A local Vancouver drag king will be representing Canada this May at the inaugural Austin International Drag Festival.
“This is my first time performing outside of Canada,” says Selina Shefrin, who goes by the drag name Owen. “I’m super excited and yet terrified and nervous.”
Vancouver’s Jane Smoker and Boi Job were also scheduled to perform, but have since dropped out.
Owen says she will perform four acts at the festival, including an opening number for Tammy Brown, a contestant from the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“I’m the smallest king, I’m under five feet, and I’m opening for a big queen,” Owen says. “It’s my most important number. I never would have expected to get this opportunity of a lifetime.”
Jamie Steward Bancroft, president and CEO of the Austin International Drag Foundation, says he was excited to receive Owen’s application. “I was looking for people who were passionate about their career and about performing. I created the festival so people could get a leg up in the industry, so they could be seen by their peers and audiences and get more gigs,” he says.
Owen, who has been performing for a decade, says two of her acts for the festival have political themes, including her act for Brown that will focus on LGBT rights around the world. The other will touch on the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
“I like to pick songs that are relevant to what’s going on in the world today,” Owen says. “Something political, something feminist.”
She says being a drag performer is about freedom of expression, and describes the experience as transformative.
“I am a super shy and quiet kid . . . but when I go up on stage I am a whole different person. There are no boundaries and I don’t put any limits on myself,” Owen says. “I perform from my heart. I make people think and I always like to connect with my audience.”
Boi Job was planning to attend the May 1–3 festival too, but had to pull out since they’re now planning to move to San Francisco that same weekend.
Jane Smoker, who recently won Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar, says she will no longer be attending the festival due to the financial costs. “You can’t do it all,” Smoker says. “Being a drag queen is like being an artist so you have to pinch your pennies.”
In March, Owen held a fundraiser to help with the cost of attending. She says she is very grateful for the support she received, which covered both her flight and accommodations.
Owen says the trip is ultimately about meeting fellow performers. “I want to meet new people who do the same kind of artwork I do,” she says. I can learn a lot from them and they can learn a lot from me.”
Bancroft says he’s excited to finally meet the people he has been communicating with over the past year. “I can’t wait for that moment when I start getting chills as I see someone performing,” he says.