Wednesday, October 20, 2021

'I'm free with expressing myself this way': Drag stars talk MSU show

April 9, 2019

Michigan drag stars took center stage at the Michigan State International Center Saturday evening. Hosted by the University Activities Board, the event began with a panel that led to the main attraction.

Around 50 students attended the panel, which consisted of a slide show presentation and meet and greet with headliner Monique Heart, a contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race. The panel gave students the chance to learn more about drag culture and to engage in group discussions.

Once everyone was seated, the night began with glitz and glam. Sequin bodysuits, extravagant thigh-high boots, dramatic makeup and huge wigs filled the crowd and stage.

A couple MSU students were featured in this years show. One, whose drag king name is Oliver Woodstock, made sure their performance had a purposeful meaning.

“My first number was about what's going on with the country right now,” Woodstock said. “Because it is Sexual Assault Awareness Month I did 'In the Night' by The Weeknd as a tribute to any of those survivors out in the audience. For me, I thought it was very important to share that message with them.”

Drag queens Asio Aviance and Caj Monet, who both strutted the stage, noted the correlation between drag and theater.

“For me, drag started with theater — developing a character, being addicted to the stage and the spotlight,” Aviance said. “It's funny because even though I've been performing for 18 years, take after take, I still get nervous, excited and I think that the thing that helps to propel the confidence is knowing that I am emoting and expressing my inner self.”

Aviance, Woodstock and Monet all agreed stage presence is the heart of their performance and said it has a lot to do with their inner qualities and personas.

“I’ve only been doing drag for about a year,” Woodstock said. “I like to incorporate a lot of dance in my drag because I'm a trained dancer. I think Oliver is a friendly, happy-go-lucky performer. He isn’t super masculine all the time, sometimes he takes on a more feminine persona."

Aviance describes her persona as more of an edgy, yet friendly character while Monet is a pageant girl who enjoys lip synching.

Though these performers only took the stage for five minutes intervals, they spent months and countless hours preparing.

“Buying fabric, making your own clothes, stoning it, acquiring the jewels,” Aviance said. “It's such a production that it looks easy and I think that's when you know you got it good — when you can have it look that great and flow that great, but still make it look effortless because it's a lot of work.”

A misconception about drag culture is that all drag queens want to be women. Monet calls this a myth.

“Some people are transgender, they perform but a lot of us who live our lives as man, we just like to dress up and portray a different gender,” Monet said.

Despite the myths and expenses, the performers said drag culture has led them to a happier and more confident life.

“Being able to incorporate my dancing into my drag and explore my own gender with drag — combing the two has been wonderful art experience for me,” Woodstock said.

For anyone who wants to get into drag and doesn’t know where to begin, Aviance and Monet suggested a starting point.

“It’s like moving another person into your home," Monet said. "Caj is all through the house. She has her own room, but she's in the bathroom, my bedroom, the spare room, down the steps — she's everywhere. You have time to get ready for that chaos, you have one life.”

Aviance agrees with Monet on this analogy.

“One of the things I definitely believe that keeps me sort of fine-tuned and evolving is my gift makes room for me," Aviance said. "I say that so loosely. But the reality of it is, these opportunities come to me because I am free with expressing myself this way.”

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