Over 60 drag performers from around the country strutted the stage at the historic Darcelle XV Showplace last week with one goal: break the Guinness world record for longest continual drag performance.
And that they did, by a comfortable margin of more than 11 hours.
The clothing company Wildfang worked with Darcelle XV to put on the marathon Drag-A-Thon show. Organizers wanted to support the queer community after a slew of legislation was introduced across the country targeting gay rights, and drag performers in particular.
“There’s over 400 pieces of anti-LGTBQ legislation that have been introduced this year alone, and so we wanted to meet that here with love,” said Wildfang CEO Emma Mcilroy.
The event sold out — with more than 4,900 tickets sold. Each ticket covered a two-hour block of performances.
On the first afternoon, the drag artists, decked out in shiny sequins and bright feathers that would shame even the most opulent peacock, kicked the show off with Dolly Parton’s “A Lil’ Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place.” Celebrity emcees such as “Saturday Night Live” cast member Punkie Johnson and author Cheryl Strayed kept the crowd entertained while the performers got ready backstage. Over the next few days, the artists performed a medley of hits from a range of genres, including Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger,” Sade’s “Is It A Crime” and “Good Morning Baltimore” from the musical “Hairspray.”
All were met with rousing and rowdy cheers.
The Darcelle XV Showplace is a Portland landmark; legendary drag artist Darcelle XV founded the venue in 1967. Darcelle, the stage name of Walter Cole, was a gay rights activist and pioneer. She also held her own Guinness record — for being the world’s oldest drag performer.
Darcelle died in March at 92 but her legacy continues at the showplace.
“Darcelle knew of this event and gave us her blessing, so she is with us here tonight,” co-host Eden Dawn said to the crowd on the first night.
For performers and fans, drag offers a way to unapologetically be themselves. It’s an art form increasingly under attack in parts of the United States.
Drag artist BinKyee Bellflower danced to a cover rendition of Katy Perry’s “Roar,” in one of her many performances during the event.
Bellflower, who came out dressed in a fiery red and orange dress with matching wig, has only been doing drag for two years. She said she instantly fell in love with the drag community when she arrived in Oregon from Malaysia.
“I started getting to know a lot of drag queens and drag performers, and a lot of them have actually bridged me over in two different phases of my queer life and also my drag life,” she said.
The previous record length for a drag show was 36 hours, 30 minutes and 40 seconds at a 2017 drag-a-thon in Australia.
To break that, Portland organizers recruited 60 performers, who were on stage for an average of 12 songs each.
“We have shifts, so we don’t have to perform the entire 48 hours. We definitely need time to shave a little bit and retouch our makeup!” Bellflower said, laughing.
Finally, on the afternoon of July 12, Guinness World Record representative Michael Empric announced the final total for Portland’s event: 48 hours, 11 minutes and 30 seconds. Confetti and cheers rained down as the crowd and performers celebrated a new record.
“Darcelle was a Guinness World Records title holder. To come back to this place that she started, that’s such a piece of the community, was so exciting because we’re continuing that legacy,” Empric said.
For drag artists like Bellflower, the show is proof that there’s more that can unite communities than divide them.
“When we come together, we have a louder voice, even though we are very diverse, there’s a unison within that that threads through all our hearts,” she said.
Along with breaking the Guinness record, the drag event raised $296,000 for the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that supports LGTBQ+ youth.