Drag performers Little Miss Saigon and her Concubines dance on stage during the 12th Annual UNITY Drag Show. (UC Berkeley photos by Brittany Hosea-Small)
Mannequin heads wearing bright wigs sat on tables strewn with makeup pallets, brushes, eye lashes and glue — and lots of hair spray — as students got ready to perform at UC Berkeley’s 12th Annual UNITY Drag Show on April 4.
Sophomore Cai Carranza, a double major in ethnic studies and theater, dance and performance studies, puts on their drag makeup to become KaiAnne Pepper.
This year’s theme? Extragalactic: Drag me to your leader. Volunteers spent hours building the elaborate set and decorations. More than 400 people filled Pauley Ballroom to see the show.
The event was organized by the UNITY Theme Program. Cai Carranza is the resource center clerk for the program. “For this year’s show, we wanted to redefine the boundaries of drag,” says Carranza. “In the past, drag has been very exclusive — something available only to cis males. We made an active effort to make this show inclusive and accessible to everyone.”
Cai Carranza, dressed as KaiAnne Pepper, talks about how this year’s event aimed to expand what it means to perform in drag.
“Coming from the background I did, growing up in Nebraska, it wasn’t easy or accepted to be anything except, like, cis and heterosexual. And I was never either,” says Carranza.
Cole Yambrobitch, a senior in anthropology and theater, dance and performance studies, performed as Bitch Sings.
To create a more collaborative, less competitive environment, the UNITY Theme Program put on three workshops leading up to the event: Drag 101, about how to get started in drag and the resources available; a makeup class; and a history of drag class. All of the workshops were open to the public.
Drag queen Reina de Aztlan, who hosted the event, performs the opening number.
There were 10 performances this year by undergraduate and graduate students, who lip synced and sang for the audience.
Cole Yambrovich performed as drag queen, Bitch Sings.
“I do drag because I can,” says Yambrovich. “Because it’s fun. Because I think you can make a good statement about politics or gender or sexuality.”
First-year student Ryann McDowell, whose drag name was My Chemical Bromance, talks about her first time performing as a drag king and what it means to her.
“I do identify as a woman and I do identify as straight. So at first, I was like, ‘I don’t really want to do drag. I don’t want to be a man. I don’t feel masculine.’ I think the alien theme helped me because I could be a gender non-binary alien and not be totally a man, but still support gender expression.”
First-year students Vice Farley (left) performed as Kiwi Thot and Max Zinkievich performed as Lulu Stellar.
“I think a lot of media time is spent on gay men in drag,” says Zinkievich, “which, I am both. But I think there’s a much larger and broader side to the community that can express themselves through drag as an art form.”
Vice Farley, on stage as Kiwi Thot, on how this show opened up the world of drag to him.
“I was kind of nervous coming in because I’m a trans guy,” says Farley. “So, I didn’t know if I would be accepted into the trans community, you know, because a lot of people have weird notions about it being very much like a cis male thing. I just never really felt it was somewhere I could go, so I was very pleasantly surprised when I was accepted here and felt very comfortable doing all of this.”
Drag performer Solana Nightshade won third place.
UC Berkeley students Jeffrey Venegas-Jumenez (left) and Antonio Cruz De La Cruz pose for a photo with student Tan Vu as drag queen Little Miss Saigon.
Drag queen Frida Kuhlo struts on stage as the judges look on.
Chris Hershey-Van Horn, a first-year master’s student in the School of Social Welfare, won first place as Marsha Marsha-Marsha. Listen to them talk about how performing in drag combines their interests.
“For me, gender has always been a question mark, personally, in my life,” says Hershey-Van Horn. “I’ve always loved performing. I was a trained vocalist and loved being on stage in any capacity. So, drag was something that combined so many of my interests. Like, exploring social commentary, looking at gender, being able to give something back to the audience.”
KaiAnne Pepper sang “Never Enough” from the movie, The Greatest Showman. KaiAnne Pepper tied for second place with Little Miss Saigon and her Concubines.
“My mom and family came to the show,” says Carranza, who performed as KaiAnne Pepper. “I dedicated my performance to my mom. She has been my number one supporter the entire time. As soon as I walked off stage, I ran to her and gave her a hug and kissed her on the cheek and told her how much I loved and appreciated her. She’s been such a supportive person in my life.”
Drag queen Foxy
All of the show’s drag performers stand on stage.