By Simon Isham–
The Multipurpose Room in the SAC is no stranger to fierce and fabulous. As host to PINK, the university’s annual drag variety show, the venue lives a double life. By day, it is a drab, crowded eating area where students nosh on systematically prepared lunches, then rush to class. By night, it is utterly transformed into a sultry, dimly lit nightclub, complete with faux potted palms and pink glowsticks.
As the crowd waited for the show to begin on Friday night, their chatter was as thunderous as it is during the daytime hours; however, once M.C. Lampe, the master of ceremonies for the evening, requested everyone’s attention, the assembly fell silent with anticipation.
Brian Buford, the director of the LGBT Center, took the stage to welcome the audience, as well as to announce a new logo and website for the center. Buford said that the proceeds from the evening’s admission would benefit the LGBT Center’s new study-abroad program, the first of its kind in the South.
He also thanked Julie Onnembo, assistant director of student involvement, for having attended every PINK since the first in 1997, and crowned seven year-old Katie the Princess of PINK, having attended every year since she was two. Buford then introduced the cast of PINK 2013.
The troupe filed onto the stage, led by drag queen Reva Devereaux, a five-year veteran of the show who was named the honorary mother of the PINK cast. Devereaux wore a spiky green wig and matching green, white, red and blue dress as she lip-synced to “Fashionista” by Jimmy James while the performers paraded around her in a circle, stopping occasionally to pose.
When the song ended, Devereaux explained the procedure of tipping for drag show “virgins,” whereby audience members who wish to thank a performer for entertaining them may approach the stage to hand a bill to him or her.
Reflecting on her past PINK experiences, Devereaux said that she loved the show because it helped students to “celebrate one another … I got chills because I thought, ‘you know what? U of L is the greatest college in the world.’” Then she said, “Let me hear a round of applause from all the people in here [who] are straight.”
Applause and cheering sounded from every part of the room.
“Thank you all for coming. You know, some of my best friends are straight,” she said, pausing before, “including myself,” a comment which elicited sniggers from the audience.
“Wait a minute, why was that funny?” Devereaux asked with mock surprise. “No, I’m about as straight as … nevermind, we won’t go there.”
The house exploded with laughter. Devereaux finished with a few more jokes in this vein, then took her leave, making way for Molly Stevens, a dreadlocked student comedian who performed a warm-up routine. Stevens said that she had arrived fifteen minutes late because “we operate on Queer Standard Time. Have you heard of it?”
As an outside observer looking in, she read the state of Kentucky to filth. She told an anecdote about her adventures in the college hunt, having toured Warren Wilson College, a private school in North Carolina, which she described as “a hippie commune with classes.” After their tour, her mother, who was present at PINK, had asked her, “Are you going to get dreadlocks and start digging women?” Stevens responded “‘No, mom!’ But then I went to (U of L) and that still happened.”
Then came the classic drag performances. Only one performer took on a number that was specifically invented for the drag circuit: “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant Shangela Laquifa Wadley’s “Werqin’ Girl.” And werq it she did; she sashayed her way offstage carrying a chair full of bills, one of the most-tipped performers of the night.
The unspoken rule is that there is “no tea, no shade” at PINK; rather than trying to one-up other performers, many took the bills they had earned onstage to the tipping line in support of their fellows. In fact, they were often the most enthusiastic of fans, waving bills in the air and dancing to the beat.
Interestingly, understandably, glitter was strictly prohibited at the event, but what the show lacked in gleaming acrylic particles, it made up for in feathers. After performances by several members of the cast, the crew had to take what M.C. Lampe amusedly designated as “feather breaks” to clear the fowl debris from the catwalk.
PINK was held on Friday, March 22. It is U of L’s longest-running fundraiser, and is now in its 16th year. But U of L students are not the only ones who attend PINK: Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, and Louisville Youth Group, or LYG, had both reserved private tables at the event. PFLAG is a national organization which helps to provide support and answers to the loved ones of LGBTQ individuals. LYG is a local organization which aims to provide a safe place for activities and discussion among local youth, especially those who identify as LGBTQ.
As the LGBT study abroad program, for which PINK is a benefit, will be held this summer in Greece, the cast held a special performance of a dance to a Greek song. The five performers were each dressed as a different archetype of ancient Greek mythology. One was a tanned, muscular Adonis who lay in a relaxed pose during the song, feeding himself grapes and collecting tips in a dish. The four dancers were dressed as a hoplite, a satyr, Narcissus and a figure who appeared to be based on Helen of Troy.
Kimora St. James strutted onto stage for the final solo act of the night with some “Queen Bey” realness, straddling a chair in a pair of white, heeled, thigh-high boots. After her portion, the entire cast and crew reunited on stage for a rendition of “Seasons of Love” from the hit Broadway musical “Rent”.
Devereaux, the show’s ringleader, was an automatic star by virtue of the number of times she appeared in the show, performing four routines throughout the spectacle, with costume changes for each.
But she wasn’t the only one the audience had their eyes on: when asked her favorite, audience member Shatrice Watkins replied “(Kimora) St. James. She was amazing.” Watkins’ friend Hau Le, who accompanied her to the show, concurred: “Oh, the House of St. James. No question. ‘Run the World,’ are you kidding?”
So who run the world? PINK 2013 proved that the answer is still ‘kings and queens’: U of L’s drag royalty.
Photos by Rae Hodge/The Louisville Cardinal