Mistress of Ceremonies Isis Jamacia set the tone for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Drag Show: “Hello ladies, gentlemen, and gender-variant friends!” she greeted the crowd.
Jamacia, aka Warren Scherer, is program coordinator at the UW-M Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center. Jamacia has seen the show grow during her five-year reign to become the center’s largest annual event.
This year all 640 seats were taken, and at least 100 more people clamored around
the edges of the ballroom and spilled out into the hallways.
The Feb. 27 event embodied fun – and all for a good cause.
Last year’s performance brought in $1,700 for the for-youth, by-youth Project Q program of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center.
This year Jamacia tried to increase donations from the crowd by inviting audience
members to deposit bills into the hands of performers – or into two large buckets anchored at the end of the catwalk.
Jamacia and Joe Mama, drag king persona of Rachel Coles, bantered with
the audience between the performers’ sets. Jamacia’s quips and endless costume changes brought appreciative laughs.
When Tempest Heat took the stage, drag show novices learned that it’s one thing to lip sync, and it’s another to truly entertain. The crowd fell hard for Heat, with her high kicks and teasing antics. Clad in shimmering gold, Heat ignited a party atmosphere as she landed a cartwheel and dropped into the splits.
“This is important to me, because I was a youth who found Project Q,” Heat said backstage after enjoying a standing ovation. “I came out of the closet at a young age – and before Project Q, I thought I was only one like that.”
The show’s content was not for the modest-of-ear. In addition to sexually suggestive content, there was more than a little profanity among the lyrics. The musical repertoire included Lilly Allen’s “F*** You Very Much.”
A cadre of volunteers kept the show running. Staff from the center helped out on stage and backstage, running the lights, cuing the music and providing sign interpretation for the hearing impaired. Twenty drag kings, queens, high femmes and burlesque performers donated their time as well.
Backstage, performers reflected on the importance of the event. Madam Sparkkl, an intern at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, was in her third year with the show. She said that she hoped attendees would become “more open-minded and more inquisitive to find out about people not like them.”
“This show is important because you are who you are and you can be that without restrictions here regarding gender or sexuality,” said volunteer Mervyn Rutley.
Performer Libra, a youth leader at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, said the event was important for the mere fact that the community gets to see a mass of supporters gathered together.
Show organizer Jamacia said the location was the icing on the cake for her – or the wig on the head, in this case. “It shows that even though UW-M’s an institution of higher education, that it can provide a cultural and social outlet for the greater community, too,” she said.