Inside “Apocalypstick,” the Iceland’s drag cabaret

Inside “Apocalypstick,” the drag cabaret at the heart of Reykjavik’s vibrant LGBTQ+ drag scene

JennyPurr receives tips from the audience during her act at the drag show “Apocalypstick” in Reykjavik, Iceland. (Photographs by Odysseas Chloridis for The Washington Post)

Hrafnar Israel C. Robles is about to step on stage as MorningStarr, his drag alter ego. The character is adorned in tight lingerie, feathers and sequins for every performance. Robles is the creator and the host of the drag show called “Apocalypstick.” It is the popular recurring drag event where drag queens and drag kings are leading a charge toward acceptance in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The show is a comedic performance event featuring stand up, dancing, lip sync and more. It takes place at Gaukurinn bar regularly. People across the LGBTQ+ community in Iceland flock to the show to immerse themselves in what the artists have prepared for the night’s entertainment. It frequently features newcomers to the city, sometimes guests from neighboring European cities, and brand-new Iceland residents.

LGBTQ+ initiatives have been paramount to the local government. In August, Reykjavik’s week-long annual Pride festival was held for the 24th year. It is a place where performance art from the queer community is an integral part of the culture. But “Apocalypstick,” “Heart Attack,” and recently closed “DragSugur,” have been the only shows allowing up and coming performers to join in Reykjavik. Some immigrant performers in Iceland are facing challenges to be allowed to perform and work events at all.

Guðsteinsdóttir Hansen, a.k.a. King Rafael the First, sits for a portrait at her home in Reykjavik, Iceland, on April 2, 2022. Rakel discovered she was pregnant after being told by doctors that she was infertile.

Although “Apocalypstick” is growing in popularity, it is one of a few events where immigrant performers are openly welcomed. There are more openly queer individuals living in the city than ever before. But even within the world of drag, tolerance and acceptance do not always go hand in hand. Performers are in fact seeing other prejudices play a role in the growing scene.

Within the community, performers who have recently immigrated to Reykjavik have found it taxing to be accepted when English is not their first language. Robles believes the scene still has a long way to go. “It can be difficult for newcomers to understand the culture of Iceland, but when it comes to outsiders, their mind-set is quite different, as locals only speak English to them.” The LGBTQ+ entertainment industry in Reykjavik can be a tough market to penetrate.

“The tiny community of this town can form strong bonds of support and friendship, but on the other hand any gossip or bad blood gets heard about immediately and suddenly,” says Rakel Eva Kr. Guðsteinsdóttir Hansen, a.k.a. King Rafael the First. She is not a stranger to the cultural mind-set of exclusion as she got her start in drag as a dominatrix. “As an outsider it can be quite daunting. But drag is a very prominent alleyway. If you’re doing drag at all that says so very much about you, and queerness, and the fringe is noticeably more welcoming of other weirdos.”

QueenKora poses for a portrait after completing her performance.

Guðsteinsdóttir Hansen, a.k.a. King Rafael the First, sits for a portrait at her home in Reykjavik, Iceland, on April 2, 2022. Rakel discovered she was pregnant after being told by doctors that she was infertile.

But Robles knows that drag gives he and his fellow artists an outlet to express themselves. He is committed to growing that spirit in Iceland. “The Icelandic drag scene is unique, boiling for attention like an active volcano, the mixture of Icelandic culture and humor,” says Robles. “Drag here turns the party and expectations to a different level.”

It seems there is hope in the scene for these performers. New performers are joining the intense and emotional show of Icelandic Drag at “Apocalypstick.” Their exaggerated personas are ultimately winning over patrons and garnering support for a more inclusive community throughout the city.

For Iceland native, Oddný Svava Steinarsdóttir, a.k.a. LolaVonHeart, she only wishes to see the scene in Iceland grow into what she knows it can be. “We as people, no matter gender, age, or race, can all take part in creating queer joy together,” says Steinarsdóttir.

Jón Sigurður Gunnarsson, a.k.a. Nonni, is a gymnast and a performer at “Apocalypstick.”

Oddný Svava Steinarsdóttir, a.k.a. LolaVonHeart, says the drag scene in Iceland is all about long-term friendships for her now. “The people who stand closest to me and are a constant support to me. It has made my drag so much better.”

Chardonnay Bublée, LolaVonHeart and MiloDeMix are getting ready to go on stage for the drag show “DragSugur.”

Dr. Count Evil, a guest performer from Dublin, gets intimate with the crowd during “Apocalypstick.” The guest performance was met with disapproving glares from some local patrons, and great excitement from others.

Magnús Dagur Gottskálksson, a.k.a. Úlla la Delish, shares Steinarsdóttir’s sentiments. “We have people with a lot of different ideas, looks and aesthetics. We push the boundaries of drag. Icelandic drag acts are known for being alternative.”

“Our scene is rich with talents like Drag kings, queens, and many more forms of drag that goes way beyond the binary and ‘gender roles,’” says Steinarsdóttir. “Our shows are mixed with all kinds of performers, we don’t only have queens or kings in a lineup, rather we mix it up and perform together. I am an AFAB (assigned female at birth) queen and am joined by so many talented people that share a similar experience to mine, it makes our scene so joyful and unique, and I love that.”

All the performers on stage for their closing act in Gaukurinn bar in Reykjavik, Iceland.

An article by Odysseas Chloridis. Primarily published in The Washington Post.

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