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1978 – Present

Stage Name(s)
Crema, the Phoenix

Category
Male Impersonator, Drag King

Country of Origin
Canada

Birth – Death
1955 – Present

Bio

Crema’s first drag performance was as a male impersonator at a a gay show bar called B.J.’s Club in Vancouver Canada in 1978. From an interview between Clare Smyth (Drag King Flare from Toronto, Canada) and Crema conducted February 14, 2020, written for The Canadian Theatre Review: (1)

“I started performing while working as a bartender at B.J.’s Club in 1978.  B.J.’s Club was a gay show bar, mostly for men that had major shows every weekend. My first performance was a ‘turn-about’, which means the performers and the staff switched jobs, so the Queens waitered the bar and I got up on stage.  I wanted to do a mind-fuck while still focusing on the audience, which included many trans women, so I did Frank-N-Furter.  One night at B.J.’s. Club, ted northe, founder of the Imperial Court System of Canada (ICSC) saw me perform and said, ‘You are the first person I’ve seen do male impersonation’. Soon after, I got involved with the ICSC, by hosting picnics, bowling leagues, and softball leagues to fundraise for people with AIDS. I also produced several of the Dogwood Monarchist Society parties and continuously support community fundraisers. Some of my titles are: Mr. Gay Vancouver in 1984 and in 1995; Emperor of Vancouver in 1996; and I received the José Honour in 2000.  But, it was at The Quadra where the great parties happened with many of us in drag.  We performed together across Vancouver for years mostly at The Quadra (later renamed Lucy’s), the Dufferin Hotel and The Lotus Hotel. I was calling myself a male impersonator until there was an influx of performers from The Lotus calling themselves drag kings.” (2).

“The Rhinestone Phoenix Charity Foundation has had the pleasure of being a part of Vancouver’s LBGTQ2+ community for 40 years. We serve the “gateway” to our community to bring like minded individuals together. Over the years, many people have held the title of Mr, Ms and Miss Gay Vancouver, using this platform to move to other organizations in our city and others. The Society, like any business or organization has had an amazing history and has raised thousands of dollars to be distributed to various organizations in Vancouver.” – Rhinestone Phoenix Charity Foundation Facebook page

The Rhinestone Phoenix Charity was created by Miss Wiggins/ Rob fortin (Ms. Gay Vancouver, 4th) for Crema, “because she was known as the Phoenix” – Ilena Lee Cramer. (3)

The Quadra was Vancouver’s first lesbian owned bar (owners Suzan Krieger and Heather Farquaha) which opened in 1979, and had shows that included many male impersonators.

“On July 6, 1979, the Quadra opened on this spot, Vancouver’s first…completely lesbian-owned and lesbian-oriented club. Owned by Suzan Krieger and Heather Farquahar, the Quadra (re-named Lucy’s by its regulars in its latter days) was extremely popular in the 18 months that it was open. From its pre-drag king acts to its after-hours action in the parking lot next door, the Quadra, left an indelible mark on Vancouver’s gay and lesbian history.” (4).

The International Imperial Court System, which has grown to more than 70 chapters in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, is a network of nonprofit charitable organizations that raise money for various beneficiaries. The primary goals of the Imperial Court are to further relationships with businesses and organizations, hold functions and fund-raisers to benefit the community and to help others in the community who need assistance. (5)

The Imperial Court System in the U.S. was founded in San Francisco in 1965 by drag queen José Sarria, who soon became the catalyst of a volunteer fundraising movement whose members took on titles of nobility bestowed upon them by the “Emperor” and “Empress,” who are elected annually.

In 1971, the first court outside of San Francisco was formed in Portland, Oregon, followed by Seattle, and then Vancouver in 1976 by the self-proclaimed Empress of Canada, ted northe, always spelled in lower case. northe founded the Imperial Court System of Canada in 1964 and became the titular head of the charitable organization in 1967. He remained Empress of Canada until his passing in April 2014. In British Columbia, Canada the court is called the Dogwood Monarchist Society.

northe also initiated Vancouver’s first Community Christmas Dinner and first gay community disaster relief fund. He helped develop the first Gay Businessmen’s Guild and worked with the lesbian community to host the first openly gay breast cancer fundraiser. northe sponsored and helped create countless events and groups in the city, including the first gay bowling and softball leagues, the first Vancouver Pride Parade and the Greater Vancouver Native Culture Society for two-spirited men and women. It’s estimated northe raised more than $10 million for Canadian charities through his work. (6).

Crema born on September 22, 1955 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada has become a pillar in Vancouver’s gay and lesbian community.

She has served the LGBT community from the 1970’s to today through her service and commitment with the Imperial Court System. On September 26, 2020 Crema was honored by the Rhinestone Phoenix Charity Foundation during their online show ARTPOP. She was featured performing as Frank-N-Furter to commemorate her first performance.

(Submitted by Clare Smyth “Drag King Flare” from Toronto, Canada)

Historical Milestones

  • 1978: performs drag for the first time at B.J.’s Club and is discovered by ted northe from the Imperial Court System of Canada.
  • 1979: performs with other male impersonators at The Quadra, Vancouver’s first lesbian owned bar.
  • 1984: earns the title of “Mr. Gay Vancouver” (4th) – Imperial Court System of Canada.
  • 1995: earns the title of “Mr. Gay Vancouver” (15th) – Imperial Court System of Canada.
  • 1995-2015: produces hundreds of gay women events and community fundraisers, including several of the Dogwood Monarchist Society Coronations.
  • 1996: elected “Emperor of Vancouver” (24th) – Imperial Court System of Canada
  • 2000: receives the José Honour – Imperial Court System of Canada
  • 2020: September 26th honored by the Rhinestone Phoenix Charity Foundation in online show ARTPOP

References

Baldman, Anthony.  “Imperial Court System founder Jose Sarria steps down”.  gaylesbiantimes.com.  02 Nov. 2006.
https://web.archive.org/web/20080507194658/http://www.gaylesbiantimes.com/?id=8419
Accessed 28 Feb. 2020.

Estelman, D. Loren.  “Vancouver as it was: a photo-historical journey”.  vanasitwas.wordpress.com, quoted from “Sheila” at 6:22pm, 8 Sep. 2015,
https://vanasitwas.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/the-quadra-club/
Accessed 9 Feb. 2020.

Smyth, Clare (Drag King Flare of Toronto, Canada). Interview with Crema and Ilena Lee Cramer on February 14, 2020.

Thomas, Sandra. Westender. “‘Activist in a dress’ fought for LGBT rights’ ted northe died Sunday, March 30 at the age of 76”.
vancourier.com, 2 Apr. 2014,
https://www.vancourier.com/news/activist-in-a-dress-fought-for-lgbt-rights-1.940161
Accessed 15 Oct. 2020

Thomas, Sandra. Imperial Court System of Canada.  “Drag royalty honoured for charitable contributions”.
vancourier.com, 26 Mar.2018
https://www.vancourier.com/news/drag-royalty-honoured-for-charitable-contributions-1.23213530
Accessed 29 Feb. 2020.

(1) Smith, interview.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid.
(4) Edelman, “Vancouver”.
(5) Baldman, “Imperial”.
(6) Thomas, “Westender”