When the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down in March 2020, workplaces were closed overnight, and that includes film and television sets. HBO’s Emmy-nominated series We’re Here was one of those productions affected by COVID-19, forcing the show’s trio, Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka, and Shangela, to film the Season 1 finale remotely.
That format wasn’t a viable longterm solution for a series about drag queens traveling around America and making over people. But, as anyone who has been to a gay club or watched RuPaul’s Drag Race knows, not even a global pandemic can keep a good queen down.
“I remember the first thing I was, I was disappointed when they came in and said, ’We’re going to shut down filming. We’re going to communicate more with you when we know more, but everyone’s going home. We’re booking flights. Everyone’s going home tomorrow,'” recalls Shangela, thinking back to being on set in Spartansburg, South Carolina. “And I remember thinking … I’m so disappointed because I met [my drag kid] Olin already. I knew what a powerful story that he would be having with showing solidarity for his gay brother, Pat [drag legend Patti O’ Furniture]. But also, I’d sat with his family. I already knew some of the challenges that that we were going to have to work through, and I was excited about doing that.”
Co-creators Johnnie Ingram and Stephen Warren remember talking with the crew and creative team about whether to move forward with the production of the episode. It seemed like COVID was nowhere and then everywhere within a matter of days, they recall.
“We all talked to each other and we were like, ’I think, do we want to do this episode?’ And everyone agreed, and we said, ’Yeah. I think we’re fine. And we’re going to a small community. It doesn’t seem like there’s any concern here. What seems to be concerning is in large cities,'” Ingram tells Logo. “And we get to Spartanburg, and it was suddenly, it was just so quick. I mean, going through it, it went from, within a matter of days, from zero to 100. And everyone was just very concerned and worried and fearful, and we were so gutted that we couldn’t focus on the show. I mean, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. We stood in front of the entire crew, I was bawling, and we had to just pull the plug because it wasn’t worth risking anyone’s life — and we just didn’t know what the future was. It was devastating.”
Spring 2020 feels like a lifetime ago but also just yesterday, and Bob the Drag Queen remembers how coronavirus was actually scarier then because so little was known about it: “We just saw the pictures of hospitals being completely over-flooded and morgues running out of spaces to put bodies, and New York City was having a really rough time. It was quite terrifying. And especially to think that whatever was going on was big enough to shut down our production. I was like, oh, this must be a pretty big deal.”
“It was terrifying,” agrees Eureka. “That was when we really didn’t know what was going on. I just remember they called us down for a meeting and they said, ’Listen, we have to send you all home. Things have gotten crazy, we are gonna get you out on the earliest flight we can.’ And there were a few people that were getting sick periodically before that, so it made sense. It was kind of wild. Everything was up in the air. We had no idea what was going to come of it.”
We’re Here eventually returned to Spartansburg more than a year later to finish filming and help the queens’ drag children emerge from their cocoons — just as the rest of the world started to, as well. COVID-19 changed the world, and it also changed the We’re Here queens, says Shangela, who returned to her hometown of Paris, Texas, until the HBO show resumed filming.
“It was very interesting because I thought, wow, I am working on a show about showcasing people in small, conservative towns across America, and here I am in the small, conservative town that I grew up in, back in my family’s home,” she remembers. “But I’m a different person now. I’m able to help amplify the voices and the stories in these small towns that deserve to be told. It was really a big full-circle moment for me. Back then, I didn’t know if we were coming back or not, but I definitely was hopeful.”
We’re Here Season 2 airs Mondays on HBO.