant,” says Jeff Edmondson, owner of Hamburger Mary’s. “We aren't just a bar. The other places are bars, and the issue of keeping people socially distant and keeping them separated [with] masks on — if they aren't sitting at a table — is a bigger issue for them. But, for us, because all of our guests are already seated at tables, it's not as big [of] a deal.”
Hamburger Mary’s has similar socially-distant rules to a restaurant where people can take off their masks when they’re seated. They also have the tables spaced six feet apart and have limited their capacity.
Before COVID-19, performers would go and collect tips from the audience, but now a designated tip collector goes around to get the queen's tips.
“Now we have an assigned dollar girl who walks around with a bucket throughout your number, and collects your dollars for you,” Patterson says. “So it reduces as much contact as possible: one, with the crowd, and also with touching and handling all that money.”
Hamburger Mary’s first closed the day before St. Patrick’s Day, which is normally the business' biggest day of the year. Then, after some renovations in May, it opened back up in June with the new regulations in place.
“Mary’s before the pandemic, you know, we're known for being super busy, always full and it's kind of tight—not chaos—but a big party place,” Patterson says. “Going back, I was just nervous to be around that many people again, but I was also nervous of how different it was going to be.”
The drag queens have to wear masks while going up to the stage, and can only take them off once they’re on the stage. They also have to disinfect their stations backstage.
“Since COVID, obviously a big thing was ‘Are we gonna open back up and do shows?’ You know, like that was like a big thing for a while,” Patterson says. “We were really nervous.”
Some of the queens decided to not return immediately when everything opened back up.
“Originally, we had a few queens that were a little bit nervous about [performing again],” Edmondson says. “They didn't want to come back at first because they were nervous about exposure, some of them are a little older, and they are at a higher risk and they didn't know if they wanted to come back.”
Edmondson says they enforce the mask policy to protect their performers and staff.
“If you are going to come see a drag show, or if you are going out to restaurants and things like that during this time like, a lot of places have been impacted and things are different,” Patterson says. “So just always be mindful and caring to entertainers or staff and servers and bartenders wherever you go because a lot of us didn't know if we would have a livelihood for a while.”