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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex native has found success in the art of drag

Updated: Jul 26, 2018

Photo credit: Adam Zivo

by Sylene Argent

Essex native Jo Primeau has made a successful career for himself in Toronto as a drag queen, and recently experienced a once in a lifetime, surreal moment he will surely never forget.

  He was hired as his drag queen persona, Juice Boxx, to ride in the Crest Whitestrips float during the Pride Parade in Toronto. While headed down the parade route, a friend slapped his hand to get his attention and pointed to an upcoming digital billboard that was coming into site at Yonge–Dundas Square.

  The billboard displayed a photo of Juice Boxx from the recent Ikea marketing campaign that challenged participants to choose from a list of items to create a look. 

  “It was so cool,” the 29-year-old said of the experience.

  He had worn a dress he had made out of an umbrella by cutting a hole in the material and held another umbrella in the open position for the Ikea photo. He was proud to say to others, “yes that’s me” while on the parade float.

  Ikea had asked him to participate in the campaign. “It was amazing two days,” he said.

  In high school, Primeau said he was interested in theatre and got into playing with makeup. “I was always a really creative kid,” he said, which encouraged him to attend the University of Windsor to pursue a degree in fine arts.

  He later attended CMU in Toronto, which is private school offering an eight-month program that teaches fashion makeup, prosthetic design, and how to design creature creation.

  Primeau said attending the school was quick, but it was intensive. From there, he started working as a makeup artist in film and TV, where he got to meet a lot cool celebrities.

  He worked in film and TV as a makeup artist for around three years. “It’s a slow build. It’s long hours. I’d often start at 5 or 7 a.m. and would be there until midnight sometimes. It is a minimum 12-hour day.”

  He left the industry around five years ago to work at MAC Cosmetics in Toronto as an artist. He remained at MAC Cosmetics until recently, when he decided to do drag full time as his on-stage persona, Juice Boxx.

  “It was getting busy. The work was getting good. I had to ask myself ‘do I go to work at MAC or take these really neat opportunities,” Primeau said of the decision for the career change. “My husband sat me down one day and said, ‘quit MAC, see how it works.’ I’ve been full time drag ever since.

  “It was scary,” Primeau said of the career transition. “It was also nice to almost always say ‘yes’ to a job.”

  Three years ago, Primeau and a group of friends decided they were going to enter the annual Crews & Tangos Drag Race competition in Toronto, which took place every Sunday night over an eight-week duration. That first year, he placed fourth as Juice Boxx, which is what introduced the artists to drag.

  “I got bit by the bug. I started having fun with it,” he said, adding once he was signed up for the contest, he got a little competitive.  

  “I used to go out a lot,” Primeau said of his genesis in drag. “I was a little socialite. It was something I always saw. I was friends with a lot of drag queens. I was helping them get ready [for performances] as a makeup artist. I had just made a joke, we should do it just for one time.”

  Heading into the 2018 competition, Primeau quit his job at MAC, with hopes of putting all of his focus into winning. The risk paid off and his first-place win earned him a $5000 prize and trip to Aruba.

  Juice Boxx said, “The crowd really enjoyed me. I loved the attention.”

  In the recent past, Juice Boxx has made appearances on TV, including “The Goods” in Toronto. He has also interviewed on TVO about the influences of drag, the history of drag, and its sense of activism, which Primeau said helps to blur the line of male and female.

  “You can’t be shy [to do drag]. I find when you get into drag, you become a different person. When you get on stage, you have this different persona, this confidence exudes from you and you just show off,” he said.

  Currently, Juice Boxx has one permanent show a week, and could work up to seven nights a week.

  “I like to have a lot of energy. I like to give it 100 percent, whether its two people in the bar or 4000. There could be someone in the audience who needs the energy,” he said of getting on stage as Juice Boxx.

  Primeau said Juice Boxx’s persona took him a while to perfect. “I always wanted to be pretty. No matter what. Eventually, about a year-and-a-half in, I started wearing pink or lavender hair. I would only wear bright colours. Everything is very girly. It has to have a rhinestone somewhere. I flip my hair a lot, which ruins a lot of wigs.”

  As Juice Boxx, Primeau also loves incorporating cosplay into the act, sometimes. “It just depends on what the show needs. Sometimes, I can be creative [with it].

  Primeau’s husband helps make costumes for Juice Boxx. “When he’s got the time, he sits and plans for me. It’s his creative outlet. He’s my manager.

  “When I was in high school, I didn’t have big dreams. I think I just wanted to live in Essex and paint. For me that’s what I was planning, until I saw those opportunities,” Primeau said, who now does not like to think too far into the future. “I like where I am. I like to give myself a year of a flexible goal that coincides with husband’s goals to make it work.”

  Advice he gives for anyone who would like to find success as an artist is, “Find your own way and make it work. You have to do the research. If there is no market, make a market. Be the best. There’s a lot of people who think you can coast through it. You can’t be scared about moving, traveling. You got to find the need and go to it and create the need.”

  To those who may want to get into drag, Primeau said, “It doesn’t matter if you are a man or woman, you can do whatever kind of drag you want. Whatever you do, it should be good. You have to perform as much as you can. Have someone record your performance and critic it. Whatever you do should be excellent. The only thing people should want to see is you, [if not] you are not being captivating enough.”

  Primeau will take part in the upcoming Windsor-Essex Pride Fest, which will take place from August 8-12. He also has a few things in the works for what he hopes will be a really good 2019.

  Primeau can be followed on Instagram @Juiceboxxofficial.

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