– Words by John Atkinson
I sat down for a Q&A with 30-year-old Mackenzie Lemire—AKA Vivian Vanderpuss—to get the lowdown on his/her life as one of Victoria’s and Canada’s most celebrated drag queens, following his/her recent fifth-place finish on Season 3 of Canada’s Drag Race.
JA: How do you reflect on coming fifth in Season 3 of Canada’s Drag Race?
ML/VV: I’m super proud of where I landed in the show. Coming fifth is fabulous. Instead of having a Top 3 they had a Top 4, so I just missed out on that. But I appeared in every episode and was able to do so many things I never dreamed of. They definitely throw everything at you, and you learn what you’re capable of.
JA: Tell us about the other show you were on, Canada’s a Drag, in 2020.
ML/VV: Canada’s a Drag was a documentary highlighting drag artists from across Canada, and I was featured alongside many incredible artists. A lot of people featured were later on Canada’s Drag Race. It was through CBC, so I was able to share my art with people across the country. It’s cool to see how my art has evolved since then.
JA: How long have you been part of Victoria’s drag community?
ML/VV: I moved to Victoria in 2016 and started at a Christmas pageant that year called the Miss Merry Christmas Pageant at Paparazzi Nightclub. I won it and was hooked. The prize was a spot in an Intrepid Theatre show called HOMO: A Queer Cabaret. And we just did that show again last weekend—it was my fifth time in the show.
JA: And you’re originally from Kingsville, Ontario?
ML/VV: Yes, the deep south. Then I moved to London, Ontario for six years, studying photography at Fanshawe College. I worked as a photographer and in restaurants, then moved to Victoria on a whim. My friend was like, “Hey, do you want to move across the country?”
So we sold all our stuff in two weeks and moved. We didn’t have jobs or a place to live, but we figured it out.
JA: When did your interest in drag surface?
ML/VV: When I moved to Victoria, I started digging and found this community of incredible drag performers like Henrietta Dubét—she was one of the first I’d ever seen. We perform together all the time now. That experience definitely sparked my interest. Jimbo is also a good friend and has been a great support.
JA: So how did it work for you in the beginning?
ML/VV: I was working in restaurants during the day, then I’d go and do my shows at night until 2:00 in the morning. The hustle was real at the time. Now it’s a bit more chill—I think, after the pandemic, people just want to go to the early shows now. But we still do brunch shows at The Vicious Poodle.
JA: And how has your act evolved in six years?
ML/VV: It’s definitely more refined. There’s a steep learning curve when you’re starting out. With drag you’re your own makeup artist, wig stylist and costume designer. I bought a lot of vintage clothes and then had to style them on a new body built from foam and all reconstructed. You’re building a fantasy.
When I first started, hosting terrified me. Now I love it. We have our bingos at The Vicious Poodle and it’s two hours of me talking on the mic and doing numbers. If brand-new Vivian saw the Vivian I’ve become, she’d be pretty proud.
JA: Along with the Poodle, where else have you performed in town?
ML/VV: I perform at the Poodle and do shows all over the city. Before the pandemic especially, we would do shows at Lucky, Capital Ballroom, Upstairs Cabaret and Distrikt. I do a show with my drag sister Woofie at the Phillips Tasting Room once every month or so. That one’s really fabulous. We just pack the room and there’s always a line-up down the street for it. It’s called Drag, Queers & Beers.
JA: Where do you get your ideas for outfit designs?
ML/VV: A lot of my stuff is vintage and that’s kind of how I build my characters. I style all my own hair, and that’s cool because you can really amplify a look by giving it fabulous hair. I have probably 40 wigs. Sometimes I also sew my own costumes. At the Poodle we do four to six numbers an evening, so I’m going back and forth a lot changing costumes.
JA: How are you now looking to build on your fifth-place finish on Canada’s Drag Race?
ML/VV: Since the show, I’ve been able to travel all over Canada. I’ve performed in St. John’s, Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and Edmonton. I’ve been to Chicago and am hoping to do more shows worldwide. In January I’m going to London for DragCon UK, a huge international drag convention at the ExCeL Centre. And I’ve also been booked for a headlining gig in Austin, Texas later in 2023.
The show has really opened a lot of doors and allowed me to share the joy I get from drag with a wider audience. My motivation for going on Canada’s Drag Race was to show my art, but also to show you can grow up in a small town and be queer and have a happy and successful life.
JA: And what inspired your name?
ML/VV: Well, I love alliteration, and Vivian was inspired by the pseudo-villain from Legally Blonde, Vivian Kensington. As for Vanderpuss, I thought it sounded like old Hollywood, and kind of like a character from Dynasty, which is definitely what my character was in the beginning. And the name stuck.
To learn more about Vivian Vanderpuss, visit her on Instagram at @vivianvanderpuss or at her website, vivianvanderpuss.com.