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First graduates of GSRC’s Drag University take the stage

Two rows of performers stand and kneel on a stage, sporting bedazzled costumes.
Professional and student performers at the 2024 Drag Brunch.
Sejal Goud / The Daily Princetonian

“Anybody that is out there looking to get involved in the art form of drag … run,” Victoria Courtez, one of the professional performers at Princeton’s 2024 Drag Brunch, joked. “Run, don’t walk, to become a drag queen or a drag king or a gender non-identifying entertainer.” 

This was one of many pieces of advice shared at the brunch on April 20.


“If you’re not doing drag that makes you happy, why are you doing drag?” Kinsey Spectrum, who helped mentor student performers for the brunch, said. 

Haley Choueiri ’25, a current intern at the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC), noted that while “drag culture is definitely present on campus … not a lot of people know [about it].” In an interview with The Daily Princetonian, Choueiri called the GSRC “instrumental in making sure the drag culture is available for students specifically."

For the first time, the GSRC has hosted a “Drag University” to help interested students learn the ropes of drag and prepare to make their debut on stage at the Drag Brunch. The GSRC organizes, funds, and finds performers for its annual brunch shows, but the Drag University marks a new step in the GSRC’s efforts to help students explore the world of drag. 

Throughout the year-long program, students participating in Drag University met every few weeks to learn from local performers. Workshops included costume design, sewing, makeup, wig-making, and crowd work. Lessons also highlighted the history of drag. 

The GSRC provided each participant with 400 dollars to bring their vision to life. At the end of the year, the students were invited to showcase their performance at the GSRC’s annual drag brunch. 

A student-driven exploration of drag


Mirabella Smith ’24 not only participated in the inaugural Drag University program — they were one of the brains behind it. 

“I’ve always had an academic interest in drag … so last summer, I pitched an idea to my supervisors at the [GSRC],” they said. “What if we did a program like this? [One] that would give students an intro level exploration of what it means to do drag?”

Unbeknownst to Smith, the GSRC staff, specifically Grace Davis, the GSRC program director at the time, had been planning a program like Drag University for quite some time. Davis’ curriculum, along with Smith’s input, helped the program get off the ground. Davis then taught the program in its first inaugural semester.

After the first few workshops, Smith’s interest in drag deepened.

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“After being around the workshops, I realized I had more than an academic interest in what we were doing,” they said. “It’s such a cool means of self-expression, and it’s also incredibly artistic. The amount of knowledge and versatility and just various talents you need to have to put together a drag look.”

Smith added, “I’m not at a place where I can do that all by myself yet. Hopefully, maybe I will be in the future. But it pulled me in.”

Before they knew it, Smith had become a full-fledged participant in Drag University.  

“It was a last-minute decision but one that I’m really glad I made,” Smith said.

Building up the drag community

Richard Elliot, known on stage as Rhedd Rhumm, played an important role in helping Drag University get off the ground. With several years of hosting Princeton’s drag brunches under their belt, Elliot was the first person the GSRC called when they obtained funding for Drag University.

“[The GSRC staff] reached out to me to do presentations around the history of drag and the impacts of drag, as well as help curate some of the workshops they were already building,” Elliot said.

Guided by the GSRC’s program outline, Elliot reached out to local professional drag queens to teach the workshops. 

“[The GSRC] already had their own plan in motion, but I wanted to help refine it and get more people in the community involved that had a stake in wanting to build up the drag community that we have already,” Elliot added. 

To accomplish this, Elliot pulled in drag queens and kings from all over the New Jersey/New York area, including from their own drag family. Drag families are a tradition in which more experienced performers — the mothers — mentor younger and newer performers — the daughters. 

For this year’s brunch, Elliot called on their drag mother Victoria Courtez from East Windsor, drag daughter Vanity Ray from Jersey City, and a drag king, Maxxx Pleasure, from Brooklyn.

“I handpicked them, just because they give a variety of different drag styles,” Elliot explained. “Having student performers as well as having local, established drag performers really helped. You get to see the gamut of what people can do.”

Elliot’s history with drag runs deep. They were first inspired to pick up the art form by RuPaul’s Drag Race, leading them to look for clubs in the area that had open performance stages. Luckily, a club near Rutgers University was putting on a showcase for new performers and had an open spot for Elliot. After their first performance, the club asked them to come back for another. 

Elliot also has experience volunteering at Project R.E.A.L., a non-profit organization in Asbury Park, New Jersey, that works to empower LGBTQ+ youth. During their time at the organization, they taught Drag 101 classes and later extended their work into public health, educating youth on sexual health, LGBTQ+ health care, and education and community advocacy for BIPOC and queer individuals. 

“A lot of what I attribute to my drag career is because of the career I had at Project R.E.A.L. and still now [have] in public health. And what I have in public health and my community work is because of my drag career,” they said. They see these two aspects of their life as very intertwined.

