By David Cutting
Isolde N Barron: The Queen of East Van
VANCOUVER — Sitting at a stage-facing table in the centre of the Cobalt with the spotlight on her is Isolde N Barron. On the stage, a contestant of her annual Mr/Miss Cobalt Competition awaits what she is going to say. The words that follow are constructive, elevating, and, at their core, kind. This is Isolde. Classically trained in theatre, she yields her knowledge of performance as a tool and her generosity to share her input and wisdom with others is what truly makes her The Queen of East Van.
Isolde began drag in 2007, after being inspired by big queens in Toronto who really tapped into old glamour and camp. Needing a remedy for traveling to Vancouver’s West End for drag culture, Isolde began creating performances for a show called Bent (an old East Van institution) where, dressed up like Ursula and accompanied by a cast of minions, she performed a number from The Little Mermaid and dove right into the drag scene.
Her name came from an intensely boring poetry reading she was attending where someone mentioned the name Isolde. She thought it was humorous because placing an ‘N’ with it could elicit a character of sorts, but she still wasn’t sure where she wanted it to go. Eventually, it was her father who came up with the Barron part, which fit nicely with the old school glamour campiness that was her driving inspiration.
The Cobalt became home base for Isolde when they picked her up for a weekly drag show cleverly titled Apocalypstick. It was here she began to really bring a new excitement to the queer scene of East Van. “We [Peach Cobblah and Bambi Bot] worked tirelessly to create an exciting new energy for the queer community in East Van,” says Isolde. “Some of the individuals in this community didn’t feel comfortable in the West End scene so by us adding a drag show to the scene in East Van, it created a new space for them to convene.”
The drag scene now is much different. Isolde has a weekly show at the Junction on Davie with Carlotta Gurl called the Barron Gurl Show. “It is an exciting time right now because the west and the east are meeting and this is creating a really cool fusion of drag,” she says. “The community spaces are becoming communal and we get the opportunity to connect with a broader audience.”
Isolde continues, “When we are dressed as clowns people are more willing to open up to us, to connect with us. It is our duty to be their cheerleader and help them be one with the community in the space.” The inclusive nature of her role in the community is related to the matronly quality of her character.
Next year will be Isolde’s 10-year drag birthday and after all these years it’s the audience that keeps her going. “I love when I am onstage fulfilling the song and the audience is there with me,” she enthuses. “These moments are rare but they are transcendent, you become one with everything. It’s magic, you are fulfilling the illusion, the makeup, the lip sync, the costume, the womanhood, When I see the audience living for my moment that’s what keeps me going.” For all this time, Isolde has had the companionship of her darling husband/wife Peach Cobblah (see beside) to share in the magical drag journey with.
A mother to some, a mentor to those who seek, and a wife to one, Isolde sits in a throne in this community with poise and grace, unafraid to speak her mind, lend a hand, or offer wisdom. She lives to the full meaning of the title Queen.
Catch Isolde N Barron on Wednesday nights at the Junction for The Barron Gurl Show and September 18 at Village Bistro for Queen Eggs and Ham, a monthly drag brunch in support of A Loving Spoonful.
Peach Cobblah: Community Spaces and Sweaty Faces
VANCOUVER — There are sweaty people and then there is Peach Cobblah. If you are lucky enough to ever sit at one of her shows, she jokes about the ocean of sweat that comes forth from her pores in deluges. If you’re new, the joke doesn’t land until about five minutes later when a rather intense rendition of “Good Mother” by Jann Arden turns into a sweat shower from The Baddest Bitch of East Van.
Once upon a time, Peach Cobblah decided to try drag as a one off to get tips so she could get drunk. Emerging on the scene in Apocalypsticks’ “Mean Teen Queen” segment, Peach sweated her way into the hearts of East Van drag lovers with her unique hip-hop drag style, which, at the time, was unlike anyone else.
Inspired by artists like Nikki Minaj and Missy Elliot, Peach brings hip-hop attitude to every performance no matter the song. And, with her signature arm waves and leg kicks, she works it. She cites Roseanne as another influence, which definitely shines through in the crass and annoying manner that Peach’s humour manifests.
Peach can be found every Tuesday at 1181 for Shame Spiral, a show that is a staple in the drag community. Part drag show, part storytime, the show explores the ideas of how certain behaviours make us feel and how expressing it can bring joy and build community. Her brilliant “Blender of Shame” is loaded up each week with random songs that audience members pull for her to perform. The level of mystery and the campiness of Peach merge to create a drag monster that is hard to look away from.
Peach brings community together. For numerous years, she has produced, performed, and encouraged new talent at The Cobalt in East Van. Her stage is always welcoming to new talent and is always a supportive place for new queens to learn to express themselves. Without taking herself too seriously, Peach is always listening for the social commentary around her creations so that community is being built and nurtured. “Hustla and The Gay Agenda, like Queer Bash before it, are all events that help raise money for Zee Zee Theatre, but also create a really important space in East Van in a queered way,” she says. “I love the West End and spend a lot of time there, but it’s vital for East Van to be able to party in their own backyard too.”
“I want to create spaces that people feel like they can be themselves in, like perhaps the guy at the end of the bar has never been to a show before, but by coming, he gets exposed to new people. I take it as part of my job as a drag queen to be the ambassador of the space I am in, to get to know people, to help them have a good time, and to help them find their truest expression of self.” This is Peach’s true essence and if you have ever been to a show she is hosting, you will most certainly be warmly welcomed.
Peach in no way would claim the title of community leader, but her patience and willingness to foster and nurture the community makes this true without having to toss around the label.
“I think anytime someone puts on drag and gets a microphone they become de facto leaders because people listen to what they have to say,” says Peach. “I’d like to think I’ve used that bizarre power to introduce people to things that I’m passionate about: building community, theatre, vital local charities like Out in Schools and A Loving Spoonful…. Do leaders have missteps? Absolutely. But we grow and reflect and challenge ourselves and others and that keeps our community strong.”
In other news, Peach shared with BeatRoute that she is also producing a show inspired by the intersection of drag and her occupation as a playwright. We are buzzing with excitement to see and experience Ghosts of My Tuck, which Peach promises is weirdly political and wonderfully atrocious.
For anyone wondering where to experience Vancouver drag, find Peach’s events and get down there. Leave your judgments and inhibitions at the door, because this bad bitch encourages our authentic expression.
Catch Peach Cobblah on Tuesday nights at 1181 for Shame Spiral, September 17 for THUD at XY, September 18 at Village Bistro for Queen Eggs and Ham, a monthly drag brunch in support of A Loving Spoonful, and October 14 for Hustla: Homo Hip Hop at the Cobalt.BC, British Columbia, drag, Isolde N Barron, LGBT, Peach Cobblah