Drag show puts expression and individuality on display

During pride week, Herberger students and special guest Joey Jay from RuPaul's Drag Race performed a drag show for in-person and online attendees

Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts hosted its third annual drag show during ASU's pride week from April 5-11. With student performances and special acts, the show was a celebration of community and love, all while being COVID-19-safe.

With limited in-person attendance, the show with the six performers Thursday was live streamed through Twitch. The show itself has been part of ASU's pride week events for four years but was canceled last year due to the pandemic.

"My freshman year, when I started here at ASU, I went to RainbowFest and was like, I want to do a drag show," said Black Dahlia, returning host and performer who is currently a senior studying theater. "They were like, 'We do have one, just no one signed up this year.' And I was like, 'OK b----, I'll host it, coordinate it, and perform in it.'"

Black Dahlia opened the show with an absolutely electric performance of "Just Fine" by Mary J. Blige. Donning an attention-grabbing coral outfit with stiletto latex boots, Black Dahlia started this year's show with a bang. 

"I loved everything about Black Dahlia," said Julia Schubert, a freshman studying music learning and teaching who attended the show. "She was gorgeous inside and out. She did so well keeping us entertained. I could feel the genuine personality radiating off of her. It was everything, truly."

Next on stage was Sean Schuljak, who goes by Lady Fall, with a bold performance and an even bolder outfit. Wearing a hand-sewn dress made from ASU bandanas, Schuljak, a freshman double majoring in theater and fashion, showed pride for both the University and drag community. 

"Drag is a huge form of expression for me. I'm very over the top," Schuljak said during a Q&A session after the performances. "I'm a crazy personality in and out of drag. My favorite part about doing drag, I think, is the wigs. I love doing crazy hair. I feel like when I put the wig on I get a whole new personality."

Entering the stage with pop-punk flair, Bae le Stray amped up the show with "Misery Business" by Paramore. The leather outfit and platform shoes made their performance bigger than life, commanding attention and giving attitude. 

"I probably stayed in the closet until I was like 21, so when I finally came out, I was like 'I think I'm just gonna be full on gay,'" they said. "And I saw the drag queens and knew that's what I wanted to do."

While this drag show was a first for many members of the audience, drag enthusiasts were ecstatic to hear there would be a special performance from Joey Jay, who is from Phoenix and is on season 13 of RuPaul's Drag Race

Her performances, especially to "Toxic" by Britney Spears, were mesmerizing — the star power was felt heavily in the audience, and the incredibly intricate outfits added a whole new level of awe. 

"I feel like drag in the last handful of years has really been transforming and changing, and I think it's so cool to watch," Joey Jay said during the Q&A. "Literally anyone can do it, you can be whoever you wanna be, if you want to have an alter ego you can do that. For me, I feel it's like its not an alter ego — it's like an amplified version of myself. Drag makes me feel really good. That's what it is to me."

After in-person performances from the queens, the show's spotlight turned to the drag kings, who gave their performances virtually. Fly-Guy Shawn took the stage first, performing a powerful number to "This is Me" from "The Greatest Showman."

For Fly-Guy Shawn, drag is about defying stereotypes. Dressed in layers of clothing painted with insulting words, Fly-Guy Shawn shed each layer throughout the performance to symbolize individuality and self-expression.

Tina Daquilante was next on the virtual stage, performing to "Short Kings Anthem" by Tiny Meat Gang and blackbear and showing off high production value. Tina Daquilante's act was arguably the most humorous of the night with comedy bits centered around those under 5 feet, 8 inches tall.

With second acts from the drag queens following the drag king performances, the energy of the show never halted. Audience engagement and witty monologues from Black Dahlia made the experience feel personal and real, bringing a sense of normalcy to in-person events that have long been considered a foreign concept. 

"The show definitely exceeded my expectations," Schubert said. "The performance is so much more in depth than walking around and singing — it's an art. You have to have that stage presence, you have to reach out to your audience to let them know 'This is who I am, and I am inviting you to look at who I am and be yourself with me.'"

While the show was an opportunity for entertainment and celebration of RainbowFest at ASU, drag is much greater than this singular show. For the drag queens performing, it provided them a community when they felt they didn't fit in anywhere else.

"Drag for me was a 'yes' when society said 'no.' Growing up as a queer Black kid, when it came down to compartmentalization, there wasn't a place for me to fit," Black Dahlia said during the Q&A. "When it came down to drag, drag for me was not only an extension of myself as a performer but it truly was that moment when I got the 'yes' I had been looking for."


 Reach the reporter at jecote@asu.edu and follow @jillianecote on Twitter.

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