Performers death drop at Rainbow Alliance drag show

Hannah Heisler

By Neena Hagen, Senior Staff Writer

As the bright lights shone on the makeshift stage of the William Pitt Union Assembly Room Friday night, a charismatic performer clad in a silver sequin dress danced and swirled her poofy brown wig to the booming music. The hundreds of audience members leapt to their feet to clap along, roaring when the performer landed the drag-show-staple death drop.

“How’s everyone feeling tonight,” Alexa Chapman Killer, the first performer and host, said, grabbing the microphone after her introductory performance.

The crowd, still on their feet, cheered. Some threw dollar bills onto the stage. Pitt’s annual drag show, hosted by Rainbow Alliance and featuring drag performers from all over the City, was underway.

Drag is a type of art where a man or nonbinary individual dresses in a stereotypically feminine fashion (called drag queens) or a woman or nonbinary individual dresses in a stereotypically masculine fashion (called drag kings) and often lip syncs, dances or puts on some other type of creative performance. The Rainbow Alliance show’s lineup included eight performances from five different drag queens and one king. Most were from the Pittsburgh area and frequented Pittsburgh’s drag scene at bars, but some, including Chapman Killer, were actually students from local universities.

“It’s so great to perform [here],” Chapman Killer, a Point Park University student, said. “Not a lot of universities give drag queens the opportunity to perform in front of a college audience.”

One performer, who donned a hot pink wig and a black and white checkered dress, sauntered her way down the stage while lip syncing to Lady Gaga’s “Venus.” She engaged with the audience, gyrating in front of someone in the front row, who stood up and danced along with her.

To contrast with the upbeat performances, another performer cut a rather gloomy, sinister looking figure. She wore a jet black dress and painted her face with angular black and white bird-like designs. She swayed slowly to the song “Million Years” by Nico Vega. The audience swayed with her.

To enliven the crowd once again, Chapman Killer invited audience members onstage to do a drag performance of their own. Plucking four “tributes” out of the crowd, she ordered them to stand in a line.

“I hope all of you know the song,” Chapman Killer said with a mischievous grin.

Lady Gaga’s “Applause” rang throughout the room. The volunteers danced down the stage — some half-heartedly, some confidently mouthing the lyrics.

“I’m sorry, you all know what lip-synch means, right?” Chapman Killer said, to groans from the volunteers.

One volunteer did the worm and elicited “ooos” and “ahhhs” from the crowd. Another did a full split on stage.

“I can’t do a split, but when you look like this do you really need to?” Chapman Killer said, flipping her hair back and pointing to the boy’s crop top.

The show also featured a drag king, Ace Phoenix, whom Chapman Killer said introduced her to the drag scene two years ago. Phoenix, unlike the queens, wore a less glamorous outfit with cargo pants and a flannel.

But as his performance went on, he layered up with more elaborate gear. Finishing out the show, dancing to Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” and Lorde’s “Royals,” he shrugged on a rainbow sequin jacket and put on a crown. Phoenix, who has been doing drag for five to six years, said Pitt’s drag show was one to remember, and it helped spread drag to a wider audience.

“As a college kid, I didn’t have the opportunity to see drag on-site, so to be able to bring this to an 18-21 audience in a dry atmosphere where its just a safe space for everyone to see it is just really special,” he said after the show.

Pitt students Lynne Jaworski, a sophomore politics and philosophy major, and Nathan Elia, a sophomore psychology major, said this is the third year in a row they’ve attended Pitt’s drag show, and find it gets better every year.

“The music has been really high energy,” Jaworski said. “The queens’ performances are, I think, the best I’ve seen in my three years coming to the show.”

Elia said Pitt’s drag shows are his and many other students’ only opportunity to see drag on-site, and he said for that reason he cherishes every experience at Pitt’s drag shows.

“I just love coming out to support local queens,” Elia said. “Drag is a really neat art form. It’s extremely entertaining, and I think everyone should experience it.”