While it’s not the last place on earth where one would look to find a drag show, Bemidji certainly isn’t the first town in Minnesota one would associate with such a thing. People here are more interested in parkas and snowshoes this time of year than cocktail dresses and high heels. Regardless, Friday’s show had a surprisingly high turnout, according to members of BSU’s gay/straight alliance, the Phoenix, which hosted the event.
Planning for the show was underway since the idea came up in early December. It arose when members of the Phoenix returned from a conference at North Dakota State University where they first met a couple of the drag queens who were featured in Friday’s show. The Phoenix hopes to make “Sax, Drags, and Rock N’ Roll” an annual event, now that connections have been established between coordinators of the event and the performers, who expressed interest in returning for a repeat production.
Since this was the first drag show to come to Bemidji, a lot of people were unsure what to expect. It ended up being a fairly simple presentation, with a runway stage set up in the Beaux Arts Ballroom. The three performers featured took turns dancing and lip-syncing to popular mainstream music numbers.
Three members of the Phoenix were also part of the show, coming out once before intermission, and again shortly before the end of the show, dressed in drag king fashions and performing numbers by popular comedic musical group, The Lonely Island. Kelly Coxyn, professional drag queen and main hostess of the show, also did short stand-up routines between sets where she would come out amongst the audience and heckle specific members while other performers prepared their songs and outfits.
During her audience interviews, Coxyn took a short survey of the sexual orientation of her patrons. She discovered there was a very even mix of both gay and straight onlookers. For the leaders of the Phoenix, this was a pleasing turn-out, as the organization is meant to represent equality and alliance between students and faculty of all orientations at BSU. To Coxyn and members of the Phoenix, shows like this are a great way to bring together an assortment of different lifestyles.
“It’s breaking down a kind of wall between people,” Coxyn said when asked what these kinds of shows represent to her. “Here, no one’s judging each other.”
Drag kings and queens were not the only focus of Friday’s event. Phoenix member Paul Petzke made a presentation between sets regarding two giant quilts hung on one wall in the Ballroom. These quilts were made to commemorate victims of HIV/AIDS and were held during the show as a memorial. According to Petzke, there are over 50,000 quilts like the two hung during the concert, hung in venues all over the U.S. in tribute to AIDS victims.
These quilts, which were big enough to cover a large section of wall in the Ballroom, are made up of many small sections of cloth, each one dedicated to a specific person. These quilts serve as a reminder for people, and they are used as a tool to raise HIV/AIDS awareness around the nation.
“It’s only going to get better if we act on it,” Petzke said in his presentation while introducing the quilts.
AIDS awareness was not the only social campaign presented through the drag show. Attendees to the show could gain admittance through a ticket fee or by bringing a non-perishable food item for the Evergreen Shelter. Half the profits from ticket sales (and tips given to the performers) went toward the shelter, while the other half went toward the Phoenix in order to pay for the production costs of the event.
The Evergreen Shelter gave a short presentation at the show about what the organization’s purpose. They accept runaway and homeless youths between the ages of six and 19. A lot of their clientele are gay or transsexual, hence their association with the Phoenix and the drag show. While the shelter helps runaway teens and children across the nation, this local branch came to express their gratitude for the donations collected through the show.
The drag show lasted for about two hours and closed out with all three featured drag queens performing a grand finale montage together on stage. The performers came down and mingled with the crowd as the evening drew to a close. After a big turnout and warm welcome, the first drag show to ever come to Bemidji State ended as a great success for the Phoenix. Members of the Phoenix hope to bring more shows like it to campus in the future.