UPDATE: More performers and hosts for this event have been announced. Read the update here.
Darcelle XV Showplace is no stranger to world records. Opened and operated by namesake Darcelle XV—herself the oldest performing drag queen, until the passing of Walter Cole in March—the Old Town-situated theater reigns fiercely as the West Coast's longest running drag venue.
In July, it's looking to break another record. Partnering with Portland-founded, gender-infinite clothing boutique Wildfang, Poison Waters and Darcelle's want to take the crown for the longest running drag performance of all time. More accurately, they want to blow the record to high heaven with a 48-hour DRAG-A-THON.
Promising a number of famous and funny hosts—comedian Cameron Esposito and stylist Stacy London from What Not to Wear have joined the charge with, of course, Poison Waters—the chaos and charisma unfolds just before Portland's newly moved Pride weekend, Monday July 10-Wednesday July 12.
But while this could just be about glamour, style, and sheer longevity, the act of endurance is here to make a more profound statement about self-expression, directly responding to the Tennessee drag ban and other anti-drag bills proposed in US states. DRAG-A-THON hopes to raise $250,000 for the Trevor Project and additionally tuck some dollars into the nylons of queens from the impacted areas.
"Everybody's aware that Tennessee has introduced a drag ban," Wildfang CEO Emma Mcilroy told the Mercury. "There's actually 13 other states that are on the verge of doing something similar, so it's not a one-off."
That ban, which was signed into Tennessee state law by Gov. Bill Lee in March, is currently on hold due to an injunction from a federal judge, who pumped the brakes on the law's constitutionality, on grounds that drag performance is protected freedom of speech. The law and the vagueness of its wording—lumping male or female impersonators "or similar entertainers" into an adult cabaret category—direct its bad faith outrage at the queer community and steep legal penalties towards those it would punish.
"We wanted to do something to respond," Mcilroy said. "And in this case, we're meeting it directly head-on with joy. We noticed that there were a bunch of [Guinness World Records] for drag, and one of them was already being held by Darcelle. I called Poison, and I called the other event producer, Eden—and I said do you think it's even possible? And Poison straightaway said 'Yes, of course'."
As a longstanding co-hostess at Darcelle's, Kevin Cook, whose alter ego is Poison Waters, had stepped into a figurehead role since even before Cole's passing. Cook revealed this plan has been in the works since mid-March and was aimed at supporting out-of-town queens, the Trevor Project, and the venue itself.
"It's a way to highlight the club—to highlight Darcelle's Guinness World Record." Cook told the Mercury. "And I love the idea of helping out these other queens. Not to sound condescending, but they may not be able to perform in the place they call home. So we wanted to bring them in and say 'Hey, you have a home here.' Darcelle's has always been a gathering space for the community. Let's bring in all the drag queens!"
The current record for longest drag artist stage show was set in 2017, in Australia. At 36 hours and 36 minutes (and 40 seconds), that show included "88 performers and over 350 different songs." Setting their goal at 48 hours, Wildfang and Darcelle's want to blow that time out of the water, setting a stake to hold onto the title.
The feat will not be easy. The Guinness World Records team has issued tight parameters, Mcilroy said. Queens need to perform within fixed windows of time (no less than two minutes, no more than ten) and must switch out after every set. That adds up to potentially hundreds of consecutive performances.
They also need at least 25 people in the audience at any one given time, so the team projects selling tickets for two-hour seatings, staggered with the performances. You may have to leave in the middle of Whitney Houston, Mcilroy said, but it's for the cause.
Cook said that the staff is enthusiastic and onboard, even about the staggered show plan: "Darcelle's is unique, in that our show is kind of theater-style. Every other drag place in the world is more in line with this event. Every other queen is used to audiences coming and going, getting up, [and] walking around because they're in a bar."
The DRAG-A-THON team hopes to raise $250,000 for the Trevor Project, "which will go towards both legislative and human crisis services for this community," Mcilroy noted. "And that feels really good."
"Anytime Emma gets behind anything she does it with such passion and gusto." Cook said of the longtime Poison Waters / Wildfang relationship. "You don't stop to think. Is this gonna be nuts? Yes, let's do it. I immediately had the fire. And, this is my vibe. I don't respond to the hate. I just wanna do more drag. If they're trying to take away drag, the obvious response is: Let's do more drag."
The Mercury plans to liveblog DRAG-A-THON, with a team of arts writers. Cook said Poison Waters will also try to be there for the whole duration. "As I become sleep deprived, every hour I'll become a little bitchier. By the time it all wraps up, I won't have any friends left," Cook said, laughing. "I'm probably going to have a beard by the time it's over. But you know, that's the new thing now. Bearded queens are all the rage. I'm going to start out classic Poison, and I'll wrap this up as bearded Poison. I bet we're not gonna stop. It'll be Sunday, and they'll be like, 'Okay, you guys, can stop!'"