Uniting Pride hosts Canopy Club’s first drag, burlesque show


James Hoeck

CJ Brown, also known as Karma Carrington, performs to music during Uniting Pride’s drag show at Canopy Club on Thursday. Brown opened up about drag as well as how it has assisted towards them experimenting with their gender identity and stage performance.

By Jessie Wang, Contributing Writer

The Canopy Club hosted a drag and burlesque show on Friday night for the first time ever, bringing together Champaign-Urbana residents, the LGBTQ+ community and University students.

Part of Uniting Pride of Champaign County’s Pride Fest, the event featured a variety of performances and drew in big crowds. 

Last year, Uniting Pride hosted a burlesque party at a smaller venue. However, the popularity of the event propelled the organization to seek a larger venue — The Canopy Club.

The show began with a VIP meet and greet with the performers, dressed in bedazzled outfits, knee high boots, suits and more. The performance itself kicked off an hour later, with Uniting Pride’s dance team dancing to a series of pop beats — including hits by Lil Nas X and Doja Cat. 

While some drag performances were high energy and engaging, others were soulful and intense. The performers danced and lip synced to songs including “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles, an adaptation of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and “Get Outta My Way” by Kylie Minogue. 

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Some performers, to the enjoyment of the crowd, also opted to dance up and down the aisles to interact with audience members. 

One of the performers, CJ Brown, whose stage name is Karma Carrington, describes drag as enhanced gender presentation and said that it doesn’t necessarily have to be gender bending. 

“Like all art forms, or even just societal constructs, drag is ever changing,” Brown said. “Now that RuPaul’s (Drag Race) is so big and so mainstream, (it’s) changing very rapidly.”

Brown said that they began doing drag about six years ago as a creative and authentic outlet. They got their start at Chester Street Bar, a local LGBTQ+ bar in Champaign County that closed down in 2017. 

“It helped me experiment with my gender identity and presentation,” Brown said. “When I express myself, I have found my shows are better.” 

Another performer, Jacob Sanders, echoed Brown’s sentiment. Sanders is a graduate student studying communications and their stage name is Just Sue. 

“Whether it’s femininity or masculinity or some kind of mix of both, you’re performing gender and you’re creating a character,” Sanders said. 

According to Sharika Kottapalli, sophomore in LAS, the crowd’s energy only grew throughout the night.

“For my first time going to a drag show, I thought the experience was great,” Kottapalli said. “The audience only got more energetic as the night went, and the atmosphere was very welcoming.”

Nicole Frydman, the director of operations at Uniting Pride, said the organization advocates for the equality and visibility of the LGBTQ+ community in Champaign County and was founded in 2007. 

“Pride Fest has been around for 13 years and it was started by a dedicated group of volunteers,” Frydman said. 

According to NBC, state legislatures proposed a record-breaking 238 bills to limit the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans in 2022. 

“An organization like mine always wishes that we would put ourselves out of business,” Frydman said. “That means there’s no more need left for the kind of work that we do.”

They said that because Champaign County is a college town, and a lot of people leave for the summer, the organization chooses to do most of their pride programs in the fall. In addition to Pride Fest, Uniting Pride does other events such as educational training, social groups and support groups. 

However, Frydman also provided a reality check amidst the excitement. The first Pride, Stonewall, was a response to violence and abuse against the queer community perpetrated by police, society and institutions, she said. 

“As we’ve made progress as a community, as a society, we’ve definitely embraced celebration of that progress as part of pride,” Frydman said. “But Pride is not just a celebration, it’s a continued call to action.” 


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