East Van's Favourite Tipsy Aunt at a Wedding __ Words by David Cutting Original Photography by Chase Hansen __
Meet Shanda Leer: astrologer, comedian, performer, and East Van’s Favourite Tipsy Aunt At A Wedding. Shanda has risen to fame on the Vancouver drag scene after her first performance over five years ago where she frosted a pound cake onstage, only to consume it all by the time Shania Twain was done belting, “Don’t be stupid!”
Talking to her about her beginnings, Shanda recalls her messy, puberty drag phase as where she discovered her character. After overhearing an audience member mention that they loved that she just didn’t give a fuck, Shanda was born, fully sequined and ready to politely turn up the party.
Shanda has a monthly sketch comedy show at XY called Studio with Shanda where I heard her address the audience like so: “I grew up Irish Catholic in a Jewish neighbourhood and I dress like your favourite aunt on a weekend trip to Atlantic City.” Naturally funny, her humour is smart and the way she uses her body gives her a lofty presence that demands the audience’s attention. Not to mention, her awkward nature is relatable, making her a fan favourite.
Shanda is also a member of the BRATPACK, a coven of drag sisters that perform weekly at The Junction. Listening to her speak about what she calls the “bitchsterhood” is inspiring. She speaks respectfully of them, honouring their creativity and unique styles. Though quick to point out that they’re not without competition, she maintains that they transform that competitiveness into performances that challenge ideas about gender, sexuality, music, and feminism.
For Shanda, drag is political in a subtle way. “I think it is one of the few political statements you can make that fucks up heteronormative society while your being paid,” she says. “Also, it is the only one with sequins.”
As a studied astrologer (you can find her monthly column in ION Magazine), Shanda divines truths and wisdom from the stars. Her signature turban gives her a spooky-gypsy-fortune-teller-mom vibe that makes you want to ask her to make you sandwiches and tell you your future. Her talent comes from being observant, deriving inspiration for looks and performances from mundane tasks like typing reports, pooping, and grocery shopping. She honours what drag is to the queer community, sharing that “Drag is one of the only things that is ours, it is one of the few traditions that is just for us.”
Drag Institution __ Words by David Cutting Original Photography by Chase Hansen __
It’s Saturday night at the Junction and it is standing room only. Everyone is gathered to see “Absolutely Dragulous,” Carlotta Gurl’s drag show that celebrated its five-year anniversary in February.
The music stops suddenly and changes to something iconically gay. The curtain beside the stage is thrown back and Carlotta Gurl makes her entrance, screaming at the top of her lungs, “WHAT’S UP BITCHES!” There is a strange, muffled sound as Carlotta shoves the microphone down her throat and everyone cheers.
Carlotta is a salacious vixen. Within minutes of opening the show, some random man sitting in the front row has lipstick smeared across his face. Carlotta croons, “Oh yea baby, you know you love it, I’ll see you later,” moving into her first number while flipping and twirling her way into the hearts of her fans. The crowd screams — all eyes are on Carlotta. “Absolutely Dragulous” is one of two weekly shows that Carlotta hosts at the Junction. Every Wednesday night she co-stars in “The Baron Gurl Show,” a collaborative gig with co-star Isolde N Baron (The Queen of East Van) that juxtaposes class and humour. Carlotta takes great pride in her high-energy shows — once, she even broke her leg on stage, but still continued performing until the end. The show, after all, must go on.
Carlotta often invites younger local drag queens to perform at her shows. “There is always another party” is a mantra she states reverently as we talk about advice she’d give to up-and-coming queens. The key to turning out phenomenal performances is rest, she insists — something she knows about first hand when burning the candle at both ends nearly ended her career.Carlotta got her start in drag shortly after to moving to Vancou- ver in the early 90s. She credits the queens on the scene at that time as the inspiration for her confidence. Her name, Carlotta, isan extension of her boy identity, Carl. Carlotta is capable of doing the things that Carl dreams up. The close connection between the two is something that both personalities acknowledge. “Sometimes when I am performing something I have always wanted to perform, Carlotta and Carl transcend and become one,” she says.
Carlotta also believes herself to be an educator, gaining wisdom from years of collaboration with organizations, like TD bank and Tourism Vancouver, which respect her as an artist and performer. She sheds light on the fundamentals of drag, which draws upon impersonation and cross-dressing, but also creates something unique unto itself. One of its functions is to poke fun at mainstream culture. “It is important to remember that drag cannot be pigeon holed into what we see presented in the mainstream media,” she says. “Every queen is an artist and every artist is different. If you subjugate yourself to something or someone else, you will end up not liking or knowing yourself.” One thing is certain: the future of Carlotta Gurl is as bright at the lipstick she leaves on the faces of her audience members.
Bearded Beauty __ Words by David Cutting Original photography by Chase Hansen __
Sitting in the audience, you are face-to-face with a giant pink donut. The decor is colourful and EVERYTHING is covered in glitter. When the lights come up and the music comes on, everything makes sense — Katy Hairy wiggles her ass on stage, revealing that the glitter came from her makeup. Holding the microphone in one hand and twirling her hair in the other, she greets her audience. From her first giggle and tongue-pop of the evening, you’re high on this queen’s sugary sweet persona.
Katy Hairy’s name comes from a debaucherous afternoon on Wreck Beach, where a game of “what’s your drag name” became way too serious and resulted in a personality that has left a sweet mark on the scene. Her type of drag bends the idea of what drag is, from her beard to the songs she performs. “I have a beard as a boy, it is my signature look,” she says. “I was very firm when I started drag that I wouldn’t sacrifice Aaron for Katy, so, I chose to be a bearded queen. I am an eclectic queen. I reject genres, I reject stereotypes, and I fuck with gender norms. If what I do makes you ask why, then that is why.”
