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We're Here's 'Drag Dad' on bringing queens to 'front lines of hate'

We're Here's 'Drag Dad' on bringing queens to 'front lines of hate'

We're Here's 'Drag Dad' on bringing queens to 'front lines of hate'
Easton Schirra

The co-creator of the HBO show chats about style and the new season.

We’re Here, HBO’s Emmy-winning series about drag performers traveling around America, is one of the most important shows on TV now for LGBTQ+ visibility. It debuted in 2020, and since then, drag has emerged as a divisive political issue, with the far right demonizing and even banning queens and kings from public performances.

This season features a new cast: Sasha Velour, Priyanka, Jaida Essence Hall, and Latrice Royale. But its mission of creating a platform to spread queer love and hope remains the same. Below, We’re Here’s co-creator and executive producer, Johnnie Ingram (an Out100 honoree, along with his husband, We’re Here co-creator Stephen Warren), talks about the show’s essential mission and the new season in his Hollywood Hills home.

JOHN VARVATOS Jacket; Shirt; Pants; BootsEaston Schirra

Out: The big news this season is that we have a new cast: Sasha Velour, Priyanka, Latrice Royale, and Jaida Essence Hall. How has the show been impacted by the addition of these queens?
Johnnie Ingram: It’s incredible to see how the format of the show continues to evolve, and with more time in each location this season, it gives us a deeper perspective into each of our hosts’ personal relationship with drag, politics, religion, and love. You get to watch each drag superstar embrace being a drag mother and mentoring first-time drag queens without the comforts of the big city. On top of that, it requires sharing a vulnerable and political side of drag as they witness firsthand the growing anti-drag movement happening on the front lines. I can confidently say that on April 26 [the show’s premiere] you will begin to witness a total eclipse of love as Sasha Velour, Priyanka, Latrice Royale, and Jaida Essence Hall rise to the occasion and leave nothing but love and tears on the dance floor.

What will you miss most about working with the departing queens, Eureka O’Hara, Bob the Drag Queen, and Shangela?
Working with Eureka, Bob, and Shangela has forever created some my life’s most fond memories. I will never forget the first moment showing up to our pilot episode in Gettysburg during the heat of the summer and making our impossible idea possible and the look on their faces when they first saw their magical drag vehicles — a purse on wheels for Bob, an elephant for Eureka, and giant pink glitter gift box for Shangela. That was just the beginning of a four-year journey together of changing lives.

How has the show changed in response to this political climate, both in format and in mission?
This season of We’re Here is also about facing one of the biggest equal rights movements in American history. We are so grateful that HBO continues to believe in the show and gives us the resources to meet the moment and tell authentic queer stories by queer people. This season, we spend three episodes in each community and put on multiple drag shows that provide a much deeper look into the lives of many unsung heroes. We join them in the fight to face anti-drag and anti-trans policies head on.

JOHN VARVATOS Jacket; Shirt; Pants; BootsEaston Schirra

Why do you believe drag has become such a target right now?
We’ve seen it before, and we are seeing it again — politicians are taking advantage of a vulnerable community by spreading misinformation to use as political gain. Sadly, this misinformation is spreading at alarming rates due to the lack of accountability in many of our news [publications] and social media.

What role do you see We’re Here playing in this national fight for drag?
We’re Here is about all of us. It may seem like a lot of glitter and rainbows, but it’s really about writing our history in real-time as they try to ban books and erase us. It’s about using the power of storytelling to move the needle in places where it’s not easy to live out and proud. It’s about right now. With the current rise in hate across the country, we are risking it all and even changing our format to face the rising hate head-on. We are not going to let anyone take away queer joy, freedom of expression, or ban our sacred drag shows without a fight. We’re Here and we’re not going anywhere.

What can you tell us about the towns and people we’ll meet this season?
This season hits close to home as we venture deep into my home state of Tennessee and rural Oklahoma, which are sadly leading the anti-drag and anti-trans legislation in the U.S. The people we meet in this season are on the front lines of hate and feel defeated in this political climate by local legislation. We are not changing the world with a drag show but hoping that by telling these stories we will show that love can truly conquer hate.

RALPH LAUREN Shirt; LEVI’S JeansEaston Schirra

The clothing itself is such a highlight of this show — pulled from a traveling closet! What are some of the logistics involved in serving all of these looks on the road?
Our amazing costume and wardrobe team [members] are truly miracle workers, and they have multiple Emmys to prove it! Almost all of the drag looks you see onstage are completely made from scratch and made on the ground in each town. Each design is meticulously discussed and reworked over and over to enhance the story of each local participant so they truly feel the drag superstar fantasy onstage. We have extremely tight timelines, and in a pinch, you got to “make it work” and rely on the local resources such as thrift stores, local stitchers, and even a Bass Pro Shop.

After working with drag performers for so long, how has your own style evolved?
I tend to bring a lot of my behind-the-scenes look into my own style, as I would never want to upstage our amazing queens. However, since working on the show, I now have a huge collection of drag queen T-shirts, a pair of Vans covered in glitter, and Stephen and I had one of our costume designers, Diego Montoya, create custom We’re Here “drag dad” jackets that are inspired by Orville Peck. We wear these at the drag shows, and you may have seen them on the 2023 Out100 and Creative Arts Emmy red carpets!

RALPH LAUREN Shirt; LEVI’S JeansEaston Schirra

You wake up, and it’s a beautiful spring day. What clothing items do you put on?
I love a sharp classic look with a little shine. I call it my “blu-ni-form,” which is my dark blue A.P.C. jeans with a dark blue John Elliott high-quality T-shirt complete with a shiny, dark blue Acne Studios jacket. Since it’s spring and I love shoes, I bring out my extra-white socks and extra-white Common Projects. You may not notice me, and I like it that way. Ha ha.

What message do you hope We’re Here sends this season?
Drag is love!

NANUSHKA Jacket and Pants; CALVIN KLEIN Tank Top; RAG & BONE ShoesEaston Schirra

This story is part of Out's March/April issue, which hits newsstands on April 2. Support queer media and subscribe — or download the issue through Apple News, Zinio, Nook, or PressReader starting March 18.

photographer: EASTON SCHIRRA @eastonschirra THE ONLY AGENCY
photographer’s assistant: ALEX POLCYN @apzander
stylist: KENN LAW @kennlaw
grooming: JOSÉ FIGUEROA @josefigz

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor-in-chief of Out and an award-winning journalist who focuses on the intersection between entertainment and politics. This Jersey boy has now lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade.

Daniel Reynolds is the editor-in-chief of Out and an award-winning journalist who focuses on the intersection between entertainment and politics. This Jersey boy has now lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade.