Presented by Guys in Disguise
Saturday, March 24 at 7 p.m.
Yellowhead Brewery (10229 105 St.)
$58.50 at tixonthesquare.ca
Twenty-five years ago, Guys in Disguise made its debut, bringing a whole new world of colour to Edmonton’s theatre scene. The award-winning independent company, founded by local drag queen, writer and performer Darrin Hagen and partner Kevin Hendricks, has its own storied performance history; they’ve put on everything from queer-theatre cabarets to cross-dressing comedies. As Hagen looks back at 25 years of work in Edmonton’s queer community, the celebration will be just as big as the milestone anniversary.
“The next phase is this big question mark in front of me ... But it’s time to tie a bow on the last 25 years and go there,” he laughs, “There’s a quarter century of hard work — of inspiration and fucking hard work.”
This year’s anniversary, which features a special party and performance to celebrate, is Hagen’s way of showing appreciation for all the support Guys in Disguise has received over the years. A night dedicated to glitter and glamour, the show will involve many of Hagen’s close friends and fellow queens who have been integral to the company’s success.
Looking back on his own history as a drag queen, Hagen harkens back to his early days at Flashback, the iconic gay bar in downtown Edmonton during the 1980s. Hagen spent many years there seeking to elevate the profile of the drag community in Edmonton. In 1987, the premise for his theatre company came about when a friend asked Hagen and Hendricks if they’d ever considered getting involved with the Edmonton Fringe Festival. Jumping at the opportunity to expose their work to a wider audience, their performance at the festival marked the beginning of Hagen’s efforts to combine drag shows with theatrical productions.
“We were terrified. We didn’t have a fucking clue what we were doing,” Hagen laughs. “We had no idea what to expect: we had no idea if it was too soon for something like that, or if we were going to get booed off the stage, or if we were pro enough.”
But when they arrived at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, Hagen says he knew they were exactly where they needed to be.
“A drag queen in the Fringe parade — no one had ever seen that before,” he says. “I was dressed in my mermaid tail sitting on the hood of a ‘57 Pontiac driving down Whyte Avenue, and people freaked out. It was just wild.”
The amazement in the eyes of the public is partly what continues to fuel Hagen today, providing constant inspiration throughout the quarter of a century he’s been involved with theatre. Over the years, the types of shows Guys in Disguise performs have transitioned from drag shows to more elaborate theatre productions — with Hagen kicking off his writing career and collaborating with various Edmonton artistic talents to expose the voices of the drag and queer community to a wider audience.
“It’s just been no turning back for me,” Hagen says, “It’s all about how far can we push the envelope of drag, because I love the impact it has on people. It’s just edgy and dangerous enough that it still surprises people — what I found out is that it’s a much bigger topic and inspiration than anyone could have imagined.”
The innovative style of Guys in Disguise has also enabled Hagen to go beyond his own work as a writer and theatre producer in order to mentor others, especially with the Loud and Queer Cabaret, an offshoot of Guys in Disguise that features new writers and performers in the gay and lesbian community. His encouragement to tell the world “something that only you can tell” is an inspiring message he continues to pass on to Loud and Queer talent — and everyone else he meets.
“Don’t wait for the world to be ready for you, make the world ready for you,” he says, “Throw your work out there. Someone’s going to hear it; someone’s going to appreciate it. It’s going to resonate on a deeper level with someone.”
His efforts to reach out to the next generation of voices stems from the appreciation he feels for the overwhelmingly positive reactions to his own work. With his fellow queens by his side, the 25th anniversary gala provides the opportunity for Hagen to reminisce about those experiences and his many years of hard work within the community.
While he’s not completely sure about what the next quarter century will hold for Guys in Disguise, Hagen appreciates the support and positive responses he’s received from audiences.
“Really, it’s about being grateful,” he says. “One of the best parts has been watching an audience develop for what I do. And that goes right back to the Flashback days when I was doing it at the drag bar. You could feel the audience go, ‘Oh, this is something different,’ and that just builds.
“It really just excites me that Edmonton has never said no,” he says. “Never said, ‘No, we can’t have a drag queen doing that.’ I’ve never experienced any negative backlash in being a drag queen. I feel really lucky for that.”
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