Katy, who quite possibly is the love child of Cyndi Lauper and George Michael, hosts a show called Sweet and Sticky the last Sunday of every month at Displace Hashery. Her performances are larger than life, she draws her inspiration from big divas, always dawns some giant hair, and wiggles and shakes her way through numbers, creating a full sensory experience. Katy is always very engaging with her audience and makes everyone feel welcome. At one notable performance, she handed out candy canes and dumped a bag of glitter around the 1181 Lounge while dressed like Santa Claus (if he were dressed as Mrs. Claus) all while lip-syncing her way through Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
Drag is a place where Katy can play out her relationship with some long standing fears. “I suffered from bad anxiety and stage fright,” she reveals. “One of the reasons I started doing drag was because I wanted to face that fear. Doing drag has brought a calm into my life. Katy’s confidence has helped me even as a boy. Those fears no longer hold me back.”
Katy continues, “I do drag to make people ask questions, to challenge their ideas of gender and sexuality, and to help people think outside of their drag boxes.” There can be a stigma at times to adhere to a certain standard of femininity in drag, but Katy, along with other bearded queens, are proving this is not necessary. Drag is bigger than that and Katy proves it with perfect wigs, wisely chosen costumes, and a well-groomed beard. This queen is so sweet, she will give you a cavity.
Drag "Thing" __ Words by David Cutting Original Photography by Chase Hansen __
In a flurry of glitter and flower petals, Rose Butch’s mischievous grin rouses a tired audience into a frenzy. This 1960s psych-inspired drag performer has an allure onstage that is unmatched. We are watching them step down as the reigning Mr/Ms Cobalt, a title they won in 2015. Rose spent the month of April coaching and encouraging the 2016 contestants in a way that only a true humble leader of the community can.
Rose Butch is a Drag “Thing.” This is a term they created to describe themselves among the gender obvious Drag Queen (female) and Drag King (male). “I’m non-binary,” they say. “I’m a non-binary person and the drag that I do as Rose Butch is also non-binary. I use ‘they’ pronouns and so does Rose. Being non-binary means having a gender that is not male or female, but does not necessarily mean the absence of gender — because I have a gender that is very expressive, I’m just not a man or a woman, and neither is Rose Butch. I like to draw a comparison between being mixed race and being non-binary. I’m Ukrainian and also Japanese, but I’m also something completely unique. Both but neither.”
Rose Butch has been doing drag since 2012, but only started performing in 2014. It was at an amateur hour for Man-Up, a monthly gender performance and queer dance party at the Cobalt, where they found their start. It took time to build confidence, but Rose has paved their own road in a world that is inherently for gay men dressing like women. “I have the freedom to be anything and everything because I’m a Thing,” they say.They take a breath gathering their thoughts. “So, the drag ‘Thing’ thing was something that I coined to describe the drag that I was creating. Language is really important to me and when I found the word ‘non-binary’ to describe my gender, it gave me a real sense of belonging and personal understanding. ‘Drag Thing’ is a meeting of masculine and feminine and everything else that you can imagine. It holds the possibility to be anything and everything, without limitation or preconceived notions.”
Hailing from a strong theatre background, Rose brings a level of thoughtfulness to every show. From the looks to the intricacies, each routine is a masterpiece of performance art. Utilizing physical theatre is their specialty, often using mime influences as well as puppets that are purposely built for performances. “I’ve had this idea in my head that Rose Butch is a cute and charming cartoon gay boy who is also a freaky, otherworldly angel creature,” says Rose.
Rose is a cornerstone of the Vancouver drag community because they have the courage to stand up and deliver a style of drag that is very different from what most would term “normal” drag. This courage translates into the loving adoration the community has for them. They have earned their place as a celebrated drag performer by being a kind, hard working, and talented person, who can move an audience with just the twitch of their eyebrows. Talking with them is insightful and their views on both the world and drag are refreshing. It’s new, it’s different, and things are only just beginning to bloom for Rose.
Soulful __ Words by David Cutting Original Photography by Chase Hansen __
When she hits the stage, grace and camp collide. A gender bent form called Karmella sasses her way into our hearts. When she performs, the audience can’t sit still as her interpretations of songs are captivating. Her facial expressions are priceless and her joy of life on stage is front and centre. Her every facial expression is a piece of art and her costumes, simple yet unique, make this queen the powerhouse diva she is.
Self-described as the “Chocolate Queen,” Karmella can be spotted around town guesting at many long running shows in the city. She can be seen monthly at Man Up, a monthly drag revue at the Cobalt. “I love my Cobalt family,” Karmella says. “The audience is there to see what we have come up with as performers, they are open minded, and they are very receptive of people’s creations.” For Karmella, drag is a place where community and art combine. Her kind demeanour definitely helps her bring the energy on stage and each of her performances are well thought out. “My drag tells a story,” she explains. “It changes from show to show. Sometimes it’s a character, sometimes just a look, I have a base character to play off of and the rest is the canvas I use to create new things.”
Karmella began performing drag in 2013 at Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar. She didn’t compete that year, but returned in 2016, ultimately winning the title of Miss Congeniality. Many new queens have a mentor, or a “drag mother,” and Karmella’s own mother is her drag mom. “My mother Toby Schnoor is my biggest fan, and she is also my drag mother,” she says. “She was the first person to put makeup on me before I went out the first time. She gave me makeup tips, guiding me and helping me become who I am.”
