Webster University held one, big circus. But this circus did not involve scary clowns, cotton candy or fortune tellers. What it did have was excess make-up, giant wigs and dancing for dollar bills.
Webster LGBTQ Alliance, Galaxy Radio, and Chainlink Improv hosted the circus-themed 21st Annual Drag Ball March 24.
“It is a place in which people can go and not have to worry about being judged,” LGBTQ Alliance president, Josh Tyler, said. “They can express themselves and be celebrated for it.”
When students walked into Grant Gymnasium, they were greeted with free food displayed at circus concession stands and balloons scattered all over. The opening song of the night was Britney Spears’ “Circus.”
The performers dressed up in extravagant costumes with big hair, shiny dresses and bold makeup. Audience members danced along to throwback songs like TLC’s “No Scrubs” and current hits like Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic.”
*Video by Emily Van de Riet
Save the last dance
For senior dance major Kevin Hamilton, life is one huge performance—and so was his last dance at Drag Ball. When he started performing at the Drag Ball his freshman year, he began as an amateur. But with his skill set, he proved himself and was offered a contract to be paid for this year’s performance.
Hamilton took a different approach for his final performance. There was no creative stage name and no flashy look. Instead, he donned a sleek black leotard and used a large sheet with his dance movements. He said he wanted to play with the concept of simplicity.
“Less is more; even the simple things can turn on an audience,” Hamilton said.
The crowd cheered and clapped throughout his performance.
Hamilton never attended a drag show prior to studying at Webster. But when he heard that students were able to participate in the annual show, he took the opportunity to perform. He participated his freshman year and then again his sophomore year, which he said changed his life as a performer.
“That was a powerful moment in my career because in that moment, I realized the power of connecting to the audience,” Hamilton said. “When I started the song, I could feel the energy.”
The energy of the audience is what Hamilton feeds off of for his performances.
Hamilton prepared for this year’s show by planning a routine two weeks prior to the event. Rather than panic about the nervous feelings leading up to the show, he embraces them. One thing he said that has stayed the same throughout his performances is his passion for performing.
Tyler reached out to Hamilton about performing at this year’s Drag Ball. Hamilton negotiated for a contract, although he said he was going to perform with or without the contract since it’s his senior year. Contracts are given to professionals, but sometimes given to students if their talents are worth compensation. Students have to negotiate the contracts themselves first. He said that as a performer, he has changed mentally and physically from freshman year to senior year, and is confident in sharing his skills and talents.
“It’s all a learning experience here at Webster,” Hamilton said. “It was important for me to have that experience of negotiating a contract.”
Senior wig, makeup and costume design major Will Vicari spent the night before Drag Ball constructing his costume with his best friend. Vicari also set foot on the stage for his last Drag Ball performance as a Webster student.
Vicari first performed at Drag Ball his sophomore year. After two months, he started performing drag locally at Attitudes Nightclub and has continued ever since. He chose Sahra Castic—a sarcastic pun—as his stage name.
“After trying out a few names I settled on that because I am very sarcastic,” Vicari said. “And let’s be honest, being a man in a dress is all sort of a big joke anyway.”
Vicari attended Webster’s Drag Ball every year and enjoys watching students get their start in drag performing. He said the biggest thing that has changed over his years performing drag is his makeup techniques.
Prepping for the ball
The featured performers were either professionals or student amateurs. Whenever a performer was introduced, rarely was their status mentioned. Tyler said that was the goal of the event.
“We wanted the audience to not tell the difference between the performers,” Tyler said.
Tyler began planning the Drag Ball three months ago. The professionals and hosts were contacted and hired individually. There was also a Project ARK informational table set up for students to get information about HIV and potentially register to get tested.
The show brings out current students and alumni. Senior study abroad student Bassant Sherif attended her first Webster Drag Ball this year, but it was not her first time experiencing drag.
“I attend the Webster Thailand campus and in Thailand, there’s a lot of drag performances going on,” Sherif said.
Drag Ball also allows students to join in on the fun where the show hosts put together an annual contest of Webster Drag Ball King and Queen. The audience chose the winners by screaming the loudest for their favorite candidate.
“Drag Ball is a tradition older than myself,” Tyler said. “It’s never easy to plan, but it is always worth it.”