Performers lip-synched, danced and seductively plucked money from people’s hands with their mouths while pop song remixes played in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room Friday evening.
“Drag is about pushing boundaries,” the emcee for the first half of the night, drag queen Anne T. Christ, shouted at the start of the show.
Rainbow Alliance’s 18th-annual Drag Show — held Friday night — featured seven drag queens and two kings dancing under stage names. The event, which was the kicker to Rainbow’s annual spring Pride Week, raised around $320 for SisTers Pittsburgh — a Pittsburgh-based shelter for transgender and nonbinary people.
About 200 audience members watched as dollar bills fluttered onto the stage and gathered around the shiny platform heels of drag queens as they strutted down the runway in sequin bodysuits.
Rainbow President Kate Shindle, a senior biology major, said they looked for around 10 drag stars who could energize a crowd and bring signature moves to the show. Shindle said seeing a drag king or queen prepare a look for their performance is amazing.
“Drag queens … really have to make a complete blank slate of their face and reapply everything else on, like eyebrows and everything,” Shindle said.
The first performer of the night was Point Park alum Michael Zito from Lawrenceville. Dixie Surewood — Zito’s drag alias — danced on stage to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” in a green, blue and black leotard with black tights and boots. Zito, 30, said he’s been watching drag shows since he was a young man living in Lewiston, New York.
“When I was 18 I would go to the drag shows back home and I just always wanted to be that person on stage, so I moved here and I was like, ‘Let’s start this,’ and have just been evolving ever since,” he said. “I just love entertaining.”
Zito performs two to four times a week in Pittsburgh, frequently at LGBTQ+ bars Cruze and Blue Moon. The switch to Dixie Surewood, who he describes as “an unapologetic mix of old and new drag,” takes Zito an hour and a half. It includes putting on makeup, padding, tights and a wig. But the performance itself is the most important part.
“You’re doing a good job [if you can] make people forget about where they are and what they are worrying about,” Zito said.
The emcee, drag queen Anne T. Christ, also performed. Wearing pink eye shadow with dark black eyeliner, dressed in black heels, a short dress, black tights and a shiny pink jacket, she lip-synched to a mix of Halsey’s “Bad at Love” and “Strangers” and Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” while strutting up and down the runway.
Christ’s given name is Madison Scull, a junior communication, sociology and gender, sexuality and women’s studies major. She first started performing in drag at Rainbow’s Drag Show in 2017, making this year’s event her “drag birthday.” She said it takes her around two hours to get into drag — the hardest part is putting on curve-accentuating pads.
“And you have to put four pairs of tights over them usually to make them look real and not like … couch foam,” Scull said.
Scull said she enjoys doing drag, and has performed at Cruze a few times in the past year. It can be an expensive art — Scull said drag queens will take foam from couches on the side of the road to help cut down cost. But the only time the endeavor is not enjoyable, she said, is when she’s in a rush.
“I like to say that makeup smells fear,” Scull said. “If you are in a rush, you’re going to mess it up and it’s going to be a disaster.”
Scull sometimes gets ready with fellow queen Agnes Senga. Senga, who performed at the drag show Friday night, is “homecasted” — permanently performing— at There Ultra Lounge Downtown every Thursday.
Senga danced to a multi-song remix, including Dua Lipa’s “New Rules,” Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” and “Call Me Mother” by RuPaul — an iconic drag queen and host of the show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Dressed in a neon yellow and black outfit with a fan as a prop, Senga had people come up to her after the show and talk about their interest in drag.
“Sometimes the best part about doing drag is when you inspire someone else to do drag,” Senga said.
Twice during the show, the host brought up randomly selected audience members — the first time to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and the second time to Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie.” Clothes flew off as the seven audience members danced to get the loudest crowd cheer at the end. The winner from the first group was Chisom Obasih, a junior neuroscience and Japanese major.
“I like to dance all the time so I thought it would be effortless to go up there and do I what I usually do, but it’s actually very hard to come up with different moves and keep lip-synching while you dance and try to grab the attention of the audience,” Obasih said.
Shindle said audience participation at the drag show is a good way for people to explore the freedom that drag can offer.
“It’s a really great opportunity for people to express themselves in a way that isn’t normally allowed, or at least that we don’t normally get an opportunity to do,” Shindle said.
Senga, who described herself as a “crowd-pleaser,” said she considers performing and entertaining, especially in drag, to be her calling.
“It’s that moment you do something really crazy or something fierce and the crowd responds and they’re screaming,” Senga said. “It’s like that drug I’m addicted to.”