Since her conception, Karmella has been heavily involved in helping different community organizations like Vancouver Pride, Dogwood Monarchist Society, and the Rhinestone Phoenix Charity Foundation. “I admire the community oriented queens in this city, they are my inspiration,” she says, humbly. “After the shooting in Orlando I realized that I needed to find why I do drag and the importance of it to me and my community. I think it is important to know what you value most about yourself as a performer.”
When she is performing, it’s her connection to the songs and the audience that bring her the most joy. “I know I like to entertain people,” Karmella continues. “It’s fun, I appreciate the fact that I have created something and people absorb it and love it. Connecting with my audience is what it is all about for me.” She’s even appeared on the big screen, acting in movies at young age. “I was in a horror movie when I was a kid and I survived, I feel like I am the only black person to survive a horror movie… Oh wait, 13 Ghosts, never mind,” she laughs. Her film star past contributes to her stage confidence now that she does drag. “I don’t get nervous, to me performing is easy. There is always something to learn at every show, you just got to be willing to find it and use it in the future.”
Karmella is a queen to watch. Her star is only beginning to rise and we are very excited to see where she goes. In a community that thrives when diversity is embraced, Karmella is a beacon of light with a bright future.
Community Spaces and Sweaty faces __ Words by David Cutting Original Photography by Chase Hansen __
There are sweaty people and then there is Peach Cobblah. If you are lucky enough to ever sit at one of her shows, she jokes about the ocean of sweat that comes forth from her pores in deluges. If you’re new, the joke doesn’t land until about five minutes later when a rather intense rendition of “Good Mother” by Jann Arden turns into a sweat shower from The Baddest Bitch of East Van.
Once upon a time, Peach Cobblah decided to try drag as a one off to get tips so she could get drunk. Emerging on the scene in Apocalypsticks’ “Mean Teen Queen” segment, Peach sweated her way into the hearts of East Van drag lovers with her unique hip-hop drag style, which, at the time, was unlike anyone else.
Inspired by artists like Nikki Minaj and Missy Elliot, Peach brings hip-hop attitude to every performance no matter the song. And, with her signature arm waves and leg kicks, she works it. She cites Roseanne as another influence, which definitely shines through in the crass and annoying manner that Peach’s humour manifests.
Peach can be found every Tuesday at 1181 for Shame Spiral, a show that is a staple in the drag community. Part drag show, part storytime, the show explores the ideas of how certain behaviours make us feel and how expressing it can bring joy and build community. Her brilliant “Blender of Shame” is loaded up each week with random songs that audience members pull for her to perform. The level of mystery and the campiness of Peach merge to create a drag monster that is hard to look away from.
Peach brings community together. For numerous years, she has produced, performed, and encouraged new talent at The Cobalt in East Van. Her stage is always welcoming to new talent and is always a supportive place for new queens to learn to express themselves. Without taking herself too seriously, Peach is always listening for the social commentary around her creations so that community is being built and nurtured. “Hustla and The Gay Agenda, like Queer Bash before it, are all events that help raise money for Zee Zee Theatre, but also create a really important space in East Van in a queered way,” she says. “I love the West End and spend a lot of time there, but it’s vital for East Van to be able to party in their own backyard too.”
“I want to create spaces that people feel like they can be themselves in, like perhaps the guy at the end of the bar has never been to a show before, but by coming, he gets exposed to new people. I take it as part of my job as a drag queen to be the ambassador of the space I am in, to get to know people, to help them have a good time, and to help them find their truest expression of self.” This is Peach’s true essence and if you have ever been to a show she is hosting, you will most certainly be warmly welcomed.
Peach in no way would claim the title of community leader, but her patience and willingness to foster and nurture the community makes this true without having to toss around the label.
“I think anytime someone puts on drag and gets a microphone they become de facto leaders because people listen to what they have to say,” says Peach. “I’d like to think I’ve used that bizarre power to introduce people to things that I’m passionate about: building community, theatre, vital local charities like Out in Schools and A Loving Spoonful…. Do leaders have missteps? Absolutely. But we grow and reflect and challenge ourselves and others and that keeps our community strong.”
In other news, Peach shared with BeatRoute that she is also producing a show inspired by the intersection of drag and her occupation as a playwright. We are buzzing with excitement to see and experience Ghosts of My Tuck, which Peach promises is weirdly political and wonderfully atrocious.
For anyone wondering where to experience Vancouver drag, find Peach’s events and get down there. Leave your judgments and inhibitions at the door, because this bad bitch encourages our authentic expression.
The Queen of East Van __ Words by David Cutting Original Photography by Chase Hansen __
Sitting at a stage-facing table in the centre of the Cobalt with the spotlight on her is Isolde N Barron. On the stage, a contestant of her annual Mr/Miss Cobalt Competition awaits what she is going to say. The words that follow are constructive, elevating, and, at their core, kind. This is Isolde. Classically trained in theatre, she yields her knowledge of performance as a tool and her generosity to share her input and wisdom with others is what truly makes her The Queen of East Van.
Isolde began drag in 2007, after being inspired by big queens in Toronto who really tapped into old glamour and camp. Needing a remedy for traveling to Vancouver’s West End for drag culture, Isolde began creating performances for a show called Bent (an old East Van institution) where, dressed up like Ursula and accompanied by a cast of minions, she performed a number from The Little Mermaid and dove right into the drag scene.
