Performers from a groundbreaking drag ensemble will this weekend whip up festive frivolity to help local residents put down stakes.
The Pine ‘N’ Sandy Drag Troupe is led by Shayne Forster, who oversees youth programs for Sunshine Coast Community Services and coordinates the Coast’s Gender Diverse Network. It was through a group of friends, however, that Forster conceived a one-of-a-kind family of drag artists — including queens, kings, and even a demon.
“We did a little bit of backyard drag,” said Forster, “and I thought to myself, I feel like there would be a bit of an appetite for this interesting part of queer culture on the Coast.” Forster gathered performers for an inaugural show last November at Tapworks Brewing Company. He was unsure how audiences would react to the Sunshine Coast’s first-ever drag troupe.
“Little did I know it would sell out in a little bit less than 10 minutes,” he said. The troupe has performed successive themed shows, including a Pride Month cabaret double feature in June.
In its appearance at the Raven’s Cry Theatre in Sechelt on Dec. 17, the group will play to its biggest audience yet. Forster will make his public debut as Shaylo, his drag persona, alongside a dozen other artists.
Proceeds from the holiday-themed Make the Yuletide Gay! spectacular will benefit the Sunshine Coast Affordable Housing Society.
“A lot of people in Pine ‘N’ Sandy are friends of mine,” said Chris Neumeyer, the society’s general manager. “Housing is obviously something that a lot of people from their community have struggled with. I was looking for fundraising ideas and they were doing some pretty big shows. We kind of just came together on that.”
Since its inception in 2017, the Affordable Housing Society opened a new complex on Franklin Road in Gibsons that incorporates rental housing suitable for two families, priced below market rates, plus a smaller unit. Another project being realized on Shaw Road in Gibsons will include 40 new rental units that will house approximately 100 people.
Performer Davis Gay, who this summer presented at Drag Storytime at the Sechelt Public Library, said that prejudice can severely limit access to housing options.
“Frankly, the queer and trans community often are folks that are on the margins,” said Gay. “If you present as queer, someone might not rent to you because of homophobia. If you present as trans, someone might not rent to you because of transphobia.”
Another of the troupe’s performers, Bindiya House, directly experienced the dire effects of housing shortages on the Sunshine Coast. For a year, House rented an uninsulated trailer for a “ridiculous amount,” trapping and dispatching a rat each day.
“It’s nice to be walking distance from the beach,” House said, “but good grief. No one should live like that.”
According to the performers, restrictive stereotypes can be broken down through friendly familiarity. Lil Grease Trap, a non-binary “drag demon,” experienced this after leaving a culinary job in the Tapworks kitchen (which inspired their name) to work in the construction industry.
“These people I’m working with are very different from me, a queer person assigned female at birth,” said Grease Trap. “But even the guys I work with in construction, they’ve become super intrigued by the drag shows.
“We’re asking lots of questions and I think having these events in small communities can open a lot of people’s minds.” Grease Trap will also appear as the Grinch during a reception before the all-ages Raven’s Cry performance, alongside Davis Gay as Santa Claus.
In the drag community, cultural touchstones are subsumed, celebrated and re-invented. Bindiya House, raised by parents adhering to the Mormon and Seventh Day Adventist faiths, is the grandchild of a Hindu and biological child of a Muslim. “Being queer and being trans and being brown, reconnecting with my culture through drag has been extremely empowering,” House said.
Make the Yuletide Gay will feature lip-synced singing, live guitar, digital multimedia and intricately-fashioned apparel. From ticket sales, a silent auction, and draws, the performers plan to raise over $15,000 for affordable housing.
“There will be some fantastical things happening,” said Forster. “Expect a lot of camp, expect a lot of silliness and fun, and also expect some surprises.”
Tickets for Make the Yuletide Gay can be purchased via the Sunshine Coast Affordable Housing Society’s website at affordablesc.org. Pine ‘N’ Sandy maintains an active Instagram presence at @pinensandydrag.