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When Pharaoh Moans (aka Bobbi Hudon) got into drag nine years ago, there was no Academy for Drag Queens she could attend. She had to figure a lot of it out on her own.
Now, she’s one of the instructors who, along with Vida Lamour DeCosmo, will lead Prairie Theatre Exchange School’s inaugural drag performance class. The eight-week spring course, which starts April 12 and runs Thursday nights, will teach participants ages 17 and up anything and everything they ever wanted to know about drag — from contouring to how to walk in heels to character development. The course will culminate in a drag show.
Drag is an art form, but it’s also a culture.
"Certainly, we’ll keep a mind and eye on drag history — or what we refer to as ‘herstory,’" Pharaoh says. "So, we’re going to be educating on past queens and kings and everything in between, and how they impacted the landscape of drag as we know it today."
Pharaoh, 27, participated in her first drag show at 18 years old. She wanted to go beyond female impersonation and explore androgyny. "I had known of the club kids of the ’90s in New York and I was very inspired by that movement." She eventually found herself a supportive Drag Mother — an experienced queen who acts as a mentor — and the rest, as she says, is herstory.
Over the past decade, drag has had a mainstream presence, thanks in no small part to social media and the long-running reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race. That kind of visibility has pros and cons, Pharaoh says.
"The pros are that it’s easier to reach out to different demographics, and there’s already a baseline understanding about what drag is through these shows. However, we have very few TV shows that represent us, and the mould that’s being represented on these shows is very slim. You’re not seeing the androgynous side of drag. You’re not seeing the gender-bending side to drag. You’re not seeing club kids. You’re not even seeing drag kings. You’re only seeing one narrow facet of what drag is and that’s unfortunate."
Indeed, the face of drag is changing: it’s no longer predominately gay men transforming themselves into fabulous women. Now, people of all genders are embracing their inner queens and kings. And that, Pharaoh says, is part of what makes dressing up in drag a political act.
"You’re taking a stand and declaring to the world, through your presentation alone, ‘No, I don’t believe in the binary,’ or, ‘No, there is so much more than blue is for boys, pink is for girls."
Like the medium itself, the drag performance class is open to everyone.
"I believe anyone can do drag," Pharaoh says. "It doesn’t matter what you identify as. There’s no wrong way to do drag."
Drag performance isn’t the only new class PTE School is offering this spring. LGBTTQ* youth will also have the opportunity to express themselves in new ways in the queer performance ensemble. That eight-week course, which starts April 10 and runs Tuesday nights, is aimed at Grade 9-12 students.
"The idea behind the class is to offer something to queer youth that maybe they aren’t getting in regular drama-education classes," says instructor Liam Zarrillo, who is a director, writer, performer and advocate for the representation of LGBTTQ* people. "It’s a safe space, a room wherein the majority of people are queer-identified youth or allies, and that element of safety allows people to open up, to be vulnerable, to express certain parts of oneself that you might not 100 per cent have the courage to do."
The focus of the course will be on queer theatre, both historical and modern. "There’s a lot of groundbreaking work being written for young people and adults across the country right now," he says. There will also be opportunities for participants to write and share their own work.
Theatre School & Outreach director Loc Lu hopes both classes have legs beyond the spring session and stresses that the classes are open to everyone, regardless of experience or skill level.
"If you’re nervous or unsure, that’s perfect," he says with a laugh.
"Everyone is in the same boat. If anyone’s on the fence, just come take a week with us. At the very least, you’ll have fun."
Registration for all of PTE School’s spring courses is now open at pteschool.ca.
email@example.com Twitter: @JenZoratti
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
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