|"Jazzy J" pulls a tip out of an audience member's waistband.
Even before the doors opened, hundreds gathered in front of Ingle Auditorium. Expectant viewers poured in, quickly filling the room’s 507 seats; dozens were turned away once capacity was met. As the show started, the packed room roared to life as the performers danced, strutted and signed their way across the stage.
The RIT Gay Alliance’s (ritGA) fall drag show featured student performers, many adopting their personas on-stage for the first time. Students of all genders, sexualities, and gender expressions were on stage, donning the clothes of the opposite gender. Deaf and hard-of-hearing performers also graced the stage, with interpreters translating the songs and the bass turned up so everyone could enjoy the show.
“We strive for inclusion and familiarity,” said David Yip, a dual Electrical Engineering and Mechanical engineering graduate student. “We try to educate and share this rich part of GLBTA culture with everyone.” At the show, Yip was only known as Kandi Couture. She and Kiki Banana Hammock hosted the show, which included performers such as Grey Gorgeous, Ryder Knightley and James Bondage.
One of the more popular performances was that of Jerry Perry, a drag queen decked out in patriotic swim wear, Wonder Woman accessories, a cyan blue wig and pink balloon breasts that rained glitter. The man behind the drag is Jeremiah Sjoberg, a fourth year Advertising Photography major. He received the nickname “Jerry Perry,” based on Katy Perry during his time as resident advisor two years ago, and has been performing as Perry ever since. Sjoberg states, “As a freshman, ritGA meant so much to me.”
The crowd was invited to join the show, with two games having the audience bristling with excitement. One contest featured eight volunteers strutting to PSY’s Gagnam Style to find the fiercest in the crowd, while a banana-eating battle led to a slippery stage.
The top three drag queens and drag kings from the fall show will compete for the title of Mr. and Ms. RIT during the spring show.
The fall show is used as a fundraiser for ritGA, helping to pay for the spring show which features paid professional drag artists. Money this year will also help fund the North East LGBT Conference that will be held at RIT from April 12-14 next spring.
The drag shows were founded five years ago by RIT alumnus Matt Schwartz and Yip. They led other students on stage as Victoria Versai and Kandi Couture, though student participation waned as they felt uncomfortable challenging gender norms in front of a crowd. Schwartz and Yip brought in professional drag artists to help the students and to put them through “Drag 101.” Today, both drag shows are extremely popular annual events; the fall show featured 12 first time performers.
Twice each year, the performers tuck, tape, arrange and bind to show off for a night. As Kandi Couture said, “It takes a lot of time and money to look as cheap as we do.”