Halleloo! Shangela from HBO’s We’re Here talks to Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan about the importance of her small-town upbringing, listening, and communication (yes, even with RuPaul’s Drag Race‘s Trixie Mattel!).
HBO’s We’re Here takes three drag queens (Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka, and Shangela) and drops them in small towns all over the country, where they’re tasked with turning people in the community into drag entertainers to put on a show.
But it’s more than just putting together a performance—these queens are doing real werk. They’re acting as mentors, teachers, and sometimes mediators. While their death drops and splits are impressive on stage, what they’re doing off stage showcases even more of their flexibility.
I talked to Shangela about what it was like to be essentially performing drag therapy, standing brave and tall in Trump country, and how to kill an audience with kindness.
Awards Daily: You’re almost doing as much therapy as you are drag in these episodes. Did you ever worry you might not be professionally equipped to handle some of these really deep issues? I was really impressed with all three of you and how you handled it.
Shangela: Yes. Honestly, there were moments where I would ask myself, “Shangie, are you the best person to walk into this place right now and provide any type of guidance or mentorship?” The way I found my way to a “Yes” was remembering the journey that I’ve had to get to this place. I’m not walking into any of these new relationships with my drag daughters and saying, “Hi, here’s the exact way to achieve your best life. Bing!” That’s not what we’re doing with this show. This is a real-life series in which we’re partnering with people to help give them some tools that we’ve used over the years, things that I’ve learned over the years that helped me to become the best version of myself, that I’m still working on. And I think as long as we were honest and vulnerable with them, then they felt they could be honest and vulnerable with us, too, and invite us into their lives and journey. My experience has been leading up to this point and to make me who I am today is what I feel most proud to be able to share.
AD: Did you do any kind of conflict resolution training or any kind of training before this?
Shangela: I’m a young, black drag queen that grew up in the South! I am Miss Conflict Resolution, okay? (Laughs) My life has been a conflict resolution.
AD: (Laughs) I like that answer.
Shangela: I’m thankful for the journey I’ve had to get to the place where I am. In life, I’ve learned it’s all about listening as well as communicating. In order to be a good communicator, you do have to listen before you even speak, and I think that’s what I take with me to each of these experiences and that’s why we’ve been able to get to these great places of progress.
AD: In the Ruston episode, you have with a really intense moment between Jose and his mother [they’re talking about his sexuality]. You’re just listening. What was that like for you?
Shangela: I have a very close relationship with my mother as well, and we’ve had to have some difficult conversations throughout my journey about coming out, about acceptance, and even with being a drag queen, just growing up with a single black mom. Yeah, I think what put me in a place of comfort at that table is because I’ve been at that table before many times. So I was happy to be able to be there and help build a bridge between Jose and his mother.
AD: Were you ever worried for your safety on the road? With Trump signs all over?
Shangela: Listen, I have my drag sisters Bob and Eureka. I have nothing to worry about. (Laughs) We come through like Charlie’s Angels, honey. Here’s the deal: You just have to be aware of your surroundings. Even though when we walked through these conservative places where it’s not always very welcoming, we stand tall in the truth and the pride of who we are as drag entertainers. Also, we have to remember that we’re walking in those shoes for a few days; there are LGBTQ people in that community who walk in those shoes every day. We honor that in being brave and standing tall. But also sometimes there are a lot of stereotypes about a community, just because of some of the things you see around. We grew up—Bob, Eureka, and I—all in small communities; we grew up in these places. We know that even in a place where you do see Trump 2020 signs and Confederate flags, there are also great communities that support the LGBTQ and queer experience that you may not see as overtly, but they exist there. That’s what we were inspired to help discover.
AD: Did any of your upbringing or small-town background help in coming to these small towns and understanding the people?
Shangela: I don’t think I could legitimately and authentically be as much of a help in these places if I hadn’t grown up in a small town. I am these people. I am the people that I connect with, my drag daughters, my drag sons. I am them. Their journey is a reflection of my own. I think that’s why we built such a great partnership together, why we built such strong and real relationships, because we have more in common than we have in difference.
AD: You guys are all so patient with I guess who you’d call the antagonists in town. Killing them with kindness.
Shangela: What I’ve always been taught is to lead with the love in your heart. That’s how I was raised, by my mom and my grandma. The only way we’re ever going to get any type of progress—like i said—you have to be able to listen as well as to speak, especially if you want to be heard.
AD: How long did it take to put together the show with the queens you make over?
Shangela: We have a very short amount of time with them. Less than a week really. It’s one thing to put on a drag show for us. We’re traveling divas. Honey, I’m Shangela. I’ve done this in 184 cities around the world in one year. Hello? Okay. Producing a show? Got it. But when you’re working with brand-new queens who’ve never performed in drag before? Some people don’t know how much it takes to be a good performer, and I want all of my children to be good performers on stage, to feel confident, and when they look back, they feel proud at what they delivered. I train them as if they’re going to the Drag Olympics, honey. We don’t have a huge amount of time, but we also have to build real relationships during that time and help them go on this journey of self-discovery. I’m really thankful that we have really awesome teams that work with us in a very short amount of time to delivery such great episodes.
AD: None of the three of you competed against each other in any competition. Do you think that helped in building camaraderie? Would it have been different if you working with, say, Trixie Mattel?
Shangela: (Laughs) Trixie and I—we still communicate even to this day. I’m Shangela, honey. I love everybody.
AD: I know you do!
Shangela: I think being from different seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, we came into this experience not knowing as much about each other. If you’ve been on the same season, you know more about each other, and it’s more likely that you’ve toured together. We had done some tours together, but we had never worked together as a trio. So this first season was a really rare opportunity for me to get to know Bob and Eureka even better, and we built such a really awesome sisterhood from everything that’s gone on.
AD: I love that you said first season, because that means there’s another season. Maybe I’ll be talking to you next year around this time.
Shangela: From your mouth to HBO’s ears. Okay, Halleloo! I’d love to have the opportunity. What a great show to be part of, in a time where our world needs such great, visible reminders of the importance of passion and humanity and equality on television. I always applaud the network for taking a chance on this show, and I hope we get to do more.
WE’RE HERE is available to stream on HBO GO, HBO NOW, and on HBO via HBO Max and other partners’ platforms.