INTERVIEW: Tracey Erin Smith and Charlie David Talks New Season of ‘DRAG HEALS’
With the world and culture of Drag taking on the mainstream media, Drag Heals brings heart and soul through this documentary style series now available on Amazon Prime, OutTV Canada and AppleTV. Find out more from the minds behind the show, Tracey Erin Smith (stage director) and Charlie David (director) in our interview below!
Hi Tracey and Charlie, thank you for answering our questions! Can you tell our readers about your series, Drag Heals? How did you both get involved in the project?
Tracey: Drag Heals is a documentary TV series that follows my 10-week SOULO theatre workshop teaching drag artists to transform a story from their lives into a one-person stage show. Each episode dives deep into one of the participants’ lives and explores their life outside of class. In class, it’s like being a fly on the wall in a bedazzled and soulful therapy group for drag performers. I had been teaching Drag King Workshops in Toronto called Dude For A Day and I wanted to offer the reverse for men, while combining it with my SOULO process.
Season one of Drag Heals was almost an accident. I had asked a comedic drag artist friend of mine, Mark Peacock, if he knew of anyone who could come and film what we were doing. Mark introduced me to two amazing men, Charlie David and Nico Stagias. They came to almost every class and shot all the action totally guerrilla style. After we did the live final show at a great bar called Church on Church in the gay village, I thought that Charlie and Nico were going to make a short documentary from what they shot. I didn’t hear from them for months and had assumed they didn’t get enough material to make the doc. Then, out of the blue, I get an email from Charlie saying, “Hey, guess what? You have a TV series!” I was excited and terrified to watch it, so I did a shot of vodka, sat on my couch and pressed play. I laughed and cried my way through the five episodes and thought: Charlie and Nico are geniuses! Based on the reviews of season one and viewer responses, I saw we were onto something unique and powerful. And season two builds on that excitement and creativity.
Who are the drag artists in season two and what will be different from season one? Was there anything new that you wanted to bring into this season?
Charlie: We felt so fortunate with the cast of drag queens we had in season one but when Tracey and I started to discuss a second season we knew we wanted to do some things differently. Tracey came up with the idea of expanding our casting to be more inclusive of the whole drag community and I’m so grateful for that insight because it’s really the fundamental ingredient that enriched the show. The ages of our cast spans 54 years from youngest to oldest, we have non-binary, trans, gay, lesbian and straight performers as well as ethnic diversity which means the conversations we were able to have were inclusive, challenging, and held many, many perspectives and experiences.
Who will be the different coaches that come in for this season?
Tracey: The coaches this year are some of the best and brightest in their fields! First is Leon Silver, the founder of Drag Therapy– an interactive, mixed medium psychotherapy for individuals and groups that allows participants, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, to identify, explore and embody different parts or “Drags” of themselves. They use costumes, mask making, storytelling, performance, makeup, verbal and nonverbal communication, scent, play, visualization, and more. I wrote to Leon; You need to be on our show! He told me he was already a huge fan of Drag Heals. He came up from New York and did a fabulous and fun job, going deep with our cast in just one session.
New this year was the amazing Leelando, a Queer performer and costume designer for Drag Queens and Cosplay. He designed a costume for Priyanka, the winner of Drag Race Canada. Then there was Costa Haitas, a talented Toronto based make up and visual effects artist. And brilliant choreographer Jeff Dimitriou (Schitt’s Creek, Cirque du Soleil, Mama Mia), who I worked with previously on the documentary She’s The Man about my Drag King Workshop, Dude for a Day. With us also was super talented Titus Androgynous, a local Drag King and actor/playwright. Returning this year are the wonderful International Drag artist, Flare and we have two stars from the first season: Champagna and Beardoncé, who act as wise and hilarious mentors for the Season 2 participants.
Why do you feel Drag Heals is important in terms of representation in general but also within the drag space and community? What makes it unique from the other mainstream shows?
Charlie: At the heart of Drag Heals is Tracey’s mantra, ‘no eliminations, only celebrations’ meaning this isn’t a competition, it’s a celebration of the unique gifts and lessons that each drag artist brings to the community. Historically LGBTQ roles in TV and film have been cast with heterosexual actors and often our stories and lives have been depicted as mentally unstable, violent, destructive, and destined for tragedy by Hollywood producers and directors. When those are the narratives that a marginalized person sees reflected back at them repeatedly from the movie screen and television – it’s incredibly destructive and unjust. It’s absolutely crucial that the lives and stories of queer people are created, produced, shared and preserved by those with lived experience.
For millennia our lives have been removed and unwelcome in history books and educational curriculum, from family discussions and gatherings, from faith congregations and from numerous career opportunities– thereby erasing us. We can’t and we won’t allow that anymore. Our collective history is rich, beautiful and transformative. As we heal ourselves, we believe our stories can help heal the world by sharing how we’ve been forged in the fire. Tracey describes the story crafting and sharing we do through this process as going out into the wilderness and returning to the tribe with the elixir of life– a sermon and story that has the transformative power to move mountains and open hearts. I witnessed that every day directing this series and we’re so excited to now share those gifts with our TV audience.
Do you have a favorite moment while filming season two, whether on or off camera?
Tracey: I have so many! One that stands out was when I watched Rosé Dior (Daniel Fernandes) share his piece for the first time. Daniel worked with themes of body image, masculinity/femininity and racism. When he put it all together in his number, it was both hilarious and powerful. It’s about a person of mixed race who is also a beautiful combination of masculine and feminine energy who stands up for themselves and belts out…well, I won’t give it away…but watch episode 3! And there was an accident on set during the dress rehearsal where one of our cast members was injured and the way the rest of the cast came together to help him and do what was needed to get him to the hospital was amazing to watch. (He’s fine and kills it in the final show!) The cast became a family of sorts because of the closeness that was created by sharing such personal stories.
What is the most rewarding part about being involved in a show like this? Did it receive the kind of response for your audience that you were hoping for?
Charlie: The most rewarding part of being involved in Drag Heals is the family that is created with our cast and crew. We experience therapeutic benefits by bearing witness to the stories of others. Drag Heals teaches us how to actively listen and participate in the uniquely human tradition of story sharing. The reviews for the show are overwhelming in their positivity and it’s resonating with people in such cool and unique ways. My goal as a director is to incite a conversation and I’m confident we’re doing that with each and every episode.
What do you want people to know about the drag community that you don’t think most people are aware of?
Tracey: The drag community is more diverse now than it has ever been. RuPaul’s Drag Race put Drag Queens in the living rooms of middle America and now Drag Heals has Drag Kings, Drag Clowns and Drag Things dancing into those same living rooms. I’d also love them to know that age, gender or sexual identity are not barriers to expressing yourself through drag. If you’re drag-curious….you should try it!
Lastly, our final question for both of you, if you could have one super power, which would it be and why?
Charlie: If I had one super power it would be a Fear Blaster and I’d use it to banish trepidation, anxiety, loneliness and depression. I really believe that the universe will conspire to assist you on your journey when you take the first step toward a dream and I love seeing people turn ‘one days’ and ‘maybes’ into ‘right now.’ We only have this moment and they are miraculous.
Tracey: Ahhh, great question! If I could have one super power, it would be Laser Listening. I’d apply it to humans, nature and animals. I’d be able to hear their stories just by being near them and deeply understand what they have been through and what their fears and dreams are. And that’s sort of what the goal of Drag Heals is!