So here’s a question that needs answering: Which city in South Africa has the best drag culture? Having just recently relocated from Pretoria to Cape Town, I was surprised at how much drag there is in this city. Now I’ve come to believe that Cape Town must surely be the drag capital of the country. Let me tell you why.
Here are 5 reasons why Cape Town is the drag capital of SA.
1. The drag scene in Cape Town is well organised.
Barry Reid is a very busy manager who works very hard at arranging gigs for Manila von Teez, while helping out other drag artists. He seems to be one of the driving forces behind the popularity of drag here in Cape Town, although I am sure there are many other people who help to further the drag scene and he is just one example of somebody who is taking it seriously. There must be many more like him, judging by the number of drag artists active here.
The scene also benefits from having a venue that regularly hosts drag events. The Zero21 Social Club is very popular and the drag events are usually well attended. The drag queens are also very much in demand all over town at functions and events and even perform at the Theatre at Artscape, where the annual AbFab Drag night played to a packed house just last weekend.
2. The drag people in Cape Town are very professional.
The AbFab Drag show last weekend was a case in point. It was the launch evening of the Artscape’s Women Humanity Arts Festival and what a splendid kick-off it was! The show was directed by Basil Appollis who delivered a knockout show that hit all the right notes. Comic Choice Awards Lifetime Achievement honoree Soli Philander was the MC who wowed the audience with the faultless delivery of an amazing rhyming script he wrote and he had the audience in stitches with the clever wordplay and innuendo, ending with a strong message to keep you thinking long after the show ended. The five drag queens delivered amazing performances showing a range of characters and using an interesting soundtrack.
Under the clever musical direction of Camillo Lombard, the show featured the pre-recorded music supported by a live pianist (Yvan Potts), a violinist (Darryn Braaf) and backup singers, the show had an immediacy and live element that lifted it above the realm of mere lip-synching to true performance art. Having video inserts about each of the five performers in the first half of the show humanised them and highlighted aspects of their life stories. These were sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and worked well to win over the audience. The slick choreography of Nkosinathi Sangweni showcasing the talents of the male Jazzart dancers and the amazing lighting design by Faheem Bardien lifted the evening from a mere drag show into a spectacle of note which had the audience on their feet by the end.
3. Drag is taken seriously in Cape Town.
The Artscape Theatre is no dirty dungeon with bad lighting, this is a world-class stage and the show kicks off a major arts festival. Drag is in the spotlight, centre stage, sequins dazzling brightly in a show like AbFab Drag. This show deserves to be seen more than once though, it should have a run of a few shows, perhaps even tour to other major cities. If Cape Town can export shows like Priscilla Queen of the Desert to Gauteng then certainly a show like AbFab Drag could do the same?
Artscape CEO Marlene le Roux spoke extensively about why this specific show was chosen to open a women’s festival, saying we should be activists not only for one specific but for all human rights. An LGBTQ+ activist must also be an activist against racism and an activist for people with disabilities and so on.
4. Drag is well supported in Cape Town.
Not only was there a full house at the excellent AbFab Drag show at Artscape over the weekend, other events that feature drag artists are usually well supported, even for the new ones trying it out for the first time. People here seem much more open to it, and by that I mean the general population, not just the LGBTQ+ community. It is not so stigmatised and therefore open to more mass appeal. When it is presented in a stylish fashion, well-choreographed and rehearsed, with professional costumes, it is a joy to behold and therefore easy to support.
The audiences here certainly show their appreciation for it. Drag queens are regularly invited to events and are drawcards wherever they go. They are respected as artists and their craft appreciated. And they work hard at keeping it fresh, with new songs added to their repertoire regularly, making the audience come back for more.
5. The drag in Cape Town is excellent!
So let’s be honest, to come second in South Africa’s Got Talent must mean something. Manila von Teez a.k.a. Veon Wentzel is an amazing artist. But then again so are Kat Gilardi, Vida Fantabisher, Jade Kay Johnson and Angel Lalamore, each an amazing artist in their own right, yet blending together so beautifully in the ensemble numbers in AbFab Drag. (Kudos to Gavin Roman by the way for an amazing live rendition of Whitney Houston’s I will always love you, both moving and hysterically funny!)
There are many more amazing drag artists in this town, with many more up and coming, some doing their best to push the boundaries. This makes for a wonderfully exciting drag culture in Cape Town that is visible and becoming part of the mainstream here.