From drag’s earliest origins in Greek theater or kabuki, to modern-day basement clubs in New York City, the art form has always thrived as live entertainment. RuPaul’s Drag Race translated what was a niche space into an Emmy-winning hit TV show, which, in turn, has intensely magnified drag’s popularity IRL, as well.
RuPaul’s Drag Con started in Los Angeles in 2015 and expanded to New York City in 2017, and both events this year pulled in more than 100,000 attendees. World of Wonder, the production company behind Drag Race and Drag Con, recently announced for next year Drag Con U.K. and RuPaul’s Drag Race Live!, a Las Vegas residency featuring Drag Race alumni at the Flamingo.
As drag becomes mainstream, both queens and event producers are trying to find their footing in what is definitely fertile ground both in pop culture and the experience economy at large.
According to management consulting firm McKinsey, spending on experience-related events has grown 1.5 times faster than overall personal-consumption spending and nearly four times faster than expenditures on goods. For World of Wonder cofounders Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, building a proper experience for Drag Con has been about balancing a full experience that caters to Drag Race‘s expansive audience without watering down the art form.
“We invest quite a bit of energy into curating the experience here. From the kids’ zone in the bouncy house to RuPaul DJing during the day to Instagram stations throughout, we take pride in producing a con that is fully experiential,” Barbato says. “You want it to be more than just a couple of booths.”
“The con needs to be like a drag queen,” Barbato continues.
“Endlessly surprising and packed with treats,” Bailey chimes in.
And that same energy extends to Vegas and RuPaul’s Drag Race Live!
“Vegas is drag. I mean the casinos, those buildings, they are drag. There’s a Venetian palace. Like, what?” Bailey says. “So truly after we do the show on the strip, the next thing will be to have a hotel on the strip. I’m not joking. We just need a little cash!”
As popular as Drag Race has become on TV, Bailey says having events like Drag Con and RuPaul’s Drag Race Live! has become imperative to the brand and its audience.
“We’re all screenagers now. So much of our lives are spent interacting with screens. The great thing about DragCon is that you can come and actually have an experience,” Bailey says. “You can meet your tribe, you can hang out with your tribe. I think that—don’t get me wrong, we love TV—but also we do need to touch and feel and be around each other in real life.”