Vancouver’s newest drag king troupe is hoping to move drag out of the bars and into the suburbs.
The Black Parade is a collective of drag performers ranging in age from 15 to 32. “We have biological females, biological males, trans men, lesbians, gays, straights whatever,” explains Rayne, who helped organise the group. “We leave it wide open for anybody who has a vision for it.”
The Black Paraders currently are: Base, Blake, Leroy, Morrighan, Rayne, Shorty, and Tre.
Their first show was inspired by the raw, emotive strains of My Chemical Romance. The Paraders explored the songs and built a story within the band’s concept and meaning, then infused it with their own ideas.
“We told the story of this one person that we called Person X that could have been any one of us–you know, going from being a teenager to an adult and all the problems they could have faced along the way,” says Rayne.
Their performance is a panoply of talent and ability incorporating music, acting, spoken word and dancing. “Anything that will drive the message,” says Rayne. “For some songs we did choreography and for others we did straight acting or satire. We did humour, we did some really serious issues, we did sadder ones, and we did happier ones.”
It was Blake, the youngest Parader, who suggested the idea of creating a troupe based on a particular band theme, and then using its shows to help fund spaces, get more youth into drag, and encourage an interest in theatre.
“We look at what goes on in high schools,” says Rayne. “We also explore what youth face today and offer safe places to explore identity, gender, consequences, and life itself.”
Blake, 15, lists some of the hardships of adolescence: suppression from parents, breaks-ups, high school drama and drugs. “It’s really good to remind the older people of what we go through now,” she says. “That way they are aware and won’t be like, ‘Oh my God, teenagers are so violent!'”
It’s a form of drag that explores both the good and bad aspects of life. Black Parade presents their story as honestly as they can. There is no “smoothing over” of unpleasant details, says Rayne.
“We started off the show with the [My Chemical Romance song] The End in Bed,” says Rayne. “It starts off with a patient in a hospital bed, exploring how death comes to you. We did it in a sense where the doctors turned into these crazy Broadway dancers dancing around this guy singing “you’re dead from the hospital bed.”
Rayne, like many of the Paraders, brings extensive experience to the troupe. In 2004, he was crowned Mr Drag King Vancouver and has helped coordinate the annual event ever since. He believes drag has much untapped potential with youth, who are not necessarily exposed to the art.
The first step is taking drag out of the bar and into the theatre.
“I think [the bar scene] is a very small sort of audience where a lot of people want to see the specific show and then the next one in quick succession,” says Rayne. “But we’re keeping drag very theatre-based, which means you can elaborate on costumes and concepts and your audience is sober!”
Black Parade has already done shows in Surrey, Abbotsford, the Dyke March, colleges, and youth events. They perform mostly within the queer community and their audience has, for the most part, been very enthusiastic about their performances. However, it has taken time for some to warm up to it.
Rayne says some audience members told him the play is too dark and that they should make it happier.
“If that’s not what I’m feeling then I’m not going to do it,” he replies. “It’s still really new to them, this style, it’s really intense. It’s story driven and has a strong narrative where you’re not really used to a lot of ebb and flow. The more we perform the more exposure we get and people will read between the lines, listening to the narrative and hang on to the edge of their seat, letting you explain the story.”
Blake has also noticed audience members warming up to their style.
“At my first performance people were all pretty startled,” she says. “After a while people are starting to warm up to what we do and how we do things. So we’re getting better responses from everybody. People are starting to give more and more compliments on it and people are starting to get it now.”
Black Parade provides an open, honest forum for youth to express their thoughts and emotions, whether they are positive or negative. “We want people to have that feeling that nobody’s ever left alone, nobody’s left behind,” says Rayne. “Nobody feels pressured that they have to fit a certain mould, they can bring in whatever they want to the table.”
As for the future of Black Parade, Rayne wants to take it as far as it can go. He hopes to organise drag workshops for youth, and give them a place where they can be whoever they want to be.
“Our message ultimately is offering safe spaces for people who want to come out and try it. It’s self-exploration, gender exploration, identity–to tell a story that’s in their head, a love of music, leaving it wide open.”