RuPaul’s Drag Race comes to town with Werq the World

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Rogers Arena isn’t going to know what hit it when Werq the World comes to town later this month in a flurry of glitter and glamour that’ll leave you gagging.

      “If you haven’t seen a drag show on that level, it’s eye-opening,” says Asia O’Hara, the season 10 finalist and RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue star, speaking to the Straight from Pensacola, Florida. “It’s an inspiring work of art that really has changed the world of drag, and changed how people see drag, and what people think of when they think of a showgirl or a drag queen… The sky is literally the limit.”

      Since her time on the reality TV show juggernaut, O’Hara has become the de facto host of the franchise’s big-ticket live events, marshalling everything from the first run of the eponymous Las Vegas show to the COVID-era Drive ‘n Drag production.

      As host of Werq the World, the flagship RuPaul’s Drag Race tour, O’Hara is making her annual journey across the globe. The includes a summertime schedule across much of the U.S. and Canada—hitting up Vancouver on July 27 before stomping into Calgary and Edmonton, with August dates in Windsor, Montreal, Ottawa, London, and Toronto. Then it’s on to Asia, Australia, the UK, and Europe, with the Voss Events behemoth finally wrapping up in Mexico in November.

      (That’s a punishing schedule for any performer, let alone someone who has to do it all in wigs, cinchers, and heels. “I just love to work,” O’Hara says, by way of explanation.)

      “What makes Werq the World so cool is it does kind of feel like something you’ve never really seen before,” adds season 14 finalist Daya Betty, on the line from Chicago. She’s about to head to Vegas for a stint in the live show, before joining the Werq the World tour in a few weeks. “It does feel so grand and so large and very much like a Broadway show, in a sense.”

      In the year since her statuesque punk-goes-theatre-kid persona made it into the mainstream, Betty’s been involved in numerous live events—and is delighted to no longer be the new kid on the block. Two queens from season 15 are in this summer’s North American lineup—self-styled heavyweight champ Mistress Isabelle Brooks, and eventual winner, “your favourite drag queen’s favourite drag queen” Sasha Colby. 

      “I’m not in the newer group of gals; I’ve had a little bit of settling time,” Betty says. “It’s going to be fun to see the dynamic between everybody. And at the end of the day, we all have a good time with each other.”

      Werq the World’s rotating cast list lets performers tag in and out, making each show a little different. Vancouver will see O’Hara and Betty serving their numbers, alongside Mistress Isabelle Brooks, Brit-pop ballerina Lady Camden, legs-for-days stunner Naomi Smalls, Broadway babe Rosé, and All-Stars 8 top two queen Kandy Muse. Each queen is equipped to put on unique, high-budget numbers on a scale that’s rarely seen for drag performers.

      Werq the World has taken on a special significance this year as the first major drag tour to happen after various states in the US tried to enact bans on queer performances. Tennessee and Florida both saw their anti-drag laws blocked by the courts, but the state-level nature of legislation means legality varies in legal grey zones across the country. 

      Even without outright bans, anti-LGBTQ2S+ sentiment has led to increased tension across the States, with hate, protests, or threats of violence outside drag shows becoming disturbingly commonplace, forcing performers to respond with bulked-up security for both audience and performers’ safety. 

      An unlikely silver lining is that the turbulence has galvanized fans into coming to drag shows, big and small.

      “I don’t think any of us really know what to expect, but it’s been really great,” O’Hara says of the Florida shows. “The audiences have been so gracious, so appreciative, so welcoming… The past year, people have started to think that drag could possibly be taken away from them, so I just feel like there’s that resurgence of genuine love and appreciation that we’ve been experiencing.”

      Betty adds that shows in conservative places remain crucial regardless of local politics. A recent Pride event in Arkansas, close to her hometown of Springfield, Missouri, reminded her of that importance.

      “I was really nervous about it because the Bible Belt is kind of where all of the craziness seems to generate from when it comes to this kind of political thing,” she recalls. But the turnout was huge. “It is showing the people that regardless of where you’re from… there’s always queer people that exist, and they will always be there, whether you try and stop them or not.”

      Vancouver, while immune from the sharpest edges of the anti-queer culture wars, has nevertheless seen its own share of bigotry. But to the Drag Race queens, Canada is something of a respite.

      “Vancouver is literally, no offense to the rest of Canada, the most beautiful city. I even looked at moving there until I saw the cost of living,” O’Hara sighs—a common refrain from everyone who entertains a passing notion of moving here. “From Vancouver, over west, is just a dreamland to me.”

      She says that Canadian audiences are “fire”—a sentiment Betty agrees with.

      “I just did a tour not too long ago in Canada, it was my first time ever being in Canada and I had, genuinely, the most fun,” Betty says. “I don’t know if it’s just more excitement because we’re not as accessible because it’s a different country… it makes me so excited and even more energized to come and perform.”

      But no matter where the queens are performing, the act of getting up on stage is what’s really important. The crowd, the lights, the smoke, the choreography: that’s all extra. 

      “Doing drag right now, to me, definitely feels purposeful,” O’Hara says. “It just really makes you feel like you’re really doing good by yourself, and doing good for your country, and just really fighting the hard fight to make people feel welcome and make people feel loved and maybe make people feel like they’re not by themselves—so they’re not alone.”

      Be it bar gigs or hockey arenas, the queens came to werq.

      Werq the World 

      When: July 27

      Where: Rogers Arena

      Admission: From $74, tickets available here