Meet the Queens & Kings of the Drag Underworld

September 25, 2019 Author—Alexa Gargoum Posted in—Events

The Diet Ghosts are one of Toronto’s most creative performance groups. Made of up five drag kings and queens, this troupe stages everything from theatre performances to drag shows to musical numbers to magic acts.

They’re continually bending the rules of what type of performance should fit into what box, and that makes them the perfect fit for the Gladstone’s Thursday Night Cabaret series.

We sat down with the Diet Ghosts to talk about their philosophy of performance, spookiness, and what magic they’ve got up their sleeves for their upcoming show at the Gladstone. Here’s what they had to share.

It’s been quite a year for The Diet Ghosts, with shows galore and accolades including being dubbed the “queens of Toronto’s drag underworld.”  What do you hope is next for the Diet Ghosts in the coming months? Are there any new venues, shows, or collaborations on the horizon?

A lot of our success comes from us having to figure out creative solutions to the given space, and audiences are always delighted to see how we transform The Beaver, our home bar, into a forest, a Parisian nightclub, or, this month, a space ship. Besides performances, we also create installation and set pieces that must come down at the end of the night. The dream is to have a weekend run of a show where we can build an entire set and expand from there. Thankfully we have lots of spaces that open their arms to us, and in October you can catch us back at your beautiful Melody Bar, at Oasis Aqualounge for a spooky Murder Mystery, and at The Beaver for our monthly show AND for a Halloween gathering! In terms of collaborations, keep your eyes peeled for a collaboration between us and the funniest clowns in the city (no offense Lady Kunterpunt), #ClownsKillEmpires.

Speaking of the drag underworld, how do you think Toronto’s queer performance scene is doing these days? Are you feeling there’s a shortage of venues at all? What would you hope to see happen in the West End performance world in the next year or so?

The queer performance scene is bubbling and boiling with fresh talent! Open stages have emerged all across the city and it’s the perfect place for performers to play in a room that’s full of big queer energy. It’s important to have fresh ambition around to remind us to continuously step up our game. Unfortunately, the shortage of venues is very real. I started performing in the fall of 2017 so I wasn’t privy to some of the venues of past, but it pains me to hear my friends talk about spaces like The Hen House and how much they loved performing there before it closed down. There are venues everywhere, but finding venues that appreciate queer talent and entertainment that will fill up on a weekday is too tough! I want a weekly show where I debut new theatrical burlesque acts inspired by classic movies such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Vertigo, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I’m having trouble finding the right spot. I make the art I want to see, so in the next year, I want to see more production value in the drag scene! The West End has been creeping in that direction and I can’t wait to see what comes of it. 

Can you tell us what secrets you have in store for your next Gladstone show on October 10? Something spooky and Halloween-y perhaps?

Magicians never reveal their secrets! Drag queens turned burlesque dancers, however, do reveal a fair amount. Thanks to popular demand, we’re bringing back Spooktacular: An Evening of Magic and Mayhem. It’s a combination of burlesque and magic, with each set having 2 magic numbers and 2 burlesque numbers. The energy in the room when we first did this event back in August was astounding – the audience cheered for the magic and hollered for the burlesque, creating a vicious cycle of love and appreciation! Everything we do is Halloween-y (we are ghosts, after all), but on October 10th you can expect some horror tributes and deadly weapons. Have you ever seen a beautiful drag queen pierce a giant needle through her arm? 

The Diet Ghosts are performing as part of our weekly cabaret night — how do you see cabarets relate to the world of drag performance and theatre performance? To you, what’s the difference between a cabaret, a show, a performance, and/or a party? Is there a distinction to be made, and if so, why might it be important to performers and audiences?  

My first experience with cabaret was actually the Kander and Ebb musical. I saw it in high school and loved how subversive it was. Drag can be a lot of things, but it’s especially delicious when it’s subversive – no wonder you can find so much drag in cabarets! A cabaret invites the entire room to relish in the fun in a different way than a show or a party. While both shows and cabarets have the audience cheering, cabarets tend to be more of a seated occasion while shows have everyone on their feet. That simple difference allows varied performance opportunities. For example, I would never do As If We Never Said Goodbye from the Sunset Boulevard musical, a ballad sung by Glenn Close, for an audience that’s standing; a seated audience can watch the performance and take in all the nuance and histrionics. Venturing into the audience also feels different with a seated and standing audience – there’s no way for me to sit on a standing person’s lap! It’s important for both the audience and performer to make the distinction in order to provide and enjoy the best performance possible. Trust me, I would love to do the slowest, 10-minute Bjork song anywhere I can, but it won’t be appreciated at certain shows. Knowing what to deliver is a big part of being a performer.

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