Her name came from an intensely boring poetry reading she was attending where someone mentioned the name Isolde. She thought it was humorous because placing an ‘N’ with it could elicit a character of sorts, but she still wasn’t sure where she wanted it to go. Eventually, it was her father who came up with the Barron part, which fit nicely with the old school glamour campiness that was her driving inspiration.
The Cobalt became home base for Isolde when they picked her up for a weekly drag show cleverly titled Apocalypstick. It was here she began to really bring a new excitement to the queer scene of East Van. “We [Peach Cobblah and Bambi Bot] worked tirelessly to create an exciting new energy for the queer community in East Van,” says Isolde. “Some of the individuals in this community didn’t feel comfortable in the West End scene so by us adding a drag show to the scene in East Van, it created a new space for them to convene.”
The drag scene now is much different. Isolde has a weekly show at the Junction on Davie with Carlotta Gurl called the Barron Gurl Show. “It is an exciting time right now because the west and the east are meeting and this is creating a really cool fusion of drag,” she says. “The community spaces are becoming communal and we get the opportunity to connect with a broader audience.”
Isolde continues, “When we are dressed as clowns people are more willing to open up to us, to connect with us. It is our duty to be their cheerleader and help them be one with the community in the space.” The inclusive nature of her role in the community is related to the matronly quality of her character.
Next year will be Isolde’s 10-year drag birthday and after all these years it’s the audience that keeps her going. “I love when I am onstage fulfilling the song and the audience is there with me,” she enthuses. “These moments are rare but they are transcendent, you become one with everything. It’s magic, you are fulfilling the illusion, the makeup, the lip sync, the costume, the womanhood, When I see the audience living for my moment that’s what keeps me going.” For all this time, Isolde has had the companionship of her darling husband/wife Peach Cobblah (see beside) to share in the magical drag journey with.
A mother to some, a mentor to those who seek, and a wife to one, Isolde sits in a throne in this community with poise and grace, unafraid to speak her mind, lend a hand, or offer wisdom. She lives to the full meaning of the title Queen
Pushing the Boundaries of Vancouver Drag __ Words by David Cutting Original Photography by Chase Hansen __
Jane Smoker is a drag force of nature. She has been there and fucking done that. When she walks onto the stage, the crowd screams. We have seen her a thousand times and we still come back for more. If you are even minutely familiar with the Vancouver Drag community, you’ll have heard her name. Her performances are breathtaking, and the effort and heart she puts into them are what has brought this queen to the top.
Blonde ambition is Jane’s game. Having performed on every stage in this city, from her humble beginnings at Mr/Miss Cobalt in 2012, Jane Smoker has made herself into a consumable commodity. This year, Jane published a book of her own drag selfies, a feat that other queens marvel at. “When you first break into the scene, you’re going to be intimidated because there are a lot of BIG personalities and names that you’ll admire and look up to and feel like you’ll never attain anything close to their level, but it’s possible,” Jane says, as we talk about advice she would give to young performers. “Confidence is everything because unfortunately no one is going to hold your hand and no one is going to hand you opportunities. I’ve always said since day one, ‘be the star you think you are.’ You have to get out there, show them what you got even if that means working for free for a year. Show people why you belong. There is always a spot for you.”
Jane’s list of accolades is a mile long, with numerous monthly and weekly shows under her belt, including a guest spot at Micky’s (a really hot drag venue in Los Angeles) and her role in the Spice Gurls as Posh. She even won the title of Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar in 2015. Her current shows are a huge draw for people — PLAYBOY is her monthly at XY and BRATPACK is her weekly at Junction, the latter of which she shares with three of her drag sisters.Even in her rich white woman demure, she gushes about community. “We all share this bond of being a part of the local LGBTQ2 umbrella and while we don’t necessarily have a best friendship with absolutely everyone, you know that in the time of need, any (if not every) member of the community would be there for one of there own in a time of need,” Jane maintains. “Every member of the community is a different piece to the puzzle whether you are a drag queen, DJ, promoter, bartender, artist, or even just a regular bar patron. Everyone is integral to making the scene rich with different characters, personalities, talents and most importantly lessons that we can all learn from each other, both young and older.”
“Drag is not easy and no one knows what we go through except other drag queens,” says Jane. “A true drag sister is someone who will keep you inspired, motivated and confident when it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. They teach you and in turn you teach them back. On a lighter note, what’s more fun than going dress shopping as a group of dudes?”
Our addiction for Jane isn’t going away any time soon and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She says we have a stand up show to look forward to, a contest for a new BRATPACK member coming, and, of course, new evolutions in her style. We’ve seen the bra and panty phase, we loved the stripper phase, we’re enjoying the current affluent-rich-sometimes-high-fashion phase, but what’s next? Guess we will have to feed our craving and see.
“The most important thing in life is to be gracious to others.” — Jaylene Tyme
Words by David Cutting
Original Photography by Chase Hansen
The glitter, the rhinestones, the sequins, the makeup — every minute detail creates a vibrant and contrasting texture on stage. Her smile lights up the room and her heart emanates joy. Jaylene Tyme is our local legend.
Her experience with drag started in Calgary, Alberta in an underground scene that, Tyme recalls, thrived in its uniqueness. “I remember I didn’t have my shit together,” she reminisces. “I just wandered around trying to find myself, I found kindness in the scene.” In those early years, Tyme was inspired by old school drag, a combination of humour and glamour that was showy and shiny. She admits that in these early days she was more concerned with looking like a girl — something, years later, she would realize was tied to her own gender identity. “I found my expression of self through the expression of drag,” Tyme says. “It was the pulse of my truth, the character that I put on was the closest expression to my spirit.”
