Werkin' for a living: Drag stars on stage

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Wednesday September 19, 2018
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"You don't get tired if you just stay tired," half-joked Eureka, aka David Huggard, plus-sized runner up on the most recent season of RuPaul's Drag Race.

It was late August, and the Tennessee-native was anticipating the 2018 U.S. leg of the series' official live offshoot, the Werq the World Tour. The show, which also includes Aquaria, Asia O'Hara, Eureka, Kameron Michaels, Bob the Drag Queen, Kim Chi and Violet Chachki, sashays into the Curran Theater for a one-night stand on October 5.

Eureka spoke to the Bay Area Reporter just five days before flying to New York from his new home in Los Angeles (Huggard relocated last year to capitalize on his new national profile as Eureka). There, the entire company would assemble for a frantic three days of group rehearsals before kicking off a 31-city trek at Radio City Music Hall.

"This is my first tour at this scale" says Eureka of the coast-to-coast bus-and-truck journey, teetering between enthusiasm and apprehension from one second to the next.

"It's a bus trip with all your sisters. It's going to be exhausting in a lot of ways. I mean, there's nothing more fun than being with the rest of the girls. But let's be real, the girls are going to fight, kind of like it happens on the show, a bunch of big-ass loudmouths arguing with each other. We all have our lower moments, but we're professional and it'll all come together when we get on stage."

From Cirque to ringmaster

Putting it all together is in the hands of producer Brandon Voss and creative director-choreographer Chancellor Dayne.

The 29-year-old grew up dancing competitively in North Carolina until he caught the eye of a casting director from Cirque du Soleil.

"I was eighteen years old," he recalls. "I got an email asking me to send in a video, and two days later I was off to Montreal for training, then touring all over Asia."
Eventually, Dayne settled back in the U.S., working as a dance instructor, model and nightlife performer. He was recruited to work on the Drag Race road show in early 2017, when its first leg, Canada and Europe, was being set up.

"I'd worked with some of these girls for years," says the 29-year-old. "The challenge is moving from shows in a gay club to being in a humongous theater. Part of what makes drag special is that intimacy between the performers and the audience you get in a bar. So on tour, even in much larger venues, engaging with the audience is really important.

"It's not about breaking the fourth wall of the stage," he continues. "There is no fourth wall. The audience is rowdy and roaring and feels like part of the show."
Four back-up dancers and even some of the queens themselves make their way into the aisles throughout the evening, he explains.

Dayne and producer Voss started with a world travel concept, building full-cast production numbers around a campy airline theme, then asking each queen to so a solo routine linked to a particular country.

"They come to me with their ideas," says Dayne, who meets with each performer months before a routine debuts, "and I help them flesh it out, figure out how to incorporate scenery and costumes and work in the back up dancers."

When asked about wrangling a caravan of personalities, each of whom has starred in her own smaller-scale shows for years, Dayne sighs, "Oh, lord. I love each of them individually. Some of them are easy. Some of them are...interesting. But everyone gets to have their own special kind of fabulous," he explains. "Whether it's a big costume reveal, or special effects or unique lighting. I try to accentuate each girl's positives. Kim Chi is not a professional dancer," Dayne says of the Korean-American queen who has been on every leg of the tour, "So I surround her with choreography, like a frame."

On to the next level

Eureka, who represents England in the show, comes on in plump period Elizabeth I garb before her act explodes into a pyrotechnic-enhanced rendition of "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman.

"It's insane that drag has gotten to where it is," says Eureka, musing over the scale of the Werq production. "When I first started doing it, it was about feeling pretty and getting attention. Now its at a whole different phantasmic level."

And yet, she frets, "We'll be sleeping in little cubbyholes on those buses. When you're a giant like me, you know I'm just too excited about that. Ideally, the next level of my career will be feature films. I'd love to work as David Huggard and be the next Chris Farley or John Candy."

Werq the World Tour at the Curran Theater. October 5, 9pm. Limited tickets remain, from $59. https://sfcurran.com/