Real Live Action

Real Live Action: Man Up – The Last Dance

w/ Vixen von Flex, House of Rice, Persephone Estradiol, Rich Elle, Toddy, Continental Breakfast, Enby 6, Levi Thrust, Genesis, and Ponyboy

Phoebe Fuller

“This space might be dead but the community is not,” says drag artist Toddy midway through a live rendition of “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn as the entire warehouse of onlookers scream-sings along. 

The Warehouse, a Vancouver queer institution, has, sadly, finally met its end. A destined demolition rental from the start, the Warehouse housed local artists, queer raves and drag shows organised by queer event collective Eastside Studios at 550 Malkin Ave for five glorious years. The last-ever party in the space, the day after the official farewell party, was Man Up: The Last Dance — an iconic event to send off a historic space. 

Man Up is Vancouver’s longest-running drag show, originally starting at the now-closed lesbian haunt Lick back in 2008 as a show for drag kings. It’s since evolved into a multi-gender spectacular showcase of diverse drag talent — from kings to things to queens and beyond. 

Host and Man Up co-founder Ponyboy warned the crowd in their introduction to the evening that “the goal of tonight is to make you cry.” I will neither confirm nor deny whether they accomplished this goal (they did). The evening had a distinctly melancholy vibe, but everyone, performers included, was determined to make their last night in the space count. 

The Last Dance featured a stacked lineup of performances by local legends Vixen von Flex, House of Rice, Persephone Estradiol, Rich Elle, Toddy, Continental Breakfast, Enby 6, Levi Thrust, Genesis and more, bringing a diverse mix of emotional ballads, group numbers and gag-worthy dance moves. Each and every performer locked the audience’s attention from the moment they hit the stage — a testament to both their talent and the significance of the night as the community’s last chance to see drag at the Warehouse. 

A major highlight was Genesis’ dragged-out version of Disney’s “Part of Your World,” mermaid tail and all, which they shed mid-performance to reveal a bejewelled thong as the song transitioned to “WAP” by Cardi B. Absolutely iconic. 

The penultimate performance of the night, Vixen von Flex’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)” by Vitamin C, ended with the entire cast coming onto the stage to sing along with the crowd in a heartfelt send-off to the Warehouse era. 

The level of drag on display is well worth the price of admission, with early bird tickets as low as $16 and pay-what-you-can available no questions asked. Man Up also offers detailed accessibility information for all of its events, so prospective partygoers can find out if events offer sensory spaces, ASL interpreters, ramps, handrails and accessible washrooms. 

The end of the Warehouse doesn’t mean the end of Man Up or the rest of Eastside Studios’ parties. The group launched their new space, the Birdhouse in Mount Pleasant, in April and celebrated 15 years of Man Up with a massive two-night party on May 19 and 20. If you love good drag and good vibes, be sure to come out and revel in the infectious queer energy Man Up has to offer.

Entering the exhibition, I find myself walking onto a stage. As the spotlights become visible, we are presented with ten ceramic sculptures, all alluding to the portrayal of identity. This theatre motif is coherent throughout the exhibition — on stage, one sculpture (“Peacock Spider”) depicts a peacock spider standing on top of a hand, conveying the performative side of self-portrayal, and is symbolic of the social phenomenon in which people present themselves as a more colourful and appealing version of their true selves.

Boyle’s use of vibrant colours plays into the motifs of theatre and “play pretend”, extending the theme of presenting life as more colourful than it actually is. As I step down the stage and move on to Part IV “Puppet Show at the Wax Museum,” “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music is playing as part of the exhibition soundtrack — “send in the clowns / don’t bother they’re here” sets the tone for the next artworks, featuring various feminine archetypes. “Drag Show,” a painting of ink gouache and acrylic on paper, depicts the reflection of a person putting on a phantasmagorical mask, and as we look into this mirror, it is as if we are the subject in the painting — drawing attention to the mask we put on every day for society. This reflection motif appears again in the sculpture “The Painter,” where Boyle reflects its face-less subject in an actual mirror, and a face is drawn on the mirror in black marker, at an angle such that the face is reflected onto the face-less subject. This reminds us of the impermanence of our identities, or at least the way in which we present it to the outside world — we aren’t really the face we put on for the world to see. 

Many of Boyle’s artworks also feature head-less subjects that are in the process of crafting heads — two being “The Sculptor” and “Cephalophoric Saint”. In “The Sculptor,” we see a vaguely shaped subject sculpting an incredibly detailed head, one that is way larger than the size of its own body. This contrast between vagueness and detail shows the magnitude to which we go to portray our lives as better than it actually is. In “Cephalophoric Saint,” the subject has a changeable head, implying that we constantly change the way we present ourselves as we see fit in different contexts. Through the use of these vibrant colours, reflections and face-less subjects, Outside the Palace of Me challenges our perception of identity and draws attention to its impermanence. The exhibition was open at the Vancouver Art Gallery from March 4th to June 4th 2023