Drag show comes to Macalester


Performance by Gemini Valentine. Photo by yowzer_photography on Instagram.

Lauren Petro, Contributing Writer

For Valentine’s Day, Iwani Siwawa ’24 wanted to express her gratitude to her drag-performing friends in the Twin Cities by hosting a show for them at Macalester for students. There was lip synching, dancing and fun antics to go around. 

“The Twin Cities drag scene has become a family,” Siwawa said. “I feel supported by them.” 

Siwawa is an Audio Visual student at Macalester. She has utilized her skills as a technician as well as a producer for various shows in the cities. She also does decorating and takes photos and videos of her events.

“What I really like is the end goal of seeing everything come together,” Siwawa said. “There’s anxiety going step by step. Shows are a great way to find your people.” 

Siwawa got into drag shows through watching TV shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and seeing live shows herself. 

“I’ve always thought of drag as a very powerful thing where you can be your most self, and that’s magical,” Siwawa said. “I worked with Flipphone Events, who do drag brunches at Union Rooftops and bring Rugirls [queens who have appeared on ‘Drag Race’] to the city. They were hosting a show at the Saloon and [I] saw my first live drag show. I fell in love and kept going back. Soon, the queens started to know who I was, and I developed relationships with [them].” 

To prepare, Siwawa makes sure performers come early so they can navigate the space  and keep in touch all day in case something happens. The show featured different types of drag, from ballroom-inspired to gothic, showing the diversity that drag can bring. 

“I like being punk grungy but also beautiful and stunning,” performer Gemini Valentine said.

Valentine started drag after winning the Halloween Queen competition in 2018. From there, she wanted to explore her queerness. Drag gives her the freedom to be herself. 

“I get to express how I feel about my gender on the inside and play with my gender,” Valentine said. “It’s for me. I don’t have to cater to anyone else. It’s what I want to do.”

For Valentine, her performances involve the essence of telling a narrative in the form of music.

“I like conceptual numbers,” Valentine said. “They have a story that can vary from comedy to horror. I make sure everyone is in on the story.” 

However, storytelling and acting are not the only ways to do shows. Male entertainer Jojo Ventus performed a number entirely on roller skates. He describes his performance as high energy with lots of choreography, technique and sex appeal. He also has a ballroom dance background and incorporates that into his performances too. Ventus did not initially incorporate roller skating into his shows after gaining the skill, but he has now been skating for eight years. 

“I dance while I skate so I thought why not combine the two?” Ventus said. “I wanted to skate one day to see how it went [at the WERK competition at the Saloon], and I lost that round. I realized I also needed to entertain. When I combined the three, it was the aha moment.”

Drag and ballroom are closely related. Ventus wants to show his ballroom roots and how important ballroom is.

For these performers, a show like this gives them the freedom to express themselves.

“I used to be anxious, but when I’m performing, I’m so used to it that I no longer worry,” Ventus said. “I love the excitement and love from the community and being able to do so much and express myself.” 

Performers appreciate these opportunities to showcase their art to college students.

“[Willingness to have drag shows] the maturity of people in universities that they accept and understand and want to do those,” Valentine said. “There are other colleges who think drag is a problem and won’t give us that platform.”

“The traditional thing about drag is that it’s a cis man who dresses as a woman,” Valentine said. “‘Drag Race’ created a hetero type of drag with sparkles and high heels. Sometimes it can be about being a monster. It’s not built off of one gender.” 

Although “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has brought drag into the spotlight and led to more acceptance, it only showcases one type of drag.

“I feel like the commercialization of drag has become a pop culture staple,” Siwawa said. “‘Drag Race’ has created a standard where people expect drag to be a certain way, such as kicks and flips, glittery outfits and heels, but there’s more to that. It’s nice to have the pretty girl, but I want people to see the grungy drag and DIY drag … I want people to see the range in drag. I want someone to think, ‘Wow, I didn’t know I could paint my face like that.’ It’s a good cultural exchange.”

Another important thing to Siwawa was highlighting local artists like Valentine and Ventus. 

“People should have access to queer art,” Siwawa said. “There’s no ‘Drag Race’ without our local queens. Maybe someone is inspired to do drag. We should emphasize local artists regardless of the art.”

For those thinking about starting drag or performing, there is a lot that goes into it.

“It’s not as easy as everyone thinks,” Ventus said “Because of ‘Drag Race,’ everyone wants to be a drag queen now. Know that it takes a lot of work and dedication. Sometimes we have to take breaks because it’s hard to do gig after gig. You have to be resilient and be able to take criticism.”

Drag also does not mean having the most designer dress, either. Siwawa explained that it is okay to do drag on a budget, especially as a broke college student. 

“Drag doesn’t have to be expensive,” Siwawa said. “There’s discourse in pop culture about having the most dazzled wig, and that’s not true.”

All in all, drag is about being true to oneself and celebrating individuality. 

 “We’re always doing drag,” Siwawa said. “RuPaul says in one of his songs: ‘You’re born naked, and the rest is drag.’ You can do that with the $5 shirt and boots at Target. You can stand on stage and do nothing for five minutes. If that’s you, that’s drag. It’s okay to be your most truthful self that you may be ashamed of and find someone to share that with you.”

For these performers as well as others around the world, drag is a way to let loose, have fun and praise authenticity and honesty to the self. It is okay to be foolish and fierce at the same time. 

“Drag shows are about energy and vibing with your crowd,” Siwawa said. “Being a bit stupid is the big thing in these shows. Embarrassment is a state of mind. People will still have fun regardless of your place in the shows.”