It’s Wednesday night, the Phoenix, sometime after 8 p.m. At the end of the bar, someone with a microphone calls out one of five letters followed by a number between one and 75. The host calls out another alphanumeric combo, and another and another—until at last, someone in the crowd stands and cries the tell-tale word: BINGO!
However, this is not the bingo your grandmother goes to at Club Italia on Sunday afternoons. Not at all. This is something different.
This is Bottomless Bingo.
What is Bottomless Bingo?
“It’s your new favorite night of the week!” Freeda Whales exclaimed. Freeda is the host of these events, held every Wednesday between 8 and 10 p.m. at the Phoenix; she’s also the brains behind them.
“Basically, Bottomless Bingo is drag bingo. We call it ‘Bottomless Bingo’ because we had intended for it to be some sort of really cool drink special where you pay your cover and get an unlimited drink supply—turns out that’s 100 percent illegal,” she said with a laugh.
“But the Phoenix was nice enough to offer a two dollar drink special. So the whole point is you pay five dollars at the door for cover—which supports your local queens—and then you make a donation to AIDS New Brunswick … and with your extra money, you buy beer!”
The idea was born out of some traveling she did through South Asia with her partner, where they experienced Thailand’s drag scene and were completely blown away by it.
“It was like nothing I’d ever seen,” she explained. “They were so committed to performing; they were so well-rehearsed and it was so inspiring, I thought: ‘I want to do that here.’”
Though Freeda was inspired, she was initially uncertain how she could best bring that quality back to Fredericton, since she is not a drag queen who is as interested in lip-syncing or dancing.
“I had been performing at Boom, but I wasn’t getting the satisfaction that I needed from being a drag performer. Something wasn’t connecting … That’s when I realized I am not a queen who is a dancer … A lot of queens are lip synch dancers, that’s their gig. I much prefer to ‘get my life’—that’s a drag term for ‘your gig’—I ‘get my life’ on the mic hosting.
“I mean, I do love to lip-sync, but it is a second love. I much prefer to just let my inner dialogue go—and that’s where my passion for getting this started came from. I realized: I wanna be hosting something. I wanna be on the mic. I wanna be doing something that’s getting a community together.”
It was Freeda’s partner, Hinky Dinky, who gave Freeda the idea to start the event.
“My partner said, ‘If you want to be hosting something, we should be hosting bingo.’ They used to go to it in Vancouver, and there are so many cities who have it all over, so I realized we could totally do that here! I messaged the manager of the Phoenix, asked, ‘Would you guys be interested in collaborating on this idea we have?’ And it went from ‘Yeah, we’re down,’ to it snowballing into reality because we had so much support to get it off the ground.”
Even despite their high hopes, the event has far surpassed Freeda’s expectations.
“We just started it and didn’t know what would happen, and it just blew up; it took off. We want it to be the best it can be, so every week we’re trying to step it up and step it up and step it up—and people keep coming.”
“We accept all.”
The event has allowed Freeda to foster and serve a sense of community here in Fredericton. So far, Bottomless Bingo has raised close to $4,000 for AIDS New Brunswick, and it all happens with as little environmental damage as possible: the bingo cards are laminated and participants mark their progress with reusable markers and rags. But the events also offer something valuable to those attending on an individual level.
“The biggest part of what we try to do is make sure people are having a good time,” Freeda says. And in having a good time, we want people to be themselves. The community we’re trying to facilitate is one that loves to have fun and loves to express who they are. Doesn’t matter their gender, or sexual orientation or expression of self—we accept all and that is the vibe we facilitate. It doesn’t matter who walks in or who is there; every single person is able to have a good time and to have a smile on their face.”
In creating this all-inclusive space, Freeda says she is helping the entire Fredericton community become more accepting—which it has not always been.
“I would say Fredericton definitely can be an inclusive city when people who may have never seen something like this before connect with someone like myself, who is doing something different.
“When I moved to Fredericton in 2009 there was nothing like this going on. The drag scene was non-existent. It’s something I’ve watched develop over the years, and I would say there have been times when it has not been an inclusive community; but since taking on Freeda full-time and trying to be more of a presence in the queer community, I have wanted to create an inclusive environment—and that’s exactly what we’ve done: we’ve created a spot where people can come and feel included and have a good time.
“Even though in general Fredericton might be kind of a question mark in terms of inclusiveness, what we’re doing at the Phoenix is 100 per cent always inclusive, always a good time.”
While Freeda works hard to build an in an inclusive community in a place that can be lacking it, she quickly brushed off the idea of seeing herself as a role model.
“I don’t know if I would use the term ‘role model.’I’m just trying to be more of an inspiration to people to ‘step up the pussy.’ If you want to do something cool, do it! If you want to organize an event that will help support a community in some way, and you want to do it in a really cool way, do it!
“That is the inspiration I’m trying to deliver, and if people are inspired in a way that they want to label ‘role model,’ cool, whatever, I don’t care. I’m just trying to be a mogul by doing something that has not been touched at all yet in Fredericton.”
The Future for Freeda Whales
The long-term future remains uncertain for Freeda. By her own admittance, she’s someone who cannot be tied down—but for the foreseeable future, she remains committed to fostering the community she’s helped build here in Fredericton.
She was very active in organizing several of this year’s recent Pride events and has several upcoming ventures planned at The Phoenix, including a Halloween haunted house. Her primary focus, though, is always to ensure people are having fun.
“I love to make sure people are having a good time, and if I can see ways that people are either struggling to have a good time or the potential is bursting to have a good time, how do I help you facilitate that? Let me get into it and let’s do it together—and that’s what happens when you come to Bottomless Bingo: you’re having fun.
“We wanna make sure every single person walking in to participate is having a great time, and it’s all in support of an organization who really needs our help and who really represents something in our community that we don’t necessarily always touch on but is present. We’re having fun and having a good time as a way to say: ‘Hey, we see you. You are a part of the community we want to support.’”
So for at least the rest of the year, Freeda will continue ensuring Fredericton is having fun by serving her community and hosting Bottomless Bingo. For now, the games are held weekly, but come November, when winter hits, they will become monthly. After all, as Freeda said: “Nobody likes to commit to something once a week in the winter … especially in full drag.”