HBO’s “We’re Here” Brings Drag Culture to Everyday People
For the team behind HBO’s drag docuseries “We’re Here,” opening the season two book first meant tackling unfinished business with Spartanburg, South Carolina.
In the Emmy-nominated series, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alums Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela, and Eureka travel to small towns to mentor ordinary people – whether gay, straight, or maverick – in the manner of flirting, allowing the expressive art form to open their minds and hearts to the colorful spectrum of identity and acceptance. It all ends with a full drag performance in front of their communities, with all of their insecurities and bravery laid bare.
“We’re Here” is a deeply personal show that requires a real connection between drag royalty and their drag daughters, as they call them. But in March 2020, as cameras began rolling in the city of South Carolina on what was to be the last episode of season one, COVID-19 brought it to a halt.
“We only had about three days in Spartanburg before we closed and had to pack our bags and leave,” said director and showrunner Peter LoGreco.
Over a year later, with the green light to begin production on season two, the show’s creative forces wanted to see through their commitment to Spartanburg and the subjects that had opened their lives to queens. But the gap between their brief introductions and their reunion has opened the door to an insightful evolution for the series.
He is best illustrated in Eureka’s dragged girl in Spartanburg, Noah, who initially identifies as “a man but a confused man.”
During those three short days of filming, Eureka and Noah get to visit a thrift store where the latter shyly walks the aisles in a dress before tearfully admitting that no sex feels really good.
It’s a vulnerable moment that Eureka later describes as turning “fear into fearlessness,” with the transformation immediately exemplified by stepping back in time to reveal Noah today, as a proud non-binary person embracing some of the fears. the same ones that limited them before the pandemic.
“The kind of silver lining of all the delays was the opportunity to see something that might not otherwise be possible in the context of a TV show,” LoGreco said. “It represents the effect the show can have on the communities and people it works with. We’ll usually be touring for a few weeks, but a lot of the change happens as a result of our being here. Being able to see Noah transform in this visual way and the other two people (transform) in terms of their changing attitudes was really important.
Being able to capture the profound impact of “We are here” is something that has moved producers so much that they are talking about incorporating it into possible seasons to come, LoGreco said.
For the remainder of season two, COVID takes a considerate but inevitable backseat on the personal stories and journeys that the series seeks to amplify and defend. But the isolation of the past almost two years can’t be ignored, as it has left everyone wondering hard about who they are – the kind of soul-searching that the series itself hopes to facilitate.
The production even attempted to film an episode at the height of the pandemic in December 2020 in Temecula, California, with the result serving as the second episode of the season.
“We found it to be such a locked-in experience that some of the DNA of the show, in terms of the queens’ interaction with the community outside of their drag girls, was so hard to do,” said LoGreco.
Other destinations visited in the second season include Del Rio, Texas (unrelated to their “Drag Race” sister Bianca Del Rio); the historically significant Selma, Alabama; and Evansville, Indiana.
However, COVID hasn’t changed everything. LoGreco said the queens and crew now speak the same language as what the show can be to its subjects, resulting in an even more cohesive batch of episodes that end with show-dripping drag performances.
But by learning the language of ‘We Are Here’, LoGreco also praised its larger-than-life queens for assuming their role as mentors ready to shine the spotlight on their daughters.
“We’re different from ‘Drag Race’ in a lot of ways, but one of the main things is, yes, it’s a show where drag is a major element but it’s not really about drag,” LoGreco said. “We want it to be the best drag on TV, but at the same time, whether or not someone nails it in a performance isn’t really the issue. Self-expression, the level of ability to find and celebrate unexplored parts of yourself, your confidence and who you are – all of this is really what underpins what we do.
“We’re Here” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO and airs on HBO Max.