It’s easy for Canadian artists to feel overshadowed at times, with a neighbor to the South understood to be the leading global exporter of arts and entertainment, writer, filmmaker, and producer Peter Knegt tells NewNowNext. That includes the drag world.
The continued popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race has helped bring widespread attention to what was once an underground experience, and while the show has arrived in Thailand, and is heading to the U.K., there is as of yet no Canadian version.
Knegt says he and co-producer Mercedes Grundy wanted to help bring exposure to the country’s flourishing drag scene, taking advantage of the cultural moment the art form is experiencing while simultaneously carving out a dedicated space for homegrown talent. So the pair set out in search of the best drag performers across the expansive nation, with the help of social media and their various connections.
The result, Canada’s a Drag, premiered on CBC Arts starting in March of last year, featuring nine mini-documentaries on a diverse group of kings and queens.
The series drew enough eyeballs to justify a second season, the entirety of which was recently made available on the CBC Arts website for those living in the country, and is being released on a weekly basis on YouTube. There are 12 episodes this time around, some produced in-house and others by local filmmakers, many of whom are themselves LGBTQ, according to Knegt.
“We just thought this would be a fun little way to make up a bit of the difference, and give opportunities for drag performers in Canada to have their stories told,” he says of the inspiration behind the series.
“There’s not much opportunity for us to really feel this kind of pride,” he continues. “And I feel like what I sense is a lot of people feel a lot of pride for the fact that these are our drag performers, and these folks are living and working in Canada, and are proud to represent their communities.”
Diversity is central to the success of the show thus far, as it offers a true representation of what Canada’s varied and disparate drag scenes have to offer.
“We wanted it to be a fair representation geographically, just to make sure we had episodes set in as many cities as we could,” Knegt explains.
“Also, just in terms of gender, we’ve had a few transgender queens… We’ve had non-binary queens. We just wanted to reflect the diversity of Canada in general. More than anything, it was just really the kings and queens that struck us as the most compelling, in terms of their actual performance and also in terms of their story.”
Including drag kings was also important to Knegt from the beginning, as he feels they have been largely ignored compared to queens.
“We’ve had four drag kings: Two in Season 1, and two in Season 2,” he says. “The history of drag king performance is long and storied, and there are a lot of incredible performers everywhere in the world who are working as drag kings. I knew there was a general public unaware of their existence in general.”
Knegt says he’s heard from the performers featured in Season 1, and shares that they’ve been celebrated by their local scenes. He hopes that trend continues.
After all, the show’s spirit, as he explains it, is to showcase “community builders, innovators, and people coming together through drag.”
The attention paid not just to what they bring artistically, but also to the lives they are living, and what many of them have fought against to succeed, also means those spotlighted have been able to share who they truly are with viewers, allowing them to be represented as multi-dimensional individuals. It is no doubt a key component to the show’s success.
“I think that it’s just been a real joy for all of them, not just to get attention for being drag performers, but in a lot of cases I think they know, and we know, that their stories really have the opportunity to affect others in a positive light,” Knegt shares.
“We have somebody (in Season 2) who came out of a really horrible situation with the Jehovah’s Witnesses church, and really used drag to try to rise above that.”
“We’ve had a couple performers who came out of drug and alcohol addictions, using drag sort of as a therapeutic art,” he continues. “And beyond just exposing people to these individuals through their drag, we wanted to sort of expose their stories, because I think there’s a lot people can take from them–not necessarily to inspire them to do drag, but just to see people in these very dark situations overcome [their struggles] through art.”
The show has also brought performers together who might otherwise have never connected.
“Canada obviously is a large, sparse land, [and now] all these performers have gotten to connect with each other through social media,” explains Knegt. “[The show] has introduced them [to each other]… It seems like it really has effectively created a community nationally for drag performers.”
Hopefully that continues, for the betterment of not only Canadian drag fans, but drag fans the world over. Because as the show has shown, Canada’s kings and queens have a lot to offer.
At time of writing, three episodes of the new season are available outside of Canada. Those episodes follow, and more will be added on a weekly basis as they’re released.
Season 2, Episode 1: Alma Bitches
Season 2, Episode 1: Brothers Icesis and Savannah Couture
Season 2, Episode 3: Tynomi Banks
Season 2, Episode 4: Duke Carson
Season 2, Episode 5: Crystal Slippers
Season 2, Episode 6: Irma Gerd
Season 2, Episode 7: Yovska
Season 2, Episode 8: Pharaoh Moans
Season 2, Episode 9: Eddi Licious
Season 2, Episode 10: Manghoe Lassi
Season 2, Episode 11: Jenna Telz
Season 2, Episode 12: Quanah Style
Knegt says he wouldn’t be surprised if a third season of Canada’s a Drag materializes, based on the success of the first two, but says that decision remains to be made at a later date.