From Playwright to Pandemic Queen: How D’Arcy Drollinger Became the First Drag Laureate
D’Arcy Drollinger didn’t always plan on being a drag queen. San Francisco’s new drag laureate lived in New York for years trying to make it as a playwright. After assisting in Broadway numbers and later working as a publicist for the Museum of Modern Art, she returned to the Bay Area where she’s become a well-respected leader for the city’s sprawling, long-established queer community.
“While I loved it, I realized it wasn’t my calling,” she tells Rolling Stone of her time working for the museum. “I quit that job and moved back to figure out what I was going to do with my life. And look what happened!”
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On Thursday, San Francisco mayor London Breed appointed Drollinger — a drag performer and owner of the City’s Oasis nightclub — as its first-ever drag laureate. With the new role, she’ll work with the city to represent its queer community, and also help engage LGBTQ people and other drag performers in political activism.
It’s the perfect next step for Drollinger, who founded the Oasis nightclub and cabaret in the city’s SOMA neighborhood in 2015. Since then, Oasis has hosted drag shows, political rallies, and community events, and has even welcomed guests such as Jane Fonda, Lil Nas X, and Drag Race queens.
Most importantly, Drollinger has been recognized by local drag performers for helping them earn money during the pandemic after she launched Meals on Heels, a food delivery program that featured curbside drag shows in the city during lockdown.
“I was thinking of all the ways that I could still offer performers an opportunity to weather the storm,” she says. “Coming out of the pandemic, and while I wish it never happened, it cemented me in the community and showed me how important drag is.”
And leaving New York didn’t stop her from writing and directing productions, either. She’s currently working on the sequel to her 2020 film Shit and Champagne, starring numerous drag queens, which she wrote and directed.
Drollinger spoke to Rolling Stone about representing San Francisco, anti-drag rhetoric and legislation in the U.S., and why the Dodgers, who recently removed a drag queen charity from a Pride event, suck.
Congratulations on this news. How are you feeling? How’d you find out?
I have known for about a week and a half an was sworn to secrecy but I got a I got a call from the mayor on my cell phone! When I read the criteria, what they were looking for, it felt like I checked a lot of the boxes as a drag personality and a strong, active community member. It felt like the next step in my career. It made sense.
While I’ve been doing drag for some time, and opened the Oasis nightclub about eight years ago, it really was dealing with the pandemic and thinking outside the box of how to stay afloat that got me here.
What was the Meals on Heels program?
Meals on Heels was a drag delivery service where people could order food and they got a curbside drag performance. It was a way to hire drag performers who suddenly weren’t making the money they were used to making. I could still bring some sparkle into other people’s lives. It was one of those moments where I really took stock in what my role and our role as drag performers are in the community and one of those is to entertain.
Like a good ol’ fashioned USO show, when times get tough, we need to continue to entertain and uplift people’s spirits and that’s exactly what we did. That’s what I intend to continue to do. It’s hard to see all of this anti-drag rhetoric happening around the country. Part of that fight back is continuing to entertain and show the performers in those states that there are people out here rooting for them, and I think that’s important.
When did you start doing drag?
I’d say when I was about three! I’ve written a number of plays and musicals and I did drag for theatre, which is how it all started for me. I started doing more theatrical drag productions and TV parodies when I moved to San Francisco from New York. With the bar where I was doing performances [closed], I said why not create our own? That’s when drag became my full-time job. And I haven’t looked back. It was not what I expected to be doing with my life. I kept saying yes and it’s blossomed into an exciting life and a great career.
Why do you think it’s important to have a position like this in a place like San Francisco that counters all of the anti-drag negativity?
It’s a testament to San Francisco though because they have created this position before all of the [anti-drag rhetoric] started. This is not a reaction to that, which to me, really drives home the fact that San Francisco appreciates us and has a respect for what we bring to the table. Not only as entertainers but also as fundraisers and political associates. I hope that there is a groundswell and other other places follow suit.
Did you see the L.A. Dodgers kicked out the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence from a Pride event? What do you think about that?
As a San Franciscan, I’m a Giants fan. I already hate the Dodgers a little bit. I kind of have to. [Laughs] But this is the final nail in the coffin. It’s so so sad. They’re driven by economics, but I would hope that there would be an equally strong stance against doing something like this. To to go as far as to create an event, invite them, and then disinvite them is just egregious. It’s sad it’s happening in California. You feel like we’re so protected and in this bubble that is open minded but when you see something like this, it does feel like that rightwing propaganda is seeping in and it’s really disappointing.
What’s your goal with this new role?
Obviously I want to continue to elevate and celebrate the art of drag. That is what I’m already doing. In the bigger picture, I want to really I want to build bridges between the drag community, the LGBTQ-plus community, and other government organizations and small businesses around the city and really act as an ambassador.
While San Francisco already has a lot of coexisting in a great way, I think that there’s a lot more that can be done. I also want to host large events that focus and highlight the drag community and work at at revitalization that I think that the drag community would be very excited to participate in. It’s going to be a bit of an exploration because this has never been done before. A big way to start is to listen to my community. That’s really the key to my success so far with the nightclub. It’s about listening to people and taking the advice from the people I’m working for.
I feel like that’s been the key of queer success is working together.
And I get to do that in a much, much bigger scale. Life often imitates art or vice versa. A good drag performer knows that if a zipper breaks on their outfit or the DJ plays the wrong song, there’s two choices. Run off stage and quit or the show must go on. Get some duct tape and do your best to do that lip sync. There is that kind of mentality with a good drag performer and I feel like bringing that to the table of life is is what we got to do.
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