They’re sparkly, colourful, and arrive with your favourite books. It makes perfect sense that drag queens reading stories to a roomful of children has become such a beloved event in Vancouver.
Storytelling With Drag Queens first started last May with a show for adults. Since then, there have been six events (for both kids and adults) in which a few drag queens pick their favourite stories and read them outloud to an audience.
Candie Tanaka, executive director of the International Centre of Arts and Technology, puts on the show. Tanaka produces and organizes the show, as well as picks out venues and hosts each event.
Tanaka first had the idea for Storytelling With Drag Queens when they read about a similar event for in New York.
“I thought it would be a fun thing to do here, so I contacted a drag queen who I knew in Vancouver [Oliv X] and I pitched it to her,” they said.
“She was very interested in anything that helps out with literacy, so she contacted a couple of her drag queen friends ... then we did the first show for adults to give it a bit of a twist.”
When the adult event proved popular, people started asking if there was going to be a kids version.
“Even parents with babies were excited about it, we had such an age range. A lot of parents wanted to expose their kids early to gender diversity and stuff like that,” Tanaka said. “And the kids just love looking at drag queens because they’re always so fun and sparkly, engaging and warm.”
The event has been held at Cafe Deux Soleils, Cottage Bistro, the Burnaby Public Library, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and the United Church of Canada, and usually attracts between 50 and 100 people, sometimes more.
“As the word gets out, it’s becoming more popular,” Tanaka said. The events are entirely self-funded, with donations collected at the door, but Tanaka is hoping to organize some funding or partnerships so it can keep growing.
“The support has been amazing. The kids and parents love it,” they said.
One of the performers recruited by Oliv was Karmella Barr, who was interested in the event because of her plans to become a teacher.
“I was trying to think of ways that would be fun and unique for me to get experience with kids,” Barr said. “I thought, ‘Well, I love to do drag and I also like children,’ so I felt like I got to mix both of my passions.”
Barr, who has been collecting a wide selection of children’s books for her future classroom, says she selects books she feels have a good message, or explain diversity in an interesting way.
“I would try to do one ‘child’s book’ and one that I really enjoy. Like, I did The Boy in the Dress and Book of Negroes for the adult one. Then for the child’s one, I did I Have To Go by Robert Munsch, and It’s Okay To Be Different by Todd Parr.”
One thing Barr believes makes the event such a success is how enamoured children are with drag queens.
“We’re wearing glitter and sequins so we’re really shiny and glitzy. You have lots of kids pawing at you, so you just have to set up some boundaries,” she says with a laugh. “But it’s fine, they’re great and I have no problem establishing boundaries when necessary.”
She recalls when Oliv was wearing a huge gown with tulle underneath, and the kids started playing under it as if it was a circus tent. “She was like, ‘Well, OK, hang out down there I guess!’”
Barr thinks the event is a great way for people to get literature in their lives, and also show kids different ways people express themselves.
“It’s awesome to have a platform where literally all you’re doing is reading. You’re not preaching anything in any way, it’s about literature and interactions with children. I think it’s a really authentic moment, which is necessary for the queens as well as the kids,” she said.
• Upcoming events: Storytelling with Drag Queens for kids Nov. 26, Cottage Bistro . Storytelling with Drag Queens for adults Nov. 29, Cafe Deux Soleils.
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