By MEREDITH JENNINGS
The room was pitch black, the audience on the edge of their seats. A disembodied voice cut through the darkness. “C Minor! Put it in C Minor.”
As the first notes of Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero” began to play, senior Erin Shaw, president of People for the Rights of Individuals of Sexual Minorities (PRISM), appeared, illuminated by a spotlight on center stage. She had transformed into a perfect impression of Fairy Godmother from “Shrek.” Shaw danced and lip-synced along with the song – a strong replication of the iconic scene.
Shouts and applause immediately erupted in the audience as she hit the chorus and the lights pulled up to reveal the rest of PRISM’s club leadership in their own costumes. With every member of the “Shrek” cast now on stage and the audience clapping along to the beat, PRISM’s annual drag show officially began.
Shaw said that the drag show is PRISM’s biggest event of the year, and it requires a lot of work to put together. Shaw was able to secure the talents of Tatianna, a famed drag performer known for her appearances on the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the second season of RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race.
After seeing that JMU students were able to have Tammie Brown, a fellow RuPaul’s Drag Race star, Shaw was sure that a high profile performer could come to UMW as well. Because Tatianna is a Falls Church native and lives and performs in the D.C. area, Shaw knew that she would be the performer to contact.
“We reached out last fall, and it was great because Tatianna was even looking forward to performing on a university campus,” Shaw said.
Drag has a rich history and culture. These types of performances were always a part of American culture, as there were still famous drag balls in the 1980s. It was during this time that members of the LGBT community banded together to form their own families since they were spurned by their biological family. Drag balls were social events that brought people who were on the margins of society together and provided a form of joyous entertainment unmarred by societal expectations of gender and sexuality.
“I think drag is a key part of the LGBT community,” Shaw said. “Drag queens, and in particular drag queens of color have always been at the forefront for our movement when we consider events like Stonewall.”
During the 1950s and 60s, the LGBT community was facing persecution through the various laws that were in effect at the time. Very few establishments were welcoming to the community, so bars like Stonewall were targeted by police raids because they knew they could easily arrest its patrons. Tensions between the New York City police and the gay residents of Greenwich Village erupted into protests the evening of June 28, 1969.
From the Harlem Drag Balls of the 1920s to shows on campus, drag racing has always been about having a safe place to show off and explore one’s expression of gender.
When Tatianna emerged on stage, the screams in the room were deafening, nearly drowning out the first notes of “Focus” by Charlie XCX. She was clad in thigh high silver boots and a sparkly emerald green bodysuit. Between her dance moves she peppered in personal moments as she moved from the main stage and walked in between the rows and rows of audience members.
Drag etiquette for live performances dictates that attendees give tips, and as she collected them all up with smiles and winks, she was getting ready for a mind blowing move. Taking all the dollar bills in her hands she threw them over head and dropped backwards to the sheer delight of the audience.
“I am extremely proud of how the show went, we had a packed house and every performance was excellent,” Shaw said. “Tatianna was definitely a big factor in our ticket sales, but UMW students are also just excited about the art of drag. Since it’s becoming more mainstream, more people want the opportunity to go to a real drag show, and many can’t access them due to transportation, money or time. Having the opportunity to come to our show is really special.”
Senior Jesse Thorne had nothing but positive reviews for this year’s performance. She has been to other drag shows in previous years, but she said this one was truly something memorable. Thorne has been a big fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race since high school and mentioned how she was impressed that PRISM was able to get someone so famous to come to campus.
“It was amazing, everyone was having so much fun,” Thorne said. “I really loved the opening specifically since the e-board members really got into this year’s theme.”
Tickets were completely sold out by time the show rolled around. Some people even paid extra for a VIP pass to meet Tatianna. Not willing to pass up such an opportunity, Thorne knew she had to go.
“I was starstruck when I got up to go meet her,” Thorne said. “I couldn’t believe she was real.”