Welcomed by the roar of more than a hundred in the audience, drag queens and kings took the stage at Drexel University’s fourth annual drag show May 29. The event featured Raven of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and students from Drexel and surrounding universities who showcased their skills through singing, dancing and lip-syncing along to songs in a variety of musical performances.
Although drag is typically associated with entertainers dressing and performing as the opposite sex, many of those who were involved in the event felt that drag carries a much more broad definition. Corey Collins, current Drexel student and drag performer, points to a quote from RuPaul, famous drag queen, for his definition: “We are all born naked, the rest is all drag.”
Collins, who is no stranger to the world of drag, performed both in a solo act and as part of an ensemble rendition of “The Cell Block Tango” from the Broadway musical “Chicago.” While he can now dance in heels with ease, he still remembers his humble beginnings in the drag scene. “I started three years ago. My friends from home and I had started watching RuPaul’s drag race and really wanted to try getting into it. We went to Applebee’s in drag, actually, Dragglebee’s,” Collins said.
Dalyla Mizani, a visiting performer, sees drag as her artistic medium. “I describe drag as an outlet. For me, it’s been escape from the real world, a chance to go out and be my true self,” Mizani said.
Though friends say she now has the confidence and dance moves to put many to shame, it was only recently through drag that Mizani came into her own. “I would say drag changed my life, if only because it gave me a sense of who I am. I was always wondering what I would be good at, what I needed to do, until I put on makeup and lipstick in the mirror one day and felt really comfortable.” Mizani explained.
“Later, through an internship, I found out that there were shows I could perform in, and after that, when people were coming up to me and congratulating me and saying they loved the performance, I finally felt like this was something I could do,” Mizani continued.
Mizani has spent much of her time practicing both alone and with fellow drag performer Kemar Jewel. Donning a beard and women’s clothing while performing, Jewel’s brand of drag is called “genderf–k,” and is meant to do more than just entertain.
“In my opinion, drag should either teach people about yourself or the audience, and for me, it’s about the audience.” Nowhere is this more evident than with his choice of song “Random Black Girl,” which he said uses comedy to prompt a very real discussion about the stereotyping that goes on in Broadway casting. “When I’m in character, when I’m lip-syncing, when I’m offering up attitude and sass, I can make people laugh, but I can also make people think along with it,” Jewel said.
“I always do numbers that people have never heard before, but also that make people think later on. In the moment, it makes them laugh, but I still want to make sure that I’m getting a message across,” Jewel explained.
Mizani and Jewel encourage those looking to get involved in drag performance to not be scared, but also to treat it with the same respect that should be given to any skill or art. “Just like with dance, just like with singing, just like with theater, it is a craft and an art, and should be treated like one,” Jewel said. “Pay homage to those who came before. Especially now with the Internet and YouTube, you have access to more information than ever. Be yourself, pick songs that make you happy, not make other people happy, and do your homework.” On being fearless with expression, Mizani offered this advice: “You don’t need a crown to be a drag queen. Feel free to get as messy or as pretty as you want. Don’t be afraid to get ugly, because it’s always going to get ugly before it gets pretty.”
Boasting 14 different performers, this year’s drag show was noted by many for both its scope and enthusiasm. Maxime Damis, a current graduate student who has been coming to the annual drag show since its early days, was quick to note how much has changed since the beginning. “There were probably about five times as many people here, which was amazing, plus so many new performers. It seems like it’s starting to finally become a big event here at Drexel, which means it’s only getting more and more exciting every year,” Damis said. Having been in attendance for past shows, Damis is familiar with many of the performers and was excited to see how they’ve grown. “I loved seeing the transformation of all my favorite Drexel queens from the first year I came to now. They’ve all become better performers and it’s awesome to see that.”
With the success of this year’s show now behind them, many of the performers are already looking ahead, excited to see what the future holds for drag.
“It’s already been branching in a hundred different directions: genderf–k, punk, all sorts of others,” Collins noted. Mizani agreed “I would love to see new types of drag. I want to see how far drag can go.”
Regardless of where the performance goes, many believe that the Drexel drag show will provide an ideal stage for future expression. “This was my first time, here on the Drexel drag scene, but I was very impressed with both the performers and the audience,” Mizani said.
Jewel was quick to agree that his favorite part the night was seeing so many people go on stage being themselves and receive so much support from the crowd.