Jaylene Tyme loves the word “community.” She never misses an opportunity to say it. “Community to me represents family,” she explains. “When I first came out into the gay community at 19, I separated myself from the family that I knew because I needed to find somewhere that I could be myself, because I was at a point where I was confused. I didn’t understand what gender identity meant, what being gay meant, what being different meant. I knew that there must be something out there. So when I left home I kinda left not knowing what to expect. I was very much alone and I needed to find a new family. So when I went into the gay community, that was when I was really able to realize a community. In other words a family of people that share the same curiosity, share the same challenges, share the same passions, in it all there is a lot of talent, artistry, and dysfunction. A real multitude of personalities that are relatable.”
Tyme hosts a show at XY Nightclub every Sunday called Legends. It a Vegas-style show that offers world-class impersonations. Tyme and her guests challenge themselves by transforming into characters. Some of her most notable characters include Dolly Parton, Barbara Streisand, Marilyn Monroe, and Cher, the latter who was her first impersonation. Her transformations are so complete that even the tiniest characteristics are accentuated.
Tyme is also known for her kindness and for nurturing young artists. Her ethos is simple, she shares, “Because the gay community is small it is also transparent, we need to create an atmosphere where everyone can nurture their art. They deserve to be made to feel comfortable exploring their own artistry.” She strives to always remain supportive in her interactions and adds, “It is important that everyone be able to set their own standards. How we align with criticism is very important, don’t let others insecurity encroach on your art. We need to always see that our potential is limitless. The only limit is our imagination.”
In 2006, Jaylene Tyme won the title of Empress of Vancouver under the Dogwood Monarchist Society. The title, she says, is among her proudest achievements, next to her sobriety and living her authentic truth every day. The role of Empress is important because the person elected becomes the ambassador for the gay community of Vancouver. And Tyme’s early experiences are what made her such a powerful Empress. “I remember when I experienced challenging points in my life, I wasn’t looked down on,” she says. “I remember this clearly and now I carry that in everything I do. I always remember the kindness I was given and in turn give that same kindness to everyone I meet.”
Tyme’s self-awareness makes her a person to admire and her willingness to share so genuinely makes her the most wonderful person to speak with. With her radiant aura, she breathes life into the world around her. Not to mention, her drag verges on mastery. We are honoured to know her.
Imagine a child at home in Mission: playing alone, obsessed with Sailor Moon, and imagining a world in which they create artistic performances of their very own. These are the humble beginnings of the drag behemoth known as Raye Sunshine.
With horrible pencil thin eyebrows and a thirst for audience adoration, Sunshine made her first appearance on the Odyssey stage performing to “Boys” by Britney Spears. Having grown up gay in a small community, Sunshine was prepared for what the drag scene had in store. “I’ve been hated my whole life,” she states. “I just don’t give a shit.”
Dubbed the “Supermodel Empress” during her reign, Sunshine did a staggering 22 courts and visited everywhere. She was driven to ensure that she represented the Vancouver community on as big of a scale as she could. Traveling as she has, she learned a valuable piece of wisdom. “It’s not about pleasing the other girls, or hyping up a promoters ego or a visiting Ru girl,” she says. “The most important thing is the audience, the ones that came to see you perform.”
“The worst thing you could ever do is just walk past and stay within your group.”
Sunshine understands what is truly responsible for her success and she honours that. “Mingle,” she insists. “Use that drink ticket to buy someone standing alone a drink, ask them what brought them out. For fuck sakes, smile at the group of new people at the club, ‘cause chances are those are the ones that will come and fill the seats at your shows.”
Sunshine is also an accomplished makeup artist and is always willing to lend tips and tricks to new queens. Being able to express her creativity in different ways is extremely fulfilling and the help she lends to new queens is a mark of that — she wants to see them learn and grow just as much as she has. Not to mention, her looks are creative and edgy, and are accompanied with performances where every detail is considered and executed with great intention.
“It’s the thrill of creating something on stage that a community can talk about,” she explains. “Using art to create conversation makes everything I do worth it. I get to live in my fantasy world that I’ve created, being as bat shit crazy as I am, millions of ideas tumble through my head with in a single day, creating those ideas into life and executing them into reality is a thrill. That thrill of the stage, the roar of the crowd and the gasps make it worth it, but also feeling that fear right before I go on, is addictive. If I ever lost that fear before going on stage I would probably quit drag because at that point it’s not a risk or a challenge anymore.”
Sunshine is a drag fixture, and when we talk about the future, she has a very clear idea of what she wants to achieve. “I want to expand my ‘empire’ and show the world my love of drag,” she says. “So, who knows where I’ll be, but I do know I will always perform in Vancouver because without this city and the people that raised me up, I would still be that new boy in a dress walking around Bingo collecting donations.”
Original Photos by Chase Hansen Words by David Cutting
In the crowded cubicle that is 1181, it is standing room only. There is excitement and booze in the air. Everyone is out on Sunday and they need a place to worship, so Alma Bitches lets them pray at her feet.In a crop top (complete with lewd saying) tutu, and thong, this bearded queen whips her audience into a frenzy. They are yelling, they are living. She stomps around and they cheer. She yells into the mic, it’s too loud to hear her. This is Alma’s Sunday night cult, a show she calls Sanctuary.
