Philadelphia

As a Drag Performer, I Found a Sense of Belonging in Philly

Reflecting on my experience as part of Philly's ‘big crazy drag family.'

Photo courtesy of Eric Jaffe; Image by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Photo courtesy of Eric Jaffe; Image by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Photo courtesy of Eric Jaffe; Image by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist

Eric Jaffe is a drag performer based in Philadelphia. They are the co-founder of Jaffe St. Queer Productions, author of The Eric Jaffe Coloring Book, and regularly perform at Fabrika. As told to Allie Volpe.

I grew up in Elkins Park and went to Cheltenham High School. Cheltenham is very accessible to the city, so my friends and I would walk to the Elkins Park train station and come down for the day. I fell in love with the city at a very early age. I realized as a queer person that there were more people I could relate to and being around city people made me feel more comfortable. 

The people and the performers that I saw when I first moved here were so inspiring. I instantly realized that these people weren’t living by the limitations that had been pounded into me when I was getting my BFA. They were not trying to hide the things that make them beautifully queer. I took movement classes in college where I was told that I walked too queer. I took voice classes where I was told that I sounded too queer. To watch these people take those things and amplify them was inspiring for me to see. You don’t have to change yourself to find success in performance.

When I joined the queer scene in Philly, I was the ukulele kid who would do fun covers. As I dipped my toes further into the queer scene, I slowly realized that I was creating a character of myself for the stage. I had been working so long in college on creating the stage version of myself to play all these other roles, but I was finally discovering how to play the character of myself. When I realized there is this glamorous drag monster inside of me just waiting to come out, I was so excited that I could have a space to play with that. Philly is a really great city to give people room to play and explore because there are many different venues, opportunities, and places for us to exist.

The very first queer show that I performed at in Philly and was called the Weird Beard Revue. I never sat and waited around for someone to do things for me, so when I saw there was a show called the Weird Beard Revue and it was a show for bearded performers, I emailed the person who ran it and I said, hey, I would love to be in this show and they gave me a shot. It was hosted by one of my now very close friends, Mistor Fahrenheit. He was a burlesque performer back then and also dabbles in drag. They inspired me to be that kooky version of myself. That show was at L’Etage, which is a cabaret venue in Queen Village. It’s a beautiful cabaret space and it gave the opportunity to do any style of performance because the space is made for performance. It’s not like your typical bar with a stage in the corner, L’Etage is a space built for performance.

Once I realized that I really wanted to do drag performance, I went to one of my favorite places in the city, Tavern On Camac. They were renovating their bar and I wanted to start a show there. They have a piano bar downstairs and there’s always somebody playing. I was a musician at the time, so I thought doing a live singing queer cabaret on the second floor would fit really well. I approached the owners and the managers a couple of times because at first they thought it wasn’t for them. I come from a very pushy Jewish family, and I was always taught if someone tells you no, you keep trying. I kept trying and kept coming up with different concepts and finally they said yes. My show ran at Tavern On Camac for five-and-a-half years and it’s still one of my favorite places in Philadelphia. It’s really one of the most welcoming spaces in the city.

I just started working this residency at a bar in Fishtown called Fabrika, Thursday through Sunday. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday they have this Cirque du Soleil-style show that has everything from drag to aerialists, contortionists, jugglers, and circus acts. On Sundays, I curate and run a drag brunch. It’s not a gay bar, but it is a bar that is very queer-friendly and has hired many different queer people as performers and other roles. It’s very glamorous and big and beautiful and has provided really well-paying opportunities for a lot of people in the scene. 

Courtesy of Xfinity
Courtesy of Xfinity
Courtesy of Xfinity

Pride is way more than just parades and parties. With Xfinity, pride is a year-round celebration – thanks to their massive collection of diverse, community-endorsed LGBTQ shows and movies. From a Transgender Awareness Collection of content, to RuPaul’s Drag Race Werk Room – to an LGBTQ Kids & Family Destination of TV shows and movies, you can find the best queer content on your TV just by saying “Pride” into your Xfinity Voice Remote, or watch them on any device with the Xfinity Stream app.

Aside from that, I run a queer theater company called Jaffe St. Queer Productions, which I run with one of my drag sisters, Lili St. Queer. Before the pandemic, we put on three full-scale parody musicals. We are working on our triumphant return to the theater. The theater is where I come from and I want to be able to provide opportunities, especially for trans and nonbinary performers like myself. Oftentimes if you’re a nonbinary person who has a soprano voice, you are going to walk into an audition and the directors are going to say you have to play a woman on stage. If you’re a nonbinary performer with a low voice, you’re going to walk in and they’re going to say, great, now you are only eligible for these men’s roles. Theater, which is a very queer art form, is surprisingly very set in its gender norms. Being able to change that over these past couple of years with Jaffe St. Queer, and being able to say, why can’t you cast people in the roles they were meant to play, aside from their voice parts, has been huge. Being able to take the gender norms out of theater is something that we’re very excited to bring back. 

