By Thomas Publow
Adrianna Exposée stares into a vanity mirror as she applies glue to her eyebrows. Behind her, a rack of colourful outfits, some sheer and feathered, others satin and fringed, sit next to three shelves that hold white mannequin heads topped in wigs of different styles. The beige wig cap she wears is covered in double-sided tape to help keep a wig on her head during her performance tonight.
The mirror bounces fluorescent light off of her face and bare torso as she transforms from Ronny to Adrianna Exposée. At 22, she is one of Ottawa’s premier drag performers.
Exposée’s life has been tethered to drag since she was a child. Growing up in Oakville, she recalls a pink dress becoming a wardrobe staple, her mom often finding her wearing it when picking her up from daycare. As she got older, that pink dress became one of many forms of gender experimentation for Exposée. She recalls an obsession with Cinderella and the TV series “Totally Spies,” as well as wearing makeshift towel wigs for lip-synching mirror performances to songs by artists like Britney Spears and Beyoncé.
All of this would eventually culminate in her first performance in full drag. While in her final year of high school, Exposée performed at an open stage that a drag queen was hosting at Sheridan College. She made her debut in stretchy jeans, a sparkly-white bra from Value Village and a borrowed pair of her friend’s nine-inch black platform heels that were two sizes too small.
“I was hobbling on the stage and barely doing it,” she remarks with a grin. “But it was so much fun, and from there, it just kind of started snowballing.”
Exposée attended her prom in full drag, a last-minute decision prompted by one of her friends nominating her for Prom Queen. She wore a pair of six-inch stilettos and a black Spandex catsuit. “I ended up winning,” she says under a laugh. “That was kind of iconic.”
After leaving Oakville to study in the University of Ottawa’s undergraduate honours translation program, Exposée had difficulty getting her footing in the city. It wasn’t until she entered and won her first competition at Ottawa’s Mercury Lounge nightclub that she managed to make the connections necessary to book shows.
In 2018, Exposée entered Ottawa’s biggest drag competition, the Capital Pride Pageant, part of the city’s Pride Week celebrations. She was runner-up. “That was something that really got my name on the map,” she remarks. “I was just a queen who showed up and was rough around the edges, and here I had the chance for people to see where I could be (eventually).”
Finishing second gave her the momentum needed to dominate the city’s scene in 2019 and win the title of Miss Capital Pride at that year’s pageant. That’s when Exposée knew she was doing something right.
As she puts blue-coloured contact lenses over her eyes, Exposée readies for her first in-person performance since the province-wide lockdown began in December. She is making her return at the Lookout Bar in Ottawa’s Byward Market this snowy February night, following strict capacity and social distance guidelines that adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.
“Do you think I should go tan tonight?” Exposée asks while smoothing two different shades of concealer on her chest. “Oh yeah! Deep tan it is, baby.”