Drags paid $25 a song for over 30 years

For more than three decades, bar drags have been paid around $100 for four songs. A ridiculously low fee, say several artists who invest large sums in their costumes and in the preparation of their numbers.

Posted at 8:00 am

Samuel Larochelle

Samuel Larochelle
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Barbada says wages have changed little over her 17-year career. “Initially, I was getting $25 a song at Cabaret Mado on weekends. Today it’s $150 for four songs. My salary has gone up, but a drag starting there can cost as much as $125. The cocktail is $100. »

Aizysse Baga considers herself underpaid and affirms that Quebec invests more than anywhere else. “In the United States and elsewhere in Canada, drags have a lot of tips, which is rare in Quebec. There, however, they change costumes much less frequently than here. »

The popularity of drag shows on television has also raised public expectations. “We want to stand out, but when you wear a $500 suit, it takes a long time to pay for itself,” Wendy Warhol reveals.

No one is forced to invest that much. But since the competition is fierce, you don’t necessarily have to stand out with $25 looks.

Wendy Warhol

Fees are a far cry from the standards of the Union des Artistes, which charges a minimum of $150 per performance. “Even so, bars have some of the risk,” says RV Metal. Having a production box, I understand the issues. They don’t want it to cost them money to produce an evening. »

Still, the drag king regrets investing in “volunteering” early in his career. “There’s an unwritten law that to be part of the community, you have to participate in a multi-week, non-paying competition. »

What do employers say?

“The fees have always been low,” says Michel Dorion, co-owner of the bar Le Cocktail. I’ve been dragging for 34 years and I was making $100 for four songs back then. »


PHOTO EDOUARD PLANTE-FRÉCHETTE, LA PRESSE ARCHIVE

Michel Dorion, co-owner of the bar Le Cocktail and drag queen herself

He recalls that his house has long presented five nights of free shows a week. “We flushed at the end of the year,” he said. The entrance fees have helped him for a number of years, but only halfway.

It should be greatly increased [les frais d’entrée] Paying artists a fee to cover their expenses, but I don’t think bars could maintain the same frequency of performances.

Michael Dorion

Michel Dorion is still considering a pay raise, as Cabaret Mado has increased its fees. “The drags are underpaid, argues Mado Lamotte. I recently raised the salaries a bit. And we have increased the entrance fee in the past. »

Cost a la carte

If the fees are an issue, then so are the expenses. In fact, a drag who works five nights a week can make her costumes profitable and present certain numbers more than once, as opposed to a colleague who works once a month and wants to change her pace each time. “It’s more profitable for those who work almost every day,” stresses Mado Lamotte.

Conversely, if a drag invests colossal amounts, the return on the investment is more uncertain. “When a drag girl spends $2,000 on a costume because she wants to be the prettiest, she ends up paying to come to work,” Mado illustrates.

RV Metal reminds us that time is money. “When you create your costume, it takes materials and hours of work. It’s hard to live with. It’s not for nothing that most drags have another job. »

So why continue?

To find out, tell us the interview partners. “Drags can arise regularly in an environment,” answers Michel Dorion. Others speak of a business card. “You can’t just make bars for the money,” says Wendy Warhol. It’s more of a way of being seen. In the end, it gives us opportunities elsewhere. »

Aizysse Baga agrees. “Working in clubs allows you to stay in the game. I have no choice but to play in bars. People often see me here to offer me other contracts. “She takes advantage of mandates outside the clubs in order to be paid properly. “I was taught never to charge less than $100 per issue in this context. »

Get out of bars

There is general agreement that private contracts can pay off immensely. “That’s why some drags who participated in it RuPaul’s Drag Race Stop performing in bars, says Barbada. We can get a $1,000 deal replacing 10 nights at clubs. »

Although she hardly ever plays them anymore, she doesn’t give them up. “Here we are. I can’t tell people to see me at Jean and Luc’s wedding that I’m organizing. »

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