Alma got her start in the Vancouver chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. “When I joined the Sisters, I was in a dark place and saw the best way of getting out of that place was by giving back and helping others,” she says, sharing that, often, people don’t know each other’s stories, the rich tapestries of their history. “I am in my 14th year of sobriety. I had a reality problem — I used drugs and alcohol to avoid reality. My own experience was that I was abusing it until it abused me. I realized I needed to put them away and live each day as it comes.” Working with the Sisters, doing fundraisers and sing-a-longs, was a great passion for Alma.
“The best feeling is when I have just finished a show and it feels so good because I could see the audience was living for me and my guests.” shares Alma. Alma hosts two weekly shows, both on Sunday night. The first is Sanctuary at 1181 at 11:30 p.m., the second is Shequel at XY at 1 a.m. Known for having interesting themes and fun guests, the shows serve as some of the local drag fans favourites.
“I have always been a performer. I used to perform with my sisters, this was when I was smaller, we would lip sync and they would throw me around the living room and our grandma’s would clap and be entertained” says Alma. Her performances are colourful and crowd pleasing, she treats drag as a job and encourages those younger queens under her tutelage to do the same, offering the advice, “Always remember the bigger picture. You are doing a job, if you went to your day job loaded would you get to keep that job? Treat this like that job, because the audience is there to see you, you have a responsibility to them.”
“I have a beard, and it’s not because I’m lazy, but because I have a point to make.” says Alma, to her drag is about being as unabashedly queer as possible. Taking the gender norms and walking the line with them. She recognizes that it isn’t everyone cup of tea but that it is important to be able to take rules and bend them, because gender is not rigid, only our minds are.
Alma is always doing something. She travels having been to San Francisco and Portland to do shows, she is always reaching for something bigger and greater “You have to be heading towards something or you’re not going anywhere. As an artist it is very important to have aspirations beyond the local dream. Always set a goal.” chimes Alma.
Mila Dramatic takes to the stage with such confidence and joy that the crowd can’t help but be captivated by her raw magnetism. This is no doubt the result of years of dance training with a general inclination towards being an entertainer. In 2016, her second year competing, Mila went on to win the Title of Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar. As the competition begins again and they seek out a new drag juggernaut, Mila gets to fill a seat as a judge; another role she can add to her glistening drag resume.
Known for her dramatic (obviously) well thought out performances, Mila shares: “I have never faked my way through a performance. I like to have the structure, I don’t want to flounder so I map out every little detail. Dance is just so crowd-pleasing, and fills the gaps in songs so nicely.” Her life as a dancer influences this greatly. She elaborates, “I live a very structured life. I am in school for dance. I dance seven hours most days, go home, stretch, work, sleep, then do it again. Because I practice so much I have to have good habits. I have to eat well, and train. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. Dancing is so much fun I can’t imagine not doing it.”
It is no doubt that the joy that Mila brings to the stage is one of the factors that won her the title of Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2016. She is quick to elaborate on exactly what it is about drag she loves. “I love that I get to pretend to be famous. Lip syncing to songs by famous people gives you a chance to channel global superstars. It’s like being a drag queen makes you an instant celebrity, it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.” She follows with, “I also like that it gender bends. I love that I get to be a woman and a man and everything in between. I love how Grannie Annie (my grandmother) calls me beautiful now because she is not sure if ‘Handsome’ fully describes me.”
Drag seems glamorous but it can be very uncomfortable and weird at times. Every drag queen can point out what is hard about drag and Mila is no exception, quipping “I would say tucking, but I don’t tuck, I would say nails but I have only ever worn them twice. Maybe wig hairs getting in my mouth? NO! The worst is the moment when you’re frantically getting ready, and you walk through your room and see all the receipts littering the floor. I always get this pang of regret where it all just feels so pointless and wasteful and I wonder what it’s all about… but then I go out and everybody is so loving, and I just LIVE!”
“Drag is hard! It’s so multi-faceted and you’ve got to master so many different elements to pull it off well. And the Vancouver drag market is saturated so the bar is high. Doing drag now is like facing the titans, you have to be ready.” She speaks from experience here having run a tight race for the crown in last year’s competition, but she is also lovely and quick with valuable advice. “Take care and practice every part of your drag. Drag is a lot of work, don’t be afraid to practice at home to get acquainted with finer details of your drag character.” She digresses, “I will be exploring the whole time I do drag, I will never stop learning.”
We are excited to see where Mila takes herself, which stages she death drops on, which queens she helps nurture and where she takes her drag as she evolves and reaches for her own renaissance. Once a title holder, always a title holder.
Photos by Chase Hansen
Words by David Cutting
Standing on stage above the Cobalt crowd Ponyboy smiles down, serving leather daddy realness this drag performer effortlessly whips the crowd into a frenzy. Bending gender norms while creating community is all in a nights work for this gender tripping sweetheart.
“My name was given to me by my drag dad Sammy Samosa (formerly Sammy Tomato)” says Ponyboy, “It's inspired by the outsiders. I have always had a thing for the pretty boy protagonist type, outwardly a bit bad ass but inwardly just a hopeless lover. Holden Caulfield was my second choice but I couldn't find a good pun that wasn't gross.”
Ponyboy is one of the founding members of Man Up, a monthly drag show at the Cobalt that runs the last Friday of the month. The show came to be because of a need for drag kings to have a stage. Now it is home to a widely diverse family of drag performers. “I'm inspired by the amazing influx of young artistic motivated queer people who want to get on stage and show their ideas of what drag and gender performance is. Vancouver drag has its own unique flavour.” says Ponyboy.
