It me: @CourtneyConquer
Mainstream pop culture has seen the rise of something incredibly unique and wonderfully queer in the last ten years: drag! Particularly since the premiere of the popular television show Rupaul’s Drag Race, the art of drag has been making its way more steadily towards the centre of media and entertainment in a provocative and exciting way, leaving a trail of glitter and curiosity in its wake.
Drag Race is not, however, the originator of the art. Drag is actually anything but new, having been a tool of expression, resistance, and even survival for queer people for hundreds of years. It has a long, rich, and diverse history worldwide that precludes the show and informs a lot of what you’ll see if you watch it.
Similarly, the drag shows put on by Drag Race alumni, though nothing short of stellar, are not the only drag shows worth seeing. In fact, the beauty of this somewhat niche performance style is that you’ll find a local drag scene almost anywhere you go… including right here in Toronto.
Toronto’s local drag scene is overt and easy to find, which is part of its appeal. Whether you’re closer to the West End, where performers put on fantastically queer and conceptual shows at venues like The Beaver or The Gladstone Hotel, or whether you’re closer to downtown where The Church-Wellesley Village boasts rainbow crosswalks and drag bars dotted down each side of the street, your choices are abundant.
Unlike some cities, Toronto has drag shows every single night of the week, rather than relegating it to just a select few. You’ll even find one or two during the day, just in case you’d like to tip some queens but late nights aren’t your thing! A wander down Church Street or a quick online search for event posters (Toronto queens are champions of the social media hustle) will have you on your way. In the meantime, here’s a list of seven talented drag queens and their most entertaining shows to get you started!
Check Out: “A Drag Tribute to…”- Monthly at The Beaver on Queen St West
Besides being hilarious in a way that’s both intelligent and silly, Fisher Price is one of the most creative queens in the city. Whether she’s dressed as a fully DIY bearded Sailor Moon, donning an outfit that she made entirely from folded paper and coloured pencils, or jumping into a swimming pool in full drag, this performer has all kinds of tricks and surprises up her majestically draped sleeves. Her parties and events are inclusive of not only all genders and types of drag, but also all body types and diverse interests. They’re often sex positive in a way that’s empowering to those who want to bare it all, but still comfortable and fun for anyone else. They play on social trends in a way that pokes fun at the things we love while also nostalgically celebrating them.
Fisher’s party “A Drag Tribute to…” is a fun show with a rotating cast of guests that sets a unique theme each month. The atmosphere is always costume-y and tongue in cheek and the themes give performers an opportunity to step outside their regular rotation of numbers in order to make hilarious custom mixes full of sound bytes and music clips from across pop culture. Past themes include drag tributes to junk food, scene kids, actress Meryl Streep, and even Jesus Christ! Fisher Price can also be found as a rotating guest at several other performers’ shows throughout the city. You can count on her to add a uniquely creative element and bring a silly, supportive, and celebratory attitude, no matter the atmosphere or clientele.
Check Out: “Sippin’ T with Erin B: Sunday Drag Brunch”- Weekly at Glad Day Bookshop in Church St.
At an Erin Brockobic show, you’re drawn in by all the appeal of a super tall, glamorously sparkling drag queen but you stay for the intelligent, envelope pushing jokes; the kind that make your drink come out your nose when the punchline really hits you. As a featured guest throughout The Village, Erin has become both a fantastic host and a thoroughly entertaining performer, letting her expressive nature draw you into her lip syncs entirely. No matter who she’s working with, Erin’s personality simultaneously stands out and meshes well with her peers, making her enjoyable to watch no matter where you catch her.
During her weekly brunch shows at Glad Day Bookshop on Church St, Erin and her guests do a hilarious and heartwarming job of interacting with guests of all ages and identities. Erin doesn’t let the fact that kids and families often attend limit the jokes she’ll tell or the topics she’ll address, but her wit and language skills are so high level that the atmosphere stays fun and comfortable rather than ever being too inappropriate for who’s there. Even on afternoons when you can’t attend her brunch, you can often catch a bit of the show just by walking down Church St; Erin and her guests have been known to take their numbers to the streets… literally. Rain or shine, watch out for this queen and her friends twirling in the middle fo the road on Sundays!
Check Out: “Beef Curtains”- Monthly at Cherry Cola’s on Bathurst St
If you’re a slightly more veteran drag fan in the Toronto scene, then you might recognize Dottie Dangerfield as one of the first few femme queens to participate in well known local events like the annual Crews and Tangos “Drag Race” competition! Dottie has never let archaic notions of gender in drag stop her from doing what she loves; instead, it fuels her work, resulting in acts that are at once flouncy and pink but also spectacularly risqué. Every once in a while she’ll even break out a live singing act that leaves you cheering just as loudly as you’ll laugh when you hear her infectious cackle on the mic.
Dottie’s monthly show “Beef Curtains” is like the perfect translation of herself as an artist, but in party format. A celebration of inclusive identity with a notable femme twist, this show boasts a safe space atmosphere where guests of all kinds can come and feel free to perform whatever kinds of numbers they please, so long as they contribute to the central tenants of respect and kindness. Each show is a rad combination of filth and ruffles, nudity and empowerment; anything goes, really. The next Beef Curtains is on November 16th at Cherry Cola’s, where you can help Dottie celebrate her mom’s birthday!
