St. Thomas University student Alex McCarthy, as his drag queen alter-ego Penny Whines, hosted The Cellar Pub’s first campus drag show Jan. 20 in front of a packed crowd.
He got the idea back in September and contacted the University of New Brunswick pub, which quickly embraced the idea.
After performing in drag shows, McCarthy wanted to create and organize his own. Drag shows already happen frequently across the city, including at STU, but McCarthy felt they sometimes weren’t as inclusive as he thought they should be.
He created this one with inclusion in mind for all the performers. He decided proceeds from his show would go to Clinic 554, which strives to be inclusive and supports Fredericton’s LGBTQ community, specifically transgender people.
Most of all, he wanted to introduce newcomers to drag culture.
“I wanted to reach the student population,” said McCarthy.
He did this through free admission, though they accepted donations, and a familiar, cozy stage.
A mix of drag queens, kings and hyper queens — female performance artists who adopts the style typical of male drag queens — took the stage and wowed audiences.
McCarthy focused on audience participation, lip-syncing and telling jokes. He emphasized drag shows are not a mockery, but a form of expression. Specifically, he said, they are femininity or masculinity expressed in an accentuated way.
“You’re not yourself. You’re playing a character,” said McCarthy.
“It’s an artistic expression. Plus, it’s a way you get to play with image … and gender.”
McCarthy started performing drag in August and has performed in up to two shows a week since then.
He already knew many drag performers from his work and through his connections he assembled a team of performers to grace the stage.
Another STU student, Kilian Murphy, performed at the show as a drag king, under the name of Lex Dooer. Saturday was their first time performing in drag. They were drawn to the idea and wanted to give it a try.
“I’m non-binary, so I liked the idea of being able to express that part of myself.”
Others who performed that night were more experienced. Skarlett Sins, or Abi Mulholland, has performed in many shows before this one. They reflected on their introduction into the performance scene and the complex process of becoming a fully-fledged drag queen.
An established drag queen will usually “birth” or mentor a new drag queen. They will go shopping, buy a wig, makeup and assemble a costume. The queen will teach the newcomer performance techniques, including lip-syncing and crowd interaction. After the training, the newcomer is set free to perform.
“I became addicted. It just became my new passion. It gives you freedom to be who you want to be without people really knowing who you are,” said Mulholland.
“It gives me a way to express the more feminine side of me.”
Over $60 was raised at Saturday’s show and plans are now in the works to hold another show on March 17.
McCarthy said what was a first a way for him to gain confidence has now transformed into a way to bring a new show, culture and experience to campus.