The University Program Board (UPB) Drag Show has been a longstanding Chapman tradition for the past nine years. Students crowd into Argyros Forum ready to watch the art of drag: high kicks, rhinestones, colored wigs, death-drops, lip-synch battles.
Fans say it’s one of those things you have to see in person to believe it.
Unfortunately, that just didn’t happen this year. For the 10th anniversary show, Zoom took over.
Meaning: Instead of throwing one-dollar bills at your favorite drag queen in Argyros Forum, February 12th, 2021 was a night of Zoom links, overflooding the “chat” function, and virtual bingo with RuPaul’s Drag Race legend, Alyssa Edwards.
So different that some students chose to sashay away from the annual event. Even many of the former artists.
Bradley Brooks, the UPB special events and traditions director, has been involved in the planning, hosting, and execution of the annual drag show for the past three years. He is, in essence, one of the masterminds behind the bright lights, lip synch battles, and the unforgettable Ru Paul’s Drag Race alumni performances.
“I kind of had to step back and look at what virtual events even mean,” Brooks said. “Originally, a lot of people were like ‘oh, virtual events! Just try to match it to what the actual event is!’ When, in reality, virtual events are so different, you can’t even really compare them.”
With COVID restrictions, Brooks and the rest of UPB chose to do something a bit different. The idea of “drag bingo” sparked inspiration within UPB. Drag queens? Announcing bingo? You don’t really see that every day.
However, due to the less traditional drag bingo format, there were no real drag performances. Not from famous queens or even student drag performers.
Instead of attending, junior Kaila Mann decided to have a movie night with her roommates instead: “I’m sure that it wasn’t as great online as it is in person, just because the energy of the crowd and seeing the drag queens in person is such an experience.”
Senior Carley Gaedke (remember their name, it’s important) still chose to attend this year’s drag show, despite its virtual setting. To them, a queen as fierce as Miss Alyssa Edwards was just too good to miss.
As one of the few “queer-spotlighted” events on campus, the UPB drag show has served as a platform for student drag performers. For most of them, it was a means of self-expression, a way to go beyond the gender binary and explore the constructs of sexuality and gender.
It is the ultimate Hannah Montana, double-persona fantasy.
Remember Carley Gaedke? Meet their drag persona: Peachy Kween.
“I’ve been doing drag for around three years now,” Peachy Kween said. “I’ve always loved theater, makeup, and performing in general! Drag was the perfect culmination of all of those things, and once I realized it was something I could do, it just became the thing.”
For the 2019 and 2020 shows, Peachy Kween graced the stage with impeccable makeup, costuming, and lip-synching skills. However, due to the pandemic, the queen’s chance to perform in front of a live audience was gone for this year’s show.
Although Peachy Kween has been actively sharing sickening looks on Instagram and TikTok, nothing can compare to a live performance.
“You really can’t replicate that energy over the internet. And it’s something I really miss.”
Nikki Reifler (Chapman ‘20) had been doing drag since high school and hosted the annual UPB drag event in 2020. His persona, Skunky Sweet, was a staple at past drag shows at Chapman. Prior to COVID, Nikki had dreams of professionally pursuing drag. However, due to the closure of venues, Reifler decided to put his professional career as a production designer first.
“I’m kinda like a drag recurring background character…for now,” Reifler said.
Skunky Sweet and Peachy Kween weren’t the only performers who missed the spotlight this year. Junior Jacques Stevens, or Ride M. Cowboy, was also sad to miss the annual event. As a “drag king,” Ride M. Cowboy was able to expose many Chapman students to the drag subculture through their performance. But even more than that, it was a way to embrace the queer community at Chapman. And while queens and kings haven’t been able to perform, there is a light amongst the darkness of an empty stage.
“It was way more awkward filming myself doing drag in my bathroom,” said Ride M. Cowboy.
Jimmy Elinski, a Chapman senior, praises the UPB drag show for being an important event to highlight the LGBTQIA+ community on campus:
“It’s something that says, ‘Hey! We’re here and we’re louder than you think.’ It’s a reminder that gay culture is present and more impactful than ever.”
As a result of COVID lockdown and quarantine boredom, Elinski was inspired to explore drag as a hobby: prompting the rise of the gag-worthy Missile Anneous.
“The only performances that I’ve ever done have been for my roommates after I get ready and dress up,” said Missile Anneous. “I make them sit in the living room and I dance for them. They love it. I love it. It’s a win-win.”
With nightclubs, LGBTQIA+ bars, and drag bars shut down for the foreseeable future, student drag performers are still finding ways to rise and make themselves seen during a time of darkness.
“It opened up a safe space for people to come and enjoy queer culture and maybe break out of their comfort zones a little,” Peachy Kween said in regards to the annual UPB show. “While I believe there is always more we can do in terms of representation, I think the UPB drag show was a great stepping stone for us as a community.”
In terms of Chapman’s drag future, things are looking a little brighter thanks to some insider tea: Bradley Brooks and the rest of the UPB team aren’t giving up on highlighting student drag performers this year (safely, of course).
“We’re still kind of toying around with the idea of doing a more traditional drag show,” Brooks said. “But that’s just some, like, insider tea. Or whatever.”
As of Mid-March, UPB still has no 2021 live drag performance on its schedule.
Until then, Chapman’s drag performers will continue to vogue, strut, and sissy that walk in a less traditional (and less fabulous) space. Whether it’s through social media, online performances, or simply just for friends in your living room (or bathroom, if you’re Ride M. Cowboy), the Chapman drag community will only continue to bring the joy, the “lewks,” and the spotlight on Chapman’s queer presence.