I really love the queer scene in Philly because in a lot of other cities, there is this level of competitiveness that gets in the way of people actually connecting. In Philly, I’ve always felt like there is enough to go around for everyone. There are so many different types of drag and queer preformance in this city. We have everything and it creates this setting for us to all be supportive of each other, for all of us to connect with each other and appreciate each other because we’re not always trying to compete with each other. The diversity of the scene here means there’s something for everyone and there’s a gig for everyone. The scene is expansive in a way that I don’t know exists everywhere. Like for me, I’m a bearded queen and there has yet to be a bearded queen on RuPaul’s Drag Race and there have been times where people have looked at me and said, bearded drag isn’t drag. That’s not necessarily something that happens with people who are a part of the scene here, but it is something that happens with people who look into the scene from the outside. 

I think that people would be surprised to know that we are, for the most part, very supportive of each other. We are one big crazy drag family. We are all a part of something bigger and we all really care and respect the art form that we create. Philly has a great sense of community. That oftentimes comes first: Before the gigs and before the glamour, it’s really about the community here.

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Philadelphia

Museum Exhibits in Philly to Check Out Before They Disappear

Get in some culture (and selfies) at the best art exhibits in Philadelphia.

Photo courtesy of Disney
Photo courtesy of Disney
Photo courtesy of Disney

From the historical to the artistic, Philadelphia is jam packed with museums. Art aficionados of all ages can get lost inside the likes of tourist-friendly museums like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museum of the American Revolution or feast their eyes on unique exhibitions at institutions like the Fabric Workshop and Museum and the Museum for Art In Wood.

Between big-ticket exhibitions honouring the House of Mouse to collections showcasing the legacy of a prominent Black family in early America, there’s plenty of material to dig into. After you’ve planned a date night and rounded up friends to explore the city, here are the most exciting museum exhibits in Philly right now-before they’re gone for good.

Photo courtesy of Disney
Photo courtesy of Disney
Photo courtesy of Disney

The Franklin Institute

Exhibition: Disney 100: The Exhibition
Mickey Mouse, you look good for your age. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Disney is a retrospective exhibition, which got its world premiere right here in Philly. Between rarely-seen artworks and artifacts, costumes and props, and interactive installations where you can listen to hit Disney songs, the exhibit is a Disney lover’s wish-upon-a-star-come-true.
Dates: Until August 27, 2023
How to visit: The museum is open Monday through Sunday. Tickets are available online and at the door.

Photo by Ramon Torres, courtesy of ANS
Photo by Ramon Torres, courtesy of ANS
Photo by Ramon Torres, courtesy of ANS

Academy of Natural Sciences

Exhibition: Conversations With Birds
No, not an allusion to the Eagles, this exhibition is dedicated to actual birds, their migration patterns, and humans’ relationship with avian creatures. Expect avian photography and video by local birders and wildlife photographers along with an interactive exhibit showing five migratory birds that pass through the Philadelphia region on their seasonal passage between North and South America.
Dates: Until May 21, 2023
How to visit: The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets are available online or at the door.

The Barnes Foundation

Exhibition: Sue Williamson & Lebohang Kganye: Tell Me What You Remember
The work of two contemporary South African artists-Sue Williamson and Lebohang Kganye-are shown side by side, offering a cross-generational dialogue. Both artists utilize video installations, photographs, sculptural installations, and textiles “to consider how the stories our elders tell us shape family narratives and personal identities.”
Dates: Until May 21, 2023
How to visit: The museum is open Thursday through Monday. Advanced tickets are recommended.

Photo by Jonathan Horowitz
Photo by Jonathan Horowitz
Photo by Jonathan Horowitz

Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History

Exhibition: The Future Will Follow the Past: An Exhibition by Jonathan Horowitz
Exploring the rapid change of societal issues in America since 2020-antisemitism, racial violence, immigration, women’s rights, LGBTQIA+ rights-Jonathan Horowitz designed installations inspired by recent occurrences. His works explore specific events like the infamous far-right rally from white supremacists in Charlottesville as well as recent themes in American history, like attacks on those within the BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities.
Dates: Until July 4, 2023
How to visit: The museum is open Friday through Sunday. Admission is available online and at the door.

