Happy Hour on the Fringe: Global Pandemics and Art with Eric Jaffe
During the global coronavirus pandemic, FringeArts is pivoting the focus of our podcast to checking in with our artists, our audiences, and our community partners during these unprecedented times. Since we can’t gather, we’ll chat remotely about how we respond to this crisis, and how the role of art during a pandemic shifts.
In this episode, FringeArts Community Engagement Manager Tenara Calem and Artistic Producer Zach Blackwood chat with Eric Jaffe, full-time drag performer and organizer of queer communities in Philadelphia. They delve into their corona-catalyzed consolidation effort to gather information about digital performances by other queer artists into an accessible weekly list, as well as ways for you to help and get involved. Check out their Facebook page, website and YouTube channel for more information – and be sure to tune in to Digital Drag Brunch every Saturday at 12pm EST.
Tenara: Hello and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. My name is Tenara Calem and I’m the Community Engagement Manager here at FringeArts in the wake of the global Coronavirus pandemic. Many of us, particularly those of us in arts organizations, have had to reflect on ways to do our work despite dramatic external disruptions. I can’t speak for any of our listeners, but social distancing measures have made me personally think long and hard about how to engage communities when we can’t be in the same room together. One thing that fringe arts is excited to continue doing is connecting our audiences with our artists and community partners through this podcast. So during the global Coronavirus pandemic, you can expect more frequent episodes of Happy Hour on the Fringe. These episodes will range in topics from how artists are responding to the pandemic, the intersection between art and public health, and how community partners are working to meet the specific needs of their constituents. We hope that every one of our listeners and those they care about remains safe, healthy and positive during this time. We’re committed to continuing our work in whatever way we can while prioritizing the safety of our city. In the meantime, you can check out our website www.fringearts.com/covid-19 for updates to our public programing schedule. Be well, be safe. And as always, enjoy our fascinating conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence.
Zach: Hi there! So today, we are so lucky to be joined by Eric Jaffe. Eric Jaffe is Philadelphia’s Drag Queen of the Year 2018 and was a host of last year’s Late Night Snacks program as part of the curated Fringe Festival in 2019. We’re chatting with Eric about their ongoing work to build a digital creative community under quarantine. Welcome Eric!
Zach: Hi Eric, how are you holding up during these times?
Eric: I’m doing all right. It’s a roller coaster of all of my feelings.
Tenara: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I know what that’s like.
Eric: How are you?
Zach: Okay. I’m getting very, very sick of my house. Today, I’m working from my living room, which to me, it feels like a little vacation. That’s been very exciting. But, one thing that’s been really kind of helping me through these periods of isolation has been connecting with people through arts and culture. I’ve been watching a lot of OntheBoards.tv, just checking in on some great contemporary performance from the past couple of years, been attending a lot of great poetry readings, and most recently I’ve been checking out some of the programming that you have been highlighting through your Facebook page. So that’s kind of what we’re here to talk about a little bit today. Can you tell us some more about what you’re doing during this pandemic to try and build this digital creative community?
Eric: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve been working in Philly as a full-time drag queen for a couple of years now, and when all of the bars and restaurants shut down, I immediately sort of knew that our community of queers and performers and activists would sort of take to the internet to do as much as they can to produce their content from home, and I saw it pop up so fast. And I immediately thought to myself, “There needs to be a place, almost like a TV Guide from back when we were kids. There needs to be a place for all of this amazing programming to be showcased all in one spot.”
And just sort of as something to almost just take my mind off of what was happening outside of my house, I just furiously looked up every single performer that I have contact with on social media, and I just made a schedule of performances happening. And sort of from there, it just kind of grew as more and more people hopped onto this. And now I’m looking at it as like A, the thing that like gives me purpose and gets me out of bed, but B, the thing that kind of ties our community together. And I mean, there’s only so much Netflix we can all stand to watch. And it’s great to see people that you know, and to see the community that you love. And I have found that it really can take you out of what’s happening all around us and it can bring you into a really special and happy place, even if just for a couple of minutes.
