By Joey Nolfi
June 15, 2020 at 03:30 PM EDT
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After shuttering bars and performance venues around the world, the coronavirus pandemic issued what could've been a catastrophic blow to the drag industry that birthed the cast of RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars 5. But the inherently rebellious art form has found new vitality amid the ongoing challenges — like, say, broadcasting an entire drag production from quarantine — posed by a global outbreak.

"At our core, we’re producers. We produce things. We create shows. We know how to take a little bit and turn it into a full-on fantasy," All-Stars 5 queen Shea Couleé tells EW in a video interview for our latest digital cover story. "We had to make a shift and get around this learning curve, but, when it comes to the at-home content we’re seeing from creatives, drag queens are at top of that totem pole because we’re setting the bar so high because we already know how to produce on a dime."

Though she's the OG-est queen competing for the All-Stars 5 crown, Ongina — who first broke out on season 1 of RuPaul's Drag Race back in 2009 — has had to expand her already dynamic skillset to ensure her art continues into the coronavirus era. Like, for example, becoming a "producer, an editor, and a creative director" for digital shows that include lights, fans, fog machines, and more. "That's the new normal for what we're putting out as entertainment," she says.

In addition to impacting drag superstars like the All-Stars 5 cast, the COVID-19-related economic downturn has also impacted local artists like New York City’s Vigor Mortis, a transmasculine drag king, who tallied around $1,500 in lost earnings from one month’s worth of paid-gig cancellations, and the Bronx-based Catrina Lovelace, who missed out on $2,500 in booking fees over the same period. On the upper end, before L.A.’s DragCon was postponed (and later held online as a digital presentation), Drag Race season 11 contestant Soju was hoping that merchandise sales would bring in a similar amount as last year, around $10,000. Season 9 winner Sasha Velour also says she forfeited at least $100,000 upon nixing European dates from her Smoke & Mirrors tour in March.

Thus, pioneering voices like Biqtch Puddiń, who won The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula season 2, have launched impactful initiatives aimed at bolstering the community through strife. Earlier this year, Puddiń spearheaded the online Digital Drag Show revue, which has broadcast virtual performances (incorporating advanced projection and graphic presentations) while encouraging audience tips every Friday night on the Twitch streaming service, since March 20.

Though such an evolution of the medium is a necessary testament to drag's gritty, tenacious spirit, All-Stars 5 queen Jujubee fears for the future of live entertainment spaces, and how the queer community will be able to interact with each other once their nightlife homes reopen.

"I know that all of us do shows and we do these things where we meet people, and I hug everybody I meet. I don’t know if I could process doing that because, emotionally, I want to, but because of this entire thing, I kind of feel like we need to stay away from each other. I don’t know how to do this," she says, while Couleé adds: "Naturally, as queer people, we tend to be affectionate, especially in safe spaces, because we’re not always allowed to be so overtly affectionate. It’s going to be such a shift for us to have to maintain distance and not have that genuine connection we create just through hugs and handshakes."

Watch the RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars 5 queens continue to disrupt the airwaves every Friday at 8:00 p.m. on VH1, and tune in to EW's full roundtable interview with the cast here.

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