You can see Jez Dolan’s exhibition celebrating the history of drag performance in Manchester at Central Library until 26 October. The curator is holding a free tour and archives handling session at 1pm on Saturday 22 October where you can find out more about the project.

Terry Bartlett, 1940s

So what does a drag exhibition look like? Well, Jez and his team of volunteers have been researching the history of drag performers using the archives in Central Library. They spent several days trawling through obvious sources like the archives of the queerupnorth theatre festival and the LGBT Foundation.


But they also found real gems in collections we had no idea related to drag – for example the Manchester Hippodrome playbills. The results of their research can be seen on the Radical Thinking screens in the Archives+ exhibition on the ground floor of the library.


These screens take you on a chronological trip through drag in the city – who was performing in drag and who their audiences were from 1880 to the current day.  There’s more on drag venues on the central Oculus map and on current drag troupes on the Virtual Archive.

Unknown drag queen, 1980s

Upstairs in the Wolfson Reading Room you will find the fabulous frocks worn by the performers in the Life’s a Drag show at Queer Contact in February.


Around the bookshelves you’ll see the curator’s Warhol drag queen selfies depicting current Manchester drag queens.


Another aspect of the Heritage Lottery Fund-supported project is oral history. Volunteers have been trained up in interviewing drag queens. You can listen to the full interviews on the sound Ipad in the search room.

Short clips from the interviews are also available at the Archives+ Soundcloud page. Work is ongoing to transcribe and summarise these wonderfully evocative interviews. You can learn why running a club was harder work that working in the mill, why you sometimes have to drag up before you drive to the club and why the audience is always right…

The project continues with a Drag Symposium at the library on 19 January 2017 where you can present your own research on drag performance and listen to experts in the field.

If you have visited the exhibition please take five minutes to tell us what you thought. And if not don’t forget to book your free ticket for the tour next Saturday!