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Q&A: The queens and creators of ‘We’re Here’ discuss the show’s process and impact

Jaida Essence Hall, Priyanka and Sasha Velour (left to right) pose at the ledge of a balcony. The drag queens host “We’re Here,” which will return for its fourth season April 26. (Courtesy of Greg Endries/HBO)

By Eric Sican

April 20, 2024 12:59 p.m.

This post was updated April 21 at 11:38 p.m.

The creators and hosts of “We’re Here” are returning to highlight the importance of drag and LGBTQ+ stories in their show’s fourth season.

Airing April 26, the Emmy-award-winning HBO show’s fourth season will focus on bringing the art of drag to residents in small towns across the United States. Gearing up for a one-night-only performance of the medium, drag queens Priyanka, Jaida Essence Hall, Latrice Royale and Sasha Velour help prepare the participants of the show with mentorship and guidance through the skills they have acquired by doing professional drag. The show aims to give the participants, also known as “drag daughters,” a safe space to display themselves through drag whilst also raising awareness of the art form itself.

Ahead of the season premiere, the Daily Bruin’s Eric Sican participated in a college roundtable with creators and executive producers Stephen Warren and Johnnie Ingram, as well as hosts Priyanka, Hall and Royale, to discuss their experience in crafting season four.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

[Related: Student-hosted drag showcase shines spotlight on self-expression, LGBTQ+ advocacy]

Daily Bruin: The casting process can be crucial for a show’s impact. How do you find participants in each new location, and what qualities do you look for in someone who would be a good fit for the show’s message?

Johnnie Ingram: The casting process is very important in that we tell stories that need to be told, and they’re very timely. “We’re Here” definitely literally means our cast coming to these communities, but it also is the people that actually live and exist in these communities. As we’ve seen in past seasons, it does take a lot of courage to stand on the drag stage, especially as it has gotten increasingly difficult to be not only LGBTQ but to be a drag performer, to be a trans person in these communities. To be on television and be openly queer is very, very, very difficult. So the casting process is incredibly challenging.

DB: “We’re Here” strikes a balance between showcasing the challenges and triumphs of the LGBTQ+ community in small towns. How do you ensure the show is respectful and avoids exploiting the vulnerabilities of participants?

Stephen Warren: Our participants want to tell their stories – they want to be able to touch other people who are in similar situations out there in the world, and they’re the ones who make the decision to expose whatever they want to expose of their own personal lives. Every person that I believe we have been able to profile over these four seasons now has been incredibly pleased with how they have been portrayed on the show. I think they are changing and we are definitely helping people see that we’re all the same.

JI: This is very important to us. I myself am from East Tennessee, and this season really hits close to home. This show is truly about queer joy, but we’re in a time when it’s really hard to find queer joy in these spaces. The goal of the show is to move past it and to celebrate it, and to find human connection in your own community and more – just expose what’s already there. I find in the community we often hang out in silos, like I always used to say “I’m just a G in a BLT.” And what’s really important is that when we come together, we’re a force to be reckoned with.

DB: How do you approach or tailor your mentorship to each participant’s specific story?

Latrice Royale: It’s really cool to see them come into their own and have the revelation that they’ve had all this within them the whole time. It just took drag to kind of bring it out, and that’s why drag has magical powers because you tap into this other part of you that you usually are not sensitive to because you turn those senses off. But in drag, you have to tap into that femininity, that softness, the fun, the joy – all of it has to come out with drag, so when you tap into that, people can apply that into their day. That’s the magic of drag.

[Related: Act III Theatre Ensemble discusses representing the queer experience on stage]

DB: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in exploring drag but feels hesitant due to societal pressures?

Jaida Essence Hall: This is the number one thing and I don’t want to say “the F-word” society, but it’s really pretty much giving that – it becomes a point in your life when you really have to decide that the things that you want to do are about you and your happiness in your life. People say all the time, “You only have one life,” but truly, we do only have one life. It’s kind of a morbid thing to have to be thinking about, but if you do think about that, and you realize that if one day you fell down, and all the things in life that you loved and that you wanted to do, you had never done in your life, you would feel like you had wasted your entire life. So, to me, don’t waste your life thinking about what other people think about you or what they want to do.

Priyanka: Also, there’s a drag community too. Although it feels isolating, although it feels scary, when you start drag, you’ll meet other people that become your lifelong friends. It wasn’t until I started drag that I met more trans people and felt a part of something, because drag is not a job. It’s a culture more than anything. So yes, there are societal pressures because your natural brain goes to your real life. But then when your real life becomes the drag community, freedom and expression feels like, “Societal pressures? What’s that?”

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