The USC community gets together once a year to experience the glitz, glamour and fierce looks of the Queer and Ally Student Assembly’s annual drag show. However, for its 11th Annual Drag Show, everything is going virtual.
Like other forms of performance art, the pandemic forced many drag artists to innovate in a virtual setting. Drag performers like West Dakota and Charlene Incarnate have turned to streaming platforms like Instagram Live and Zoom to continue their shows.
The show’s co-directors Ren Ye and André Mershad have taken a new approach to accommodate their new online stage. QuASA will be using Twitch to continue their annual performance at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5 with performances by Landon Cider, Silky Nutmeg Ganache and eight USC students.
“Virtual drag has provided a really unique opportunity for drag performers in general to explore the art within drag that might not have necessarily been accessible to us before,” Ye explained.
Drag requires a diverse range of skills, from makeup to hair to dance even sometimes to humor. As seamless as drag performers may make it look on stage, there is a lot of effort that goes into making the night so memorable.
Ye and Mershad hosted various workshops for the student performers throughout the fall semester focused on the different aspects of drag, from conceptualizing a performance to filming and editing it. They even brought in Silky Nutmeg Ganache (11th season competitor of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race”) and Landon Cider (winner of “Dragula” Season 3) to provide drag tips.
“We kind of took this digital approach to doing some of this work, not really drilling anyone on anything or saying this is how you do it,” Mershad said. “But saying ‘hey, this is a tip that I have. And this is the way I’ve done it in the past. This is also the way I’ve seen it done in the past.’ And we just kind of left this open space to bounce off ideas.”
The pair viewed their role less as directors, but more as collaborators, eliminating the hierarchy of rehearsals.
“We’re just different directors of the drag show that have been seen in the past,” Mershad said. “And I’m super proud of the way we did things.”
Ye and Mershad entered the process of organizing this year’s drag show as a community experience, looking beyond the theatrics of drag to emphasize its core value of family.
“We want to make a drag family at USC that can foster something that when you’re out of USC or when you’re in USC, you can branch out and explore things,” Ye said.
Both directors have been doing drag for years. Ye even participated in Mershad’s independently organized drag show in April via Zoom. They’ve experienced drag on multiple stages, but the switch to virtual has been the most challenging for Ye.
“One big component about drag is the family element of it, or the sense of community,” they said. “And I think that before this, it was very localized and it depended on where you were able to travel in order to meet certain performers.”
In fact, they thought about pausing on doing drag all together for a while at the beginning of the pandemic, but the opportunities that virtual drag presented proved there was more to explore. An online forum introduced technological opportunities, such as projections and video production, and the ability to work with people across the nation.
Ye’s concerns about online drag is no longer an issue today. They capitalized on the new opportunities presented, allowing QuASA’s 11th Annual Drag Show to be viewed by anyone, anywhere.
The easy online accessibility has made Ye believe that it is the perfect time for newcomers to experience drag. They even plan on organizing another QuASA drag show next semester for more people to attend.
For Mauve Pickenpaugh, a senior studying music industry, they saw this year as the perfect opportunity to begin their journey in drag.
“I’ve gone to all of them since I was a freshman,” Pickenpaugh said. “And I really admired it as a work of art and just expression. So I knew that this year, being my senior year, I really wanted to jump in and do it myself.”
Pickenpaugh’s drag persona, Maia Massacre, will make their world premiere on Saturday along with many other newcomers, including Landin Green, a junior studying health and human sciences, as Alva Dinkley.
Green has been in drag before, but only once and with the help of others. This is the first time he has done all of the preparatory work like makeup and hair by himself. Like Pickenpaugh, Green found support to try drag independently through the drag community at USC.
“The whole experience helped me build my confidence in my ability to create cool art that I’m proud of,” he said.
Nicholas Guzman, a junior studying international relations, feels the same even though this is not their first time in drag.
Guzman has been part of the drag show as Jamie Angel in previous years, and the online approach has presented both challenges and rewards that they haven’t experienced before in drag. All performers were expected to film, edit and perform their acts independently. Guzman who was new to video production struggled, but found joy in producing something on their own.
“Normally we go into the show and we’ve seen each other rehearse like 100 times and it’s cool to see the finished version in drag,” Guzman said.
But, this time is different. Many haven’t seen each other’s final video, making the premiere highly anticipated for the performers as well.
“The videos that came out of this are boo boo bonkers, they’re spectacular, immaculate, delicious,” Ye said. “And regardless of whether or not it’s during this pandemic, and regardless if we’re feeling peepee poopoo now, they are amazing videos, and my jaw has dropped.”
The entire process of producing the drag show was a learning experience for both the organizers and the student talent. Ye and Mershad consider it to be the highlight of their pandemic that they hope others will find uplifting as well.
“We’re hoping that this performance can be something that can uplift not only the queer community, but anybody who just needs a little pick me up during this time,” Ye said.
As they look forward to the weekend drag show, as well as the one planned for the Spring, they hope that they can expose people to a welcoming and growing community.
“So many people say, ‘I’m too scared to try drag…’ or they will come up and be like, ‘I was so scared to talk to you,’” Ye said. “The one thing I have to say is, don’t be. This community is for anybody.”