Webster University sophomore costume design major Elizabeth Swanson donned a blonde, curly Madonna-esque wig and a custom-made metallic dress to become her “faux queen” personality Vicki Mirage for the twentieth annual Drag Ball.
“Vicki doesn’t have any of my insecurities,” Swanson said. “She doesn’t have any of my awkwardness.”
Webster drag queens and kings performed at Drag Ball March 19 in Grant Gymnasium. The theme for this year’s event was “Drag Ball in Space.” Star-patterned balloons were scattered across the floor and the stage was lined with lights. Drag queens and kings performed in front of a black curtain backdrop covered with stars.
This year was LGBTQ Alliance President Josh Tyler’s first year putting together Drag Ball. Tyler said he had to deal with many new things including signing contracts, getting food vendors, having a big stage ready for performers and negotiating prices.
“It’s been an interesting task,” Tyler said.
The LGBTQ Alliance and Chainlink Improv returned to sponsor the event. New club P!NG: A Performing Arts Collective was also involved. P!NG became a sponsor because it was started by members of the LGBTQ Alliance. Tyler said P!NG’s involvement helps bring in new leadership and new freshmen.
“P!NG provides the performing aspects and the decoration aspects,” Tyler said.
Madonna meets Minaj
Swanson said she always wanted to dress in drag, saying it seemed fun and empowering. She was not able to go to Drag Ball last year due to a scheduling conflict, but planned to go this year. However, she said she had not even thought about performing.
That is, until she ran into Tyler at McDonald’s one day and he encouraged her to audition to perform.
Swanson was not able to make the official auditions, so she had to send in an audition video. She filmed her audition in the empty studio theater in the Loretto-Hilton Center.
“It’s really weird when you don’t have an audience,” Swanson said. “There’s no energy in the room. It’s just you.”
Swanson is a “faux queen,” which is a woman who performs as a drag queen. She said her inspirations are Madonna and Nicki Minaj. Her persona’s name, Vicki Mirage, is a play on Minaj’s name.
Swanson said Madonna’s influence comes from the pride Madonna has in herself and what she is doing. She said Nicki Minaj’s influence is about how she performs under a new persona.
“I was looking at them and how they perform, the confidence the exude and how they handle themselves,” Swanson said.
Swanson’s costume design major came in handy for creating Vicki Mirage, and she enlisted a friend to help put the look together. She said her dress is a play on the space theme and her hair is inspired by Madonna.
“It’s a very interesting combination, but it works very well,” Swanson said.
Swanson’s performance involved lip-syncing a Madonna song and doing choreography on stage.
She said Drag Ball is so successful because it is a time where people can step into an environment without fear of being judged.
“It’s something that not a lot of people are used to, and when they get a taste of it, they want to come back to it,” Swanson said.
Drag Ball is an event held at multiple universities, but Tyler said Drag Ball at Webster is special because it is a good mix of student and professional performers and that there is no competition between them. Tyler said Drag Ball helps people break from the traditional gender norms.
“You can be anyone, anything,” Tyler said. “You can perform how you want, you can walk how you want without being judge. It’s a safe space.”
Freshmen Andrew Gibbons and Chad Bennett attended Drag Ball to support a friend, calling the performances “beautiful.” Bennett said Drag Ball is entertaining to watch because it allows performers to be as free as they can.
“It gives the person the right to have fun and try different things,” Bennett said. “It’s an experience.”