Storytime with children – not a new concept by any stretch, and always popular. Calgary Pride has stepped in and tweaked the formula for storytime as we know it, however, bringing young audiences Reading with Royalty, where the royal readers consist of drag queens, drag kings, and monarchy — those who present with aspects of both female and male identity.
Reading with Royalty started in New York, with Calgary Pride adapting the concept and presenting it at Pride in the Park last year to huge success.
“We did not anticipate it being nearly as popular as it was,” says Parker Chapple, executive director of Calgary Pride, “which to us says that this is something that the community would like to see on a regular basis.”
Chapple also saw a definite void in diverse, inclusive programming for children, which they believed these readings could fill. “Nobody was offering that type of programming, and certainly there is no programming relating to gender identity or gender expression for children under the age of 12 anywhere in Alberta that I’m aware of … We knew that there was a desirability to have it, we knew there was a gap in education, and so we approached the Calgary Public Library at the time and suggested that we partner on this along with the Calgary Queer Arts Society and made it come through to fruition – unicorn magic!”
The popularity of the event is evidenced by the number of readings that Calgary Pride presents, with two to three per month being the norm, all of which are possible through the support of ATB Financial. These events aimed towards youth are not only fun, but important in teaching acceptance, as Chappel explains.
“For myself, as somebody who identifies as gender queer, had this been something that I had been able to witness growing up, had I seen some of myself reflected in the activities that I was involved in as a child, I feel like it would have gone a long way in making it more comfortable for me to be authentic in who I was, or at least to have the courage to explore that in a safe environment – it’s a wonderful program.”
The Royal Readers themselves are all local, Calgary being extremely rich in drag performers — from drag queens to Canada’s largest and longest-running Drag King and Burlesque Showcase, Fake Moustache, to performers working with the Imperial Sovereign of the Chinook Arch. “We have a wealth of really dynamic individuals in this city who are super excited to be able to bring this fun stuff to the kiddos” explains Chapple.
The reading list for Reading with Royalty is currently at 100+ books, all vetted with the help of the Calgary Public Library and chosen specifically to highlight key issues. “We really try to focus on reading stories about inclusivity, acceptance,” explains Chapple, “they involve gender expression, gender identity sexual orientation, love is love, very sort of thematic and appropriate for the age range as well … How we communicate gender expression and gender identity with somebody under the age of 12 can be very different than the conversation you can have with somebody of the age of 18 or 19, so we try very hard to make sure that the programming falls in line and is age appropriate.”
At the heart of the event is fun – fun for the children and their parents, as well as fun for the readers. “How can you not love it?” Chapple enthuses, “It’s so exciting when you see how the kids respond to it! Sometimes they absolutely are a little bit perplexed and they have questions, but we want them to have questions. We’re trying to provide an opportunity for them to experience something a little bit different so that it’s not so different.
“The art of drag is, at it’s very root, taking gender and putting it on display as a form of entertainment, really, and it’s a form of expression and it’s how that gender is perceived by a person and therefore how they want to express that. We all should have the right to do that in a manner that is authentic to us.”
Reading with Royalty will takes place Saturday, July 28 as part of the Lougheed House Beltline Garden Party.
Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.