For the third year in a row, more drag queens than you can shake a wig at will be descending on the Lone Star State! That’s right, the Austin International Drag Festival is back this weekend (Get your tickets here!) and I’m super excited to be talking with the driving force behind this amazing event, Jamie Steward Bancroft!
Hi there Jamie. Thank you for making time to talking with me during what must be a very busy time of year for you! How are you holding it all together down the stretch?
It’s tough creating an event of this magnitude and sometimes it gets really overwhelming but I have a great support system around me including volunteers and the board of directors and just knowing that hundreds of artists from all over the world are coming to Austin for this festival keeps me moving forward.
And just this week you had your headliner, Sasha Velour, have to bow out leaving you to scramble for a new one on short notice. Now if that was me, I would have been drinking bleach but how did you handle that chaos?
This is the first time I have had a major headliner cancel on me and I was already under a lot of stress in the festival planning. I just took a deep breath and started calling every manager I know to look for a replacement artist that would fit the same Drag aesthetic as Sasha. Latrice Royale’s management came to my rescue and I was able to book Milk. Milk and Sasha are “cut from the same cloth” and I knew Milk would be a perfect replacement for Sasha. It was so disappointing to lose Sasha from the lineup but I understand that she was obligated under a special TV contract and tried everything she could to get out of that obligation and perform with us. Sasha appeared as a selected performer at last year’s festival, long before she was on RuPaul’s Drag Race and she was phenomenal and artistic and just.. everything! I knew she was headed for superstardom… and that’s what happened. So you can’t hold a rising star down… you gotta let them shine and filled the skies with their art. I like to think that our festival played a significant part in helping Sasha rise to the top. Milk is on their way up too. With them appearing on the upcoming All Stars 3, I can see even greater success for them.
I’m glad that you were able to pull that together on short notice. Milk is extremely talented and popular so I’m sure all the fans in Austin will be happy. So let’s hop in the Delorean for a bit and head back in time a bit shall we Jamie? Where does your story begin?
I was born in 1970, on an air force base in San Antonio. My dad was an Air Force master sergeant and my mom an artist and homemaker from Wales. I have travelled the world being an air force brat living in Spain, England, Delaware, Panama, Arkansas and Texas. I grew up with wonderful values that I got from my mom and dad and have always wanted to help those that needed help. I have a theater degree from Saint Edward’s University in Austin which an emphasis on acting, directing and theater production. I have lots of experience in event production and theater production. I worked for SXSW for four years ending in 2014 and learned about how a major festival can run from the ground up. I would say that Austin International Drag Festival follows the same production model of SXSW. You could say we are the SXSW of Drag. In 2014 I knew that I wanted to take my experience and create an international festival that celebrated Drag. I created the nonprofit Austin International Drag Foundation Inc. and received our 501c3 from the IRS in June of 2014 when we incorporated. Our of just an idea of a festival came the realization that I wanted to do everything I could for Drag artists and told make sure that they were celebrated as true artists in one of the most ultimate of art forms.
Where does your love of drag stem from?
My love of Drag stems from my love of Theater and costumes, as well as my fascination with horror, beauty, pop culture, fashion, celebrity, club kids, magic, and hell, even fun houses. I have soooo many friends that are Drag artists and I want to support them and see them succeed in their art. I get so much pleasure in watching Drag artists completely take over their stage with their illusions and creativity. Plus they do so much for our communities. They raise millions of dollars for charities and are on the forefront of social activism. It’s important that we give back to them!
A quick glance of the roster of talent for this year’s Austin International Drag Festival shows that you’re promoting a very big tent when it comes to the variety styles of drag that will be appearing. Why is having such a diverse amount of talent appearing?
The art of Drag is more that it was when it first started. It’s more than “a boy in a dress”. Drag is performance. It’s true art. It’s important to make sure the audience and public understands that Drag is a rich art form that encompasses a variety of genres..it embraces the spectrum of gender identity and expression… from gender fluid characters and Genderfuck to LadyQueens, Drag Kings, GentleKings and Drag Queens.
What made you decide in 2014 that the time was right for a gigantic drag festival?
I felt like Drag was becoming more accepted in the mainstream and with shows like Drag Queens of London and RuPaul’s Drag Race there was a cultural shift happening. Pop Culture bringing Drag to the forefront more than ever and kids growing up were seeing it as a real art form.. it was just the right time to do this. I wanted to let the world know that Drag is everywhere. In everyone’s back yard so to speak and that we need to support our local Drag communities and artists.
Considering that there are now annual RuPaul’s DragCons in both New York City and Los Angeles, with the backing of World of Wonder, Austin feels like a more organic, more grass roots celebration of the art of drag. Obviously drag is so big, there is room for everyone but what challenges do you have to deal with as the more “mom and pop shop” of drag events?
I guess the challenges for me is convincing the public and Drag fans that there is more to Drag than RuPaul’s Drag Race. For every queen that ends up on Ru’s show, there are thousands out there that are just as talented and working hard to making a living with their art all over the world. The public sometimes doesn’t realize that there is great Drag happening in their own hometowns and if they would step away from their TV’s they would see that. So the challenge is convincing the public that the real rising STARS of Drag are coming to the festival to wow and entertain them with their best performances. It’s also hard to convince vendors to embrace this grassroots festival when the conventions on the coasts are so enticing. I hope that our festival vendor fair continues to grow because I want to see a true Drag marketplace happening at our festival where Drag artists can find exactly what they are looking for to help them with their art and careers.
You mentioned Sasha Velour was someone you felt benefited from her experience in Austin. Who else have you seen blossom since you have begun?
Practically everyone! What’s great about the festival is how it inspires and energizes everyone that performers there. I am so impressed by the art that is performed on stage. Everyone really brings their A-games! I have received emails from performers that say they were ready to give up Drag but after they attended the festival they felt energized to move forward and to take that energy back to their local Drag communities and spread it everywhere.
So what can all the fans heading to Austin the week expect from this year’s Festival?
Expanded selection of panels, workshops, lectures and classes. A truly fierce diversity of Artists covering all gender expressions and performance styles. You’ll Laugh, you’ll Cry, you’ll be inspired and elevated and you will be WERRRK’d!
There is nothing we love here at WERRRK.com more than a shameless plug! I have to tell you that every here was both excited and honored when you asked us to be a part of this year’s Festival so I would just like to extend a big thank you from our team to yours.
The pleasure is all mine… we hope to continue werrrking with y’all for years to come… we have similar missions and live in the same Haus.
That would be wonderful. I would also like to take a moment to tell all the talent that will be appearing as part of the fabulously named “WERRRK.com Drag Showcase” (Check out the schedules for Thursday, Friday and Saturday!), if you send us videos of your performances from AIDF, we will proudly feature them on our YouTube Channel and website. Thank you so much for you time during this very busy week Jamie. I hope this year is the biggest success yet. Before we sign off, I wanted to ask you to leave the WERRRK.com Universe with a few words of wisdom.
Remember to follow your heart. Be altruistic. Learn something new every day. Love yourself and everyone you meet. Be creative, Be ART. and I like to live by this quote: “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy shit…what a ride!’” – Hunter S. Thompson
For more information on the Austin International Drag Festival, click here.