Prosecco in drag

Despite abuse concern, pandemic-inspired neighbourhood drag show to go on

Jessyca Prosecco is the Queen of Bathurst Manor, the North York neighbourhood in which she began a drag show in March 2019 as a way to lift community spirits at the start of the pandemic. It worked. She hasn’t stopped since and, despite some online hate and growing conspiracy grumblings from south of the border that have somehow travelled north to Toronto, doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

The next show is scheduled for June 18.

“We had a mission, a mission to raise hope and elevate spirits for our amazing community and those essential workers who keep us all going. Pop that Cork Honey!” she says. “We were all about bringing that fabulous energy and spreading the love during those challenging times, and honey, we delivered.”

The shows were created by Josh Petrie (Prosecco) and his partner Sean Teperman, and inspired by the pandemic ritual of banging pots and pans for essential workers. Jessyca describes herself as a “fierce frontline worker with over 10 years of experience in social work.”

“One fateful Friday evening, when Rupaul’s Drag Race Canada Season 1 hit the airwaves, I felt the fire of inspiration igniting within me. I said to myself, Queen, it’s time to bring some extra excitement to the neighbourhood!” Prosecco says. “And you know what I did? I put on my fiercest drag ensemble and put on a show for our amazing neighbors. Honey, the energy was electric, and the crowd went wild!”

Not only were the shows popular, they grew and average from 100 to 300 attendees from the local Bathurst and Shepherd neighbourhood as well as folks travelling in from places such as Niagara Falls and Barrie.

And, the couple continue to check in with the neighbourhood.

“Let me tell you, our past events have been an absolute hit with the neighborhood! We always make sure to check in with our fabulous neighbour’s and get their stamp of approval,” Prosecco says.

She says, there was some hesitancy about returning to the neighbourhood performances this spring.

“I’ve been blessed to strut my stuff all across Canada, and honey, I’ve even taken my talents to international stages in Costa Rica, Cuba, and Mexico! And guess what? Not a trace of hate towards the art of Drag during any of my performances!” she says.

“But let me be real with you, I was a little hesitant about organizing an event this year. With the pandemic still lingering and my schedule being busier than RuPaul’s wig collection, I thought the community might have moved on. But guess what happened. While strolling with our precious pups, my hubby and I were bombarded by folks begging for another show! Can you believe it? Even the kiddos were coming up to our door, practically begging for another stunning performance by yours truly, Jessyca!”

But, there are a growing number of incidents of threats and harassment towards drag performers, most recently at a drag queen storytime reading at a library in Richmond Hill as well as at an event at the Fort York Library in Toronto attended by protestors described as wearing “far-right-associated Canadian Red Ensign flags.”

Due to the escalating concerns regarding safety, the Ontario NDP took action this spring by urging the government to establish community safety zones that would safeguard drag artists and LGBTQ communities against harassment and intimidation during performances.

Prosecco felt some of that sting online.

“Sadly, in the past week, we’ve encountered some ignorant haters on social media. Can you believe they had the audacity to question the safety of children around us fierce drag queens? Can I get a major eye-roll, please?” she says. “But fear not! The Bathurst Manor community rallied behind us like the true queens they are. They shut down those haters! Affirming that our events are indeed family-friendly.  We are forever grateful for their love and support! It’s because of them that we can proudly say the show will go on!”

Prosecco said the believes people will have their our own opinions and beliefs, but it is about respect.

“Let me tell you, it’s crucial that we channel our fabulousness into positive and respectful vibes, okay? We’re all Queens here, and we know how to handle situations with nothing but sheer class and elegance,” she adds.  

“My darling, let me tell you something: hate ain’t cute, okay? We need to open our minds and educate ourselves instead. Drag, honey, it’s been around since Shakespearean times. Even those high and mighty rulers rocked the fiercest wigs,” Prosecco says. “Now, I get it. Some performers like to push the boundaries and go for those provocative and daring acts. But hey, we know there’s a time and place for everything, like when you hit up the clubs or cater to the grown-up crowd. And let’s not forget, parents have the right to decide what their little ones get exposed to, no doubt about it.”

But will the show come to a halt if the harassment worsens?

“Alright, my fierce community, let’s talk safety first, honey! We’re all about creating a space where everyone feels secure and respected, especially during this time of celebration and empowerment—Pride season, baby! We acknowledge people’s right to protest and raise their concerns, because hey, that’s part of the beauty of our diverse world. But let me be clear, my loves, we hope that any potential protest remains peaceful and calm, because Pride is all about spreading love and unity,” she says. 

“At the end of the day, our ultimate goal is to raise funds for two absolutely fantastic causes: Shalva and Sick Kids Hospital, while celebrating the beauty and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Prosecco explains that their long-running Curbside Drag show has always been and always will be a family affair, comparing it to ABBA and Disney.  

“If you’re getting all worked up about a man in a woman’s outfit, or any other form of drag for that matter, remember, it’s all part of the performance,” she says. “It’s like those fabulous folks behind the Dora The Explorer or Mickey Mouse costumes—just bringing joy and magic, baby. It’s a celebration of diversity and a testament to the power of embracing one’s true authentic self.”

As RuPaul would say “Can I get an amen up in here?”

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO