Hit television series Drag Heals, which follows drag artists over an intensive month-long workshop to build their own stage show, made its season three premiere on February 10th on OUTtv, Amazon Prime and AppleTV+.
Drag Heals is based on a process that host and show creator Tracey Erin Smith developed that helps people excavate raw material from their lives, using what she calls “Theatrical Alchemy.” So whatever kind of form of drag a person is interested in doing, they combine that with their personal narrative into a short one person show and then at the end of this process together they perform live in front of a stage audience.
Instead of a competition series, Drag Heals is a celebration of the uniqueness of each participant. They tackle tough discussions head-on around the language and culture used in drag and when it can be unknowingly hurtful. In Drag Heals, the cast isn’t just performing a lip sync, they’re grabbing hold of the mic and saying something important.
Over the course of the intensive workshops and story crafting, the participants dive deep into their personal lives to unearth lessons learned and bring them back to the audience as a gift. The resulting stories are emotional and cathartic, both for the drag artists and the audience who share in the experience.
I had the opportunity to chat with Tracey about the latest season of Drag Heals, why sharing these personal stories are important, and what’s next.
Kat: Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration for “Drag Heals”, and what the audience can expect from the new season?
Tracey: Everyone has a story to tell! Drag Heals was inspired a number of years ago when I became curious about what would happen if drag performers combined their drag acts with their personal stories? Would it work? Would the audience be interested in knowing the person behind the sparkly mask?
Three seasons later the answer has been YES! Here’s something not many people know: The first season of Drag Heals was never intended to be a TV show. Filmmakers Charlie David and Nico Stagias were capturing this experiment of combining drag and stories, with the intent of making a documentary. After they went through all their hours of footage they realized they had too much material for one documentary. They decided to edit it into a documentary TV series. The appropriately catchy title, “DRAG HEALS“ was created by our wonderful Director/Producer Charlie David. Each season we ask ourselves; how can we be even more inclusive? How can we challenge ourselves to go even further creatively? And so, this is what we have done with season three. We have a cast of incredible folx from a variety of backgrounds who are each exploring different styles of drag. Our Season 3 cast features comedian Al Val ( headliner of Just for Laughs), Canada’s only drag wrestler Alice Starr, Queerlesque performer Tristan Ginger, DJ Jade Elektra, vocalist Rose-Ingrid Benjamin, and event promoter Buster Highman. Expect the unexpected this coming season! Something surprising happens in one of the final episodes leaving the cast to their own devices to get their shows ready for the final live performance. What I can tell you is that: Courage is contagious. You’ll have to tune in for how they did it!
Kat: Over the course of the intensive workshops and story crafting, the participants dive deep into their personal lives to unearth lessons learned and bring them back to the audience as a gift. Why is it important to share their stories, and this process?
Tracey: The drag aspect of Drag Heals is the glitter and glam of our show and the personal storytelling is the heart and soul. When working with people to share their stories with an audience I practice the principle I learned from a dear friend who is a Minister, he said when he was at Seminary at Harvard they taught the clergy-in-training to; preach from your scars, not your wounds. This is the best and most succinct advice I could give anyone when deciding what parts and how to share your story. Our ‘scars’ are events that we have lived through that caused pain but enough time has passed, and enough processing has happened, that it is safe for you to talk about that experience on stage. You want to bring a gift to the audience with your story and you do that by sharing how you survived what happened and what you learned along the way. People always ask; Why doesn’t life come with an instruction manual? The simple answer, to this age old question, is that it does! And, it’s hiding in plain sight! The instruction manual for life is other people’s stories. Stories are an ancient technology that imparts life-saving information from one human to another, one generation to another. A tale as old as time! It’s incredible what you can learn from listening to people’s tales of their trials and triumphs.
Kat: The show tackles tough discussions head-on around the language and culture used in drag and when it can be unknowingly hurtful. What do you hope the audience takes away from this season?
Tracey: Viewers will see how a diverse group of strangers can come together, and by sharing their deepest stories, create a beautiful community. In Drag Heals we tackle tough discussions head-on around the language and culture used in drag and when it can be unknowingly hurtful. We hope the series sheds light on some of these challenges so we as the LGBTQ+ community can learn and do better. In Drag Heals, the cast isn’t just lipsyncing, they’re grabbing hold of the mic and saying something important. The amazing takeaway here is we get to observe how the cast and myself deal head on with difficult situations, or complicated realities in the moment. When a diverse group of people get together to create something new the viewer is given an opportunity to reflect on how they can speak more honestly and openly in a challenging situation, as well as listen with an open heart to someone else’s perspective. We try to practice this on the show and I think the cast has been very successful. We like to say: Try this at home!
Kat: What has been your biggest challenge thus far with the series?
Tracey: The biggest challenge thus far in creating this series has also been its greatest opportunity. Which is helping each individual to ‘un-mask’ their personal stories, and find the courage to speak these stories out loud, not only in front of other cast members, but in front of the television cameras as well! Each person needs a different form of cheerleading or coaching or loving butt-kicking in order to be able to do this. I love figuring out which personalized form of direction and nudging will help each person. As I think you’ll see in the show, my greatest joy is finding innovative ways to help each person fully express themselves. Their stories are so powerful, moving, raw and often hilarious. You can’t help but fall in love with each one.
Kat: What’s next?
Tracey: Rumour has it that one of the things Up Next is Drag Heals Season 4! I already have ideas on how we can be even more inclusive and creative! I will always be excited about this series because; Drag is the mask that unmasks. What could be better than helping people unmask their inner treasures?
Up next for me personally is finishing my book, The Ministry of Stories. The book explains the process that I use in Drag heals to help people tell their stories and I share personal stories from my own life including, including losing my father to suicide, helping men in a maximum security men’s prison tell their stories as well as travelling on a bus that was going back-and-forth between Israel and Palestine to practice Compassionate Listening.
Next I am off to the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre to direct a world premiere of a new play called, “Narrow Bridge”. It’s about the intersection of religion and being transgender. It’s about feeling like your inside doesn’t match your outside and that’s a feeling we all have sometimes.
Connect With Tracey on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/traceyerinsmith