Zach: That’s so amazing. I’ve been feeling the same way, that really and truly, just these opportunities to see the people who I love and care about, even through a screen, it’s really taken me back to the original impulse of a lot of social media and a lot of the internet. It’s not a way to isolate or to highlight the individual, but to really focus on community and to focus on creating a real kind of social feeling across distance. And there’s something about that that’s always been meant to be so accessible and powerful, that it feels like we’re coming back to that right now. Who are some of the artists who you’ve been working with so far, who you’ve been highlighting that you feel are really helping to build that community?
Eric: So I’ve been working closely with a lot of people in the community. I would definitely have to say that Icon Ebony Fierce, who’s one of my very close friends, who also helped to curate the Philadelphia Performance Artist Emergency Fund, which is a GoFundMe fundraiser that’s going around for all of the artists and cabaret performers and drag performers, burlesque performers who are out of work right now, and it’s raised I believe over $10,000, which is incredible. And Icon has been putting on shows every week, and I’m actually working with the Icon to put on a three-day performance festival through Icon’s production company called Phreak N’ Queer. And through the William Way Community Center, we’re working towards putting a big digital art festival on, which is amazing, and Icon is fronting all of this, which is incredible. So, we’re working hard on that.
There’s all kinds of performance happening, though, on social media right now. Like a good friend of mine, CJ Higgins, who is a theater artist as well, is literally just going on live every day at 4:00 PM, and picking a different topic to either talk about or playing different kinds of games, and it’s honestly so entertaining. And it feels like when you’re watching someone that you know and 10 people that you know are also watching, and you’re talking to each other in the comments, it gives you this sense of community that is literally what we’re missing right now. They’re incredible musicians. Like Jeremy Adam, and Katie Feeney from the band You Do You, some of them are going live daily. Joe Stones, who is an incredible musician, is doing something called Distraction Hour, which is at 9:30 every single night, and it’s just Joe with a guitar and a piano, and it’s so soothing. And it’s really great to see all of the different kinds of performance that are happening.
Zach: And we thank you so much for giving us like one quick place to access all of that.
Tenara: Yeah, seriously.
Eric: I don’t think that I realized at first how much I depend on the queer community for literally all of my social interaction. I spend four to five nights a week out working in different spaces in the community, and when that was taken away, I was suddenly missing almost hundreds of people that I see every single week for the last couple years of my life. And I felt so alone in doing this. Creating this schedule has really helped to bring that sense of community back, at least for me.
Tenara: So obviously, creating a digital creative community is so important now when we can’t be in space together. I’m wondering if you might imagine that it will remain valuable once we can gather again after the pandemic, and if that’s the case, in what ways will it offer us new opportunities to make our work?
Eric: Yeah, I fully believe that what we’re seeing is a digital art revolution right now. And the work that we’re seeing is incredible for the time that we’re in, but I don’t think that it’s only for the time that we’re in. For example, every Saturday I’ve been doing a Digital Drag Brunch. It was the first gig that I had cancel on me for all of this, was a regular drag brunch that I worked every week. And it was before all of my other gigs were canceled. And I just said to myself, “You know what? If I can’t do drag brunch at a bar, I’ll just do it at my house.” And I made brunch and I sang some songs.
And it was amazing that people really were very vocal about how it took their mindset out of what was going on in the world, but there were also plenty of people who, for different types of reasons, can’t go to a drag brunch in the real world. People with disabilities, people who are under 21, people who live really far away, but still want to see what you’re doing, who reached out and were saying that, “Even if this wasn’t happening during a pandemic, I would still tune in to watch it.” So, I think that there’s definitely a place for what’s happening now in the regular world, whenever that happens. And I think that this sort of art form will continue to flourish after this.
Zach: That’s our great dream as well. I think we hear at Fringe are definitely feeling the effects of what’s going on, and it’s been very tough. It’s been a really kind of hard time. And to see so many independent artists fill these gaps, and take up some space and advocate for themselves has been really, really powerful and important. And I think it’s reorienting the field in a way that been really, really exciting to us. I would love to know, just kind of in closing here a little bit, how people can help, not just the endeavor that you’re working on, but I’d love to know just of more funds that you might’ve heard about that we might know not know about yet, where people might be able to direct some support to, and especially how people can support you in your ongoing efforts.
