“Express Yourself”: The Art and Community of Drag

Synthia Kiss getting ready for a performance. (Photo courtesy of Aleksandar Antonijevic/Sheridan Sun).

Whether in Vancouver, B.C. or St. John’s, Newfoundland, the art of drag is taking over coast to coast. Drag performers are introducing a community that celebrates diversity. But what is drag?

“My definition of drag would just be self-exploration and the investigation of identity. I consider it like putting on a character. Typically, there is some sort of transformation involved,” said Synthia Kiss, a contestant from season two of Canada’s Drag Race. “I keep it vague because I think it should be that way. It’s not like oh, this is [cisgender] men dressing up as [cisgender] women.”

Drag has grown into a mega art form that bends the stereotypical roles of gender. RuPaul Charles started the world-renowned television show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, in 2009. This brought drag to mainstream media in America.

The show is featured in many countries around the globe. Canada is one place where drag artists are getting the opportunity to shine on a mainstream platform.

Synthia Kiss is a drag performer from Vancouver, BC. She grew up in Peterborough, ON, performing in community theatre. From there, she gained a Fashion degree in Toronto. A work opportunity took Kiss to the west coast about five years ago. She started drag that year when she entered a contest to be a part of a drag group, the Bratpack.

Synthia Kiss performing in Toronto. (Photo courtesy of Aleksandar Antonijevic/Sheridan Sun).

“It was this cool, scary, vulnerable thing,” said Kiss when asked about her first experiences in drag.

Now, drag performers take on local venues across the country. They perform for crowds of all backgrounds. The art form is growing in popularity.

“Going to see drag is such a privilege. I feel inspired after leaving every drag show… It makes me feel good about loving who I am and embracing that my queerness is a beautiful thing,” said Sheridan student Mackenzie Drover.

Barbra Bardot is a drag performer living in St. John’s. She graduated from Sheridan’s Bachelor of Music Theatre Performance in 2016. She uses those skills learned at Sheridan to perform for packed crowds in Newfoundland.

“I feel like every single time I’m on stage, I am using things that I’ve learned while studying musical theatre… the connecting with the audience, telling the story of the lyrics, the dancing of course, it’s all part of it,” said Bardot.

Barbra Bardot performing in the streets of St. John’s. Photo courtesy of Ava Rey/Sheridan Sun).

Both Kiss and Bardot use skills from their studies to incorporate into their drag career. They are proof there is more to art form than a bit of makeup and a costume.

“They are kind of community leaders,” said Kiss about the role of a drag artist.

Drag shows are a place to be free to express yourself. The performers encourage the audience to be themselves in a judgement free zone.

“There’s no rules to drag. So, you can truly just be yourself and wear what you want to wear and express yourself the way you want to express yourself,” said Bardot. “It’s giving people permission to be themselves and to be confident.”