Nearly 600 students gathered in the UC Auditorium on Thursday night for a glimpse into gender-bending fun in the form of "Lip Sync for Your Life," a drag show co-hosted by Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee and the Lambda Student Union.
Held in conjunction with Sex Week, the show was the most well-attended of its predecessors as well as the "most popular" event of SEAT's week long programming, Brianna Rader, senior in College Scholars and SEAT co-founder, said.
"It's more than just a normal entertainment event," Rader said. "I don't think a lot of students have exposure to drag and they're curious, so a lot of people come out to see it."
Student curiosity about drag appears to be a growing phenomenon based on the attendance records of UT-hosted performances during the last few years, Rader said.
"When I was a sophomore, there was very, very low attendance (for the event)," she said. "Probably 30 people were in the audience. And then last year, we partnered up with Lambda and probably had 400 people come."
Forced to turn away a substantial number of students once the maximum capacity for this year's show had been reached, Rader equated the popularity of drag shows for some students to the excitement surrounding UT athletics for others.
"I really think that for a lot of students at UT, this is their equivalent of going to a football game," she said. "I think it was a really great opportunity to bond with other students who were so excited to be there."
The drag extravaganza was comprised of more than 20 acts representing a variety of genders and sporting stage names such as "Beyonslay," "Anita Dick" and "VaCeline Dion." Two professional drag queens, Anastasia Alexander of The Carousel fame and Jessica Jay of Club XYZ, lent their expertise for guest performances.
Waves of audience members grasping fistfuls of dollar bills flanked the stage in order to "tip" their favorite professional and amateur performers. All proceeds goes toward Lambda's future programming.
Jordan Achs, junior in journalism and electronic media and copy editor for The Daily Beacon who played "Gay-Z" to Chris Simmons' "Beyonslay," called the audience's reaction to numbers like SNL's "3-Way (The Golden Rule)" and a dramatic rendition of "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," performed by SEAT's own Jacob Clark, "fantastic."
"The energy in the auditorium was infectious," Achs said. "The sheer number of people was unbelievable, and the crowd was wonderful."
The supportive atmosphere created by the crowd helped bolster Achs' confidence level going into her debut drag performance, an impulsive move driven by Simmons' need for a partner.
"I loved being on stage, and being dressed like a man didn't bother me," she said. "It was part of the fun of the show, as was going out to dance and sing and laugh with my friends. It's an experience I won't forget."
For Rader, the experience afforded by the show is one she hopes will help eliminate the divisive misconceptions held by society about gender.
"Sex Week's main mission is to open up the dialogue about gender and sex and relationships, and the drag show applies because anyone can display their gender any way they feel most comfortable," Rader said. "Drag is about changing gender and playing around with it.
"Through drag, students can learn more about the gender binary that exists."