Vancouver's drag king showcase Man Up gets its groove on
by Tara Hallam
The first time I met Ponyboy was about 20 years ago in S.E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders. He was a soft, gentle, attractive soul caught up in troubles with a rough crowd trying to find a place to fit in. I was curious if the second Ponyboy to cross my path had similar problems.
"In Vancouver?" Ponyboy asked, with a bashful laugh. "No. Sometimes I feel like a rock star in Vancouver."
As she should. Paige "Ponyboy" Frewer has exploded on to the scene as the face and front man of Vancouver's drag king community. Although her alter ego Ponyboy identifies as a man, he is most definitely every part of Frewer as Paige is. She is as much an empowered woman as she is a charming and cheeky boy.
With her humble, warm, and open personality, it takes half a second to understand her joke about feeling like a rock star and, at the very least, another 10 to resist the urge to throw myself at her. Easy now. Her enormous smile, gleaming eyes, and infectious good mood seems to see right through to my core and give it the biggest bear hug of love and acceptance you've ever received. No shit Vancouver is madly in love with her.
Now in its fourth year, Man Up, a monthly themed drag king showcase, has found its groove under the careful and watchful eye of Ponyboy and her predecessors, whom Ponyboy often speaks of with much respect. Originally conceptualized four years ago by Sammy Tomato (Sena Hussain) of the troupe Drag Kings United and Majik (Chanti Laporte), Man Up appeared in one of Vancouver's popular queer nightclubs, Lick. What began as an American Idol–style competition grew to not only expand beyond Lick, but beyond gender identities and sexual preferences.
After Sammy Tomato moved to Toronto in 2009, Ponyboy and Majik became a two-man team that has hosted what began as Vancouver's only drag king showcase. Man Up dropped its competitive element in 2008 and opened its arms to a variety of performers in male drag between sets of well-known and up-and-coming local DJs and the occasional band, troupe, or burlesque dancer.
Eventually, with the help of Billi Gold, Ponyboy and Majik moved Man Up to the larger stage of the Cobalt, Since then, Man Up's audience has expanded to include men, women, gay, straight, and all those in between, selling out every single monthly show they have put on since January 2011.
Moustaches aplenty, Man Up's audience intrigues me. There's everyone from Vancouver's oldest and gayest to the youngest and most curious. College-aged women who identify as maybe heterosexual can be found exploring their sexual energy with packed pants, slicked-back greased heads, and neatly trimmed facial hair. For a girlie girl like myself that prefers a solid dicking, I've caught my own head being turned right round by all the genderbending. Quite honestly, I may have formed a crush or two.
After a night of Man Up (especially a good Freddie Mercury–themed night), it's not shocking to find a married mother of two wandering the floor gesticulating like a man and throwing out raw, intense sexuality from under a tight-fitted leather jacket and a well-proportioned package.
Carly Wood, known once a month as Jake Hardwood, was kind enough to drag me into a dingy bathroom stall, pull out her Fenis and perform a cramped one (wo)man infomercial on the joys of pissing like a man. Is it any wonder Vancouver reigns in North America’s drag king cities?
When I sit down at Perch eatery to chat with Ponyboy, we're forced to order another two rounds as the passion for her community bubbles over and ticks well past the absolutely-must-go mark.
As much fun and sexuality that Man Up brings to Vancouver's night life, Ponyboy stresses that Man Up's objective is to bring the topic of gender politics to citywide awareness. As there are many in the audience and the city that identify as neither male nor female, gay nor straight, it is important to understand the role that gender and sexuality can play in one's life.
"Gender itself is a performance. The show is a performance of gender," Ponyboy explains.
Lucky for us, Ponyboy and Vancouver seem to be the perfect match. Along with Ponyboy, there are plenty of other kings regularly performing to crowds of swooning admirers. Original members (pun not intended) Edward Malaprop and Cazzwell van Dyke, and longtime performers like Owen continually leave young fans gushing over their moves for days.
Majik, who serves not only as stage manager, but also provides the warm flush that only a dark, moody perpetual girl chaser can. Recently performing under the name Crybaby, on stage you might find him in a dorky, nerdy mood or if you're really lucky you might find him caught wanking it to a sex-ed video.
"Majik is also a really talented dancer, who brings more experience and devoted rehearsal time to his performances than arguably any other Man Up performer," Ponyboy says.
Lucky for you one of Ponyboy's many dreams is to gather a group of the most dedicated, passionate, fun performers together and begin to take this show on the road, and for your sake, I hope that happens.
Now its fourth year, Man Up is a sexy, safe playground for both kings and court to explore sexuality and sexual energy while learning the true meaning of gender and its ever diminishing limitations. When Ponyboy rode into town from the countryside of Ladner, she brought with her a challenge—and I think it's high time we of this city saddle up, meet her bluff and Man (the fuck) Up.
Man Up: Kings Gone Wild will be held on Saturday (June 30, doors 9 p.m., show 11 p.m.) at the Cobalt (917 Main Street). Tickets and wristbands for Man Up’s Pride Events can be found at Perch (1701 Powell Street) and Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium (1238 Davie Street).
Tara Hallam is a Vancouver-based writer.
You can follow the Straight's LGBT coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/StraightLGBT.