Many a drag queen has longed to grace the stages of New York, Las Vegas or Key West. But Port Hope, Ontario? Hellz no, gurl!
Despite the burg’s unglamorous rep, last September four Toronto queens packed their stilettos and hit the 401 to play a gig at the town’s 400-seat Capitol Theatre.
The original point of the excursion wasn’t to make a documentary. The queens had been invited by local residents to do a fundraiser. But when organizer Stephanie Stephens ran into filmmaker Raymond Helkio in the Village, she invited him along to document the whole thing.
Stephens figured the show would be recorded just for posterity, but Helkio had other ideas. His previous short, Death of a Bathhouse, had screened at Inside Out last year, and he was longing to make a follow-up. Not content to simply film the girls and fork over the footage, he decided to turn the experience into his first feature, and An Evening with the Impostors was born.
Stephens, along with Rachael, Ala Mode and Teran Blake, make up the country-bound quartet. In keeping with the DIY aesthetic of his last piece, Helkio shot with handheld video cameras and iPhones. Capturing the gritty hilarity of a group of queens on a road trip, the film prioritizes rehearsal blunders and backstage banter over show-stopping numbers.
“At one point, Ala Mode steps on the mic and it smacks him in the face,” Helkio says, laughing. “But he just kept on going like nothing happened. Now that’s fierce.”
The Impostors takes its name from a piece of Toronto drag history. The original Impostors were a team who played Yonge Street club La Cage through the 1980s. Owned by the Mirvishes and located where the Hard Rock Café now stands, it was open seven days a week and catered to a mainly straight crowd. Along with Stephens, the original lineup included famed queens Georgie Girl, Michelle DuBarry, Rusty Ryan and Christopher Peterson.
“My first La Cage show freaked the shit out of me,” Helkio recalls. “In the final number, one of the queens started slowly taking off his drag in front of the audience. They used to end their shows that way to convey to the audience they were watching actors playing a part. At the same time, they were also challenging the nature of being queer in a way that’s missing from today’s shows.”