Drag Show Stuns and Amazes
On Friday, April 26, students were nearly falling out of their seats in the RISD Auditorium to get the best views of the jaw-dropping theatrics at the legendary Brown/RISD Drag Show. High-energy techno music reverberated throughout the venue as cross-dressing kings and queens sauntered on stage to strut, stomp – and even do full-fledged splits – in hopes of winning over the adoring audience and acing the annual pageant.
“The drag show is really popular because it’s a much-deserved break from studio – even if only for a few hours,” says Ali Blake 14 TX, co-chair of RISD’s Queer Student Alliance and one of the organizers. “But people also look forward to the show every year because it’s a huge celebration. Students from RISD and Brown come together to enjoy a night of fun and fabulous.”
To get into character, some performers wore bejeweled stilettos; others donned pleather corsets and riding gear. One especially talented dancer wearing tie-dyed pants, towering wedges and a white face net appeared to be a cross between Bjork and a beekeeper, busy popping and locking.
“Every year students invest a lot of time in developing the look associated with their alter ego,” explains The Artist Formerly Known as Odyoncé, a RISD alum who won the pageant last year. “There’s stiff competition.”
But appearance is only part of what it takes to win. Each year the lovely participants are graded on a variety of factors including choreography, stage presence, props and “ability to werq.”
“The show is really different than anything else you might see at a bar on Saturday night,” notes William McLeod, one of the judges. “It's not just about falsetto singing or how you look. Great acts tell a story through live entertainment.”
Judges were especially blown away by a Brown student with a knack for high-kicks: B’Diva, who ultimately won the competition by showcasing a wide array of athletic dance moves choreographed to Dreamgirls by Beyoncé Knowles. “A queen is up in here!” shouted one of the show’s judges, Brandon Marshall, who teaches epidemiology at Brown. “You've shown that a true diva is more than the face and the make-up. It's about the performance.”
The audience was also wowed by the dance routine of a platinum blond who resembled one of Broadway’s most beloved drag queens: Hedwig of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Wearing a red dress, the entertainer leveled the audience while lip-syncing to pop songs by Britney Spears and Taylor Swift. “You made good use of the space and your dance moves are perfection,” McLeod told the performer.
In addition to providing a rollicking good time for the audience, the event supports a good cause. According to Blake, close to $1,200 in donations collected at the door was given to Youth Pride Inc., a nonprofit that supports the social, emotional and educational needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQQ) youth.
“Many of us who are members of the Queer Student Alliance experienced high school as LGBTQ students and allies, and relied on groups that provided the support of our identities in ways similar to Youth Pride, Inc.,” explains Blake. “We wish to show our solidarity with LGBTQ high school youth by providing support for their critical programming. And we got to do that through the art of drag.”