Gouda Gabor is working the room, smiling and styling as she sashays her way from table to table, patron to patron at Paparazzi Show/Nightclub.
A darling diva who delights in the glitz, glam and extravagance of drag, she is adorned in a black evening gown with feathered sleeves, a faux diamond ring the size of Texas and a sparkling necklace reaching down to a pair of boobs that make Dolly Parton look like she’s in a training bra.
Her blonde hair is piled so high you’d need an elevator to reach the top.
“Oh, honey,” she says with an exaggerated wave of a gloved left hand when a patron comments on her coif, “I have hair much higher than this.”
It’s true. One of her 25 wigs is three feet high.
“I can’t wear it at Paparazzi, though,” she jokes. “It might get sucked up in a ceiling fan.”
Gouda is at the club this night as a supporting performer for Mona Moore in a drag/cabaret show and, together, the two represent opposite ends of the age spectrum among drag queens in Victoria. Mona is 20. Gouda is not 20. She has, in fact, been doing drag for 15 years, here and at top clubs in Vancouver.
The obvious question is: why? What unseen compulsion is a man answering to when he puts on a wig, a dress, seven-inch stilettos and struts onto a stage?
“I developed this drag persona so I could sing,” says Richard Lucas, the man behind Gouda. “I mean, who wanted to hear me sing? I wanted to do something different than me.”
A native of Dartmouth, N.S., there is a soft-spoken sincerity to the bespectacled Lucas, who prefers to keep his private life off the record. During a two-hour chin-wag at Bartholomew’s Pub, he delivers only a few personal nuggets: he’s a businessman, a teacher, he recently achieved his masters in fine arts, he owns a house in Fairfield and gradually became a permanent resident of Victoria over a three-year period.
He is, however, happy to discuss Gouda Gabor, who, in Lucas’s creative mind, was born in Budapest, Hungary.
“I decided I was the lost Gabor sister,” Lucas says with a wink. “I was the one who didn’t marry a rich man and didn’t have a TV series. I got stuck doing dinner theatre at Stage West in Calgary. And I had a chip on my shoulder because I never got to be rich or as famous as the other Gabor sisters.”
Like many drag queens, Gouda does not do small. Her’s is an oversized, larger-than-life world. Big hair. Big heels. Big lashes. Big attitude. Big jewelery. Big, big, big boobs.
“Sometimes straight men get confused because of my boobs,” Lucas says. “I have ginormous boobs.”
Well, boys, you can stand at ease. Those hooters aren’t real. It’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s an hour and a half of primping, preening, pushing up, pulling in and tucking away those delicate, private male parts before Gouda slips into one of her 50 show gowns.
“I love sailing into the Bengal Room (at the Empress) in full regale,” Lucas says with the cheek of Zsa Zsa Gabor. “I’ve done it a couple of times . . . lots of very confused old men.”
There is nothing freaky, kinky or warped about drag. It’s been around for centuries. Charlie Chaplin did it. Johnny Depp and Tom Hanks have done it. Ditto Barbra Streisand and Julie Andrews. Heck, Adam probably stepped out in Eve’s fig leaf every now and then.
Drag is a harmless, over-the-top, make-believe world in which a person can escape from the bindings and expectancies of everyday life and stretch for new levels and depths of self. Basically, it’s singing, dancing and pantomime playtime for grown-ups.
“You become a different person,” is how Mona Moore puts it.
A drag queen, king or quing (he or she goes both ways) can offer a variety of personas.
If it’s crude, XXX-rated drag comedy you seek, Electra Socket is your girl. Heidi Ho of the Dragbots is cheeky and very witty. Toby Pierced-McCrotch is an off-the-wall riot. Natasha is stylish, poised and polished. Tina Turnover is sizzle on the grille. Mona Moore leans toward the girly, flirtatious style. Gouda is . . . well, think Marlene Dietrich. Think the “Why don’t ya come up and see me sometime, big boy?” sauciness of Mae West. She’s old-school glam that is classy, brassy and sassy.
“And assy,” says Lucas, who estimates 98 per cent of drag performers are gay/transgender. “I would add assy to that.”
Well, now that you mention it, our gal Gouda is hauling around a big caboose (no offence, girlfriend).
Gouda works mostly at Paparazzi and she does mainstream, as well, performing as the resident singing drag queen with the Gotta Getta Gimmick gang at the Belfry Theatre in Fernwood. She also played Mama Rose in the musical Gypsy.
Heidi Ho and the campy Dragbots, meanwhile, have a regular gig at The Castle Video Bar.
Accountants, tattoo artists and human resources managers by day, they’re just regular folk whose shows range from raunchy and sexy to flat-out hilarious.
“I have lots of respect and time for the Dragbots,” is what grand dame Gouda says about the local troupe. “They have a real respect for drag. A great bunch of people.”
The Dragbots’ cast of characters includes Heidi Ho, Kara Zmatic, Candy Boxx, Bobby Sox, Toby Pierced-McCrotch, Tom Haat, Kitten Caboodle and Tippy Faraday.
“Most of our performers perform drag because it gives us a creative outlet to express ourselves in song, dance,” says Heidi Ho, who’s Landen Cheetham in real life and a manager of customer service with Scotiabank.
“We absolutely love it and, for myself, it gives me a chance to explore a different side of my personality. My drag queen can take on her own character.”
The joy of drag is something Mona Moore has rapidly discovered.
“The first time I saw a drag queen, it was Gouda,” says Mona, who’s six-foot-two-and-a-half inches of talent and the reigning Miss Gay Vancouver Island. “I snuck into a club and I couldn’t stop staring at Gouda. I was intimidated, scared. I’d never seen anything like that before. A few months later, she’s getting me all dolled up. It’s cool.”
Mona, who performs at Paparazzi on Saturday night, received her drag baptism this past summer and is now hooked on heels.
“I told a friend, ‘I’m already going to hell, so I might as well go down in drag,’ ” she says.
Once the makeup, the heels, the hair and the dress are peeled off, Mona is Trevor Gray, a thoughtful, young man and a member of Company C, the talented graduating class at the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Oak Bay.
Doing drag has added an interesting wrinkle to Gray’s storyline, which has a Billy Elliot spin to it. Whereas all the other male members of his family were getting their teeth knocked out and noses bent on the hockey rinks of Winnipeg, Trevor was dancing with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. And becoming one of the top two figure skaters for his age class in Manitoba.
“Yeah,” he recalls, “at school kids made fun of me and laughed at me.”
Well, ballet boy graduates from the performing arts college this month, so there isn’t much to laugh at now.
“Performing is my life and drag has become a big part of me,” says Gray. “We’ll see where it goes. I have goals. I’d like to get to Broadway.”
Isn’t that just like a drag queen . . . hair today, gone tomorrow. M
Mona performs in Sleigh Ride Express at Paparazzi Nightclub, Sat., Dec. 15 at 11:30pm. $8.
For scheduling information on drag shows in Victoria, visit: paparazzinightclub.ca; thecastlebar.ca; hushnightclub.ca; victoriapridesociety.org