Linda-Cristal Young; Set Designer: Riw Rakkulchon

“A Haven. A Party. The place to be your sexiest self.” On Feb. 21 and 22, the Yale Cabaret is hosting its seventh annual drag show: Dragaret Underground.

This year’s show is different from recent years. In the past, the show has been focused on silliness and camp, but this year’s focus is sex and pleasure — “Pleasure, place and parties,” as Alex Vermillion, YSD ’20, summarized. Alex and Danilo Gambini YSD ’20 are co-directors of this year’s show and spoke about their reimagining of the event as an immersive club experience.

The usual cabaret theater will be transformed into a sexy industrial dungeon basement inspired by the aesthetic of queer clubs. There will be music, dancing and lights before the queens even step onstage, as well as a walk-up bar open throughout the evening. The setup invites people to play, talk and dance before the show gets started.

The night is first and foremost a celebration. “We just want to feel sexy,” Vermillion, who uses ze, zir, zirs pronouns, explains. “We want to bring sex back. We want to bring pleasure back.” The night is a celebration of place, particularly queer spaces. “There are so many LGBTQ people in our field, at our school,” ze comments. Dragaret Underground is about creating a fun, welcoming, sex-celebratory environment. “There’s a need and a real desire to have fun and play.”

The space will include a lot of standing room and a runway “that almost looks like a penis,” according to Vermillion. To add to the mysterious allure, ze mentioned that “there are multiple ways to get on and off the stage. I’m just going to say … there are a lot of lights involved.” In addition to the lights and the bar, a live DJ and caged Gogo dancer will set the pre-show mood. “It’s real kinky,” Vermillion commented.

However, ze was sure to clarify that the event is still a traditional drag show. There are two nights of performances. Friday night is run by professional New Haven queen Kiki Lucia and features queens from around New Haven. There are two performances on Friday night: 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.

New Haven’s drag community is vibrant. Gambini commented that including the queens in the Cab show not only heightens the professional nature of the event but also “honors the history, tradition and aesthetic of drag.” Performing drag is a full-time endeavor for some, and an art that takes a great amount of time and work to master. The Cab has featured a night of professional performances as part of the show for a number of years and Vermillion and Gambini are excited to continue the tradition, especially since they’ve seen a number of the queens perform before around the city. “They are so much fun, professional as hell, and their looks are stunning,” Vermillion asserts without missing a beat.

While many YSD participants have performed drag before — Vermillion and Gambini included — many have not. The beauty of the Cabaret is that students can take on roles outside of their discipline for any show. This is fun for any production but especially invigorating when it comes to the Dragaret.

Vermillion says this is the benefit of having two nights of shows. It captures the energy of drag as a release as well as an art. “There will be an incredible professional show and then one when people are having fun and exploring … It’s nice to sometimes metaphorically — or even literally — take your clothes off and just scream and party,” Vermillion explains. “People will make space for the day and the day after to be a day of full explosion of celebration.”

The tradition of hosting drag shows in the Cab started in the midst of a February snowstorm. Then-Artistic Director Ethan Heard, who now teaches acting and directing at YSD, launched the tradition of drag shows in The Cab, which is a basement performance space run entirely by Yale School of Drama students. Seven years ago, Heard and his team held a one-night-only “Yale School of Drag” to coincide with a Yale University LGBTQ Alumni Reunion. Usually, The Cabaret is limited by the drama school in the number of shows they’re allowed to put up each semester since drama students balance such heavy workloads. Weeks with no show are called “dark weeks.” However, the students under Heard’s leadership were given special permission to hold the drag event even though it was in excess of their allotted nine shows per semester.

Unfortunately, the blizzard caused the reunion to be canceled. The drag show went on regardless and to great success. Heard remembers finishing all three performances and emerging into feet of snow. Of the debut show, Heard commented: “The show started with a runway group number of drama’s greatest heroines: Medea, Joan of Arc, Lady M, Cleopatra, Hedda, Blanche … It was such a joyful explosion of creativity, queerness, gender exploration, DESIGN and FIERCE PERFORMANCES. I am beyond thrilled that it has become a tradition. Drag in the Cab makes so much sense. And it’s necessary!”

Now, the Dragaret is almost definitely the biggest event held at the Cab: they quickly sold out of pre-sale tickets as well as regular admission tickets though VIP seats are still available for purchase at the time of writing this. If you do attend the show, bring cash so you can tip the queens and kings!

Each year, the directors pitch a theme for the night and design the venue, but performers are free to dream up their own acts which promises a variety of style especially amongst the YSD crowd who often take this opportunity for unbridled performance.

Vermillion and Gambini highlighted the freeform fun of the night. They transform a rehearsal room into a dressing room and all the performers dress and make up together, often helping each other. “We don’t often get to have fun all together like that,” comments Vermillion.

There will be three Saturday performances: 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and midnight. These shows will feature YSD performers and be hosted by experienced drag queen Tipsy Von Tart.

In recent years, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement, people have become hyper-aware of their relationships to sex. This is an issue that has touched YSD’s community directly. It begs a special attention when putting on a show about sex. Vermillion and Gambini have kept this in mind throughout the planning process. Gambini explained, “It’s about healthy sexuality, respectful sexuality, consensual sexuality. … There is a way to have a blooming sexuality that’s healthy and powerful.”

Vermillion mentioned consent posters ze had seen in a queer bar in New York that were informative while also fun. Ze says during their planning of the Drageret ze and Gambini considered questions such as: “How do you have a conversation about safe sane consensuality and also have fun with it? How do you create a space that’s welcoming and inviting for sex and also exciting?” The performances open a conversation about sex in a fun way with empathy and joy.

The Dragaret is this popular for a reason. It is a time to explore a part of yourself you haven’t previously examined. In the directors’ words: “Bring your leather and latex, your freakiness and fetishes, your high heels and big hair. You are beautiful. You deserve pleasure. Feel yourself. Unleash yourself. We’ll see you on the dance floor.”

The Cabaret is located in the basement of 217 Park St.

Julia Leatham | julia.leatham@yale.edu