Man Up also inspired a show, charmingly and aptly called Man Up Amateur Hour where new drag performers can come and try their hand at performing. It’s an amazing first start because it provides the performer with much the same experience as the main production. Ponyboy fosters these welcoming spaces because they know the importance and need for queer entertainment in this world. “I've been very fortunate to be supported for as long as I have in the community. At this point I really want to share the experience I've gained with those who want to learn more or try something new, be that performing, hosting, or organizing. The community has taught me so much, I just want to support folks the way I've been supported,” shares Ponyboy. The first time you get on stage can be very daunting, Ponyboy’s go to advice for new performers is, “pick a song that makes you happy or inspired to convey a message, and go from there. Put your body as fully into the performance as you can. Act it out much bigger than it feels like you need to. Take moments of pause for the audience. Make eye contact.”
Drag in and of its self is a form of rebellion. Its origins are that of a social device that could change the world through politically charged performances, safe spaces and relevant social commentary. “When man Up started I was a literal baby and a brand new queer, it took me a while to begin to understand, for example, how misogyny and racism can show up in drag performances and queer spaces. my mentors had planted these seeds early on, but I only began to recognize this starting maybe 4 years ago, through many conversations and feedback from people in the community. And of course it’s an ongoing process of learning, and adapting to an ever growing community, in a really troubling world.” The idea that drag can create a more understanding world is alive and well because promoters and performers like Ponyboy.
“Creating queer spaces is a collaboration between all of us. It's vital for organizers to understand their *positions* of power and influence, and to be accountable to that by being open minded and receptive to feedback. *At the same time, party goers play a role in shaping the space and culture of an event, too.* What you bring into the space IS the space.”
The audience is roaring as the crescendo of “Pity Party” approaches, On stage Ilona effortlessly nails every movement and proceeds to smash her face into a cake, only to finish the performance lip syncing her way to icon status with a face full of blue icing. It’s hard to express the level of art that this queen brings to stage because it is something that is very rare. She is ferocious an unrelenting in her drag and it is not lost on anyone who watches her perform.
Her name seems very unassuming, however for any artist, inspiration comes from real life. She shares “I worked at a fabric store and I shared a cutting table with an 87 year old woman named Ilona. She was sassy just like me. One day she said to me ‘you know I hate the gays but i like you’ so I started talking about gay culture with her. She began bringing me makeup because I told her I was interested in drag. We got real close and I told her that if I ever did drag that I would name my character after her. She was so extra, she was like a movie character.”
There is a common narrative in all amazing artists and that is adversity. The world we live in is progressing in many ways and when it comes to homophobia the tides are turning fast. Ilona shared that homophobia was something that surrounded her her whole life. “My family is very old fashioned and there was a lot of homophobic comments growing up. when i wasin high school and found out about homosexuality I just knew that I was, it was simple, I was worried about coming out, because of my family’s view, but I thought about it an realized that I grew up playing with dolls and wearing girls clothing so I hoped that my mom would just want me to be happy.” Ilona shares of her family. “After I came out I realized that my family just needed facts, they needed to know what homosexuality is. When we looked back on that time when comments were made when I was still in the closet my mom said she was growing up to and that she had no idea that it hurt me.”
Drag became a form of expression for her. It became her whole life. It took over. She went to school at Blanch Mcdonald for makeup and from there Ilona was fully fleshed. She rose on the scene and began to refine and polish herself. "I do drag becauseits such an amazing creative outlet, cliche I know, but for me being able to transform myself to look the way I want is so empowering. I honestly don’t have much confidence as a boy so being able to look full hot in drag is such a great way for me to get my confidence together and channel that into my day to day life as regular old me." shares Ilona “Being Ilona isn’t just a drag character for me, its honestly who I am. It makes me so happy when people call me Ilona, in or out of drag because its a name i picked for myself and reminds me of what I've built!”
Ilona is one of five members of “the House of Bitches” a drag family that is mothered by Alma Bitches. Drag families similar to real families have the same ups and downs. Ilona even relies her relationship to Alma as similar to her biological mother. These relationships to Ilona are not a one way street, they serve as an opportunity for both parties to learn from each other. A testament to the fact that sometime family isn’t about the blood that flows through your brains yet an energy that likens your spirit to theirs.
“Realness, I am a passionate person, sometimes that comes out as aggression and negativity when I just have a lot of feelings, I am a sensitive person and I feel that doesn’t come across all the time. It has always been easy to be a cold bitch because I don’t want to be hurt, so being a cold bitch is a way to keep myself from getting hurt. But its not who I am. I am changing and growing and right now I am focused my behaviour and learning from it. I am focused one my happiness.”
Squamish's most commercially successful queen
Amy Grindhouse steps onto the stage, microphone in hand, she looks shy, “I’m going to sing live for you if that's all right” she says into the mic and the audience loses their shit. As she effortlessly weaves her way through “Love me Harder” by Arianna Grande she exposes different parts of her hairy unkept body. The audience is madly in love, they shower her with money, they scream. This is the Effect Amy has on people, she is sweet, she is funny, she is a breath of fresh air in a scene that fights so hard to be perfect.
Drag to Amy is a very special experience, she started Drag in High School in Squamish, she shares, “Drag has become many things for me, it's an incredible artistic outlet, a way to air out some of the demons hiding in my closet, and most importantly it's cheaper than therapy! What makes drag so unique is there are NO rules! Of course I love glamorous, "pageant" and polished drag, but I don't think it's any more valid then "alternative" styles. That goes beyond fashion, it's important to stress that drag is for anyone and every body! When performers are their most authentic selves, that's when the magic happens.”
