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How We Live: The stage is her world and she can’t wait to get back to it

Published: May. 27, 2021 at 11:28 AM HST|Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 12:11 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When live entertainment was unrestricted, local drag and comedy queen Candi Shell hosted three different shows a month around Oahu.

“I was at the top of my game. I was ready to take off — and then it all just closed down. It shut like that tomb in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’” Shell said.

Like other entertainers, Shell’s gigs screeched to a halt, essentially freezing her income from venues and added tips.

The man behind the woman, Dan Paul Roberts, also lost his job handling marketing for Hula’s Bar and Grill. He was among the thousands caught in the backlog of unemployment claims.

This story is part of an ongoing digital series from HNN called “How We Live,” which explores the ways that COVID-19 have upended our “normal” and brought about change ― and adaptation.

Today, with the help of his husband ― who works as a teacher ― Roberts is barely getting by with the few graphic design jobs he’s saved up.

“It’s tough. It’s not a lot. It’s not enough to pay rent that’s for sure and in fact, I don’t even know if it would be enough to afford groceries, and so I feel for him, I really do,” Shell said about Roberts, who she treats as a separate entity.

“If I had only been bringing in income before, only from drag queening — honey, I’d be out of luck,” she added.

With Oahu in Tier 3, the local drag scene is sluggishly returning to the spotlight.

In March, entertainers put on a drive-in drag show at Aloha Stadium.

Socially distanced shows have also taken place at other venues around the state with drag queens adding face shields to their wardrobe must-haves.

“I am willing to wear all the PPE required — as long as it doesn’t smear my makeup. And even if it does, I can touch up, honey! I’ll just wear a bubble on my head. That would work, right?” Shell joked.

But even with safety measures, shows that are happening aren’t the same. Nowadays, performers often accept virtual tips through Venmo instead of cash, and distance between queens and audience members must be constantly maintained, making it harder to form a connection with the crowd.

“Even with Zoom shows, there’s no applause and the laughter is delayed. So you’re not sure if the joke landed or not,” Shell said. “It’s been tough. It’s hard for a performer to not be able to be around the public.”

During the pandemic, Shell and many others took their talents online, lip synching for fans from a distance. She also learned how to crochet, make catchy TikTok videos, and she started a podcast. But still, she misses the in-person glitz and glam of the spotlight.

“Drag, you know it’s not like it was 10 years ago. It’s become so pervasive, and so expansive — it’s not just something that’s relegated to the gay club. It’s something that everybody is really getting into and enjoying,” she said.

Once shows come back for good, she hopes everyone can find some of joy through the art of drag.

“We need both self-expression, and we need an outlet for people to come enjoy self-expression,” Shell said. “Getting filled up with that positivity and being able to share that with others is powerful, and is a powerful influence for good in the world. And I just want an opportunity to keep doing that.”

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