Eric: Sure. So there is a Philly Performance Artist Emergency Fund. There is a GoFundMe and there’s also a Venmo, which I believe that the Venmo is a better way to donate just because GoFundMe seems to take a while to process their funds. And I believe that that Venmo is Patti, P-A-T-T-I, underscore, LuStoned, L-U-S-T-O-N-E-D. It’s a play on Patti LuPone, as you can imagine. And there is a GoFundMe. If you go into GoFundMe and you type “Philly Performance Artist Fund,” it should come up. They have raised $11,310, and I know that they have done a lot so far to protect queer and trans artists who are really struggling right now.
I also know that there is a website and it is called Queerantine. I believe that it’s Queerantine.ME. It is for not only performers, but also the bartenders in queer spaces who have lost their jobs, and every Philadelphia bartender from queer spaces is listed on there. Yeah, it’s Queerantine, Q-U-E-E-R-A-N-T-I-N-E.M-E. And the website is actually set up with a bunch of different cities. And so you can click on Philadelphia and you can see both performers, cabaret and drag performers, and you can also see bartenders and staff of places. I also, sorry, there’s a lot, there’s definitely a lot going on.
Tenara: No, pile them on.
Eric: I also know that a lot of the gayborhood bars have GoFundMes set up for their staff who are all out of work. So there is, I know that Tavern on Camac has it GoFundMe. Tabu has it GoFundMe. The Victoria Freehouse in Old City, which provides a lot of queer space for performers has a GoFundMe for their staff. So look, I think that if you look to most queer establishments in the city, most of them are running GoFundMes for their staff.
Something that a lot of people have been doing as well is on that Queerantine website that has all the bartenders listed, they say, “Oh, if you make yourself a drink at home, tip your bartender.” So find a bartender that is on the list, make yourself a drink and tip your bartender. Or, if you watch something, some kind of content, go tip a performer who’s on that list. And I think that that’s a really great thing because even if it’s a couple of dollars coming in, most of these people who are out of work are very appreciative.
Zach: And any excuse to make a cocktail at home, right?
Eric: I know, right? Yeah!
Tenara: For real.
Zach: We’ve got the Palizzi Social Club book here at my house. It’s Palizzi Social Club, for anybody who doesn’t know. It’s a separate club in South Philly. And we’ve been making all of those cocktails and tipping those bartenders, but it’s time to make some delicious queer cocktails in this house. I don’t think we need another espresso martini and olive oil martini. We’ve got to get something else going on here. I’m going to make some tequila sodas tonight.
Zach: Well Eric, thank you so much for your time.
Tenara: For people who want to be able to watch what you’re doing, where can they go to find out more?
Eric: Absolutely. So, my Instagram is @theericjaffe. And my Facebook is facebook.com/jaffe123. And everything on my Facebook is public, so you can just go ahead and check the schedule out right there. I post a daily schedule every morning at 10:00 AM, and I post the weekly schedules for the week every Sunday night, around 8:30, 9:00 PM.
Zach: Eric, what you’re doing is so special.
Eric: Oh, thank you. I also wanted to say if anyone listening is a performer and wants to be added, there is a Google Form that’s going around. It’s posted on my page as well, and if you fill out the form you can be easily be added to the schedule.
Tenara: Oh, yay! Okay, great. Well Eric, thank you so much for joining us for this episode. It was so lovely to be able to talk to somebody who’s using this really dark and difficult time to just bring people together in whatever ways possible. So, thank you so much for what you’re doing.
Eric: Thank you. Thank you all for continuing what you’re doing at Fringe and I hope that we can all be together in some kind of a theater space soon.
Tenara: Yeah, for real. Okay, thanks guys!
Zach: Thank you! I’m going to head back to fantasizing about hugging all of my friends.
Eric: So psyched.
Tenara: Thank you for listening to Happy Hour on the Fringe. We hope everyone remains safe, healthy and optimistic during these troubling times. For updates to our programming schedule, visit our website at www.fringearts.com/covid-19 or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, or download the FringeArts app to receive up-to-date information. Stay safe. Stay well, and don’t forget to sing “Jolene” when you wash your hands.