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Queen of the Month: Storyteller Karmella Barr keeps community in mind

Wednesday 10th, August 2016 / 16:17
By David Cutting
Photo: Chase Hadden

Photo: Chase Hansen

VANCOUVER — When she hits the stage, grace and camp collide. A gender bent form called Karmella sasses her way into our hearts. When she performs, the audience can’t sit still as her interpretations of songs are captivating. Her facial expressions are priceless and her joy of life on stage is front and centre. Her every facial expression is a piece of art and her costumes, simple yet unique, make this queen the powerhouse diva she is.

Self-described as the “Chocolate Queen,” Karmella can be spotted around town guesting at many long running shows in the city. She can be seen monthly at Man Up, a monthly drag revue at the Cobalt. “I love my Cobalt family,” Karmella says. “The audience is there to see what we have come up with as performers, they are open minded, and they are very receptive of people’s creations.” For Karmella, drag is a place where community and art combine. Her kind demeanour definitely helps her bring the energy on stage and each of her performances are well thought out. “My drag tells a story,” she explains. “It changes from show to show. Sometimes it’s a character, sometimes just a look, I have a base character to play off of and the rest is the canvas I use to create new things.”

Karmella began performing drag in 2013 at Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar. She didn’t compete that year, but returned in 2016, ultimately winning the title of Miss Congeniality. Many new queens have a mentor, or a “drag mother,” and Karmella’s own mother is her drag mom. “My mother Toby Schnoor is my biggest fan, and she is also my drag mother,” she says. “She was the first person to put makeup on me before I went out the first time. She gave me makeup tips, guiding me and helping me become who I am.”

Since her conception, Karmella has been heavily involved in helping different community organizations like Vancouver Pride, Dogwood Monarchist Society, and the Rhinestone Phoenix Charity Foundation. “I admire the community oriented queens in this city, they are my inspiration,” she says, humbly. “After the shooting in Orlando I realized that I needed to find why I do drag and the importance of it to me and my community. I think it is important to know what you value most about yourself as a performer.”

When she is performing, it’s her connection to the songs and the audience that bring her the most joy. “I know I like to entertain people,” Karmella continues. “It’s fun, I appreciate the fact that I have created something and people absorb it and love it. Connecting with my audience is what it is all about for me.” She’s even appeared on the big screen, acting in movies at young age. “I was in a horror movie when I was a kid and I survived, I feel like I am the only black person to survive a horror movie… Oh wait, 13 Ghosts, never mind,” she laughs. Her film star past contributes to her stage confidence now that she does drag. “I don’t get nervous, to me performing is easy. There is always something to learn at every show, you just got to be willing to find it and use it in the future.”

Karmella is a queen to watch. Her star is only beginning to rise and we are very excited to see where she goes. In a community that thrives when diversity is embraced, Karmella is a beacon of light with a bright future.

Karmella performs at Sanctuary on August 14 at 1181 Lounge for a Whitney Houston vs. Celine Dion night, B-Roll: Kill Bill on August 29 at the Penthouse, and Shame Spiral on August 30 at 1181 Lounge.

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