There’s all kinds of sabotage happening leading up to the “Miss Church Street” pageant on the new series QUEENS. The CBC Gem scripted original is a comedy-mystery, created by Justin Gray and directed by Pat Mills, that will follow several different Toronto drag queens as they prepare for the pageant. However, this year is different as someone has literally stolen the crown from the reigning queen and other performers seem to keep getting interrupted in strange and unfortunate ways while prepping for the pageant. Viewers can join the fun to see who is behind the sabotage when the series premieres Friday, June 19. In addition to the online premiere, the show will also have a premiere event with Pride Toronto that will take place virtually, premiere to the world on Twitch, and include a cast Q&A panel.
The idea for QUEENS “came from performing with most of the cast for over 4 years now,” creator Gray told The TV Junkies. He said that “inadvertently, just through performing and listening to everyone’s silly anecdotes and stories,” he got the idea to start “writing things down in my phone,” which “snowballed into wanting to write a fuller, fleshed-out idea.” One of the most fun parts about that fuller version is the fact that the show is not only a comedy, but also a mystery that viewers can get involved in guessing whodunit.
For viewers who aren’t aware, pageants in the drag queen community are “kind of cutthroat,” said Ivory Towers, who plays Shoshanna, the first Miss Church Street and old school queen. Towers said they were speaking from experiences as, “I am someone who also years ago won something and I’m still clinging onto that.” For Shoshanna, Towers said she “maybe wants to sabotage it so she’s always the one and only Miss Church Street.” While Shoshanna’s motive may be crystal clear, that’s not always the case for some of the other less surprising contenders, such as Quick Lewinsky’s Mooney. “The running joke is that I’m not even a contender for the crown.”
Whoever is behind the sabotage on QUEENS, one thing is always front and center, and that’s the Toronto Drag Queen community. Towers said that “drag is different province to province or city to city,” and the work ethic of the Toronto scene was what they were proud to be highlighting in the series. “In Toronto, we work full-time, 3 hour shows, at least once a night. It’s a full-time industry in Toronto and we are really hard workers who bust our ass off here,” she said.
Beyond just the hard work put in by Toronto performers, the representation offered by the show was also an important element to the cast. “Performers are always going to be the lifeblood of any community because they are the voice of that community in many ways. Drag queens are an essential part of the queer community,” said Kyah Green, who plays the endlessly tired and overworked non-binary Lou. Lewinsky said the cast was made up of “half Village Queens and half West End freak shows. I thought that really said something about Toronto’s Drag. One, that there’s enough of each to equally cast the show, and that all of it is super valid.” Gray echoed his cast saying the show had “a galley of people, influences, and styles to pull from” thanks to the Toronto scene and community.
As a result of the great talent pools, Mills said that “everyone in the show is so funny, weird, and different.” He said the shoot, which lasted only seven days and was during the Toronto winter, did offer its challenges. However, in the end, “we have a really fun product,” and one that he “had a really, really good time on.” So even though the weather was causing trouble and everyone had to be on a tighter than usual schedule, the overall vibe of the QUEENS set was “like a week long adult day camp,” said Lewinsky. Green echoed those statements and praised Mills and Gray for giving the cast “room to play, improvise, or have fun with something in the script.” They said “that was so valuable and really added to the culture of everything.”
In the end, for Mills it boiled down to one simple fact. “It helped everybody that we were all pretty queer,” he said. “It wasn’t like we were the queer person in a very straight environment. We just encouraged everybody to be their authentic selves and as queer as they can be which definitely helps a show like QUEENS.”
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QUEENS premieres Friday, June 19 on CBC Gem and worldwide at 9 p.m. ET with Pride Toronto.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.