Edmonton

Edmonton's drag queens earning spotlight beyond gay clubs

Drag queens flit across the stage beneath the sun-lit chandeliers of the Empire Ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald as sharply-dressed Edmontonians brunch on eggs benedict and freshly-squeezed mimosas.

Queens performing in libraries, community halls and churches

Edmonton drag queens enthusiastically lead story time on a Sunday afternoon at the Edmonton Public Library in Old Strathcona. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Drag queens flit across the stage beneath the sun-lit chandeliers of the Empire Ballroom at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald as sharply-dressed Edmontonians brunch on eggs benedict and freshly-squeezed mimosas.

Saturday's Drags Benny charity brunch, featuring morning cocktails and canapes alongside performances from drag performers Ivy League, JBR and Cremé Brûlée, is just the latest example of a growing trend in the industry.

Queens are experiencing a change of venue, moving into the mainstream.

From subculture to pop culture 

Performers in Edmonton are being asked to headline events at prestigious theatres, public libraries, community halls, neighbourhood skating rinks, even churches.

Drag has been thriving in Edmonton for years but performers were rarely seen outside the gay nightlife scene, said Rob Browatzke, manager of Evolution Wonderlounge, a gay bar in downtown Edmonton.

"Drag was the gay art form," Browatzke said. "It was a staple of the weekend at the gay club, but it was very specific to gay bars. It hadn't really crossed over. Certainly, drag shows at straight venues were not common, if at all."

Browatzke credits the popularity of the television series RuPaul's Drag Race for bringing drag into the spotlight.

"That has taken drag from subculture and made it into pop culture," Browatzke said.

"Certainly now there are drag events all over the city all the time. What drag is has also significantly changed … it's an art form that is for everybody."

Edmonton's Winspear Centre has three drag shows on its schedule this year, including an upcoming performance by Thorgy Thor, the stage persona of Shane Thor Galligan, a drag performer from New York.

In June, Thor — a classically-trained violinist — will perform with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

Joyce LaBriola, vice president of brand and experience with the Winspear, said there is a new recognition of drag as an art form, and the theatre community is interested in fostering that.

"People are appreciating that it's not just a novelty within the queer community; it's actually an art form that people should be celebrating, studying and looking up to," LaBriola said.

"The relationship is really about music and art and supporting art," she said. "The Winspear Centre is inclusive. If there is an exceptional musical experience to be had, we want them here."

'Queer city' 

Edmonton's Kane Lacroix has been on the front lines of the recent shift in drag-friendly performance spaces.

He has been performing as his drag persona Andra Jini Kane for more than three years and attending shows regularly for more than six.

"I absolutely love it because in Canada, in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, they all have gay villages. But to me, Edmonton is just a queer city," Lacroix said.

"And there are a lot of all-age shows now, which I love. My little brother got to come and see me perform and do a show. There are even shows in churches."

They end up seeing what we do and they just love it.- Kane Lacroix

Lacroix said there is a growing acceptance of drag and it has given his performances more meaning.

"It's so cool to walk into a place where people wouldn't be expecting to see a drag queen walk in … and they end up seeing what we do and they just love it.

"It's just crazy, people have so many opportunities to be exposed to it, let loose and have fun."

Lacroix hopes that giving drag a more prominent place in the arts will help other other young members of the queer community feel seen and accepted. 

"Having the opportunity to do shows in different places in the city makes me feel more comfortable around the city, even just walking around the street," he said.

"It's been two years since I've been called a slur on the street and I think part of that is because there are drag and queer spaces across the city."

Yaaaaaaaaasss queen. We take a deeper look into the expansion of Edmonton's drag scene, and what it means for drag artists. 7:26