Oaklash is Back: festival of drag and queer performance returns

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday May 9, 2023
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Oaklash ensemble (photo Aldonna Watts)
Oaklash ensemble (photo Aldonna Watts)

Founded in 2018 by Mama Celeste and Beatrix LaHaine, Oaklash is a celebration of drag and queer culture that takes place primarily in Oakland. But it's more than just a drag show.

"Our flagship event is our annual festival that brings together over 100 queer and trans performers to celebrate the history and future of drag in Oakland, San Francisco, and beyond," Mama Celeste, a co-founder who serves as Executive Director, said in a brief interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "We are going on our sixth year of putting on this event and as always we have bigger plans than ever, with bigger stages, bigger names, and more activities than ever before."

Organizers seek to create a safe and accessible environment for the queer community, particularly for queer and trans people of color. According to Mama Celeste, it has year-round programs and resources, such as the Oaklash Disability Fund that offers grants to chronically ill queer and trans performance artists in need of critical support.

Grants are in the amount of $500 or $1000 and are awarded to people dealing with an illness or pain flare-up, the loss of a job associated with an illness or a disability, loss of funds associated with illness or disability, a lack of accessible work or performance space, or an inability to meet basic needs associated with being unable to work full time. Queer or trans BIPOC people are prioritized.

Oaklash performers in 2021  

But it's also about fun drag shows. Some of the names lined up for this year's festival include Mercury Divine, Tater Tatas, Kochina Rude, Mr. David Glamamore, Nicki Jizz, and two "Drag Race" alumni, Jax (season 15), and Naomi Smalls ("Drag Race All Stars" season 4), among many others.

"Our goal at Oaklash is to give people a taste of everything the Bay Area has to offer," said Mama Celeste. "We have events throughout the month of May ranging from drag lip sync performance workshops to panel discussions featuring local Black femme musicians. Our weekend of shows is no different with our Friday night kick-off party at Thee Stork Club featuring queer and trans music acts, such as the supergroup Commando, our Saturday block party showcasing over fifty diverse drag performers, and our Sunday takeover of Fairyland closing out the weekend with an adults only grand finale."

In addition to celebrating diversity, the Oaklash events promise to offer a good time for all.

"Whenever we curate our event, we make sure there is something for everyone and that everyone can see themselves represented up on our stage," Mama Celeste said.

Some of the more notable Oaklash events include Holla if Ya Hear Me: Black Femmes in Music at Wolfe Pack Studios in Oakland, and Going Deeper: the Search for New Meaning in the Same Old Lyrics at Oakland's Temescal Art Center, both on Wednesday May 10. On Monday May 15 San Francisco's Queer Arts Featured in the Castro will offer Oakcash: Grant Writing for Drag. The big event, the Oaklash Block Party, happens on May 20 in Old Oakland, 9th Street and Broadway, while the Grande Finale will take place on May 21 at Children's Fairyland in Oakland.


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