Photo by Hoda Tawakol
Photo by Hoda Tawakol
Photo by Hoda Tawakol

The Museum for Art In Wood

Exhibition: The Mashrabiya Project
The newly renamed Museum for Art in Wood (formerly The Center for Art In Wood) celebrates the rebrand with a brand new project. Focusing on mashrabiya, the traditional Islamic architectural design, The Mashrabiya Project is a first of its kind effort in the U.S. to examine this aesthetic. As a part of the larger mission, a new exhibition Seeing Through Space features newly-commissioned, never-before-seen works by six female-identifying artists.
Dates: Until July 23, 2023
How to visit: The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets are not required.

Photo by Carlos Avendaño
Photo by Carlos Avendaño
Photo by Carlos Avendaño

Fabric Workshop and Museum

Exhibition: Henry Taylor: Nothing Change, Nothing Strange
Combining painting and sculpture, Henry Taylor utilized recycled objects in this exhibition, the product of an 18-month residency. The entire second floor of the museum houses the large scale assemblages, tapestries, and textiles. Think: 30-foot billowing canvases and towering totems created from compressed blocks of paint buckets, vinyl home siding, and black plastic planters.
Dates: Until July 23, 2023
How to visit: The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday. Walk up admission is available but advanced registration is encouraged.

Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Exhibition: Judith Joy Ross
More than 200 photographs from renowned portrait photographer Judith Joy Ross will be on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, chronicling her career from the 1980s to today. Her black-and-white portraits are intimate reflections of everyday Americans, and this show features work from all her major projects, plus, never-before-seen images.
Dates: April 24 to August 6, 2023
How to visit: The museum is open Thursday through Monday. Advanced tickets are recommended.

American Swedish Historical Museum

Exhibition: Radically Marimekko
Famous for their bright and bold fabrics, Finnish textiles, clothing, and home furnishings, the company Marimekko is showcased at this special exhibit. Drawing attention to Finnish design, the collection traces the brand’s path from industrial art house to fashion icon.
Dates: March 30 to September 24, 2023
How to visit: The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday. Walk up admission is available.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and African American Museum in Philadelphia

Exhibition: Rising Sun: Artists in an Uncertain America
A collaboration between the African American Museum in Philadelphia and PAFA, Rising Sun showcases new work from 20 artists examining the question of Is the sun rising or setting on the experiment of American democracy? With pieces shown in both museums, visitors can reflect on, challenge, and expand their view of democracy through art.
Dates: March 23 to October 8, 2023
How to visit: The African American Museum in Philadelphia is open Thursday through Sunday; admission is available online and at the door. PAFA is open Thursday through Sunday; admission can be purchased in advance or at the door.

Museum of the American Revolution
Museum of the American Revolution
Museum of the American Revolution

Museum of the American Revolution

Exhibition: Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia
James Forten may not be a familiar name within early American history, but this new exhibit at the Museum of the American Revolution is looking to change that. Telling the story of Forten and his family through 100 historical artifacts, Black Founders explores the Forten family’s roles in the Revolutionary War, business in Philadelphia, and the abolitionist movement.
Dates: Until November 26, 2023
How to visit: The museum is open daily. Admission is available online and at the door.

National Constitution Center
National Constitution Center
National Constitution Center

National Constitution Center

Exhibition: The 19th Amendment: How Women Won The Vote
That lofty document known as the Constitution and its values, interpretations, and amendments are explored in great detail at the National Constitution Center, naturally. This semi-permanent exhibit examines the 19th Amendment-the one which granted women the right to vote-and the road to its ratification. Out of the near 100 artifacts, expect to see a rare printing of the Declaration of Sentiments from the first women’s convention at Seneca Falls, a ballot box used to collect women’s votes in the late 1800s, Pennsylvania’s ratification copy of the 19th Amendment, and various “Votes for Women” ephemera.
Dates: Semi-permanent, no end date announced
How to visit: The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday. Advanced tickets are recommended.

Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia
Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia
Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Mütter Museum

Exhibition: Spit Spreads Death
Eerily topical, the Mütter’s latest special exhibit, Spit Spreads Death, an exhibit about the 1918 flu pandemic, opened in the fall of 2019, less than six months before the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The exhibit traces the disease’s spread throughout Philadelphia neighbourhoods a century ago and how the pandemic impacted the city with artifacts like photos, newspaper clippings, and more.
Dates: Now through 2024
How to visit: The museum is open Wednesday through Monday. Advanced tickets are required.

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Allie Volpe is a writer based in Philadelphia. She hasn’t slept in days. Follow her on Twitter: @allieevolpe.

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