On Friday night, hundreds of students gathered on Wilbur field for this year’s Dragfest, the largest campus drag event of the year put on by Neighborhood Hyperion (T) and the Stanford Drag Troupe. Before I settled down in a spot on the grass, I was caught in a swarm of excited audience members at the T-shirt stand. This same palpable enthusiasm remained strong for the rest of the night. With glow sticks, pride flags or food truck fare in hands, the crowd cheered and laughed throughout.
This year’s Dragfest was hosted by Shea Couleé, the Season 5 winner of VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,” and returning emcee DeJa Skye, a contestant in the 14th season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” In addition to members of the Stanford Drag Troupe, the show also featured professional drag artists such as Madd-Dogg 20/20 and Tenderoni, and even University administrators.
The two “Drag Race” alumni dazzled the crowd with tight dance moves and flashy garb. Couleé, donning a spiky blue top and metallic silver skirt, theatrically lip-synced to her original song “Material” while the music video played on the screen behind her. Skye glided across the stage in a flamboyant leopard-print unitard during her performance of “Treat Me,” doing splits and backbends that earned loud applause.
The performance by University administrators Persis Drell, Susie Brubaker-Cole, Mona Hicks and Jeanette Smith-Laws was likewise a hit among the student audience. The four danced to upbeat pop songs in suits with silvery collars, and Smith-Laws even had on an ’80’s-style white afro wig. My favorite bit of the number was when the four stylishly walked in a circle to the beat of Beyonce’s “Single La.” The quartet certainly enjoyed themselves, judging by their laughter as they walked off stage.
Solidarity in protecting LGBTQIA+ identity was the theme of the night. Drag Troupe directors Latke and Zz Chic opened the festival with a silent mourning of the death of members of the queer community nationwide.
“There are still states trying to get rid of our gay asses,” DeJa Skye exclaimed.
Another theme in Stanford Drag Troupe’s performances was racial diversity and cultural consciousness. Having attended all of the troupe’s shows in the past two years, I found this to be a new feature of Friday’s program. “Pachamama,” the goddess of the Andes, was central to Sparx Nevada’s number. At the end of Peking Dyke and Mooshoo’s delivery of “Old Town Road” as a Western-themed, kinky sexual display, the screen displayed “Asians have been here longer than cowboys.”
Among the numbers most beloved by students was Ariel Silks’ “I Did Something Bad.” The Taylor Swift song was an immediate hit, inviting audience members to sing along. Silks played the role of the Greek mythological woman Pandora, who opened a box after being forbidden from doing so and unleashed evils upon the world.
This number was as creative as it was well-executed. As Silks opened the box, the background scenery projected on the screen transformed into an apocalyptic battlefield, and Silks herself took off her gleaming dress and proceeded to dance on stage in a blood-smeared tank top. Her moves included swift cartwheels and impressive backflips. The juxtaposition of the Greek myth and the unapologetic pop song underscored the hypocrisy of men in blaming women for fallacies in human interactions.
Another standout lip-sync performance was “Bang Bang,” performed by Ariel Silks, Daphne Summers and Latke. The trio’s synchronized dance moves were a feast for the eyes, amplified by their costumes. Latke’s golden gown, with a cut-out front that revealed a tight-fitting silver dress underneath, went beautifully with her blonde, curly hair.
My only critique is that some details in performers’ costume and choreography got lost through the distance between the stage and the audience. When Mal Ishus performed “Big TV,” he made gestures with a chain, but it was hard to make out what the chain was or the moves’ significance. The pomegranate accessory on Miss Katonic’s hair as she embodied the Greek goddess Persephone could have made a wonderful sight in a more intimate theater, but it was hard to discern from Wilbur Field.
Despite the distance, many visual choices of the performers shined through, such as the glossy pants that resembled fish scales in St. Andrew’s mermaid-themed number.
Dragfest “slayed the house boots down,” as many fans of “Drag Race” might say. The sizable audience and their strong engagement illuminate the power of this joyful expression, and makes me excited to see what’s in store for future years.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.
A previous version of this article had incorrect pronouns for a performer and incorrectly described a performer’s actions. The Daily regrets this error.