The lights are dimmed. The room is packed. The music is pumping.
In a glamorous white gown, stilettos to match and plenty of sparkle, the almost seven-foot-tall Myria Le Noir takes to the stage inside a small but packed lounge in Bridgeview, readying to lip sync a Whitney Houston classic.
“It’s elevating your inner artist. That’s what drag is really about,” says Myria who’s been performing for more than 40 years, having toured with the likes of famous drag queen Grace Jones, who was once named Drag Queen of the Century by People magazine.
“I do Dolly, I do Cher, I do a lot of Liza, and they’re characters I love because they’re bigger than life – and I’m bigger than life.”
Myria is one of about a dozen people to hit the stage on this particular evening to compete in the Entertainer of the Year show, an annual event held by EPAMA (Empire of the Peace Arch Monarchist Association) Surrey’s branch of the International Court System. It’s an LGBTQ+ focused organization that elects leaders with various monarchist titles to lead charitable efforts and Surrey is one of about 70 cities that have such court systems throughout North America.
Myria has been part of EPAMA since its inception, and last year, took home the Entertainer of the Year title.
For Myria, the thrill of drag comes from the audience reaction.
“I’m more of a comedian really, so I get people going. Like any artist you work off the energy of the room so if there’s three people and if they’re not paying attention it’s hard to pull it out.”
That’s why Myria is delighted to be MCing the upcoming Surrey Pride party, set for June 29.
“To get a whole community electrified, sparking? It’s going to be so amazing. It’s so nice to bring this together, and be able to celebrate our cultural differences and similarities. I think pride is always political, but more than that, it’s a chance to learn about each other and join together and be strong in our unity, our differences and our similarities.”
Today, the drag scene appears in the mainstream media more due, at least in part, to RuPaul’s Drag Race, Myria notes. It’s made drag “less taboo” but has also raised the bar for queens.
“You can’t walk out with a pot belly doing Tammy Wynette in a fried wig,” Myria laughed.
Myria’s drag persona tends to centre on the gothic or mysterious.
It’s also “a little bit spooky” given that’s the name of a “very powerful druid witch.”
“I like that, I like the mystery of drag,” Myria muses.
“I feel like Morticia Adams,” Myria says of a second getup for the evening, a dark green gown with possibly hundreds of rhinestones affixed to it.
“If I was say 5’6” and I looked like a girl, I’d have never done drag. I look like every Disney witch and that’s what I love. It’s the whole bigger than life and the whole theatre aspect. I like costumes, I like theatre and I think drag should be theatre.”
And as it turns out, theatre is how drag began for Myria, who by day is Donald Crowe.
“I was a young actor in theatre and stuff like that, and I was at a wedding and I do voices. A casting agent said, ‘Have you ever done drag?’ I said not really. He said, ‘OK, we have this part, it’s for a queen.’ He booked me everywhere. Then I started touring with strippers, and so I’ve been in this a long time, done a lot of theatre, a lot of film, a lot of TV, and had my own show – toured my own show forever.”
For Myria, doing drag is like being “at the office.” It’s a no-go unless “I’m being paid.”
“I’m a big man in a dress, honey, this is for special occasions.”
“I worked for the ministry of children for years,” Myria explains. “I have 32 foster kids, I worked as a drug addictions counsellor. I have a life outside of the big boobs, baby. It’s about having a good time. It’s like any other acting role. It’s a mask you put on and take off.”
Being a veteran of the drag scene means Myria serves as a “drag mother” to some up-and-coming queens. A sensei of sorts, teaching them the tricks of the trade.
One is 32-year-old Kile Brown – or Hailey Adler Le Noir tonight.
Backstage at the show, Hailey and mother Carol Brown share their story after Hailey performs a Christina Aguilera number.
“Myria has been one of his biggest supporters. It’s a village,” says mom Carol. “We all love each other. This is my boy and I’ll be proud of him forever.”
Carol tears up as she explains her son has had a hard life. From being diagnosed with type one diabetes at two years old, to other medical struggles throughout life, he’s “always had stuff thrown at him.”
