At the height of the AIDS epidemic the Toronto drag community rallied to support the concept of a hospice for people dying of AIDS. And they must have had fun doing it, because between 1987 and 2007 there were 10 drag show fundraisers to support compassionate HIV/AIDS care at Casey House.
Called DQ, the first show in 1987 raised $38,000 to complete the purchase of 9 Huntley Street, Casey House’s home for 29 years. Writer and director Michael Oscars would go on to lead three more cabaret-style shows. The second, in 1988 raised funds for renovations to Casey House.
Some of the shows had names, The Sequin, Lucky Lady, Diva Oz Vegas, and some stayed simple, such as DQ ’92.
The 1992 show raised $105,000, seed money for Casey House’s home hospice program offering palliative nursing care for people in their homes, a service still offered to this day. This was a week of drag artist shows with a cast of more than 60.
The 1995 show raised $120,000, the largest single event in Casey House history says the ’94-’95 annual report. This was a nine day run! With over 60 men and 2 women, held at the Bathurst Street Theatre. Described by Toronto Star as “the largest, cheekiest, dazzlingest Las Vegas-style revue Toronto has ever offered”, DQ played to full houses and enthusiastic audiences.
The impact of AIDS was felt first-hand by DQ volunteers. By that show over twenty per cent of DQ cast members had died – many at Casey House. Those on stage paid tribute to the memories of those who were no longer here, and many put their own health issues aside to perform in what had become a Casey House tradition.
In 1997 the 10th anniversary show raised a record breaking $132,000 to support home hospice services. The final show at the Bathurst Street Theatre had a new creative team of Les Porter, creator and director & Don Calderwood, choreographer.
DQ ’03, ’05, ’06, ’07 were written and directed by Graham Maxwell and produced by Marlene Smith. The new venue was the Hart House Theatre.
“I don’t know a goofier, more joyous, more hard-working, more exasperating, more lovable, more generous gang of people in all of theatre,” said June Callwood in 2003. Exasperating? Whatever could she mean?
In 2006, the Lucky Lady show paid homage to the glamourous stars of old Hollywood and campy movie classics of 1960s. Held in May & August it was named the official cultural event for the 16th International AIDS Conference, hosted in Toronto.
The final show, Diva Oz Vegas, held in 2007 was the 20th anniversary production and raised $110,000.
20 years. 10 productions. One million dollars.
Three decades of client-driven compassionate care at Casey House is a milestone that would not have been possible without the enormous support of DQ’s fundraising. This award is to acknowledge this formative support.