Let me drop some knowledge: Drag can be VERY VERY expensive.
Last year I spent well over $500 on my faux queen pageant number, and that is not including makeup and wigs. I made all of my costumes from scratch over several months, and there was no discount fabric store in Perth. My gumnut baby to lady costume cost about $200 to create, I wore it for a grand total of 30 seconds, and the judging panel thought I was a strawberry. Mega fail.
This year, the faux queen pageant is approaching in 4 weeks’ time and after paying for my airfares and a hotel, I’m flat broke. My challenge is going to be putting together an epic number, with almost no money. Thrift store, you are my new best friend.
My sewing machine and craft tools are locked up in storage in Australia, so unfortunately I have to replace them while I’m in the USA. However, that will hopefully be my only significant purchase. I have huge plans for my number, but I will need to be extra creative to piece together all of the props and costumes from stuff I already have. Additionally, my planned number is much bigger this year, with multiple costume changes, and 5 people to consider. I’m not in a drag house or troupe, so I’m on my own with finding everything that I need.
Some drag folks might not like my suggestions, as I know it is important to a lot of people to appear flawless. I think that is fine; there are plenty of different approaches to drag performance, and flawless illusionary is only one. Personally, I like to do drag which is camp. For me that means doing a lot with very little and sticking with the idea that camp is a lie that tells the truth. A show of epic proportions, put together with minimal budget, is exactly that.
Here are my tips for putting on an epic number, on a nothing budget:
1. Borrow stuff
As much as you can, try to borrow things from your networks. People will have things to offer which you might not have thought of.
2. Use things you already have and aim for camp
Search through stuff you already have and be creative in reorganising them to meet your current needs. If you are considering a complicated costume for a minor character, think about how you can simplify it in a way which also increases its camp potential. Let’s take Batman for example. This might mean, instead of a full tailored bat suit, you use tight black bike shorts and a black midriff top with the bat signal printed on the front.
3. Craft with cheap and common items
Is there a complicated but essential prop that you need? Try googling “craft” or “kids craft” in front of the thing you need to create. You might find a very simple and cheap alternative to that much needed prop. (Craft sword is an example)
4. Consider symbolic items
Instead of buying that original movie quality batman mask, consider something symbolic or suggestive instead. Perhaps a printable batman masks which can be held up to the face photo booth style.
5. Visit your local thrift store
There are some spectacular gems to be found in thrift stores, and you can walk away with 10 items while only having spent $20. This is all the better if you have a sewing machine. You might find items which are too big or small, but you can tailor them to fit or use the fabric to make something new.
6. Use Multi-media
Agorafauxbia always has multi-media in her numbers, mostly because I love creating it. You can also use multi-media to create back drops for multiple scenes, cut back on your props and guide the audience through a complicated story line.
7. Recruit people who already have costumes
You might know of some folks who already have costumes in the style of your theme or idea. Ask them to be in your number.
8. Save your ratty tangled wigs
There are heaps of good you tube tutorials on how to save tangled, matted synthetic hair. I spent 3 hours saving a half wig that I had teased into oblivion. I pulled small sections apart, separated the tangles with my fingers and then combed hair oil through the sections until smooth again. It was a long process, but it saved me buying new hair. If you have a garment steamer, that works wonders on synthetic hair.
So I’m going to be honest, this sort of stuff is probably not going to win you a pageant. Unless the pageant is called “On The Smell of an Oily Rag Drag”. My wig literally smells like cocoa butter oil, so that is the kind of drag I’m bringing to San Francisco this year.