Webster University's 17th annual Drag Ball took place on Saturday, March 23. This year's event…
Drag king make his debut at Drag Ball, lets alter ego loose
Candace Striebeck crouches on the floor of the Sunnen Lounge. In front of her is a worn red duffel bag. She pulls a men’s white dress shirt, a black studded belt, a pair of black converse and jeans from the bag, setting them on the floor in front of her.
Her tools are laid out on the table above her – a roll of duct tape, a small plastic container, skin adhesive. When the bag is empty, Striebeck sits back with a far-off stare, lost in thought.
“I get really quiet before a show,” she said, preparing for Webster University’s 15th annual Drag Ball.
Striebeck’s silence strikes a sharp contrast between the other performers in the room, who bicker with each other, sharing both insults and compliments in a playful, loving way. On Striebeck’s right, a tiny woman uses a black pencil to shade a mustache onto her upper lip. Across the room, a student applies bright teal shadow to his eyelids.
Striebeck is a drag king. Known on stage as “Ace,” she was sucked in to the St. Louis drag scene two years ago by Ryder, a professional drag king and friend of Striebeck’s.
Ryder suggested drag to Steinbeck.
“He dances well, has a good stage presence. He’s a really quirky person, he brings a sense of energy on the stage.”
Striebeck remembers it a bit differently.
“She said ‘You’d be a cute boy, you should do drag!’ ” Striebeck said.
Striebeck’s double lip piercings, cargo shorts and short-shorn hair give her an air of androgyny. The 27 year-old became acquainted with drag at Boxers n’ Briefs, a male strip club located up the street from Striebeck’s former place of work. After watching and attending shows for months, Striebeck finally took a shot at the stage.
“I was nervous as could be,” Striebeck said. “I was like, ‘What if they don’t like me? What if I forget the lyrics?’ But my favorite thought that stays with me today is ‘What if my boob pops out?’ ”
Ace made his debut at the Grey Fox in 2009. He performed Usher’s “My Way” in front of a packed bar and three friends. It was the biggest adrenaline rush Striebeck had ever experienced.
“I was shocked as I could be,” Striebeck said. “I even made $83 (in tips).”
At one point, Striebeck was performing in several drag shows a week. Now, living at home with her parents and trying to save money to go back to school, Striebeck performs at a couple shows a month.
Ace performs mostly hip-hop songs, even though Striebeck prefers rock music. She rehearses dance moves and picks out an outfit for each show.
Striebeck transforms into Ace in 40 minutes. First, Striebeck finds someone to help tape back her breasts. After a couple wardrobe malfunctions, Striebeck wears a binder to hold in her chest as well as the duct tape.
“It was like ‘Oh my god, oh my god! Go in back and we’ll tape them again,’ ” Ryder said of Ace’s costume difficulties on stage.
“And then it would pop out again.”
Striebeck also applies false facial hair in a goatee to her face. After changing into male clothing, Ace is ready for the stage.
The physical change Striebeck undertakes is mirrored in the personality of Ace. On stage, Ace oozes confidence. With a smirked upper lip, “come hither” hand gestures and music-video quality dance moves, Ace entertains and pleases. As a first time Drag Ball performer, Ace struck a chord with the audience.
“Ace is a cocky bastard,” Striebeck said. “He’s very outgoing. But I tend to keep to myself.”
Watching Ace work the crowd for tips, it is hard to imagine the self-conscious, quiet demeanor with which Striebeck carries herself. The stage fright Striebeck experiences before a show seemed to disappear on Saturday, as Ace lip-synced to “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz and “Bottoms Up” by Trey Songz.
“I think it’s a chance that the most hidden part of me gets to show itself,” Striebeck said. “It’s like Halloween for me. (It’s hard) getting over that hump of fear to get on stage in the first place. I don’t get over that until the music actually starts.”
Ryder said he has seen Striebeck change in the two years she has been performing. The nerves have gone away and Ace has grown as a performer.
“He has this professional aura now,” Ryder said. “It’s like, ‘I got this shit.’ ”
For Striebeck, the biggest change comes in her group of friends. Whether for a handful of friends or an audience of 100 people, Ace loves to perform and he loves his fellow drag kings, who are always willing to help out a new performer.
The biggest struggle Ace faces as a performer is his parents. Though Striebeck currently lives in her parents’ house, she keeps Ace hidden from them. She said her two oldest siblings know about her drag persona, but are unable to see her perform. Her father doesn’t approve of the gay lifestyle, and her mother is against homosexuality because of her religious beliefs.
Striebeck said Ace will continue to grace drag shows until they kick him off stage. Perhaps her parents will meet Ace one day.
“Eventually I’ll tell my mom and dad,” Striebeck said. “And then I’ll run like hell.”