Donning fur coats and vibrant makeup, drag queens brought the party to Calgary neighbourhoods for an unforgettable physically distanced Mother’s Day on Sunday.
Drag grams are a creative response to COVID-19 restrictions. The queens dance about two metres apart on the street, performing for captive front lawn audiences.
The initiative started as an idea for a friend; she wanted to surprise her mom with a pop-up drag show in her neighbourhood. Organizers wondered if they could market it.
“The response was insane. Within 48 hours, we had booked 12 queens to make four teams to go around today and fill about 54 spots,” said Stephen Welch, a.k.a. Farrah Nuff.
“We did 13 yesterday and it was absolutely phenomenal and it’s been so ridiculously heartwarming that I haven’t caught up yet. I’m still in shock.”
Erik Mikkelsen, a.k.a. Nada Nuff, is the co-owner of HireHeelsYYC, a drag queen booking organization.
“We’re trying to spread a little joy and have some fun and make some people smile here on Mother’s Day,” he said.
“One of our first stops, we had an EMS daughter and she got it for her mom. Her mom was so excited that she came out and she was crying. Then, a family was riding their bikes and they stopped just to dance, play with us and smile so that just kind of made me tear up.”
Welch described the experience as emotional.
“Seeing a mother cry in front of us as we’re doing Spice Girls has been so heartwarming and hard because I don’t want to mess my makeup up,” he said.
“I spent far too long this morning in front of a mirror very early, painting my face to look this way so that it will last about the seven to eight hours we’ll be out today. But sometimes it just gets to you. The one thing that has fuelled me this whole time — even yesterday when we were tired — I could not stop smiling when we were performing it because I thought about performing it for my mom the whole time.”
Brucine Saigeon’s daughter bought a pop-up show, calling it a no-brainer. Saigeon was delighted by the idea.
“It’s very innovative and not many mothers got it,” she said with a laugh.
“This was perfect.”
It has been a tough couple of months and drag grams are a nice way to perform again, Mikkelsen said. He is grateful for the support and starving to get back on stage.
“I mean, Facebook live videos and drag shows can only go so far and this just feels so good to see real people and see their smiles and hear the smattering of applause we get,” he said.
“The whole neighbourhood comes out.”
Mikkelsen wants everyone to come together during the health crisis.
“It was so cool to see families coming together just to have some fun. I mean, drag is extraordinary, so crazy and wild, and it’s fun to bring that to… Calgary.”
‘Feels like Pride’
Drag is fun, campy and an over-exaggeration of femininity, Welch explained.
“We like to take it to the next level, which means we have to have higher heels. I’m wearing seven inches of foam padding strapped to my butt right now. It’s uncomfortable but it’s worth it,” he said.
“This feels like Pride to me… At Pride weekend, you put all feelings aside physically, you get in your heels, you get out there and celebrate what needs to be celebrated. That’s exactly what we’re doing here today for moms.”
Welch wants people to learn about drag and for gender identity to be destigmatized.
“I really hope that people who have maybe not ever seen a drag queen in person take away from the idea that we are here as entertainers,” he said.