Update (Oct. 15, 8:17a.m.)
Facial transformation is all about highlights and lowlights, and the world of drag is no different. This year’s Dragtoberfest was all about transformation as the drag kings and queens in the fiercely fabulous competition gave new meaning to the word “contouring”—highlighting their personalities, talents, and passions, and lowlighting convention and conformity.
Organized by E.A.G.L.E., or Emerson’s Alliance for Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone, the event welcomed an audience of over 40 people into the Cabaret last Friday for a night of high heels and high expectations.
Taking the stage
Dominique Carrieri, a junior performing arts major and the co-president of E.A.G.L.E., said having the event at the start of October is a great way to kick off Queer History Month.
“The general theme of Queer History Month is ‘Back to Our Roots,’ so what we really want to do with this event is to touch back onto the really inspiring, captivating element of drag,” Carrieri said. “We want to show the creative process of drag—so the makeup, costumes, creativity, and most importantly, the passion behind it.”
From the moment Lucille, the host of Dragtoberfest, stepped onto the runway, the artistry behind her heavy makeup and sultry dancing was clear. Lucille is the drag persona of senior performing arts major Duncan Gelder, who said he has developed her personality since he was a child.
“I’ve always loved makeup and costumes,” Gelder said. “It’s funny, when I was four or five years old, I was all about being Dorothy from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ My mom was very supportive and she asked if I wanted to be a woman, but I decided that I really just like dressing up like them.”
Lucille began the show by strutting down the runway while lip syncing to “Circus” by Britney Spears. She wore asparkly ringmaster's jacket, a bright red wig, and a sassy smile.
“Lucille is all of my feminine aspects amped up to 15,” Gelder said. “She’s beautiful, or she thinks she is, and her whole thing is that she thinks she’s amazing, when in reality she’s just a trainwreck. That’s where a lot of her humor comes from.”
What spurs the drive for drag
Dragtoberfest participants consisted of both drag queens and kings. The Heauxnas Brothers, Killer Kyle, Mitchell Van Dike, Phoebe Saint-Jefferson, and Cash all competed for the crown. After Lucille welcomed them onto the stage, contestants were judged on their choreography, lip sync abilities, and the originality of their performance.
The E.A.G.L.E. executive board had each contestant make a five minute video explaining why the competition was important to them.
“We want to personalize the experience so that people are not just watching the contestants do drag, but they are meeting them and learning about why they want to do it as well,” Carrieri said.
The competitors in Dragtoberfest each had a unique reason to participate in the show, whether they wanted to break down gender barriers, slip into an entirely new personality, or simply fascinate an audience.
Gelder, who performs as a paid queen outside of Emerson, said that snagging a chance to perform in the drag world can be challenging.
“Once you step out into the clubs and the runway shows, everyone is so professional all of the time, so it’s really important to have an event where anyone can come and start to get their feet wet,” Gelder said. “I think the only way to get better at something is to actually do it.”
Gelder’s sole fellow queen for the eve, Phoebe Saint-Jefferson, ultimately won the competition. Phoebe is the drag persona of Devin Francis, a sophomore visual and media arts major.
“I like not having an exact plan until you go out there so you can interact with the audience,” Francis said.
Phoebe opened her routine by lip syncing to “No Pants Policy” by Leslie Hall.
“I picked my song because it’s dorky and fun,” Francis said.
The competition’s judges were Sharon Duffy, interim dean of students; Tikesha Morgan, director of multicultural student affairs and GLBTQ student resources; and Hamad Al Badi, a junior marketing communication major. The judges chose Phoebe as the winner for her graceful composure, which she demonstrated both as she sashayed onstage in her silver heels and as she answered questions during the audience Q&A.
Not just a queen’s scene
Christopher Serwacki, the assistant director of alumni engagement and special events and the faculty advisor for E.A.G.L.E., said that the diversity of the contestants made this year’s event unique.
“We have so many drag kings as well as queens who are a part of the program this year, which distinguishes this year’s Dragtoberfest from those of the past,” Serwacki said.
Nydia Hartono, a former Beacon staff member, portrayed Nick Heauxnas of the Heauxnas Brothers, a parody of former pop rock trio, the Jonas Brothers. The junior visual and media arts major said that it was her first time ever performing drag.
“I’ve been to every single Dragtoberfest since freshman year,” Hartono said. “It was definitely something I wanted to get into because a lot of my friends were doing drag, and it seemed like an amazing community to be a part of.”
Hartono said that women channeling male energy is ignored in society, especially in theater and film.
“You see a lot of male actors portraying women… since Shakespearean times,” Hartono said. “The opposite isn’t common.”
Peri Lapidus, a junior visual and media arts major, performed as Hoe Heauxnas. She said that not having to act like a woman was liberating.
“We got to act more goofy, we were joking around more,” Lapidus said. “Being ‘manly’ felt slightly empowering, with the whole power stance—standing with your shoulders back, very big and loud and boisterous.”
“It was our one hour of privilege,” Lapidus said.
Regardless of who the acts are composed of, Gelder believes the goal of Dragtoberfest is to promote the understanding of drag culture at Emerson.
“Drag is important,” Gelder said. “It’s fun, but it also forces you to start to question things like gender roles and identity. Lucille is Lucille, but there are also aspects of me. Drag can seem scary at first, but I want to show people that you can break up gender roles and still have a good time.”
Arts editor Mark Gartsbeyn contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the name of Duncan Gelder's drag persona, Lucille, as Lucille Lovely, because of a misprint in the event program.