With lipstick the shade of a wild rose, high heels taller than Mount Temple and a personality bigger than the Aurora Borealis, Miss Ellen Q is Rocky-Mountain-fabulous. Named in honour of Edmonton’s Loud & Queer Cabaret, Miss Ellen Q (Miss L ‘n’ Q) made her Bow Valley debut in Fall 2013 at the Banff Pride event.
Arguably (she would argue) the showstopper, she was a crowd magnet during her onstage performance, combining the essence of Marilyn Monroe, dance moves like Madonna and the mad ‘tude of Missy Elliott.
Described as an avalanche of extravagance, she leaves a trail of fabulous in her wake. One of her “Pumas” —Miss Ellen Q’s four backup dancers — Kim “Cherry Pop” Mayberry explains, “I need fabulous in my life, and Ellen helps bring it out in me.”
But despite her proclivity for glitz and glam, Miss Ellen Q is also just a regular Joe.
Joe Bembridge, that is.
Growing up in Canmore, Bembridge was the ultimate mountain kid. For fun, he collected owl pellets at Grassi Lakes, dissected them and then resurrected skeletons of mice from the contents. Slipping into a fluorescent pink racing suit, Bembridge also competed in biathlon. And with a strict ban on toilet paper — enforced by his family while camping in the backcountry — he has wiped his butt with mountain moss more than a handful of times.
Now, with a degree in theatre performance, Bembridge is revitalizing the drama department at Banff Community High School as an artist in residence. Directing the school’s plays for the past three years, Bembridge is a sucker for edgy, social action theatre and his knack for challenging the norms of a traditional drama program hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Joe is helping to change the face of acting in the Bow Valley. He continues to push the students and the community’s sense of creativity,” BCHS music teacher Shane Nizinkevich says of his colleague.
Which is why Bembridge has committed to organizing the Banff Pride event again this fall.
“Banff Pride changed the cultural landscape of the Bow Valley forever,” Bembridge says of the sold-out celebration in 2013. “This is my community, and all I can do is make my community the best it can be.”
But it’s not easy being the best.
“Drag is a lot of work,” Bembridge says of the elaborate costumes and the three-hour transformation process of becoming Miss Ellen Q. “Ellen costs a fortune. I haven’t bought boy clothes in a year.”