Check Out: “Don’t Wing It, Wig It”- Tuesdays at Garage on Church St
Jada Hudson is an absolute staple of the Toronto Village and the local drag scene at large. Besides being full of advice and encouragement for the queens around her, she’s also a walking example of what you’d expect a truly fierce drag queen to be, both in looks and attitude. You can actually find her all over the city, featured in different kinds of events and often working with internationally known acts when they visit town, but it’s her own regular shows that really show off her personality and make you realize she’s effortlessly hilarious, even when she’s looking her most fashionable and intimidating.
At Jada’s “Don’t Wing it, Wig It” show at Garage every Tuesday, you’ll get the full Jada “Shada” Hudson experience. Her up-front and interactive style of hosting keeps the audience engaged, while every light in the place glints off her perfectly accessorized ensembles. Jada’s performances range from classic lip syncs where attendees hang on every single perfectly enunciated word, to wild dance numbers where her and her guests jump off the stage and land in the splits between sassy banter sets. Jada also knows where all the best places to get good food in the city are, but on Tuesdays you can just get wings on special right there are her show!
Check Out: “The Bobo Show”- Wednesdays at The Drink on Church St
Scarlett Bobo is a force in the local scene. Are you looking for a new drag show to take a visiting friend to? Scarlett has seen or performed in just about all of them, so she’ll tell you where to go. Are you a new queen looking to break into the scene? Scarlett knows just where to point new talent and she even runs an all inclusive open stage herself. Scarlett is a high energy performer who can be found just about anywhere in The Village, always ready with a quick dance routine and a silly wisecrack up her tattooed sleeve. If you catch her at a special event, you might even get to see her do a full comic book themed cosplay or eat fire! You read that right; she puts actual fire in her mouth.
Besides being supportive of all kinds and levels of talent, championing inclusion in drag whenever she’s got the mic, Scarlett is also a bit of a drag show entrepreneur who is always surprising friends and fans with new shows in new places. The Bobo Show, however, is a reliable staple for her (and The Village at large), running every Wednesday at The Drink with a wide range of exciting guest queens. Once a month, The Bobo Show becomes an open stage night where new drag artists (no matter their identity or style) are invited into the spotlight to practice performing and doing mic work. No matter which of her shows you catch, you know you’re in for a very fun (and hysterically loud) time!
Check Out: “The Ivory & Priyanka Show”- Thursdays at Garage on Church St
If the words “Hi, it’s me, Pri” aren’t familiar to you yet, they sure will be by the end of the night at a Priyanka show! This queen is full of energy, dance moves, and corny jokes. She’s relatively new to the scene in the grand scheme of things, but her impressive work ethic has paid off and now her name is on just about every event poster in The Village and being shouted en masse to her call of “My name is Priyanka, what’s my name!” by excited audiences. Priyanka’s style of drag is fast and fun and her mic work is endearingly silly. If you ever get the pleasure of seeing her at an event that features larger conceptual numbers, Pri’s have great production value. For example, she recently did a Harry Potter act where she wrote and recorded an entire themed rap and then lip sycned to her own voice!
When she’s not running from gig to gig around The Village or working at Crews and Tangos (where she’s featured for winning the annual Miss Crews and Tangos pageant last year), you can find her each Thursday at Garage with another amazing, high energy Toronto drag favourite, Ivory Towers. Between Ivory’s spinning splits and hand stands and Priyanka’s propensity to pull unplanned stunts (like the time she ran outside the bar, hopped onto the back of a stranger’s motorcycle, and drove away with him down the street mid-number), this show is a guaranteed workout for your cheering muscles.
The Diet Ghosts
Check Out: “Diet Ghosts Present…”- Monthly at The Beaver on Queen St West or Oasis Aqualounge on Mutual St
We’re cheating a little bit with this one because this crew features five artists instead of one, but they’re so good that we just couldn’t resist! The Diet Ghosts are an eclectic drag troupe comprised of Kitty Creature, Aura Nova, Lady Kunterpunt, drag king Prince Johnny, and house mother Lucinda Miu. These performers are diverse in their style and identity, but it all comes together in an unbelievably smart and unique way. You’ll often see them performing individually around both The Village and The West End and each one is certainly worth seeing, but a particular kind of queer magic is made when they come together.
The “Diet Ghosts Present…” is a monthly party and when we tell you that these are no regular drag show, we really mean it. Instead, these artists put on fully conceptualized productions that often include interactive elements to get the audience in on creating entertainment. At their recent event “Diet Ghosts present Murder Mystery”, for example, guests were involved in the process of solving a performative murder case within an interactive drag experience that wound throughout the rooms of the venue. Past themes include “Diet Ghosts present Cloudy Corners” (a show structured like a town meeting in a rural place with a chilling secret) and “Diet Ghosts present Channel 13” (a party modelled after the strange things you’d find on an obscure late night television channel). No matter which unique theme or experimental format you catch, you’ll find yourself enthralled by this troupe’s particular brand of “interactive children’s theatre, but for adults”, as Lady Kunterpunt describes it.
Now that you know about some of Toronto’s best local drag acts, there are three things you simply must do. The first is to complete this list. Start at the top and work your way down or mix it up; do whatever you have to do, but make sure you see these acts. Their shows are worth it.
The second thing you should do is branch out and start exploring. This list, though chalk full of talent, is like a sample platter of the full drag menu Toronto has to offer. Ask the performers you’ve met before which other shows they’d recommend. Do a Facebook search and watch the Instagram stories of the queens you find under #TorontoDrag; these performers know the value of advertising their events and social media is an amazing tool when it comes to finding new parties and shows.
Last but not least: tip whichever talented performers you see!
(Story by Contributing Editor, Courtney Conquers)