On Feb. 1 and 2, the Yale Cabaret is hosting its sixth annual drag show, a glitter-filled extravaganza featuring Yale School of Drama students and drag queens from the broader New Haven and Connecticut communities.
The New Haven and Connecticut queens will perform on Friday at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m., and the “Yale School of Drag” will perform on Saturday at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Nearly all shows have already sold out — ticket prices range from $20–50.
“I feel like some of the performances in the drag show are some of the most imaginative and inventive you’ll see all year because people are the inventors of these tiny, amazing, glittery universes,” said Molly FitzMaurice DRA ’19, one of the co-artistic directors of the Cabaret. “And so for a lot of our regular patrons, it’s a really exciting opportunity to see people they know in totally different lights, so it’s a highlight of our season.”
This year’s show is inspired by the iconic 1990 documentary “Paris is Burning,” which explores drag “house” culture in Harlem during the ’80s. “Houses,” led by “drag mothers,” were chosen families for those in the queer community who were evicted out of their own homes. Inter-house rivalries culminated in heated drag competitions called “balls” — which serve as the theme of this year’s Dragaret — in which members of different houses would dress up, throw shade and vogue against one another, as they reached beyond their circumstances and dreamt of fame and dignity.
Directors Arturo Soria DRA ’19 and Jakeem Powell DRA ’19, along with Producer Riw Rakkulchon DRA ’19, hope to celebrate queerness in all its shades and variations and pay homage to icons of the queer community throughout the show. In addition to running the show this year, Soria, Powell, Rakkulchon and choreographer Erron Crawford DRA ’19 will be performing as a group for their third year in a row.
Performing at Dragaret served as a pivotal moment in Soria’s first year at the Drama School.
“[Dragaret] gave me permission to really be here and to land here and to be as expressive as I wanted to be and show different sides of myself that I felt like, here, at school I didn’t get to show in classes because you’re constantly working at the minutiae of all these acting things,” Soria said. “The drag show was an opportunity for me to shed all of that and to just be as fabulous as I wanted to be and free as I wanted to be.”
It was after performing in Dragaret that Soria realized, “‘Okay, now, I’ve arrived. Now, I can be at the Yale School of Drama. Now, this is my house.’”
For Rakkulchon, who was raised in Thailand where homophobia is pervasive, performing in drag is an act of rebellion.
“All of my drag has become more of trying to either reveal certain parts of the queer culture that most people don’t want to tap into or using it as a way for me to find my own ground,” he said.
Initially known as “Yale School of Drag,” Dragaret was the brainchild of Ethan Heard ’07 DRA ’13, then artistic director of the Cabaret. “The LGBTQ alumni group called GALA was organizing an LGBTQ alumni reuinion so we thought, ‘How cool would it be if we could schedule a drag show while all these Yale alumni are in town?’” And, thus, Dragaret was born.
“I think for whatever reason we have inherited — socially and culturally — a lot of, what I would say, are pretty painful rules and expectations and traditions surrounding gender expression and gender identity,” Heard said. “For me, drag is an opportunity to bust that and burst through those fixtures and expose them for what they are.”
This year, the hourlong spectacle will display a range of brief performances featuring burlesque dancing, lip-syncing, comedy and outrageous costumes. Kiki Lucia, a prominent local drag queen, looked for a diversity of acts when curating the drag show lineup. Among those performing are queens who specialize in old-school, comedy, performance and avant-garde drag. In addition, the queens hail from different regions of Connecticut, bringing with them drag from the New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford scenes.
“Because each piece is only 3–5 minutes, you can spend a lot of time on just that amount of time, as opposed to a one-hour piece or a whole scene,” said Latiana “LT” Gourzong DRA ’19, another co-artistic director of the Cabaret. “You condense a lot more energy into a short amount of time.”
In addition to fabulous displays of drag by performers, the show is bolstered with an especially large team of three technical directors. Gourzong hinted at elaborate staging plans, including automation and a performance stage that juts out into the audience.
“It tends to be one of the most ambitious and exuberant designs of the year,” FitzMaurice said. “It’s like the space is in drag, too.”
“And we’ll spend the rest of the year in glitter,” Armando Huipe DRA ’19, managing director of the theater company, added with a smile.
The drag show, in particular, provides a chance to see performers “step out of the persona they embody during their day-to-day life,” FitzMaurice said. “You know, we say, ‘You’re born naked, and the rest is drag,’ but we can forget what drag we’re wearing every day.”
Over the years, Dragaret has expanded in scope. Last year was the first year that drag queens from the broader New Haven and Connecticut area were invited to participate in the extravaganza.
Rachel Shuey DRA ’18, the managing director of the show last year, reached out to Lucia for her thoughts on past Dragaret performances.
“I mentioned to her at the time that I felt like it was a very cool celebration of theatrical arts but not necessarily a celebration of drag art,” Lucia said. “I’ve seen some incredible things at Dragaret, so don’t take that as a criticism, but drag as an art form is very complex and requires a lot of hard work and is also rooted in things like culture of the LGBTQ community and tied to civil rights and many other aspects of queer history.”
After some consideration, Shuey asked Lucia to help curate Dragaret by inviting drag queens from the community to join in. Reception of the Connecticut queens has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Lotus Qween, who I think is coming back this year, did this amazing morbid zombie bride number to the song ‘Love on the Brain,’ and my jaw has not returned from there ever since,” FitzMaurice said.
For Lucia, a self-professed “theater geek” and regular attendee of Cabaret shows, says the fact that queens — who spend years honing their craft — performing on a professional stage that has supported the likes of Meryl Streep DRA ’75 is really special.
“Drag is, for a lot of people, a bar art — it’s a low-class art. A lot of people don’t think of it in the same context of theater or in the same context of what we think of as high art — ballet, music, symphony,” Lucia said. “To be taken seriously and put on a stage and have somebody willing to charge tickets and be in that kind of environment — it’s really exciting, and it’s like peer recognition in a way that is very unexpected.”
This year’s leadership team hopes to continue the tradition of actively reaching out to the surrounding community.
“I think that, obviously, Yale has a long history of a complicated relationship to its home city and the idea of sharing space,” FitzMaurice said. “I can walk a couple blocks down the street to Partners and see a great drag show on any number of nights, and so what does it mean for some of those same performers to be specifically in our space versus for me to go to their space? So that cross-pollination is really exciting to me.”
This year, the Yale Cabaret will be honored with a Dorothy Award by the New Haven Pride Center. Established 15 years ago, the Dorothy Awards is an annual fundraiser that serves to recognize those in the Connecticut community making a difference, particularly in queer activism.
“Queer people find sanctuary in the arts, but the Yale Cabaret is really the only theatre organization or arts organization in Connecticut that’s really focused and actively tells queer stories regularly on the stage,” said Patrick Dunn, executive director of the New Haven Pride Center.
The Cabaret will be the first institution at Yale to be presented with a Dorothy Award.
“I’m excited to have them in the room, and I think it brings in a new group that may not always attend the ‘townie’ events and bring out some of the amazing people at Yale that may not necessarily even know the Center exists, even though we’re right next door,” Dunn said. “It can be very easy to not always know what’s in your backyard, and hopefully, this begins to build more connections between the Yale community and the larger LGBT community in New Haven and Connecticut.”
Completely run by Drama School students, the Yale Cabaret was founded in 1968 and is currently in its 51st season. The company produces 18 shows per academic year.
The Cabaret is located in the basement of 217 Park St.
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