Burlesque/Drag Performer Carol Gates to Bring 100 Artists to the Stage for First Cascadia Drag Festival

A menagerie of Pacific Northwest drag queens, kings and things will sashay to Portland’s Clinton Street Theater on May 24-26.

Sugarpill, photo by Marty Davis.

Carol Gates has been a Portland drag fan for 15 years, and a burlesque/drag performer for almost as long. She’s dreamed of bar hopping to clubs filled wall to wall with drag queens, kings and things (certain drag artists who present outside of binary gender), like she first saw at parties like Blow Pony. But it took the deaths of several drag luminaries in 2023, including Darcelle XV, Heklina and Patrick Buckmaster, to spur Gates into realizing her longtime dream.

“It was time to share a story to the younger generation and share what had existed long before Dragula,” Gates wrote in an email, referencing the spooky drag TV series.

The inaugural Cascadia Drag Festival will attract more than 100 West Coast drag artists and their fans to the Clinton Street Theater on May 24-26.

Portland gets the lion’s share of love, with most of the festival’s headliners representing the Rose City. A dozen headliners—including Gates as her persona, Marla Darling—lead revues over the festival’s three day course.

It’s not spread across venues like her original dream, but Gates opened the Cascadia Drag Festival to artists who haven’t performed in festivals before, especially if they are trans, queer or people of color.

“I wanted to give an opportunity to performers who are working to change the drag scene by making it more equitable, and more about taking it to its original roots,” Gates wrote.

Gates was inspired by the Bay Area’s Oaklash drag festival, as well as the Austin International Drag Festival. She says she received advice from AIDF founder Jamie Steward Bancroft, as well as a grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council, but she organized most of the festival on her own. CDF’s Lash Bash fashion party takes cues from the Critical Mascara drag ball once thrown by artist Pepper Pepper for the Time-Based Art Festival.

“I just wanted to invite the club kids of Portland to create wearable art and walk the stage,” Gates wrote.

The performers come from Portland, Seattle, Olympia, the Willamette Valley, the Oregon Coast and even California. But Gates unites more than 100 artists to honor the ethos of Pacific Northwest drag.

“The drag in the Pacific Northwest has always been punk rock. If you weren’t covering yourself in fake blood, making couture from the free boxes on the street, dumping bottles of tempera paint on yourself to Diamanda Galás, or stage diving to Miley Cyrus, were you even doing drag?” Gates wrote. “The art of drag in the PNW has always bordered on the subversive. We’re just better at drawing on eyebrows now.”

GO: Cascadia Drag Festival, Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St., 971-808-3331, cstpdx.com. Friday–Sunday, May 24–26. $15–$50.

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