Theater group to hold drag camp for kids

  • by Marijke Rowland
  • Wednesday February 15, 2023
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Lexi Donovan performs during a Young Actors' Theatre Camp Drag Night. Photo: Young Actors' Theatre Camp
Lexi Donovan performs during a Young Actors' Theatre Camp Drag Night. Photo: Young Actors' Theatre Camp

As drag events across the country are targeted for harassment, a youth theater group in Santa Cruz is planning its first-ever weekend camp focused entirely on the art form.

The Young Actors' Theatre Camp will hold The Art of Drag weekend workshop March 3-5 at its site in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The new three-day, two-night camp will be dedicated to drag, with campers creating their own onstage personas and performances.

While the drag camp is new, the organization has been hosting drag nights as part of its general camps for more than a decade. Founded in 2001 by Shawn Ryan and John Ainsworth, YATC is open to students ages 8 to 18 from anywhere. It offers weekend, weeklong, 10-day, 21-day, and 31-day overnight programs focused on performance and theater.

Ryan, who is gay, said it was the popularity of the drag nights at their other camps that prompted them to create a program centered around the performance art. He will lead the inaugural drag camp weekend with instructor Casi Kristant.

The new program will teach what goes into the creation, presentation, and performance of drag, and also its history. Ryan said the modern concept of drag stretches back to William Shakespeare and its mainstream popularity has continued over the decades with hit movies starring straight cis actors from Dustin Hoffman to Robin Williams to the current crop of well-known drag reality TV stars and hit shows like "RuPaul's Drag Race."

The latest wave of anti-trans laws and far-right agitators interrupting drag events is nothing new, Ryan said, but also one of the reasons the new camp is important. As the Bay Area Reporter noted in a recent LGBTQ Agenda column, there are anti-drag bills currently being debated in at least three states.

"We have always been inclusive and always taught our kids that love is love. Through the last 22 years (of the camp's history) this is not the first movement of homophobic or transphobic legislation we've seen," Ryan said. "But as camp directors we find this is what we can do for the future. The children literally are the future. The more kids see that expression and creativity, and however you present on the spectrum should be welcomed in this world, the better."

Former camper and current instructor Logan Thomason began hosting the general camp drag nights about a dozen years ago. The program has become one of the most popular among participants, with the most campers dressing up and performing.

Logan said current right-wing attempts to "legislate (trans youth and people) out of existence" need to be met with more inclusion and support.

"When we talk about protecting trans youth, this is one of the forms that action takes: protecting and fostering safe spaces for trans and gender-nonconforming youth to express themselves without judgment," said Logan, who is gay. "Fortunately, as the entirety of human history demonstrates, trans and queer people aren't going anywhere."

Over the years some 10,000 campers have come through YATC programs, Ryan said. The new weekend will have space for about 30. Lessons will include sessions on creating a character, costuming and makeup, and different kinds of performance styles — the same as any other performance arts. The campers will then create their own drag queen, king, or other nonbinary royalty and/or characters.

Fifteen-year-old high school sophomore Lexi Donovan, a nonbinary lesbian from Sausalito, has attended winter and summer camp sessions, and said the drag nights were always one of their favorite activities. Donovan took home the Best in Drag award for their drag king performance at the recent winter camp.

"There's a lot of misinformation about drag. Like that we're going to groom your children and it's all hypersexual and will turn you gay. So it's really important now, more than ever, that we are educated about it," they said. "Getting to see it for yourself is the best way to educate yourself."

Organizers said the drag camp program, like any of their other camps, does not teach sexuality or gender identity. Instead, it allows for exploration of another form of expression and understanding of what goes into the final performance.

"It didn't scare me to think that we would do this (drag camp)," Ryan said. "What would really be scary is if we didn't do this, if we didn't continue."

Young Actors' Theatre Camp's The Art of Drag weekend workshop will be from March 3-5. Registration is $597 and scholarships/financial aid are available upon request. For more information call (855) 462-9282 or visit

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