How has Drag Heals evolved from season 1 to season 2? The production of Drag Heals, season 1 to season 2 has been quite a journey. As the DOP and co-producer/creator of the show, the evolution has been remarkable. Season 1 was created out of a curiosity about the work that Tracey Erin Smith was creating with her drag acting workshop called “Project Drag Queen”, back in March of 2016. The workshop had 8 participants looking to create one woman shows for drag queens. The B-Girls, who are a Toronto-based drag queen troupe, were mentors for Tracey’s workshop that first year. They suggested we get permission to bring cameras, and well, the rest is history. Charlie and I would show up to the workshops, one camera, a couple of microphones and record what was in from of us. For season 2, we actually had a production budget. We were able to audition a cast, hire a crew and lock down Buddies in Bad Times Theatre as our workshop and performance space. This time around, we were super excited to cast a drag show that was drag/ gender fluid. We cast drag kings, drag queens, drag things and drag monarchs. Our cast expressed a rainbow of gender/sex identities: queer, sis, trans, straight, non-binary, lesbian, gay and everything in between. I’m super proud of this series, especially the evolution of inclusiveness and diversity in our cast members from season 1 to season 2. Why is this type of a show important now? Drag Heals is super important because of the stories our cast is telling. A diverse expression of drag and gender identity is much needed in television. Though RuPaul’s Drag Race was revolutionary when it first appeared in mainstream television, it has not evolved in a way that has reflected the larger scope of drag performance and expression. The show mostly represents sis-gendered, queer men who are drag queens. Where are the drag kings? Where are the Drag Things, Drag Monarchs and Drag Clowns. Moreover, Drag Race is a competition show, eliminating one queen every-episode. Drag Heals is a show about celebrating a diverse group of drag artists and their process in creating a one-person show for the stage. Drag Heals is about the humility of love and supporting an artist’s process through compassion and understanding. As Tracey says, “There are no eliminations here, only celebrations!" As the director of photography, you have an ongoing close connection with all of the talent, how do you create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable to share so honestly and freely? The only way any human being is able to create an atmosphere of honesty is through humility and through a concerted effort to “really” listen. The reality is, I’m a privileged, sis-identified white, queer guy. I need to recognize my privilege and give space to others who have not had the opportunity nor the platform to express their perspective and their personal story. It is everyone’s responsibility, especially mine, to make space and shine a light on human diversity. Our humanity is universal, but somehow, some people don’t see that. I LOVE the cast of Drag Heals 2. They have opened my heart, opened my mind. They deserve my undivided attention and respect. What did you discover about the power of drag in bringing a community together? As a young, queer person studying film at San Francisco State University and the University of BC in the early 90s, I was immediately introduced to the power of drag. My first roommate in the Castro was an HIV positive, Latina drag queen with the political will to change the world. Fuji was a sexy motherfucker that did not take shit from anyone. Our friends were dying all around us, but Fuji remained steadfast. She performed for her dying community, she cared for her community and took a fierce political stance to protest against the homophobic and AIDS-phobic politicians of the day. She was a member of ACT UP and exercised her rights to protest and demand rights for the underrepresented… and in doing so, demanding rights for herself as a queer, Latina, drag queen of colour. I became politically awake. Clinton had just come into power and the world seemed to shift. Bush was gone. “Good riddance to bad rubbish”, Fuji would say. We danced and celebrated into the night as Clinton was inaugurated. Fuji helped clarify that my work as a filmmaker would tell these stories. I was driven to tell stories about the banality of gender, the injustices of homophobia, the AIDS epidemic and racism. I’ve always believed that gender is a societal construct. I dreamed of a day when gender expression was as fluid and diverse as the infinite colours of the rainbow. Once I moved to Vancouver to pursue my MFA in film, I decided then to pursue drag. Being in drag not only helped access other parts of my gender, but it also reminded me that gender is all about play. I felt liberated! I could joyfully express a part of myself that had been in the closet, even after I had come out as a gay man. As a drag queen/ clown (I was a silly queen, never passing as a “woman”), I was open and available to the world. People were attracted to Metaxia (a name I took from my grandmother) and Metaxia was more curious about the world around her, more than Nico ever was. The fear on the unknown and the fear of rejection was gone. The fear of being perfect was gone. The fear of judgment was no longer there. Drag is freedom. What’s been most challenging about creating the Drag Heals series for you personally? As a producer, my challenge is to make sure that no cast member is ever mis-represented. Our cast has literally “bared” their souls, their hearts to me. I take this responsibility very seriously. I am very proud of the work that we have created together, and I want ALL those relationships to continue to grow in a healthy and meaningful way. As producers, we share a fine cut with our cast to make sure they are 100% on board with their video representation. Ultimately, it’s the only way to know for sure that we are doing our job and respecting people’s stories and boundaries. Charlie and I are not interested in manipulating the words of our subjects to incite a specific, tailored reaction. We want to tell underrepresented and meaningful stories. Transparency and inclusiveness is the only way I want to create art. Connect with Nico Stagias at www.stagias.com
Nico Stagias is a Toronto based DOP, producer and editor who has worked in television for the past 20 years. His education includes an MFA degree in Film Production at the University of British Columbia and an Honour’s BA in Communication Studies at Concordia University.
As a filmmaker/ visual creator, Nico’s achievements include 2 awards at the Inside Out Film Festival for Best Artistic Achievement in a film and Best Audience Choice Award at the Oregon Queer Film Festival. In addition, Nico’s visual elements for “TimeCode Break” (a Toronto Dance Theatre dance performance) helped garner the show a DORA Award for Best Production.
As an editor, Nico was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for the documentary “Christopher House: Ahead the Curve”. Nico directed, produced, shot and edited over 20 promotional commercials for Nickelodeon TV. This campaign, which was shot in India, Malaysia and the Philippines, won two Silver ProMax awards for Best Campaign and Best Comedic Campaign.
Nico also partners with Border2Border Entertainment and has helped create a slew of TV series and documentaries. These DOP credits include: Shadowlands (scripted series) I’m A Stripper (doc series), PopPorn (doc series), Drag Heals (doc series), Dating Unlocked (dating show), and the following stand alone documentaries: Serviced, Sex Club 101, Into, Studlebrity, Balls, Drawn this Way, and Positive Youth.
DOP and camera credits include work on shows like: Great Canadian Cottages, Bahamas Life, Storage Wars, Canada’s Worst Driver, Don’t Drive Here, Dinner Party Wars, Four Weddings, Bump! and Keeping Canada Alive.