Catherine O’Donell | Staff Writer
On Friday, March 31, members of the St. Michael’s community packed the Dion Roy Room to watch both student and local drag kings and queens perform at the Friday Knight Dry Drag Show. Students and faculty beamed as they watched the performers lip sync, dance, and show off their elaborate ensembles. Organized by Common Ground and the Drama Club, the event was aimed at celebrating the queer community and establishing its place on campus, especially in a time when drag culture is being threatened in America.
Common Ground is the gender and sexuality alliance at St. Michael’s. Juneau Rich ‘24, president of Common Ground, described the club as a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community (and allies) to meet and connect. It is a prominent source of visibility for the queer community on campus through educational workshops, speakers, and other events throughout the year.
“We do events that get the queer word out on campus,” Rich said.
The Drama Club teamed up with Common Ground to help plan the show. Considering the historical overlap between drag and theater, Drama Club was eager to get involved.
“Drag is a performing art,” said Kenzie Rowbotham ‘24, Drama Club president. “It’s crazy how talented these queens and kings are with makeup and costuming. All of those elements are involved in the theater in some capacity.”
Rich said that Common Ground had been considering a drag show for a while, but this year they finally decided to bring their ideas to life. The club executive board reached out to local drag queens and kings, many of whom Rich had already seen perform. Emoji Nightmare, Jasper Kinetic, Prince Muffin, Rhedd Rhumm, and Sasha Sriracha were the local kings and queens to take the stage on Friday.
Rich explained that diversity among the performer lineup was a priority for the Common Ground executive board. “I wanted to make sure it was diverse, and multiple people were represented,” Rich said. “We have people of color, different body types, and also drag kings. I want to celebrate the kings as well.”
Justin Marsh, better known by their drag name Emoji Nightmare, was a performer as well as the opening speaker and host of the show. Emoji started the Vermont chapter of Drag Story Hour in 2017, a program where drag queens go to libraries and read to children.
Emoji has made it a priority to do drag story hour in every county of Vermont, especially in small towns like Cambridge, where she grew up. These towns tend to lack queer culture.
“It’s really important for [kids] to see themselves reflected, and know that their library is a place of inclusivity and safety and community,” Emoji said. “We can transform spaces, and I think that’s super important and all part of what keeps me doing all of this. Visibility is everything.”
Student performers were Juneau Rich, Jarrett Sweet ‘25 and Gryphon Rossi ‘24. The crowd went especially wild for the student performers, cheering loudly enough to overpower the music.
“I was definitely nervous, this was my first time in a drag performance,” said Rossi, who performed under the name Mythic Bitch. “But it was so fun. I would very much do it again,” Rossi said.
As an experienced drag queen, Emoji Nightmare understands the struggle to get into the world of drag performing.
“There’s not a lot of opportunity for people to kind of break out on the scene,” Emoji said. “There’s no guide to how to perform on a stage. Anytime there’s the opportunity for anyone to express themselves on stage… incredible things can be born from that.”
This was not the first drag show St. Michael’s had ever seen. The most recent was in 2020, a virtual drag show with professional queens and students performing through Zoom. In 2019, Emoji Nightmare did a performance on campus.
While drag has been featured at St. Michael’s before, Rich was concerned about getting the show approved because of the incorporation of burlesque, a type of performance with sexual undertones. Rich, who performed burlesque at the show for the first time, emphasized the importance of the style and the layers behind its sexuality. It is a way for one to appreciate their body. For the trans community, this is especially meaningful.
“I really wanted to do a piece about the trans body, and how it can be seen as sexy, how it can be seen as beautiful,” Rich said. “Today, so many people look at the trans body with disgust or confusion.”
Ultimately, there was no pushback from the St. Michael’s administration about the show.
“Our campus, despite the Catholic traditions that we have, is very accepting of all gender identities, sexualities, anything,” Kenzie Rowbotham said. “The ball is rolling, we want to keep it going.”
Still, Rich feels that the college’s support of Common Ground tends to be performative. They feel that social media and advertising for St. Michael’s neglects to highlight Common Ground until the school wants to appear more inclusive. With the drag show, Rich is hoping to send the message that Common Ground will not be ignored.
“We want to bring queerness into our Catholic institution and be like ‘we’re here, you can’t get rid of us, we’re here to be celebrated,’” Rich said. “Just like, celebrating queer joy and excellence on campus.”
John Devlin, a theater professor and advisor to the drama club, recognized that people on campus might oppose a drag show. While the event is consistent with the spirit of inclusivity St. Michael’s aspires to, not everybody reflects that accepting attitude. “I would ask them to give it time, to open their minds a little bit and consider why they oppose it,” Devlin said. “We’re all learning.”
Drag culture and queer visibility have been controversial in this political climate. This year, 16 states have introduced anti-drag legislation. Oklahoma, Texas, and Kentucky are among the states pushing for laws that criminalize queens and kings, outlawing drag performances on public property and in front of minors. Tennessee has passed a bill that bans public drag performance entirely, classifying it as a felony punishable by up to six years in prison. It will officially take effect in April. This legislation is a threat to drag culture and the entire LGBTQ+ community. Those involved in the Friday Knight Dry Drag Show felt it was important to give queens and kings a space to express themselves at a time like this.
“That outrage has made us more passionate about getting this done,” Rowbotham said.
Moving forward, Common Ground hopes to put on a drag show twice a year.