Dance, inclusivity and empowerment were the top themes expressed at the Amateur Drag Show Friday night. The event, which was cohosted by the Sexuality and Gender Alliance and the Gender Collective, started at 7 p.m. when local drag royalty hit the stage.
The show featured ten artists from Kansas State and the Manhattan community: August Celestial, Matt Demon, Callie Mittie, Addicktion Supreme, Orville Pecker, Vanity Monster, Peter Pansexual, Vicky Stardust, Dimitri Von Dream and Sir Manther.
At the end of each number, dollar bills covered the floor. All the money collected during the event went toward a fund to help students travel to Colorado in March for the TRANSforming Gender Conference.
Once off the stage and the heels come off, August Celestial is Bryant Mehay, graduate student in drama therapy. Mehay said something they want to study at K-State is drag, but looking at it through a therapeutic lens. They said drag culture can be used intentionally to help people work through their issues and promote growth.
“Drag can help people start to explore gender expression, identity and artistic expression,” Mehay said. “It can help build community and a sense of belonging.”
As a whole, the art form can give someone the opportunity to funnel their experiences into their performance and release emotions using song and creativity, Mehay said.
“On an individual level, I think it’s incredibly therapeutic and very important for those that really want to do it,” Mehay said.
This show welcomed some first-time performers, who got a taste of the spotlight as they strutted alongside seasoned veterans.
Sam Sharpe, graduate student in evolutionary biology, has been entertaining for years. Originally from San Francisco, California, Sharpe’s scholastic ambitions brought them to Manhattan, where they now serve as a leader in SAGA.
Sharpe first stepped into the drag spotlight three years ago at an amateur show hosted by their previous university’s alliance. Since coming to K-State, Sharpe has performed as Sir Manther at several events, including Little Apple, Wichita and Topeka Pride.
Now Sharpe welcomes other students and members of the K-State family into the drag world.
“I am a queer, transperson and I feel like that is expressed in everything I do,” Sharpe said. “Drag has been a really cool opportunity to play with different types of self-expression.”
While performing drag, Sharpe said that they feel like they have more freedom than normal, because it is very difficult to exist as a gender non-conforming person.
“People make assumptions about me that are often wrong, and those can sometimes make it hard for me to get on with my life,” Sharpe said. “But when I do drag, I control the narrative. I tell the story, and that’s really cool and really powerful.”
Sharpe’s athletic performance inspired an ovation from the crowd.
“I thought it was amazing,” Julia Coverdale, freshman in anthropology, said. “I really like that when K-State puts on drag shows — we usually put on a very diverse form of drag that isn’t shown as much on the mainstream.”
But shows like these have not always received such raving reviews. Sharpe said Drag Story Hour at the Manhattan Public Library and this year’s annual drag show at McCain Auditorium were met with protests.
Despite the challenges, these drag performers continue to entertain and promote acceptance and inclusivity through participating in events like the Amateur Drag Show.
For Sharpe, drag is important because of its history and what it continues to do for people who are struggling.
“Drag is important because it comes out of a history of marginalized people, especially queer and trans people of color, expressing themselves in a way that they were not able to anywhere else and creating a space where they could be celebrated, instead of just constantly disenfranchised,” Sharpe said.
Sharpe believes that drag is a form of art that is open to anyone who wishes to participate.
For Dean Mattoon, a Manhattan community member who performed as Dimitri Von Dream, drag is necessary because of the positive growth it creates for the performers and within the community.
“I think that queer voices have been suffocated for so long that we need some bright and vibrant place to loudly express our feelings, without reserve about who’s watching because we have to worry about that on a daily basis,” Mattoon said.
Mattoon said that having a drag scene in Manhattan is vital to the people who live here.
Mehay, Sharpe and Mattoon each reiterated the importance of having spaces to perform. Many of the shows that take place in Manhattan are hosted in local bars, but the entertainers said those locations can be exclusionary because aspiring artists under 21 might not be permitted.
That’s why having the amateur show is so important, they said, because it’s open to everyone and it gives people an opportunity to perform for the first time in a safe and inclusive environment.
“For people who are thinking about it, but have always been too scared, just do it and put yourself out there,” Sharpe said. “To people who are struggling because they can’t get opportunities or because people aren’t accepting of their type of drag, keep persevering because it is important.”
Students interested in drag can learn more from Gender Collective and SAGA. Both organizations meet at 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays in Room 206 of the K-State Student Union.