Gender benders hit the stage

Amaya Mann of Bloomington performs at the annual drag show at the Illini Union on Thursday, April 3. Erica Magda

Amaya Mann of Bloomington performs at the annual drag show at the Illini Union on Thursday, April 3. Erica Magda

By Annette Gonzalez

Drag show coordinators waited by a table for the crowd to arrive at the Illini Union on Thursday. The show was set to begin at 7 p.m., and the audience had yet to trickle in. Paula Urtubey-Fish, program adviser for the Illini Union Board, began to worry.

“I get nervous when people don’t come, because it’s a really good show,” Urtubey-Fish said.


photo DI multimedia


“Divas on Parade” hit runway

Click to view a slideshow.

Meanwhile, backstage in a dressing room area for performers, the sound of clicking heels and hairdryers, along with the strong scent of hairspray, flowed beyond the walls.

The dressing room floor was strewn with several suitcases overflowing with sparkly dresses, bright wigs, high-heeled shoes and bras. The performers huddled around a mirror next to a table covered with beauty products adding final makeup touches.

It was almost time for the show to begin, and the divas were running late.

The event is the Illini Union Board’s annual drag show, this year titled “Divas on Parade.” The show featured six performers dressed in drag, lip-syncing and dancing to a variety of audio clips. The performers had all acted in previous Union drag shows or perform at Chester Street Bar, 63 E. Chester St., Champaign, a LGBT bar.

Event coordinator Ambar Rizwan, junior in LAS and Illini Union Board director of progressive programs, said not many people know what a drag show is or have ever been to one.

“The show is a way to challenge other people’s ideas on what gender stereotypes are and bring it out in the open while having fun,” Rizwan said.

Slightly after 7 p.m., the white leather seats slowly began to fill.

Vanessa Prokuski, senior in LAS, and John Vericella, senior in Engineering, both sat in the front row. Neither had ever been to a drag show.

“It looks like a lot of fun,” Prokuski said. “I’ve always wanted to go to one on campus.”

Both Prokuski and Vericella said they saw the promotional posters around campus, which said the show would challenge gender stereotypes; however, Prokuski said she thinks it might not be able to do so.

“I don’t think it’s going to sway minds because it’s not going to bring people in that aren’t already comfortable,” Prokuski said.

Rizwan said while working on the show her ideas on gender were challenged, especially after seeing the performers.

“I think it changed the way I thought of how gender plays in with regards to sex and how you’re born versus how you feel on the inside,” Rizwan said. “These performers are expressing that in their own way.”

As the show’s master of ceremonies, Andre, “Amaya Mann” walked out on stage, the lights dimmed, and the crowd cheered. Most of the performers referred to themselves only by their stage names.

Eric “Kitty Litter” Glover got the crowd dancing to a variety of music including “I’m Every Woman” by Whitney Houston, as well as dance music. As she did cartwheels, splits and danced, the audience gave her a standing ovation.

“Kitty Litter” has been a performer for 13 years, holds three national drag titles and has participated in similar shows all over the world. She appreciated the crowd.

“I got some great feedback and respect,” Kitty Litter said. “What they give me I give right back.”

“Mona Monclair,” also known as the “First Lady of Champaign-Urbana,” was up next. She has lived in Champaign since 1986 and has worked at Chester Street Bar for about 20 years. Her first performance was simply called “Boobs.”

“You got to have boobs,” Monclair said. “Mine of course are foam.”

Another number she performed was called the “nasty mix,” which she described as a fairly dirty composition of jokes, dialogue and music.

“I wouldn’t do it at a birthday party,” Monclair said. “That’s what they (the audience) expect me to do, the filthy stuff.”

Monclair and Mann also performed together with a country theme. They both dressed in pink dresses with large bows in their hair and carried pink and black-feathered banjos.

Monclair has performed at several of the Illini Union drag shows. She said last year’s show was scheduled on Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day, so there was a small turnout. Monclair said in the first few years of the show, about 500 to 600 people attended, requiring the Union’s moveable walls to come down to make room.

This year, Urtubey-Fish said there were only about 120 people in attendance. Rizwan said the turnout was good considering it was a Thursday night, and the show was advertised the same week.

Monclair said there is more to the LGBT community than just “gay bars,” and the University helps show this by sponsoring events like the drag show.

However, one of the coordinators for the divas, “Kelasia Karmikal,” said the show was not as big as it was in the first few years, perhaps because promotions this year were posted late. She said she hopes promotional materials will be released earlier for future shows.

“I’m sure there’ll be one next year,” Rizwan said. “To the next director, I’ll definitely recommend it as something people enjoy.”

Monclair said she believes society has made progress toward accepting the LGBT community.

“There was time we could be arrested for this, and in some countries we still can,” Monclair said. “The fact that we’re here at a university putting on this show goes to show that there is certainly diversity in the world, and it’s come a long way.”