When Pride is so intricately linked to your life as a gig worker in entertainment, specifically as a DJ and drag performer, what do you do when it just stops being there? Two years in a row.
Pride is not perfect. And it can never be everything to all people. But from my earliest experiences attending the Parade with my queer friends, before I had even come out, I realized the need for Pride as a place to connect and find others in your tribe.
It’s political. It started as a riot. It’s also a major celebration. A release. It’s complicated. It’s ever evolving…well, hopefully.
But for me it’s also a job. The work I got from Pride and Pride adjacent gigs made up the majority of my summer income.
At 45 my needs for Pride have shifted. But after a year where most of our queer spaces have been shut down, some permanently, I realize not only do I still need Pride in my life- it’s almost like I need it more than ever.
In about 2001, Pride became hugely intertwined with my working life as a performer. From my bands Gentleman Reg and the Hidden Cameras, to starting to DJ at events and perform as Regina with my band Light Fires, to premiering my one woman drag show- it’s been a consistent part of my musical and artistic evolution for the past 20 years. Not to mention, the entity of Pride introducing me to parts of Canada I’d never seen like Thunder Bay and Yellowknife, and continued bringing me back to places I love like Montreal, Halifax and Vancouver. I have been so fortunate to tour with my art.
Now that Pride is not there, for the 2nd year in a row, it has really hit me how much I not only miss it but how much I had started to take it for granted. I often get annoyed when young people don’t know their queer history, but I too was starting to act as if Pride had just always existed…
Pride is the small-town escape to the big city to finally be who you are. Even if just for a few days.
It’s the freedom you get from walking down the street holding your partner’s hand.
It’s where the fling starts that may turn into your next relationship.
It’s the discussions, the learning, the education, the missed connections.
Something happens when a million people converge for the Pride parade. The last two years I had DJ’d on the street during Sunday’s Parade and seeing that many people come together was almost surreal. It’s intense and actually kind of scary at times but then the end of the day arrives, and you realize your face muscles are exhausted because you’ve been smiling for 5 hours straight, and your voice is hoarse from non-stop laughing and yelling over the noise of the floats. There are often days during the week of Pride where I needed to nap just to make sure I’d make it through my next gig that night. As someone who lives alone these hyper moments of social interaction with other people is what feeds my soul.
I remember DJing at Buddies’ In Bad Times for several Pride weekends for upwards of 500 people a night, and prepping for those nights is like going into battle. You’re psyched up. You prepped and have your supplies. You enter a certain mental zone. By the end of the weekend you’ve (hopefully) won. Mission accomplished. Then you do it again the next day. Then the next week. Pride is a compacted intense timeframe. What used to be a weekend, then a week, has now become a month. June. Pride month. You need to pace yourself just to get it all in. The work, the rest, and the play.
For queer performers the days of Pride are like prime real estate, they’re limited. I remember having to explain to an agency wanting to hire me why my Drag Queen DJ services were more expensive on Pride Sunday, and I equated it to a mall Santa on Xmas eve or Elvira on Halloween. You can hire me any day of the year but if your organization wants to hire a Drag Queen who DJ’s, of which there are very few in the entire city, on that day, it needs to show its true colors and pay queer performers what they’re worth.
This past year there have certainly been some great efforts to move Pride events online, and in some ways we’re lucky this pandemic has happened in the age of our internet addictions.
Since we were already there.
It’s just we were never, only there.
During this pandemic I’ve done my fair share of IG live performances and zoom concerts, in and out of drag. I’ve also been DJing on Twitch for the past 8 months and even miraculously started to make some decent income from that platform. It’s what we’ve started to refer to as the ‘pivot’- Doing nothing is not an option. So what can I do under the circumstances I’m in with the tools that I have? How does the ever shifting re-opening timeline affect these choices?
Among gig workers there was a time when we thought we were taking two weeks off so we could help stop the spread. Once the two week passed, in April of last year, I was still taking bookings for Pride gigs assuming there’s no way this will still be going on in two months! As of this writing it’s still not clear when things will be back in Toronto.
How do you plan for what’s next when you don’t know when that is?
Is there going to be an overwhelming desire from people to be entertained once things are ‘back to normal’?
Do I hold off on new career paths or back to school plans in case there’s a surge of people hiring wedding DJ’s in the fall for all those that were postponed? Which is one of the areas my DragQueenDJ business specifically focuses on.
I’ve been working on re-mounting my one woman drag show from 2015. Are audiences ready to head back to the theatres? Or will this take more time than we thought?
As a queer entertainer I’m often in rather niche performance circles to begin with. Will that have shrunk even further when this is all over and done with?
This summer was supposed to be the wild makeup for last year’s lost summer. Instead, we get the sequel literally no one asked for.
For the time being I’m still creating. Continuing to promote my Regina Gently dance album I released in September. I’m releasing music videos and remixes I created during lockdown and doing online concerts of all kinds. For the most part these are just keeping me busy. Keeping me sane and creative. But they’re not paying my rent. At some point I need those live in-person gigs to resume and fill that income gap. And if that doesn’t happen soon. It might just be time for another pivot. One away from this arts-based gig life I’ve been living for the past 20 years.
I’m open to suggestions.
About the Author
Regina Gently, the drag alter ego of Toronto based musician Gentle-man Reg, has been performing and DJing all over Canada, Europe and into the United States for the past nine years.
As a songwriter and live singer she had fronted the band Light Fires with James Bunton (Ohbijou), and released a full length album entitled ‘FACE ’in 2013. It featured a duet with Owen Pallett, along with six music videos to accompany tracks from that album which are all avail-able on YouTube. With Light Fires, Regina has shared stages with Peaches, Austra, Handsome Furs, Fu*ked Up, Diamond Rings, Big Freedia, Rae Spoon, and Hercules & The Love Affair among many others! She has performed as far as St. John’s Newfoundland, up to Yellowknife and over to Victoria.
Regina has starred in music videos ‘Chasing The Fall ’by The Darcys, and ‘Mexican AfterShow Party’ by Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene), and had a cameo in the feature film ‘Portrait Of A Serial Monogamist’. Her first solo theatrical show titled ‘Do I Have To Do Everything My Fu**ing Self?’ premiered at the Rhubarb Festival in 2014, with several remounts at the SummerWorks festival, the NAC in Ottawa, the Or-lando Fringe Festival and a cross Canada tour of the Fringe circuit throughout 2015/2016. She is currently at work on a re-mount of this show with well known theatre producer Michael Rubenfeld and cele-brated theatre writer Jacob Richmond, with plans to premiere it in 2021.
In 2018 Regina started her own mobile DJ company called DragQueenDJ. Taking her many years of DJ skills out of the gay clubs and tailoring them to weddings, corporate gigs and all manor of events.
With a brand new album of original music completed, on April 19th, 2019 Regina released her first single under the name Regina Gently, titled ‘Good People’, with an accompanying music video.