Bingo isn’t usually this rowdy. It’s a game associated with retirement homes and second-language classrooms, but tonight the crowd is hooting and hollering, laughing at bawdy jokes between each call. That energy has everything to do with Betty Baker and Sahira Q, two drag queens on stage at Farmhill Weddings outside Keene.
Drag queens aren’t exactly the first association with rural areas like Keene either, but Betty says the scene is booming in Kawarthas Northumberland. “Within the queer community, the drag scene has become a staple for a lot of people—the scene here is really vibrant. We have lots of new performers that are just coming up, and I think we’ve tried to foster a community where everyone is really welcome, and everyone is able to perform if they want to.”
Betty herself is the alter ego of Isaac Maker, an eighteen-year-old theatre student. They started doing drag at the age of fifteen, inspired by Ru Paul’s Drag Race and the flexibility of the artform. “I’ve always had a big passion for music, for acting, for sewing, and just being creative in general. So it’s the culmination of all of that together—that’s what makes drag so cool,” Betty says. “My mom was super supportive of it, so we went and got makeup together, just sort of experimenting with drag, and then getting into it in the local scene, and since then it’s just been drag all the time for the last four years, basically.”
Betty also got a big assist from her “drag mom,” Sahira Q. Drag moms show fledging queens the ropes by helping with makeup, costumes, and other industry techniques. Together Betty and Sahira have an easygoing yet rapid-fire rapport, ad-libbing and trading the spotlight. “We just love to have fun—we’re just a very rowdy bunch of friends,” Sahira says. “The thing that always drove Peterborough drag is community, and it’s still a driving factor today.”
Sahira is the senior of the two performers and something of an institution in the scene. Betty credits Sahira’s help for becoming a well-rounded performer. “It started out as more of a character, and now it’s more of an extension of myself,” she says. “I like to think that I’m bubbly and fun to be around. I can be corny sometimes, and pretty campy and over the top. I love to do comedy numbers and stuff. I try to be a little bit funny, but then a little bit cutesy and then—yeah, a little bit of everything!”
A typical show features either bingo or trivia with prizes donated by local businesses, interspersed with lip-syncing and dancing. At Farmhill, Betty performs a comedic rendition of Katy Perry’s “The One that Got Away” in a stylized fishing costume, passionately delivering the lyrics to an animatronic bass. Audience members wave five-dollar bills as she bounces between tables.
Betty says audiences are usually receptive, but surprisingly diverse. Having done all-ages storytime shows as well, she estimates she’s performed for demographics ranging from two months to ninety-six years old. Other popular event locations have included The Canoe & Paddle in Lakefield, and Peterborough’s The El (P) and the Gordon Best Theatre. Jenn Austin-Driver, owner of Farmhill Weddings, confirms that drag brunches have been a hit at her venue. “What we loved about the brunches is that it was family friendly. People brought their children and introduced them to this atmosphere. It was really beautiful—I brought mine and they loved it,” she says, adding that the last bingo attracted between 80 and 100 people.
Also standing at the back of Farmhill’s spacious dance floor is Michelle Fenn, Betty’s self-described “momager.” As parent to a drag queen who’s also a minor, Michelle has played chaperone for the past four years so that Betty would be allowed to perform. She and her husband have also sourced prizes, handled ticket sales, helped with promotion, and other logistic duties to keep the show running smoothly. “For us it’s just what we do because we’re their parents,” she says. “To me there’s no question I would be there and supporting them, but that’s not the case for every queer kid, and I think it’s so important for other people to see that we’re there… I honestly couldn’t be prouder of my kid, and the confidence that they have just putting it all out there.”
Watching Betty Baker light up the stage alongside a seasoned performer like Sahira Q, it’s not hard to see why.