Drag star Anita Wigl’it spreads kindness from down under to Davie Street

UBC alum Anita Wigl'it life's mission is to make people happy

Before she was a drag queen, Anita Wigl’it had a job that was, at times, “boring.”

Wigl’it, known out of drag as Nick Kennedy-Hall, was an usher at the Civic Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand and spent most of her shifts welcoming people at the door and showing them to their seats.

Patrons walked through the theatre’s foyer and under its domed ceilings, passing by intricate paintings and two life-sized Abyssinian panther statues — the theatre was ornate and its atmosphere electric, according to Wigl’it.

Some nights, once the lights went down and a show began, Wigl’it would slump into a red velvet seat in the back corner of the theatre to watch the patrons — and the show.

The first show she ushered was the Australian classic Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and little did she know that a seemingly normal shift would forever change her life. The then-twenty year-old saw something in that theatre that she had never seen before — drag queens on stage.

Disco music — “the catchy songs that we love,” said Wigl’it — filled the theatre. Performers clad in extravagant gowns that resembled emus, koalas and flip-flops occupied the stage and surrounded Wigl’it. But so did acceptance and celebration. Wigl’it said she “was seeing an audience so appreciative of an obviously gay musical.”

After seeing that, the now RuPaul’s Drag Race star Wigl’it knew she needed to try drag.

“It’s amazing for me to see that all these straight people come out to watch drag shows … and they come and they celebrate us and they love what we do and they’re so supportive of us, especially in this day and age,” said Wigl’it.

“Seeing that really inspired me to think ‘Gosh, that’s what I want to do.’ I want to be celebrated by people but I also want to have fun … and show them that gay people are just so amazing.”

Wigl’it’s first time dressed in drag was at that year’s Civic Theatre’s staff Christmas party, her second was her Priscilla themed 21st birthday party.

“A friend of mine … did my makeup for that because I wasn’t very capable of doing my makeup myself in those days. Some would say still,” Wigl’it said, laughing.

And a gig or two later, Anita Wigl’it was born.

Soon after, Wigl’it finished her bachelor of music in music performance and after auditioning, found herself with two grad school options — move to New York City to study at the Manhattan School of Music, or relocate to Vancouver and study at UBC.

In the end, meeting the music department head Robert Taylor and taking lessons with Larry Knopp, a music professor, helped Wigl’it seal the deal on UBC.

“They were just the most amazing people and not only were they lovely, they were also so talented,” said Wigl’it.

Knopp and Taylor played a part in influencing Wigl’it to relocate, but so did Vancouver’s rich Queer history.

“[Vancouver] was one of those gay-friendly [cities],” said Wigl’it. “So when I got accepted into the school, it was a no-brainer. I had to go to UBC.”

Wigl’it was excited to move to Vancouver but thought drag would have to take a backseat in her life while she focused on school. But, the self-described “embarrassingly good student” stumbled on a drag competition — Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar.

Wigl’it ended up winning.

“I applied and said ‘Hey, I’m from New Zealand ... I’d love to do a show,’ and they said yes. So I entered that competition. It was all week long,” said Wigl’it. “I was lucky enough to end up winning, which was amazing … because I won, I kind of just fell right into the drag career in Canada and Vancouver.”

She would spend “a lot of time” on Davie Street — Vancouver’s historically gay neighbourhood — working in the community’s clubs and “meeting some amazing people.” Here, Wigl’it fell in love with what she calls “the rainbow community” around Vancouver.

After graduating from UBC with a master of music in 2014, Wigl’it played the trumpet for the Royal New Zealand Navy Band while doing drag on the side.

She said her work with the Royal New Zealand Navy Band allowed her to work as a full-time musician, something she had worked toward her entire life. But, drag was taking over — “It was more fun, I had more opportunities and I was getting paid well for it,” said Wigl’it.

As a drag queen, Wigl’it said she could grow not only as a performer but also as a producer, director, make-up artist and host. So, she started to do drag full-time.

Since then, Wigl’it has occupied our television sets. She hosted House of Drag, a New Zealand reality drag competition television series produced by Warner Bros., with drag queen (and friend) Kita Mean.

Later, Wigl’it was approached by the producers of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under — a new show in the RuPaul’s Drag Race competition franchise — asking her to join the cast.

“I just felt so excited and ... so unaware of what was gonna happen, and I thought I could just give it my all and that’s all I could do. And so I did,” said Wigl’it about her run on the show. “I went on and I made a big impression, which is kind of what you want to do.”

After her 2021 run on Drag Race Down Under, where she placed eighth with one challenge win, she was approached by the producers of Canada’s Drag Race: Canada vs. the World asking if she wanted to compete again.

Going into Canada vs. the World, Wigl’it said she felt confident since she knew who she was inside.

“I never wanted to be one of those drag queens that goes on [Drag Race] and says ‘Oh, I’m usually much better than this. I don’t know what’s going wrong.’ And so I knew it myself that what I was doing was right,” said Wigl’it.

She also said that her style of drag — “more about the personality and about the stupidness” — might not have been what the judges of Canada vs. the World were looking for. Despite her performance on the show, which aired late 2022, she left with new fans and “got a lot of love for being myself.”

Here, Wigl’it placed seventh and was named the season’s Miss. Congeniality — a title given to the drag performer who emphasizes kindness during the contest — by her fellow contestants.

“I would have always been the same with or without the TV show,” said Wigl’it when asked if Drag Race changed her attitude toward drag. “I’ve always been truly nice to people, and try to make people laugh and entertain people first and foremost.”

Despite her humble — and “boring” — beginnings as an usher, guiding patrons to their seats and slumping into the worst seat in the house, Wigl’it has gone from down under to Davie Street, and all the way to Drag Race.

Watching Priscilla forever changed Wigl’it’s life. It made her want to become a drag performer, and the crowd’s acceptance for Priscilla then has made its way into Wigl’it’s performances now.

“My life’s mission through drag is to reach as many people and make as many people happy as I can ... I love to make people laugh,” said Wigl’it. “If I could go out and do that and give people escapism from their lives and the sad things that are going on … then I’ve done something right in the world.”