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'Old Town, New Queens': Drag show back at Britannia Mine Museum

'It looks like something out of your favourite pop star’s music video'

 Old Town New Queens, a drag show hosted by Britannia Mine Museum, is back again this weekend. 

The third annual event is welcoming nine local drag performers to celebrate Pride month and shed light on mine safety, this Saturday (June 22) from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.

To Derek Jang, the evening's emcee and the mine's manager of interpretive delivery, when thinking about a return to in-person programming as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, he immediately knew he wanted to throw a drag show.

"Who is better at bringing a crowd together, taking an unconventional space and really making it sparkle, the new kind of energy, than the drag superstars?" said Jang. 

The night will includes two 45-minute performances, as and allow visitors access to the museum's summer exhibit, Rock Solid: Safety in Mines. The Baba's House Kitchen food truck, Pride Squamish, and Sea to Sky Allies will also be on site. 

When the mine closed in 1974, it largely sat empty – missing the clanks of large machines or the bustle of miners, said Jang. With this event, the museum wants to create a new space and history.

"The Sea to Sky region is [an] amazing, vibrant and diverse space, but it has limited resources for the places that people can get together, and has very limited number of specifically designated 2SLGBTQ+  gathering spaces," said Jang. " We felt that by collaborating with the 2SLGBTQ+  community … we had the opportunity to break a little bit of history, but to make sure that we carve a more inclusive and diverse path for the legacy of Britannia Mine and what an institution like this museum can be for the community," 

When Jang first saw the mine, all he saw was the set of a music video—sky-high ceilings, an industrial aesthetic, and balconies upon balconies. 

"It looks like something out of your favourite pop star's music video, and the ability to just reconfigure this from a teaching area or as a public presentation space, and just hand it over to these amazing and creative artists who turn it into the most dazzling stage. It really has to be seen to be believed," said Jang. 

While this event is not aimed at children, and the night may include "grown-up humour," or strong language, all ages are welcome to attend. 

Jang said making this an all ages event was important to the institution to create a safe space for families or younger people who may not have seen themselves or their family system represented. 

"Families with two 2SLGBTQ+ parents have a safe space where they can bring their little ones to and maybe see themselves reflected in those performances … or that for parents of kids who are queer or questioning can come to this event and see the museum space as a safe space," said Jang.

'Allyship in action'

For "Dust Cwaine," who opened the show last year as they flew through the rafters of the mill performing to "Defying Gravity" from the musical Wicked, to have a museum that is largely family-focused champion drag, is huge. 

According to GLAAD's Anti-Drag report, there were 161 anti-LGBTQ protests which threatened or targeted drag events between 2022 and mid-2023; 14 U.S. states also have proposed or passed anti-drag bills—many of which target drag story hours or other family events. 

"It shows allyship in action," said Cwaine. "It's people showing us as queer people safe, and we are welcome, and not only that, but that they support us. They pay us. They enliven and enrich our artistic lives, and we give them a memorable and indescribable experience," said Cwaine. 

This year, performances will be in homage to those lost in the mine, general safety,  and preventing future losses—a theme fitting not only to mining but also reflective of the state of drag. 

"There's a lot in common between the museum world and the world of drag. In many ways, a museum curator is picking and choosing what stories need to be preserved and how to tell them, and through music, dance and costumes, I think drag performers are really doing the same thing," said Jang. 

According to both Jang and Cwaine, inclusivity is about more than simply giving queer folks space; it is about diversity and inclusion within the cast of performers. This year's slogan " the boys are back'  is in reference to gender parity between femme-presenting queens and drag kings, said Cwaine. 

"We really wanted to highlight this movement of drag kings … [because] they are often neglected in film and television, and yet they play an incredibly vital role in the history of drag," said Cwaine. 

The event has sold more than 100 tickets—at $45 a piece—so far; tickets will also be available at the door. And Cwaine said, through a laugh, "if you want to tip us, [we] take tips during our performances." 

"My hope is that when visitors come to the show, they will see the mill, they will see our exhibits, and they'll see the legacy of Canada's industrial history in a totally new way, and that, in addition to hopefully lots of laughs and lots of singing along, there will be some parts of it that kind of tug at the heartstrings and really move people when they think about how we tell historic stories," said Jang. 

Find out more on the mine's website.

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