By Sophie Pinkoski
In April 2019 Edmonton’s annual Pride Festival was cancelled. In its wake sprang many grassroots celebrations, including a block party outside the Old Strathcona Youth Society (OSYS), welcoming members of the community in with its colourful murals, drag queens, and enticement of pizza and homemade cupcakes.
It was the first time I overheard a handful of tired, but fulfilled drag queens toss around the idea of a competition series while peeling away wigs and smearing off makeup at the end of the day. Four months later, I was honoured to see it come to fruition, fully formed.
They call it Night of 1,000 RuPauls, and it was the first of what I hope will be many events to come. Behind it all is Connor Sims, who plays host to these fun-filled nights as his stage persona, Chanelle Couture. He’s a shining representative of what we need more of in supporting our local LGBTQ2+ communities, especially in terms of raising awareness toward resources for at risk youth. With his connections to the Old Strathcona Youth Society and the CHEW Project, he has that ability to bring people together under a single goal.
And that’s what Night of 1,000 RuPauls does so well. With its heart on its sleeve, all proceeds go toward OSYS and CHEW, to give street youths the programming and resources they need. By the first event alone, it’s clear that this is a cause people are willing to get behind. August 31st’s show was an instant sell-out, the basement performance space at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church hopping with an eclectic crowd of just about every type of person under the sun.
And that’s the thing about this new phenomenon of drag reaching the mainstream: it’s introducing inclusive spaces in a way we’ve never seen before. Over the past 12 years of Drag Race being on the air, RuPaul has built the queer community up into a Mecca, crawling out of the shadows, and up in to the light, allowing for conversation to happen among not just members of the community itself, but casual viewers, who truly get to appreciate the intricacies of drag as an art form for the first time at their own pace. And with the bombastic popularity of the show only growing as time goes on, it allows for local queens to take that recognized name and run with it to build a reputation of their own.
Bringing a Night of 1,000 RuPauls out of the woodwork is an easy way to introduce tentative Edmontonians to the drag scene. It gives them a context to work with, to better absorb what’s being laid out before them. From this familiar format –a competition show where performers compete for the title of The Most RuPaul of Them All via runways and lip-syncs to the best of RuPaul’s discography– new drag acts can evolve.
Drag’s nothing if not transformational, constantly evolving to adapt to the times –fashion statements, musical trends, political shifts, and the acceptance of new labels within the queer community. So it makes perfect sense to constantly keep the Night of 1,000 RuPauls series moving, doing more different, exciting things. The audience already knows about RuPaul by now. Time to kick it up a notch. For Night of 1,000 RuPauls Season 2, Chanelle Couture and her new batch of competitors are serving bloody valentine realness, with a new twist thanks to the Boulet Brothers’ spooky alternative drag show, Dragula. It’s a nice way of tapping drag fans on the shoulder and saying, “hey, you liked Drag Race? You’d really like this too!” It opens up the door to bigger conversations, about types of drag, and what else drag can be as an art form that we don’t necessarily get to see on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
But it’s not just syndicated drag shows Night of 1,000 RuPauls is blowing the lid off. It’s the Edmonton drag scene itself. Every city’s drag culture is vastly different from one another. Here, we get to see the specific flavour of Edmonton’s ever-growing drag community, all under one roof. You may have heard of Drag Brunch, hosted once a month at the Yellowhead Brewery, or EPL’s Drag Queen Storytime, or even Edmonton’s own legendary grand dame himself, Darrin Hagen and his Guys in Disguise, all serving up very specific, integral subsets of Edmonton’s drag community. And Night of 1,000 RuPauls is one more added to the scene, accepting anyone, from any walk of life, no matter what their circumstances, to perform, or simply bask in the joys of watching a rollicking good musical number. Because drag isn’t just about queens. It’s more than that. It’s giving people a platform to speak their truths, not just about their gender or sexual identities, but about where they come from and who they want to be. Night of 1,000 RuPauls does it by celebrating diversity. These shows include a broad assortment of judges and performers, including a Two-Spirit Indigenous queen (Cedar Wildcat), femme queen (Etherea), and drag king, (Charlie Rain). The diverse array of performances should give anyone considering getting up on stage the confidence they need to strut their stuff!
You can catch the next Night of 1,000 RuPauls on February 15th at Holy Trinity Anglican Church. All ticket proceeds go toward CHEW Project’s OUTPost and the Old Strathcona Youth Society.
Banner Photography Courtesy of Samantha Allan.