Surviving scandals, resignations, big egos and big hair, the Imperial Court Of Toronto (TICOT) has made it to its emerald anniversary. Next month’s Coronation Ball marks 20 years of celebrating drag royalty in an exceedingly formal court system that mirrors court systems in other cities.
“Since it’s the 20th anniversary we’ve made the ball a little more elaborate,” says George Pratt, TICOT chair and closet drag queen. He ends his term as chair after the ball. “We’ve spent a lot on advertising it to the out-of-town courts and all the past emperors and empresses will be in attendance. It’s going to be a big celebration.”
Since taking over as chair a year ago, Pratt’s involvement has brought some business-like stability to an organization once plagued with accusations of fiscal mismanagement, the resignation of an empress, twice, during her two reigns and many internal disagreements. The venue also changed from a ballroom to a nightclub, a downgrading of glamour, which some people say resulted in a decline in attendance of out-of-town courts and a drop in membership.
“With any big family there will always be some infighting,” says Pratt. “There has been one occasion where the money has not been taken care of properly and because of it it’s hard to gain credibility. But the organization deals with it and works harder to make sure it never happens again.”
But the scandals cannot negate the good that has come, especially the $500,000 TICOT has raised in the past 20 years for local charities like Casey House and the AIDS Committee Of Toronto. And there have been some quirkier bequests.
“During one reign the emperor and empress did raise money to buy the police bicycles to track down criminals,” laughs Pratt.
The court tends to attract colourful characters who have kept things interesting and outrageous.
“Ryan Waters [Empress IV, elected in 1990] was one empress who was always over the top,” says Pratt. “You were never sure what side of Ryan Waters you were going to get. She always kept us in suspense quite a bit — but she raised a lot of money.”
While Pratt works on the business end of the celebrations, Bitsie Vanderbilt, minister of the court’s protocol, is responsible for doling out titles. Vanderbilt must also finalize the list of those attending, make sure things run on time — that is, not on drag time — and fill orders for last-minute tiara requests.
“The court has survived due to a very small core group who believe in it, a carry over of people like past monarchs who continuously come out to support it,” says Vanderbilt.
A former empress candidate herself, Vanderbilt hopes that this year’s 20th year celebration will leave people wanting more.
“It’s about rebuilding, growing and retrenching,” says Vanderbilt. “I would like to see us in 20 years time as the most successful kingdom with the right people to keep things on track. You’re seeing it on an upswing again.”
In the run up to the ball, there’s the election campaign. This year lone candidates Nikki LeBlanc for empress and Dave Beauchamp for emperor each face a yes or no vote. They are likely to be approved, taking over from Regent Emperor XIX Nelson Jeronimo and Regent Empress XIX Madame, also known as The Turquoise Empress Of Loyalty, Integrity And Charity.