Arts & LifeCulture

Stanford Drag Troupe’s ‘Celestial Excellence’: Campy ‘genderfuckery’ in all its glory

Feb. 21, 2022, 11:01 p.m.

This article omits the given names of drag performers in respect of Stanford Drag Troupe’s privacy policy.

“I’m feeling so slutty and so, so stupid tonight,” the loudspeakers blared during the intro of drag performer Slut the Rock Johnson’s number. Slutty and stupid — if loosely enough considered — perfectly encapsulated Friday’s Stanford Drag Troupe show, “Celestial Excellence.” Featuring 11 student drag performers at Pigott Theater, the show was a fascinating interrogation of gender but also a ridiculous, stupid-good time.

With the aid of an onstage rocket ship painted in psychedelic spirals, “Celestial Excellence” voyaged both through the cosmos and through a wide range of drag styles. There was the classic lip-syncing, of course: drag queen Latke stepped out of the rocket in a lab coat with a cinched waist and the slogan “I AM SCIENCE LADY!” rhinestoned across the chest to lip-sync to “DNA” by Little Mix and “Hallucinate” by Dua Lipa. And in a humorous Sputnik-themed lip-sync of “Rocketman” by Red Elvises, performer Chaos X Machine strip-teased from an astronaut suit down to a silver two-piece with a moon cut-out pasted on the buttocks. Other drag styles included a cosplay-influenced performance, corporeal mime and an acrobatics number. 

Each performer brought a different mood to the show. St. Andrew brought sultry-chic realness, strip-teasing from an elegant satin dress down to lacey lingerie and glittery star pasties. In a hypnotic duet choreographed to “E.T.” by Katy Perry, Allie Yan and Ariel Silks brought chemistry and high drama. Meanwhile, Junk brought campy humor as they shook across stage and wildly whirled trash bags around in both hands.

Leo Ltd.’s performance, entitled “Space Daddy’s Sexy Specifications for Space Aliens! A Spiel,” was a brilliant example of a non-traditional interrogation of gender. In a hilarious fantasy he described as “an aggressive, cocky drag king imposing constructs of gender onto an alien planet,” Leo Ltd. drew out the absurdity of macho, hypermasculine behaviors. Dressed in a galaxy-glitter blazer and a pompadour wig with a beard drawn on, he lip-synced along to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” viciously thrusting whenever the song instructed him to “be swift as the coursing river.”

The audience’s energy throughout the show was infectious. At every outfit reveal, every gravity-defying flip or split, every old-school vogue move or dramatic spin, audience members gasped and screamed and cheered, enthusiastically showering the performers with their love.  

Friday’s performance was Drag Troupe’s first show since their 2020 show, which was held the night before students were instructed to leave campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “To do drag and then never see each other again,” said producer 28 Daze, reminiscing on the strangeness of the time. “That was real.” 

Once Drag Troupe finally made its return to the Stanford stage, it decided to move on from where it last left off. Previously, Drag Troupe performances had taken place at the far more intimate theater within Roble Hall, without any official lighting or sound design, so this year’s performance, held at the 200-seat Pigott Theater with a full technical crew, was a completely new experience.  

Not only did Drag Troupe up its production this year, but more importantly, the troupe also prioritized making drag more accessible, especially for first-time performers. The troupe created an advisory board consisting of hair and makeup, costume and choreography advisors to help performers bring their creative fantasies to life. In addition, according to Daze, the troupe provided a substantial budget for each performer in order to alleviate any financial burdens.

“Drag is very vulnerable,” said Daze. “We wanted to cultivate a space where performers could trust us and know that we were rooting for them.”

Drag Troupe’s efforts to create an open, resourceful environment were incredibly successful: over half of the performers on Friday were first-time drag performers. Watching from the audience, it was impossible to discern who was performing for the first time from who had years of experience under their belt. 

In addition to representing a wide range of skill levels, Drag Troupe sought to showcase diverse perspectives on drag, especially in regards to gender. “Drag is not just cis men dressing up as women,” said artistic director Latke, referring to the style of drag popularized in mainstream culture through shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race. “Our motto for the show is: ‘If you call it drag, it’s drag.’” 

“Drag is any form of gender expression on a stage through amplification, nullification or mixed signals of traditional gender markers,” Latke added. Or, put more succinctly: “It’s genderfuck.” 

But drag is more than just an interrogation of gender — it’s also campy, ridiculous and nonsensical. It’s an unabashedly joyous celebration of the self, a heightened form of self-expression through fantasy. “To me, drag is like a basket that you can put all the eggs in — of course, the basket itself is an artwork too,” said performer Cicala (who uses she/her, he/him and they/them pronouns). “I enjoy make-up, performing and most importantly, I really enjoy enjoying myself. There’s an innate sense of self-obsession in drag, and narcissism is always mesmerizing.” 

During Cicala’s performance, the stage was completely silent as she whipped a leopard-print shawl through the air and draped it over her body and a nearby chair. The audience was possessed by his choreography, the sharp angles of their movement and the long, meditative pauses. At one point, a voice rang out, breaking the still air. “Your existence is everything!” it called out. And it’s true: with each set, Friday’s drag performers showed again and again that your existence — the complete embodiment and enjoyment of both being yourself and feeling your own fantasy — is truly everything.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.

Lydia Wei '24 is an Arts and Life columnist for the Daily. She loves blackberries. Contact Lydia at lydiawei 'at' stanford.edu

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