The LaSells Stewart Center bubbled to its brim with an uproarious, thousand-person crowd as OSU’s Rainbow Continuum hosted the Spring Drag Show 2017 on Saturday, April 29.
A bi-annual event, the show draws performers, students and community members together in a safe space created for total self-expression, breaking down gender-binaries and celebrating each other’s existences across the varied spectrums of underrepresented and marginalized communities.
Each spring, a new “Beaver Royalty” performer is voted and crowned by the crowd. Beaver Royalty Contestants compete during the first half of the show, and the winner is announced at the show’s close. This year the crowd chose Anastasia Dharma VonSchweets as the new reigning royalty, who performed to “Work from Home” by Fifth Harmony, along with drag performers Misha D and Jay Dates.
“It’s exhilarating,” said VonSchweets. “This is a really good crowd, and this is a really good environment to perform in.”
VonSchweets was one of more than 15 performers. However, only five were in competition for the title.
The drag shows blend the downright dirty and hilarious with the classic, heartfelt and beautiful. Each performance is a wholly unique articulation of persona and style, statement and political challenge. The entirety is meant to inspire the audience and flaunt the vibrant spectrum of humanity’s differences in the face of homogenized beauty, sexuality, and gender standards.
It’s a show that’s changed lives.
“This is my second year being a part of the OSU drag show, and my first time was back in 2014/15,” said Carmen Sutra, star local performer. “I discovered the show and attended and was immediately drawn to the stage and I wanted so badly to be performing.”
Since then, Sutra has gained local fame, performing regularly at community drag events and is part of Haus of Dharma, a drag family based in the Linn-Benton counties.
“We [Haus of Dharma] provide drag entertainment and social service provision and referral for LGBTQ+ folks but particularly focused on the trans and gender nonconforming communities,” said Miss Dharma Prada MacPherson.
A previous LBCC student, Dharma has become a social justice leader and well-known drag performer in the community, founding the Haus of Dharma in 2014 with Sativa De Lux. Dharma was crowned Beaver Royalty in 2015.
“Drag has always been a tool for me to explore my gender identity and expression and I use it as a means to empower myself as a transgender womxn as well,” said Dharma.
Each year the OSU drag show has a theme or cohesive element around which performers coalesce. This year’s theme was “Existence is Resistance.”
“I chose this theme because our very existence is resistance. Us being and living in the present of another day is resistance, which is especially true for folx in marginalized and underrepresented communities, due to their lived experiences,” said Christine Hoang, director of media for Rainbow Continuum.
Hoang believes that this theme crosses all intersections of marginalized communities like the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and those who live with disabilities or mental illness, which Hoang terms diversabilities and neurodivergencies. For Hoang, existing as resisting means gathering the strength to get out of bed and venture into a “white, abled, cis-heteropatriarchal society.”
Dharma has a similar perspective.
“I am a Pakistani, queer, disabled, transgender, Muslim womxn of color, living with HIV,” said Dharma. “Like my entire existence is systemically challenged and subverted, so for me, just existing is resisting.”
According to Hoang, a community celebrating its existence together becomes a far more powerful form of resistance than the individual alone.
“One person’s existence/resistance fuels another person’s existence/resistance, and that passes on to another. Imagining this as multiple ripple effects, it is more like a tsunami of great social change,” said Hoang.
VonSchweets and the previous Beaver Royalty of 2016, Carmen Sutra, furthered the inclusiveness of the evening through their recognition of race minority struggle with a duet sung in acknowledgment and support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It was probably one of my most powerful performances,” said Sutra.
Later in the evening, strapped in rainbow suspenders and microphone in-hand, Sutra belted Beyonce’s “Freedom,” strutting down the stage and through the auditorium aisles.
“My solo routine was another reflection of past events that have occurred, not only in the Black community but in all minority groups including Latinos, Trans, Jewish, Muslims and more,” said Sutra. “The title of the song being ‘Freedom’ already holds a lot of power and meaning to our community, both LGBTQIA and the Black community.”
The show’s continued successes leave behind a legacy of evolving and inviting spaces for LGBTQIA+ and other minorities in the Corvallis and OSU communities. Since January 2017, monthly drag shows called Dam Right Drag Night have been held at The Dam, an arcade and bar in downtown Corvallis. These shows are put on by a group not officially affiliated with Rainbow Continuum or Haus of Dharma, but many OSU and Dharma performers can be found on the stage at The Dam.
“As long as there is support from friends, family and community, the success of the show will increase, and the fact that the space remains an open, inclusive, safe spot for many students on campus is key to what the LGBTQIA community represents,” said Sutra.
Story and Photos by Emily Goodykoontz