The elevator doors of the Tufte Production and Performance Center opened onto a mosh pit-like crowd of somewhere between 200 and 300 members of the Emerson community, all vying for one of 108 available seats for the enormously popular event "Dragtoberfest." A half-hour before the performance was set to begin, the lobby was so packed that entire elevators of people were turned away.
Many people said, as they were turned away from the door, that they were disappointed to find there were not enough seats available for the showcase.
With lavish choreography, raunchy humor and the click-clack of high heels, the Emerson Alliance for Gays, Lesbians and Everyone's (EAGLE) annual Dragtoberfest kicked off the 2005 Family Weekend. This year marked the first time the show had been promoted alongside Family Weekend. The drag show was one of the events planned by the student group to celebrate Lesbian and Gay History Month.
"I feel that EAGLE has done an amazing job putting on such a great event for our campus and community," said junior marketing communications major Michael Lucey, who performed.
Groups of viewers shut out from the Greene Theatre drifted in and out of the lobby to catch a glimpse of the decked-out performers on a small television monitor, with no audio, in the lobby of the theatre. "My son's in this one!" a father excitedly told the house manager.
In the wake of the homophobic graffiti on the door of a residence hall room last week, many members of the Emerson College community, families included, proved to be supportive of gay culture by embracing the cross-dressing performers. The audience was extraordinarily energetic, clapping along with the numbers and cheering the performers on.
Dean of Students Ronald Ludman wrote in an open letter to the Emerson community last Thursday, "The only way we can foster a welcoming and supportive environment for all people is if we challenge all acts of bigotry and incivility that may surface."
EAGLE Faculty Advisor Chad Bates said the show went well and that there was a lot of good talent this year.
"People are being very supportive of the gay community during their month," Bates said. "Emerson is a terrific and supportive community."
The Musical Theatre Society opened Dragtoberfest with a selection from its upcoming production of Hair. As the competition segment of the show began, the small theatre was filled with brightly colored lights and the music of Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and countless other pop divas. The music blared as performers of all shapes and sizes strutted their stuff in everything from men's suits to Victorian-style dresses. Each performer brought his/her own flavor to the show as he/she competed as the opposite gender for the title of Mr. or Ms. Emerson.
The fast-paced night of performances swept the audience up in a flurry of color, feather boas and outrageous make up. Some of the 14 performers chose to compete in groups while others flew solo. The audience sang along vivaciously to songs like Gwen Stefani's bananas-infused anthem "Hollaback Girl," while performers dipped it low, gyrated, stripped and attempted to impress and seduce the judges, which included SGA President Kirstin Daniel, a senior theatre education major, and Associate Dean of Students Sharon Duffy.
One of the numbers, set to Willa Ford's "I Wanna Be Bad," was performed by two roommates, freshmen writing, literature and publishing major Jeremy Savlen and marketing communications major Richie Nolan.
"I'd never performed on a stage before and now it's my first time and I'm in a skirt," Savlen said. He described the experience as "liberating."
Savlen revealed his outfit's secret, which consisted of a denim mini-skirt, black corset, denim crop jacket, leather boots, "tons o' makeup" and a string of pearls, saying that "rice in nylons do wonders" for fake breasts. The roommates said they did each other's makeup prior to the show.
Lucey, in the persona of "Miss Kimora Lee Diamonds," won the title of Ms. Emerson, performing to a dance mix of "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" by Kanye West, "1 Thing" and "Touch," both by Amerie, "Dirrty" by Christina Aguilera and "Lose Control" by Missy Elliott. According to Lucey, junior musical theatre major Kyree Miller, last year's Ms. Emerson, made the mix for him.
Lucey said that most of his preparation ended up taking place during the final week before the competition. "I spent about a month planning the kind of look and theme I wanted for my performance," Lucey said. "Once I did decide the 'Jennifer Lopez/I'm Latina' look, it took me about a week to pull my outfit together. And sadly, the week of Dragtober[fest] is when I actually purchased my apparel as well as made my dance mix. Overall, I wasted most of my time shopping, where I spent a ridiculous amount. In all, I was very last minute."
Lucey also suggested that next year EAGLE host the competition in the Semel Theatre, which can house slightly more than 200 audience members, to accommodate the demand for this event. According to Bates, such a plan is in the works.
"Compared to past shows, this year's was off the chain," Lucey said.
He continued, "Miss Giselle [Miller] did a phenomenal job hosting and the acts were very entertaining. And I can only hope that I can take the show to the next level when I host, and exceed that high standard that Giselle has set."