On Thursday night, Chumash Auditorium was undoubtedly the most colorful corner of Cal Poly’s campus.
Generally speaking, Chumash is not a very passionate place. The polished wooden floor and rows of black plastic chairs usually snuff out emotion. The space suits educational assemblies and business casual.
However, on this particular night, the auditorium hosted “A Family Drag,” the Queer Student Union’s first drag show.
The crowd warmed the stage with enthusiasm in the minutes before curtain call. Attendees chatted away and tossed donations into the hats of ushers, who bounded up and down the rows. Then, the audience went quiet. Ceiling lights turned off. The reaching glow of the green neon exit signs illuminated the edges of the stage.
Four figures, all in black, stepped into formation on the stage.
At first glance, there appeared to be no drag queens.
“Welcome to Burlesque” began to play, and the four performers whisked across the stage in heels as long as my finger, effortlessly. Their makeup was impeccable. Three of the performers were men in drag.
Watch yourselves, ladies.
Generally speaking, drag shows are a succession of individuals who perform their pieces one right after another. “A Family Drag” featured a plot line to give the performances a tighter sequence, rather than several disconnected bits. Between performances, the characters had dialogue “backstage.” Mama, the strict, motherly character, drives away flamboyant Regina Flores with critique. Later, we find out Mama’s harsh behavior is connected to her recently discovered carpal tunnel, which may end her career.
The plot line wasn’t quite Casablanca. Then again, it didn’t have to be. Like any drag show, the focus was on the performances.
One theme of the plot merits attention: In a surprisingly somber scene halfway through, the characters discuss their upbringings. None were from places that accepted them for their sexualities. One ran away from home, another was kicked out.
“My parents chose the community over me,” said Mary Lightfoot. After a pause to let it sink in, she shrugs it off.
This type of show had the potential not to bring up any real issues, but kudos for doing so.
Clearly, most of the attention went to the dancing, lip-syncing and energy of the show. Under the mellow shine of orange lights, the ladies kept the momentum relentless with jumps, spins and points in heels and tight clothes.
Flores said it best:
“You must be on some good shit if you think I didn’t bring that mother fucker down.”
Each set met overwhelming support from the audience. Biological sciences junior Jason Dierkhising was no exception.
“The glitter, music, Regina was flawless,” he said. “She was fishy; she had her wig. Someone was showing some straps.”
After the show, the second floor of the Julian A. McPhee University Union was flooded with an energized exiting audience. Let’s hope Mama doesn’t really get carpal tunnel so Cal Poly students can catch another show in the future.
A previous version of this article said ‘A Family Drag’ was Cal Poly’s first drag show.