“I’ve Performed for Free in the Past, but I Try to Stay Away From That Now”
FLARE asked nine Toronto drag performers, including Maris Bobo, to show us what's in their drag bags. And *then* we got down to real talk about their finances
Drag *looks* expensive, but in reality, being a drag artist is a working class gig. (Unless you’re on RuPaul’s Drag Race, duh.) To find out what it’s really like to try to make it as a queer artist in one of Canada’s expensive cities, FLARE asked nine Toronto drag performers on the rise to show us what’s in their drag bags—and then we got down to real talk about their finances, from tipping culture in Canada to hustling to make rent to shopping for fake boobs.
Drag name: Maris Bobo
Time in drag: 2 years
Non-drag job: Starbucks
“I started doing drag in my bedroom. I did bedroom performances that I’d record and put on Twitter. Then, about a year ago I started performing with my friend Akira as a drag duo, The Drag Twins. We’re fraternal twins, so we don’t always do our makeup the same. We have slightly different drag but we do all of our performances together and a lot of them are in sync or are story pieces.
I’m lucky enough to live at home, so I don’t have to pay rent. At the same time, I live in North York and if we’re performing in Toronto’s west end, an Uber can cost $35 or $40. I almost always take an Uber. I’ve walked down the street in drag and it’s not safe. You almost always get harassed.
When you do drag as a duo, you’re making two of everything, buying two of everything, styling two of everything. And neither of us have much free cash to spend. We mash things together the best that we can. I’m also in school debt and I recently got a letter about my loan. I looked at how much debt I was in and it was so scary. I have a lot of expenses—I have to pay for more school—and drag is really expensive, even if you make it yourself. Fabric’s not cheap. Getting a yard at $10 is rare; if you want nice fabric it’s about $30 a yard. If we’re performing, our outfits are definitely the most expensive thing for us. Whether you’re buying something and altering it or buying fabric and starting from scratch, it adds up.
We would love to do drag full-time, but we don’t exactly see it as an option. Full-time drag performers tend to lean more towards poppy, upbeat dance music. And in Toronto’s drag scene, you’re often expected to do marathon drag—lots of numbers in a row. Our drag doesn’t exactly fit into that model. We do really conceptual numbers that are very planned out.
In the past, we have performed for free, but we try to stay away from that now. A while back, we did a show for one of our friends, Fisher Price. They came up to us after and said, ‘You guys are too good. Never work for free unless it’s for charity.’ That stuck with me. If somebody asks us to do a show for free, we still have to buy clothes, hair, pay for transportation etc. We’re losing money—and we can’t afford to lose money.
Our booking fee depends on the show, especially since we’re a duo. Sometimes we’re offered a single booking fee, other times a promoter will offer us each a booking fee. Financially, our best gig so far was a party we did ice skating for Yohomo. It was so much fun. there were so many kids who wanted to skate with us. They liked us because we were pink and red and fluffy. We got paid well and had a lot of fun—that was the best night.”
1. Circle bag: “This is from Forever 21. Akira and I have matching ones. It was about $15.”
2. Sewing bag: “I study fashion design at Seneca and sewing’s my biggest passion in drag. I love making outfits. Akira and I make a lot of our own stuff, mostly because we can’t find what we want. We don’t have the money to hire someone else to make clothes for us, but we also take pride in making everything ourselves. Drag’s a really personal process for us.”
3. Ribbon: “This is from our most recent performance—we did “You Should See Me In A Crown” by Billie Eilish at Garage in Toronto’s gay village at our sister Tay Bobo’s show. It’s from the dollar store and comes in handy for cinching outfits; I usually use it as a belt now.”
4. Drag bag: “This is my bag from when I was around 15. I was an all-star cheerleader. It’s a bit messy, but I’m always in a rush when I do drag. The broken sunglasses in the bottom warm my heart—they’re from a performance we did of Vine compilations. I like seeing them every time I rummage through my bag.”
5. Red shirt: “One day I wore all red and I felt really powerful. It became an obsession where I’d only buy red and my drag sister Akira, my drag sister, would only wear pink. We love it together, the red and pink contrast.”
More What’s in Your (Drag) Bag:
Tash Riot: “I Was Raised to Be Careful With Money, but to Be Honest I Don’t Really Think About It”
Manghoe Lassi: “My Career Has Definitely Allowed Me to Be More Extravagant With My Drag”
The Ugly One: “There’s a Lot of Instances Where, if It Wasn’t for the Tip Bucket, I Wouldn’t Have Gotten Paid”
Manny Dingo: “I’m Very Cheap. In a Month I Might Spend $40 or $50 on Makeup”
Archie Maples: “I Make Sure My Bases Are Covered Rent-wise, but It’s All $100 at a Time”
ZacKey Lime: “Drag Kings Don’t Really Get Tips. I Can’t Tell You Why, But It’s a Problem”
Halal Bae: “On a *Really* Good Night I’ll Make a Few Hundred Dollars”
Priyanka: “The Way Drag’s Blowing Up Right Now, There’s Definitely Potential to Work Full-Time”