Amy is known for her looks. They are unique, weird and literally nobody else would every wear them at times. “I love that drag allows us to have a break from reality, and we get to play dress up for a while! When I was a kid I was always wearing some crazy costume, and now I get paid to do it!” shares Amy. This level of escapism is a gift Amy gives to her audience too. She has the gift of making people laugh. Her kindness really does shine through.
Amy is a cohost/co-creator of The Sleepy Girls Show in Kitsilano. It happens the last Sunday of every month and often centres around a broad theme where guests tell stories from that time in life. It’s a must see show, so go see it.
Formative years in life are interesting, we all have things that have happened that have shaped who we are, to Amy Drag is very Cathartic, she shares, “I started doing drag to heal my self worth. When I was 14, I decided to hook up with a stranger. Things went south pretty fast, the first thing he said to me was "you look fat in person, you should loose weight", then guilted me into doing things I wasn't comfortable with. After that I internalized the trauma, and kept meeting up with guys who made me feel terrible. I have always struggled with body image, and this certainly didn't help. As I grew up I needed to find an outlet to vent out all my frustrations, and reclaim my sexuality. For me, Amy has always been my way of taking it back. She is all my insecurities amplified! My comedy comes from that, I heal through laughter. Joking about sex and my body has actually made me feel beautiful! I took the fear out of the equation, and by performing we can all laugh about it together.”
Amy Grindhouse is a star on the rise and her carefree attitude, though it may seem lazy is actually well thought out and carefully crafted. She has a spirit for improv and it shines when she is on the Microphone. She is one to watch.
Kendall Gender’s involvement in the drag community is massive. She can be seen at most shows, she is a personality that people love primarily due to her kind and compassionate behaviour. Her performances have left audiences breathless, and she herself has a story to tell about this journey. Sometimes we get wrapped up in these drag persona’s that we forget that sometimes they are a catalyst for great healing and strength within ourselves and sometimes that is what resonates, even though we may not know it. Please enjoy this candid conversation.
RQ: Can you tell us about your drag journey?
KG: My drag journey! Well I’ve been doing drag since 2014, I was one of the alumni from Jane Smokers show “Cherry Pop” where she took community members and put them into drag for the first time. I remember going to cherry pop and seeing Jane on stage (in red lingerie of course) and being SO inspired, for the first time I remember thinking, aaaah this is it. Shortly after that I entered VNDS for the first time, completely unprepared, with zero makeup and literally two wigs, i obviously thought i was amazing , and i was NOT. I got eliminated pretty quickly after tripping on stage and almost gauging my eye out with scissors (true story). That same year I also entered the Mr/miss Cobalt competition, same story- different audience, less scissors.
After Cobalt, I was approached by my beloved Drag Mother Jane, to be a part of a little show she was putting on at the Odyssey called BRATPACK, there was going to be a few other queens involved. I said yes, and boom the first season of BRATPACK was born.
If I can get candid, that season of BRATPACK, although fun and exciting and new, was also one of the darkest periods of my life, I began partying like crazy and being on a weekly show basically gave me an excuse to put a mask over my bad behaviour. No one could really tell how fucked up I was because hey, I was in a wig, and had dark lipstick on. It spiraled out of control really quick and before I knew it i was a full blown drug addict.
Drag sometimes is hard for people, because it’s so easily associated with partying and nightlife, and everything you could desire is so easily accessibly. Kendall became this horrible extension of myself, someone who I could blame all my insecurities and bad behaviour on, and almost make a mockery of her.
Around Halloween during the first season of BRATPACK I chose to get sober. I quit the show, quit drag, took time off work and basically became a man. I grew out my beard went to the gym 5x a week and wore adidas. In that time off I needed to find myself, I needed to find out what I wanted from my own life, and I am so grateful to have found that peace and serenity, something I can only wish for every single person out there.
After 7 months, Jane asked me if I was interested in coming back to BRATPACK for a two week stint. At first I was so reluctant and honestly didn’t want to, I thought drag was a closed chapter in my life and not something I needed anymore. But I said yes, I got my custom Evan Clayton lewk (outfit for those of you out of the slang loop) made, two backup dancers and as soon as Beyonce came blaring through those speakers, I felt a strength that I have never felt before. It was almost like getting reborn in a sense. Emerging from the darkest place of my life into this new world filled with light and opportunity and a community who embraced me so lovingly.
After that I did the Legends calendar contest as Rihanna, and started to explore a more soft side of my drag. who knew I enjoyed ballads so fucking much?
RQ: Tell us about the sisterhood you have with Bratpack?
KG: Bratpack is always my favourite gig. We’re all friends outside of the show as well so it never feels like work. We all get each other and know exactly how to maneuver around each other if that makes sense. We know how to love and be there for each other, and also we know what not do to to avoid explosions. At the end of the day we are all there to be the best group for everyones entertainment. and the future of BRATPACK is looking so bright its literally giving me anxiety.
RQ: What does Kendall’s future look like?
KG: Kendall’s future looks very blessed. Im so lucky right now to be at a place where I can choose and layout my art the way i see fit. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of hosting/judging and more public speaking stuff which I love. Also every time I put on my own shows I always donate a portion of my fee to charity, so thats always in the forefront of my mind, and usually don’t bother putting on a show of my own if there is no charitable aspect to it.
RQ: What is something people don’t know about you, or something that they get wrong?
KG: No one believes that I’m half black, but I swear to god I am.