Illini Union hosts drag show

Kelasia+Karmikal%2C+a+drag+queen+also+known+as+Kenneth+Johnson%2C+performs+her+second+piece+at+the+Illini+Union+Board+Drag+Show%2C+held+Thursday%2C+March+13%2C+2014.+Karmikal+organized+the+show+with+the+board.

Kelasia Karmikal, a drag queen also known as Kenneth Johnson, performs her second piece at the Illini Union Board Drag Show, held Thursday, March 13, 2014. Karmikal organized the show with the board.

By Alex Swanson

Kenneth Johnson has attended drag shows since he was about 15-years-old. He himself performed in his first serious show on his 19th birthday.

Now, Johnson performs two or three times a month, usually locally, and he also performed in New York for an AIDS benefit show last November.

On Thursday, Johnson took to the stage at the Illini Union Board Drag Show as Kelasia Karmikal, his show name.

Several drag queens, including Karmikal, and one drag king, performed for the IUB Drag Show. The music was mostly pop, and the audience was encouraged to move from their seats to tip the performers with dollar bills.

The queens all performed in costume, usually sparkly ones, and often had fishnets and heels as well.

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Throughout the show, audience members were on their feet tipping or dancing, and the drag queens came through the aisles, occasionally sitting on audience members’ laps or kissing them cheek to cheek.

Also sitting in the audience was Johnson’s brother.

“It’s really cool being able to have family support because I know a lot of my friends’ … families, don’t even know they do drag,” said Johnson. “And they’re, like, 40-years-old or 50-years-old, and it’s a big secret.”

Drag is commonly associated with transgender, bisexual, gay or lesbian performers. But performing in drag in no way categorizes one’s sexual orientation or gender identification.

Johnson spoke to another incorrect assumption about drag.

“The misconception would be that we want to be girls,” Johnson said. “There are some people that are born in the wrong bodies or do want to have surgeries to alter their looks … But there are some of us who like the pure entertainment value: doing the hair, doing the makeup, mixing the music, making the costumes, and that’s what I do it for.” 

On average, it takes Johnson about 45 minutes to an hour to get ready for each show. There’s face makeup, hair and costumes that all take time to put together.

The show had a comedy component, as the drag queens frequently debated one another on stage or yelled out at the audience members, usually cursing.

One performer even brought some french fries with her to the stage to eat.

Halfway through the performance, three volunteers from the audience were brought up on stage for a surprise dance contest. One of the volunteers, freshman in LAS Kyerra Ratliff, was caught off guard.

“I was nervous, but I was excited! I guess I wasn’t expecting it,” Ratliff said.

Johnson was a middle man between the performers and the Illini Union Board. He and the board had meetings together and worked out exactly what was needed for a successful show.

Ryan Kuramitsu, director of enriching programs for the IUB and junior in Social Work, said he enjoyed the entertainment.

“One of my favorite things about the drag show is that it brings in folks from the local LGBT community,” Kuramitsu said. “It’s fun and entertaining, and students can experience something they might not have.”

Kuramitsu has come to have a better understanding of drag since joining the IUB. 

“These are people who have an art. They take a lot of time and practice with it, and it’s very entertaining,” said Kuramitsu, “It’s powerful — that’s the word I would probably use to describe it.”

When asked what his favorite part was about being on stage, Johnson stopped and laughed. He stated that it certainly wasn’t the money.

“If one person at the end of the day comes up and says, ‘I liked what you did,’ or ‘you were the prettiest,’ or ‘I loved your lipstick,’ or ‘I noticed your bravado’ … It’s just all about that to me … having an opportunity to show something to them and get something back in a positive way.”

Alex can be reached at [email protected].