University of Wisconsin–Stout’s annual amateur drag show is a hot topic on campus, but many of us are not aware of the roots that make a drag shows what they are today. The word drag was created in Elizabethan England by William Shakespeare when referring to men in his productions that dressed as women. Women at that time were not allowed on stage, which led male actors to dress in “drag.” Once women were allowed to perform in theater productions, men still chose to dress in drag as a comedic bit.
The formation of the drag show itself was created in the 1920s and 1930s when LGBT+ bars were first established. Men dressed in drag were used as a source of entertainment at these bars. The 1980s sparked the rise of the drag queen in popular media, including movies and television. In 1996, Robin Williams and Nathan Lane starred in The Birdcage, a modernized American version of the French play Le Caux aux Folles. The movie follows Armand (Williams) and Albert Goldman (Lane), a couple living in South Beach Miami. Armand is the owner of a drag club called The Birdcage, while Albert is the lead queen, Starina. The film centers around the Goldmans’ son, Val, getting engaged to the daughter of an ultraconservative republican senator and the chaos that ensues when the two families meet. The movie was a hit, grossing $18.3 million, which made it the highest-grossing weekend opening of a film with an openly gay lead character until Bruno was released in 2009.
In 2011, drag queens returned yet again to popular media with the start of RuPaul’s Drag Race. The season nine premiere alone garnered nine million viewers. Many queens from Drag Race now have their own YouTube channels where they post a variety of videos about the drag artist world. One of the more popular channels is WOWPresents, a collaborative channel featuring many famous drag artists hosting their own shows. One of the most popular shows on the channel is “UNHhhh” hosted by Trixie Mattell and Katya Zamolodchikova. Other shows on the channel include “Drag Queens React” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race Fashion Photo RuView.”
Not only does RuPaul host his own show, but he is also the creator of RuPaul’s DragCon LA and RuPaul’s DragCon NYC. These conventions feature panels with drag queen favorites, meet and greets with drag artists and the chance to meet RuPaul himself. The website for the two conventions states that DragCon is “a platform for fans of all ages and backgrounds to meet and interact with world-renowned celebrities and icons in a creative, friendly and accessible environment.” DragCon LA has tripled its attendance since its inception in 2015; DragCon LA 2017 had 40-thousand attendees.
The UW-Stout amateur drag show is being held Thursday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Great Hall of Memorial Student Center. This year’s fall theme is “A Dark Affair”.