For the past 10 years, RuPaul’s Drag Race has delighted fans with the Rusical — a musical production during each season that features the remaining contestants performing their take on a famous show. The concept has become somewhat of a staple on the series, though none have been quite as topical as Season 15’s Wigloose.
“Like everything on RuPaul’s Drag Race for 15 season, it started with a bad pun. We’ve done 10 years of musicals. It’s one of our favorite things. We always are brainstorming year round, really, about what would work…we thought, ‘We’ll just do a fun parody of the Footloose story, which is about a town that didn’t have dances, so we’ll do a town that doesn’t have drag,” executive producer Tom Campbell said during the show’s panel at Deadline’s Contenders Television: The Nominees event, where he was joined by Season 15 winner Sasha Colby and Season 15 Miss Congeniality Malaysia Babydoll Fox.
But what started as a “fun, campy parody of Footloose,” as Campbell put it, would transform into a timely commentary as anti-drag legislation began to pop up in state legislatures across the country. In March, Tennessee became the first state to officially pass strict limitations on drag performances. Just a few weeks later, Season 15’s Wigloose episode aired.
“We shoot about a year ahead,” Campbell explained. “It escalated so quickly … by the time it aired, and just when it aired, because the drag gods are good, we were in the middle of this — the Tennessee law, and the Florida law, and the Texas law. So it ended up being wildly, wildly topical.”
While the show wasn’t aiming to be particularly on the nose with Wigloose, the producers and stars do recognize the platform and its ability to create change.
In the spring, the show’s production company World of Wonder created the Drag Defense Fund with a donation from MTV and RuPaul’s Drag Race in an effort to support the ACLU’s work to defend and ensure LGBTQ+ rights. So far, the fund has raised more than $1.5 million.
“I don’t love living as a victim or identifying that way, but with all of the backlash against drag queens, which is just noisy and silly and stupid, but it’s real when you’re somebody who is worried about having your civil rights taken away … I’m so glad that we have this show,” Campbell said. “I don’t take for granted for a minute that we’re on the air because I think it could all go away. And it’s so important. Not only are we a show that has representation … we are a show that has a whole cast of queer, LGBTQ+ people. And they aren’t just observed or tolerated or representative, they are celebrated. And that is, it’s more important now than ever.”
As the Season 15 winner, Colby contends she’s ready to take up that mantle as well, providing support and giving a voice to “the future drag superstars of the world.”
“Being a drag performer for 20 years now and having my career be parallel to the 15 seasons of the show, watching myself grow alongside [it] has been wild, because it’s such a fringe art form,” she said. “It’s so personal to the queer community. … It’s a testament to the fact that it’s an all-queer cast; we’re not just tokenized. It’s all of our stories, and there’s so many different stories to be told. The last frontier of storytelling is queer stories by queer people, which I think is the magic of the show and why it resonates after 15 seasons.”
Check back Monday for the panel video.