Erie's Drag Scene - Art in Heels
Tuesday Jun 6th, 2023
A Community of Art in Heels
Drag performing in Erie Pennsylvania has become an increasingly popular and vibrant part of the local arts and entertainment scene. Drag refers to the art form where individuals, often LGBTQ+ performers, transform themselves into exaggerated, glamorous, and often gender-bending personas through make-up, costumes, and performances. Erie drag contributes to the region’s cultural diversity and serves as a form of artistic self-expression, entertainment, and celebration of inclusivity. In 2022, the City of Erie did something amazing-scoring a perfect 100 out of 100 on the Municipality Equality Index (MEI)! Erie’s perfect score, one of only five cities to do so in Pennsylvania, demonstrates a sincere commitment to valuing and supporting the region’s LGBTQ+ community. Pictured above: Local queens Debbie (Miss Erie 2022) and Pissi Gabune at Erie Pride 2022.
Erie’s drag scene showcases a wide range of talents, including lip-synching, comedy, dance, and theatrical routines. Here, there are numerous ways to explore and experience the high energy and excitement of drag performance.
- Celebrating 25 years as Erie’s queer bar, and the only LGBTQ+ bar in Erie County, The Zone Dance Club, hosts a multitude of drag shows including the monthly Sunday “FACE” show, themed weekends with pop-up drag shows, weekly trivia nights with Rebecca Mae, RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties with local drag queen appearances, and Sunday drag brunches.
- Attend the annual Erie Pride Fest and Pride Parade, taking place this year on Saturday, June 24. The parade begins at 11th and State Streets and marches north to the festival at Perry Square. Drag queens can be seen performing on parade floats as well as on the main stage.
- Drag BINGOs, Paint with Drag, Drag Storytelling, and other related events pop up throughout the year at various locations. Stay up to date with announcements by Northwest PA Pride Alliance.
Three of Erie’s charismatic (and truly fabulous) drag queens weighed in to voice their thoughts on Erie drag as well as provide a glimpse into their own personal experiences. Michelle Michaels, Rebecca Mae, and Alysin Wonderland are part of Erie’s tight-knit community of drag “sisters” who support and uplift each other in and out of drag.
Michelle Michaels is an Erie native who has been performing in drag since 1995. Throughout her long career, she has held several titles including Miss Embers 2002, Miss Erie 2005, and Miss Omaha Nebraska Entertainer of the Year in 2006. She has hosted “FACE” drag performance and is the promoter and founder of “Michelle Michaels’ Pink Party Weekend Breast Cancer Benefit” at The Zone Dance Club. Her name was inspired by combining her given male name, Michael, and a sister Melissa, who passed away. Performing since she was 19, Michelle Michaels drew upon her years of dance and made it part of her drag persona.
When asked how performing in Erie is different from performing in larger cities, she responded, “Bigger cities tend to have bigger attitudes, bigger egos, and bigger problems. In Erie, we’re a close-knit sisterhood that tends to work well together. Out-of-town performers recognize this and will comment on how close the Erie group appears. Erie only has one gay bar. Larger cities have more than one and most bars have their own “girls” and that sparks a lot of competition, more rivalries and it can be pretty cutthroat. Smaller communities have their benefits.”
Rebecca Mae is an Erie native and has been performing in drag since 2017. Crowned Miss Erie in 2019, she travels frequently to perform within the tri-state area and at colleges and universities across the country, hosting “Pop Up Pride” with XL Event Labs. Even though Rebecca Mae is fairly new to drag, she has been a performer for most of her life. She feels that drag is becoming more accepted in Erie. “I think it’s definitely gotten better. After I returned home and started hosting drag brunches and bingos, attendance was great and there was very little pushback. You will still get the occasional protestor, but that’s to be expected. With that said, I don’t see it as being as big of an issue as it is in larger cities.”
As a traveling drag performer, Rebecca Mae added that hailing from a smaller-sized city such as Erie presents some challenges. “Getting your name out there in larger cities and venues requires a lot of time, patience, and persistence. Every day, I check all my social media accounts, create posts, view comments, and respond accordingly on a daily basis. I strive to always be ahead of the game and continue to build my brand so that when I’m out on the road, people recognize me and know I’m from Erie, Pennsylvania.”
Alysin Wonderland is a native of Altoona, PA, and has been performing in drag since 2005. She has performed across Pennsylvania and offers Q&A Facebook live makeup and skincare tutorials on a regular basis. Alysin was Miss Erie First Runner Up in 2019 and 2022 and placed third overall for Miss Erie 2021. As a fan of drag-related TV shows and movies, she sees both the positive and negative sides to Erie’s drag evolution.
“It’s become more accepting, but I think that’s because drag has become more mainstream. Compared to years past, there are a lot more TV shows and movies about drag. The only problem is, many people have an assumption or a high standard that ALL drag queens should be like the ones they see on movies or TV, much like RuPaul’s Drag Race. If you don’t look like that or act like that, then you’re nothing.” Growing up, Alysin suffered from severe stage fright and social anxiety. Performing in drag provided levels of comfort and confidence. Whether she’s performing in Erie or elsewhere, Alysin has this message to convey. “I stand proud and I stand loud. I want to empower people and give them the encouragement and the courage to say that if this queen can conquer her fears, I can too.”