“And he’s had to hide this inside,” she says of her son’s sexual orientation as a gay man and his love of the drag scene.
“Feeling ashamed and afraid. Then to have the courage to come and tell me one day. He’s my hero.”
Hailey says it was tough to come out as a gay boy at 16, and later, to explain he was a drag queen.
On stage Hailey says it feels “like I’m not sick, I’m not going to be held down anymore. When I perform I feel truly relaxed and at peace and in the moment. I live to make people smile.”
Hailey says the diabetes diagnosis means life expectancy is short.
“So I’ve always thought I have to live the life now, and have fun now, not wait for one day, or wait a few years. It’s you have to live now, you have to be the best you that you always can be all of the time.”
It’s the “weirdest thing” to explain drag, Hailey laughs, explaining he identifies as a man, but is a “she” in drag. “It really is. You kind of fall into it by accident and when you fall into it by accident you fall in love with the craft, the art and everyone in it.”
“We’re all the same under here,” Myria chimes in. “Yes I might wear a bigger lash than you, but let’s face it, we’re all human beings.”
While many may not be aware of these local drag shows, the community has found a home at the White Horse Lounge, in the Turf Complex near the south end of the Pattullo Bridge. Finding a home base hasn’t been easy, explains Surrey Pride Founder Martin Rooney, who is manning the mic at the Entertainer of the Year Awards.
“This is the busiest room we’ve had since September. It’s really, really exciting,” he gushes. “We’ve been doing this for 20 years all over the city in various places. We started at the 50s Burger. We then moved to the Fireside Cafe. We then moved to the Dell, we then moved to the Peacock which is no longer there. Now we’re here. We’ve been all over the city. It’s really, really cool because we’ve finally found a place, the place is a little small, but it totally works.”
Rooney – who served as EPAMA’s emperor in 2004 and 2011 – says these events are important because “the culture has been lost.”
“These are not professional people,” he said, adding that they’re just as good as many professionals. “They make tips and donate those back to charity. Drag has been at the forefront of fundraising.”
Rooney says it’s “totally encouraging” to see more and more people attending these events.
“Tonight is absolutely stunningly amazing,” Rooney adds, “and we’ve never had the place so full.”
The packed room was a mix, with people from a variey of ethnic backgrounds, and youth all the way to seniors in the audience.
Maple Ridge resident Melissa Jones is among the crowd, there to support Heather Boa, a nominee who later performed a colourful Liza Minnelli number.
It’s Jones’ first time at the Surrey venue. “It reminds me of a couple different clubs they used to have in Vancouver, like the Lava Lounge,” she says, explaining she’s long been a fan of drag culture. “It was small, really nice, really intimate.”
A self-described “outcast,” Jones feels at home at drag shows.
“A lot of queens you talk to wouldn’t be able to go on stage unless they’re actually in drag. They become who they really, truly want to be on a regular basis. And they’re free and accepted and loved for that,” Jones remarks. “A lot of people that aren’t involved in the culture, I think they just don’t understand. Is this a woman? Is it a man? They don’t understand it’s almost a persona. Think of a wrestler. So a wrestler on a day-to-day basis has their family, their job, but when they go into the ring and have that character, they become that character. That’s their true, free self.”
Meantime, back on stage, one of Myria’s songs – Whitney Houston’s “I Look to You” – is a tribute to Rooney and the work he’s done for the LGBTQ+ community.
“When they moved here 20 years ago, there was nothing,” says Myria of Surrey’s LGBTQ+ scene.
“If anything, everybody said no no no. Every door closed in their face. He has fought for the doors to open and it makes me very proud to be here opening doors with him.”
As the evening comes to a close, the audience crowns the 2019 Entertainer of the Year – Morgan Lisa Montroy – out of four nominees. Montroy will perform at EPAMA’s Coronation ceremony on May 18 at Columbia Theatre, where the organization’s 2019 Emperor and Empress will also be crowned. For upcoming event details, visit the “Surrey Pride” Facebook page. There are at least two drag shows each month in Surrey.
COMING UP NEXT: Learn about Youth For a Change, a Surrey group created for LGBTQ+ youth.