‘It’s the sort of thing that makes you want to do it again’

Smith’s final performance involved a lip sync to “I Don’t Care” by Fall Out Boy. Their stage name was “Mick Kinsey Scale,” a play on the consulting firm McKinsey and the Kinsey Scale, a scale developed by Dr. Alfred Kinsey that describes one’s sexuality on a spectrum. 

“At Princeton, you know so many people who are going into consulting and I wanted to do a little tongue-in-cheek play on that,” Smith said. 

“There was a lot of adrenaline,” they said, reflecting on their performance. “I was nervous at first and then it just kind of happened. You get off stage and you’re like, ‘Whoa, I really did that.’”

“It was a really fulfilling process and the catharsis of actually seeing it come to fruition was really wonderful. It’s the sort of thing that makes you want to do it again,” Smith continued. 

Layla Williams ’25 is another graduate of Drag University. Like Elliot, she became a drag fan while watching RuPaul’s Drag Race with her mom and attending shows in her hometown.

Once on campus, her mom encouraged her to explore the Princeton drag scene, so Williams attended one of the GSRC’s drag brunches. After attending the brunch two years in a row, Williams decided to get involved as a performer. 

“I do a lot of theater, and I think drag is another kind of art form in itself. I like learning and understanding different elements of performance,” she said. For her performance, she choreographed a dance and lip synced to “Toxic” by Britney Spears, sporting a yellow hazmat suit that she later ripped off to reveal a lime green outfit underneath.

Williams recalled a stressful time a few days before the performance when she realized she didn’t have a stage name yet. After meeting with the rest of the group, she realized they were all in the same boat.

“We were asked ‘What are your guys’ names?’ and we all looked at each other like ‘Okay, nobody has a name yet, we were all in solidarity at that point,’” she said. After a Drag University Session in which they practiced “crowd work,” Williams mentioned the students had a critique session afterwards.

‘Drag is something that’s supposed to be communal’ 

This year’s brunch featured five local professional drag performers and four student performers. Along with Rhedd Rhumm, Vanity Ray, Maxxx Pleasure, and Victoria Courtez, there was also Monét X Change, who competed on several seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“It’s really exciting,” Williams said about learning from the drag queens and kings. “Everyone comes with their different perspective, not only in terms of differing identities but also in the way they approach things.” 

Smith also noted that Drag University fostered an open, caring environment.

“All the queens were super talented. We all shared this vision that drag is something that’s supposed to be communal. It’s something that’s supposed to be open and liberating, and it can take so many different forms,” they explained. 

“Seeing how committed they were to the program and seeing how engaged they were, how much they wanted to learn and know about the history and culture of drag was really nice to see,” Elliot said.

They added, “It was also really nice to see the students actually commit to doing the show as well. It takes a lot of charisma, it takes a lot of confidence, to just get up on stage for the first time in front of your peers, not strangers, and put out something you have put a lot of time and effort into building.”

Elliot also appreciated the opportunity to teach Drag University’s inaugural graduating class about the history and experience of drag.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race is nice and has done a lot to put a spotlight on drag,” they said. “But it also has taken away some aspects of drag that are really about learning about queer and LGBTQ+ culture.” 

Smith believes that drag is essential to the history of the queer community.

“If you don’t look at the black trans women and drag queens who have fought for the rights of queer people forever, you’re missing an essential part of what queer history looks like.”

‘Drag is alive and well’ 

Elliot noted, “[t]here could be something standing in the way of [drag culture], since Princeton has some prestige to it. And with prestige comes political happenings. Some individuals may not want to see drag and may not accept drag in the area.”

Nevertheless, they acknowledged there are individuals who are willing to produce and attend drag shows. This year’s drag brunch was a packed affair. 

“We had a certain number of spots, and our [reservation] form closed within a week,” Choueiri said. “There [was] lots of cheering, lots of clapping, lots of smiles.”

The walls were covered with silver tinsel, the tables decorated in pride flags, and colorful lights danced across the ceiling. When it was time to perform, a hush did not fall over the crowd. Instead, viewers cheered and waved their money in the air, taking part in the tipping culture common to drag. 

Williams concluded that there are “spaces on campus where drag is alive and well.” 

Along with the drag brunches the GSRC hosts every year, the Princeton community also holds other drag-centric events throughout the year. These include drag cycling classes at Dillon Gym, a drag ballet performance at the McCarter Theatre, and a writing seminar titled “And the Rest is Drag.” Additionally, both Smith and Williams praised the Terrace Club Drag show that happens every year. 

E. Licksher, another one of the Drag University mentors, advised people interested in drag.

“Do this because you have art you want to show to the world, and watch everybody just fall in love with it.”

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include Grace Davis’s contributions to the program. 

Katie Thiers is a staff Features writer for the ‘Prince.’

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