Kelowna drag queens heating up the mid-winter arts scene
When it comes to talking about drag in the Okanagan, muscle cars and a long strip of asphalt are usually involved.
But there’s an elegant, uproarious and intelligent group of performers taking the stage at UBCO’s The Well Student Pub this weekend who are out to expand the area’s vocabulary.
The Embodiment Drag Show, one of the first drag shows in the Okanagan, at least in recent memory, is designed to attract the straight community, the gay community, those who love comedy, performance theatre, music and an opportunity to see the world (and one's self) in a new light.
“It’s about being yourself, publicly and openly,” said Dustin Dufault, a third year social work student co-hosting the event with master of fine arts student Shannon Lester.
Fittingly, as this is the Okanagan, the two dashing young men met on a beach.
Dufault, who moved to Kelowna to be with his fiancé, was introduced to Lester, who returned to the Okanagan for grad school having completing his bachelor of fine arts at UBCO, through a friend who knew they were both interested in drag.
Dufault had tried dressing up once and took his transformation to the hilt.
“I just went way overboard. Spent way too much money,” he said, noting he bought a dress, makeup, heels, jewelry, “the works” for the event.
For Lester, the drag scene, though non-existent in Kelowna, was old hat. While living in Japan, where he taught English for six years, he set up his own drag performance art collective with a friend from Australia and the group amassed members from all over the world.
Performing under the stage name Sasha Zamolodchikova—Dufault’s stage name is Ella Lamoureux—his work challenges conceptions of gender identity in a dark, dramatic performance quite contrary to Dufault’s light, glitz and glamour approach.
Both love to perform and both love to try on a different side of themselves. Dufault has even become a makeup artist for MAC Cosmetics on the side, often donning a little rouge and a touch of shadow to boost his day-to-day look.
Kelowna has not had a drag scene like other bigger communities, so the pair say they’re excited to introduce the art form to anyone who wants to be entertained.
“Some people might have the stereotypical image of a drag queen being bitchy and girly and dancing around on stage to Britney Spears, but there’s a lot more diversity to drag performances,” said Lester.
The performers also aren’t necessarily gay or interested in dressing as the opposite sex in day-to-day life.
“Everybody thinks that we want to be women, but we don’t,” said Dufault. “I love my masculine side, but every once in a while, I kind of, you know, want to try something different.”
Their first show was at Flashbacks and Dufault staged a drag contest last summer, after deciding that a full pageant, which operates with the same stringent rules and criteria as any other beauty pageant, was a little too much work.
Since then, they’ve attracted a significant amount of attention bringing in performers from Vernon like Leesa Resch, or Lethal Leesa to those who follow roller derby; she will be performing as ‘drag king’ Eddie Zero. Former Vernon resident Curtis Volkle, Angel Di Avolo, will also perform and the evening will have two masters of ceremonies: UBCO professors Constance Crompton, who has performed in drag, and Karis Shearer, who will make her drag debut.
For Lester, the evening is also a bit of research. Now in the last six months of his master’s degree, he’s focusing on painting and performance and is doing research on gender identity.
For Dufault, it’s an opportunity to continue developing a great hobby that just might lead to something bigger. After The Well performance, they’re hoping to stage another show downtown, possibly returning to Flashbacks.
“We’ve had some comments: ‘Oh you’re brave to do drag in Kelowna,’ but so far it’s been very positive, very well received,” said Lester.
“We’re just really confident,” added Dufault. “We go out and we get dressed and promote the shows and have fun with it. If you see a seven-foot tall woman coming down the street toward you, you’ll know it’s us.”
The Embodiment Drag Show runs 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. this Friday, Jan. 18.
Joining Sasha and Ella on stage will be Eddie Zero and the Scissor-Me-Timbers, Randy Robbo, Angel Di Avolo, Cissy Avarice and Sparkle. Everyone is welcome to come in drag with prizes for the best transformation. Admission is $5 and the show starts at 10 p.m.