By Sarah Mizes-Tan
You may know Zackery Bolin best by her stage name Mercury Rising. She’s one of Sacramento’s most popular drag queens, and has been voted best drag queen by the Sacramento News and Review two years running. But on a recent Saturday evening, she was preparing for a totally new kind of performance: an online Instagram show.
Bolin was decked out in a pastel blue wig with thigh-high zip-up boots and a pink whoopie cushion costume — “because this situation stinks,” she said.
Her outfit is outlandish, but her stage setup is more humble — just a few inches of space in the corner of her kitchen with a fold-out chair, a laptop and a light propped up on a tripod.
“This is going to be my first online show, so there’s no actual promised money, there’s no income, so it’s all going to be subjected to tips,” Bolin said. And this situation is not unusual. Many artists have moved their shows online in an attempt to earn just a fraction of their former show income through online tips via Venmo or Paypal.
Because her show is now being broadcast on Instagram, she can’t charge at the door and a venue can’t pay her.
“It’s just kind of at the whim of donations from people who are craving entertainment right now or who feel like what I do is valid enough and needs to be kept around,” Bolin said.
Some in the entertainment business are trying to meet the moment by offering up studio space and professional help for artists to livestream concerts or shows. Josh Haines is an audio technician for Metro Media Productions who’s been trying to help others with this digital transition.
“I was seeing them all putting their heads in their hands and asking, ‘What am I going to do? Do I have to go work at a grocery store for six months?’ Personally I just find that unacceptable,” Haines said. He’s working to set up a “clean” studio space where musicians can come to safely have their shows streamed by a professional without having to put their health at risk.
“An environment where we can welcome people in with all of their equipment and have them not have to worry about any kind of contamination, we’ll have a crew of one if we need to, to just let them have a perfectly clean empty space,” he said.
He plans to open this space to artists by next week, and the service will be free.
Some performers, like Drag King Sir Vix, see some positives in this move to online shows. For one, they believe that the rise in digital shows may make the performance industry more inclusive of those who are not always able to perform live.
“More digital drag shows will become available, we’ll have more disability drag shows that are highlighted, we may go back to bars, but digital drag shows will have still gotten a signal boost,” they said. “So we’ll have people limited by mobility, by health issues, digital drag shows might become more popular.”
But for others, moving a show online is tough. Ryan Kane is a magician based in the Bay Area, and he said there are lots of elements of a live magic show that can’t be replicated for virtual viewers.
“I like an audience. I am terrified of performing for a camera because it doesn’t applaud, it doesn’t react or have any of that type of stuff and you can’t interact with people,” Kane said. “Especially for magic, anyone watching at home can always be like, ‘Oh that person’s an actor or that prop isn’t real,’ whereas in a stage situation you can have people hand things out and participate.”
Mercury Rising said she’ll continue performing online shows for as long as her audience asks for it, but she agreed with Kane that an element of her performance gets lost.
“I’m a six-foot-three man in seven-inch pumps, making me almost taller than a basketball player. And when you see a giant man with hair that goes down to the ground coming at you, that’s monumental. That’s like seeing a rhino charging at you,” they said. “It’s fun to watch it on Instagram, but sometimes you want to go to the zoo and see it live.”
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