Queens of Prague: The birth of the new Czech drag scene

The Czech drag scene has existed largely underground, until now: local performers talk about the rise of the genre and this summer's must-see shows.

Christopher Sebastian

Written by Christopher Sebastian Published on 27.05.2022 16:43:00 (updated on 11.08.2022) Reading time: 6 minutes

The darkened room was cramped but not uncomfortable, and the people seated in the audience were all very excited and pleasant. They were waiting for Draglesque to begin, a combination drag queen performance and burlesque.

People say that the Prague drag scene is still very much underground, but in this instance, it literally was. The show was at Prague teahouse A Maze in Tchaiovna, so named for its subterranean labyrinth of spaces and eclectic “Alice in Wonderland”-style decor. That night’s performance was in a secret room hidden behind a bookshelf, the first unexpected but pleasant surprise during an evening that would be full of them.

Until now, much of Prague’s drag scene has existed in nightclubs and bars. Audiences didn't get a high-quality show, but that was part of the appeal. Imperfect makeup, torn stockings, and cheap wigs added an element of tawdry fun to the experience. With more bookings like Tchaiovna, that’s starting to change.

Action Jackson, the founder of the Gay Agenda, a Prague-based comedy show is exactly the kind of host you expect for an event like this—a huge personality with the job of presenting a lineup of huge personalities.

With the help of his Gay Agenda which highlights queer talent, drag in the Czech Republic is becoming both sleeker and more theatrical and finally entering the mainstream. And with Pride month coming up, something like a drag Coachella, the community will be bursting at the seams with performances happening all over the city. 

A few minutes past the scheduled start time, Jackson took to the makeshift stage wearing a button-up shirt and a blazer that his mom in the US made for him out of cartoon character backpacks that he acquired from years of Comic-Con events in his native city of San Diego. He flashed a huge smile showing hundreds of teeth and demanded the audience make some noise at least a hundred times. Then the first performer entered the stage. 

Where to see dazzling drag shows in Prague this summer

Summer starlets│On Saturday, June 4, the Gay Agenda will put on a variety show at Rock Cafe. It will be a night of drag, burlesque, and stand-up comedy in English. Featured performers will include Hayley the Strange, Chlorophyll Von Needle, Angelina Angelic, and more. Ten percent of the ticket sales will go to Prague Pride’s new community center, which opened last year. Tickets can be purchased here

Dutch 'RuPaul' winner│On July 9, the Gay Agenda will bring Vanessa Van Cartier, the current winner of Drag Race Holland, to town. In addition to being the current reigning winner, she’s also a former winner of the Miss Continental USA pageant, and the Miss Continental Europe pageant, two of the largest female illusion competitions in the United States and in Europe. Van Cartier will be the first winner of a European Drag Race franchise to come to the Czech Republic, and she’s also one of only three transgender winners of a Drag Race franchise. Tickets can be purchased here

Melancholia Blackbile sashayed in wearing a bright green spandex bodysuit and an even brighter long green wig. She danced to the song “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space”. If you’re Gen X or older, you might recognize it from the 1986 film musical “Little Shop of Horrors”. If you’re Millennial or younger, you might not recognize it at all. For her follow-up number in the second act, she changed into an equally form-fitting cat costume and performed “Macavity the Mystery Cat” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Cats.”

The crowd cheered heartily for both performances. In fact, the crowd made Action Jackson proud because they made noise for all the acts that night. As the Prague drag scene continues to gain momentum, Melancholia played at least some role in that. 

The following day after the show, she (now he) explained those contributions to the local scene over brunch. By the cool light of day, the costumes were gone, the dramatic makeup washed away, and the elaborate wigs brushed and stored. The shy, soft-spoken 165 cm (5’5”) young man remaining was the polar opposite of the big characters he created for the stage.

But traces of the drag persona still remained. Like many professional queens, his eyebrows were shaved, which saves time applying makeup, and his pale skin was unblemished. He ordered an orange juice and started explaining just how recently the drag scene landed.

“It began with a few shows here, and they were not on a regular basis. At the end of 2018, I organized my first show, which is now like an annual Halloween party, but for queer people. And that’s something that wasn't here before.”

-Drag performer Melancholia Blackbile

Another local drag queen, who prefers to remain anonymous, agrees with this timeline. Now age 20, he had been doing drag since he was 17. He said, “I remember when I got the email that Netflix is finally available in the Czech Republic. I think it was like 2015. And I went on it and saw RuPaul's Drag Race. And I'm like, what the hell is that? What are these men in wigs doing? OH MY GOD! So I check out the first episode. And I was like, hold on, let me check another one and another one. That's how I started liking it. And that was the case for so many queens…now we get TV gigs!”

And this is true. Not only have TV deals started to emerge, but all kinds of paid opportunities from brand endorsements to corporate sponsorships. Drag is rapidly becoming a source of income. Makeup brands in particular are very friendly to drag performers. Who wouldn’t want someone to deftly showcase how to apply their products with flawless results? The performer says he has already worked with Sephora, Avon, and others. And with 26k followers on Instagram and a staggering 200k followers on TikTok, those endorsements are still coming in.

Spoiler though, drag isn’t entirely new in the Czech Republic. Before RuPaul’s Drag Race introduced a generation of young artists to western performance, there was Travesty (pronounced tra-VEST-ee). They are similar, but subtle differences exist. Drag queens are often flamboyant, loud, and camp. Travesty is as an almost traditional style of Czech cross-dressing.

Since the Velvet Revolution in ’89, there's been the Travesty scene, which is more, you know, Eastern European. I would say that it's not such a difference. It's just that it has a different vibe, I guess, and a different audience. I know Travesty performers that have been doing it for longer than I've been alive…like 30 years already.

-Czech drag performer

Action Jackson described Travesty almost like a cabaret. “The Czech girls say they don’t do drag. Travesty is about ‘Here is my hairy chest. I’m dressed as a woman singing traditional Czech songs.’ Drag queens give you the full illusion of a woman. I am Lady Gaga, I'm giving you Dua Lipa. A lot of them want to pass as a woman.”

The other major difference is that Travesty is also dominated exclusively by cisgender (usually gay) men. Drag, by comparison, is for everybody. Because drag focuses on the grandiose and exaggerated performance of gender, everyone has room to play with it. Draglesque featured performances from cisgender women, transgender men, and even drag king H.P. Loveshaft, who came all the way from Berlin to perform as a very sexy Johnny Bravo. 

Of course, fear of bigotry can make performers apprehensive. But even when it came to talking about their experiences with homophobia and transphobia, there was a sense of optimism. According to the performers we spoke with it's because some form of drag has long been around in the country, and Travesty acts are well respected by the Czech people.

“There can be people who literally don't understand the LGBTQ community at all, but still enjoy a Travesty show. They just find it fun, and they don't care if the person is gay or transgender or whatever. They just enjoy the show, which is nice because it actually connects people to the community.” 

Make sure to check out The Gay Agenda and all the fantastic projects they currently have going on. From celebrating Pride Month with Prague Pride on June 4 to DragRace winners coming to town on July 9, this summer is sure to be action-packed!

This article was written in association with The Gay Agenda. Read more about our partner content policies here.

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