The resumé of Victoria designer, drag queen and trained clown James (Jimbo) Insell — which includes building a giant, 700-kilogram plywood peach for Kaleidoscope Theatre’s production of James and the Giant Peach and contributing to the glammy esthetic of Atomic Vaudeville’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Rocky Horror Picture Show — makes him suitably prepared for what awaits him on the inaugural season of Canada’s Drag Race.
Insell, 36, is one of 12 “queens of the north” selected to compete on Canada’s Drag Race, which premières today on streaming service Crave. The show — a spin-off from the Emmy Award-winning reality TV competition RuPaul’s Drag Race — runs for 10 episodes, with the finale set for Sept. 3. The winner will be awarded $100,000.
Insell appears on the show under his drag stage name, Jimbo, and is just one of two contestants from B.C. on the Toronto-based program. He is set to watch tonight’s première episode at the Victoria Event Centre surrounded by friends and family, many of whom helped get him to where he is today. “My friends have always said: ‘If you’re on it, you’re going to kill it. You’d be perfect for this,’ ” Insell, who is originally from London, Ont., said with a laugh.
“Finally, when we had our own [Drag Race] in Canada, I dove at the opportunity.”
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Stacey McKenzie and Brooke Lynn Hytes (who placed second on RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2019) are the judges, and will put the contestants through a series of challenges, from lip-sync battles to runway competitions. The episodes were filmed several months ago, but participants are unable to talk about the results, having signed confidentiality agreements with producers. Insell said he felt very confident going into the show, having worked in various capacities in film and theatre, primarily as a costume and production designer.
“I used all the skills and resources and community that I’ve built here in Victoria over the years, as a professional production designer and costume maker. Luckily, I am friends with artists of a great skill level and we were able to put together something really impressive that really showcased my skills and my talents and what I am able to bring to the competition.”
Six of the participating queens are from the Toronto area, while another two are from Montreal. Insell wasn’t concerned with a regional bias heading into Canada’s Drag Race, having developed his abilities over years of performing as Jimbo. Being a trained clown with a university degree and having experience in the movie industry also helped, he would discover. Nearly half of the competitors were relative newbies under the age of 24.
“I was sort of a big mystery to everyone,” he said. “It took everyone a little bit to understand me and my point of view. I really liked that. I love surprising people.”
Jimbo is a well-known personality around Victoria — as is Insell himself. His quasi-legendary Chinatown studio is where he creates costumes for myriad film and theatre productions, and in April he put his skills to work in another area: making masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Insell, partner Brady Taylor and fashion designer Sarah Runnalls have sold hundreds of their non-medical masks during the pandemic, but have matched every purchase with a mask donation to someone living on the streets in Victoria.
Insell is part of a thriving and close-knit drag community in Victoria. Drag shows at the Royal Theatre and McPherson Playhouse sell out regularly.
“The Victoria drag scene is so diverse and so cool, because the performers and artists in this town have this incredible drive to showcase their art,” Insell said.
Canada’s Drag Race viewers will get to know Jimbo better as the series progresses, depending on how far Insell makes it in the competition. If he’s out early, Insell said he will still cherish the opportunity he was given. But should he win the title and the $100,00 prize? “I will take my winnings and my love and my platform and funnel it right back into what I love doing,” he said. “I will share it even bigger and wider with as many people as I can.”