In partnership with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's ( SAIC's ) Office of Diversity and JRV Majesty Productions, the school presented the first two of three workshop lectures on drag and burlesque on April 14 and 18 at the Leroy Neiman Center.
The first, "The History of American Drag," featured drag performer Shea Coulee while Precious Davis presented the second, "Transgender History, Drag, and Transformation of Self."
The term "workshop" was slightly misleading in that the two presentations were far more than showcases for the art of drag but actually discussions on gender identity, personal evolutions, self-discovery and eventual self acceptance, ownership and self-celebration. These first two installments offered the student body a chance to not only hear Coulee's and Davis' personal stories but to gain an understanding of queer thought and evolution in a free form, face to face, safe environment.
Coulee kicked off the series by doing something radical: As she spoke about her life she transformed herself right in front of the SRO audience. Coulee's commentary elevated drag from an art form into a self-evolving practice that allowed her to remake herself as a human being. She stated, "My journey as a drag performer has allowed me to understand my masculinity and femininity and to explore them to extremes."
As a multiracial adopted child brought up in Nebraska, Davis spoke of being raised in a Pentecostal family while embracing religion and her own emerging true self. After going away to college she found a way to embrace her true identity and her faith without compromise by embracing queer/trans history. Discovering the legacies of pioneers like Christine Jourgansen, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera Davis worked through non-profit and social work to place herself on the front lines of lgbt activism ( she is now the Youth Outreach Coordinator at the Center on Halsted ).
Davis showed revealing film clips of her forgotten heroines which pointed up the reality that without them there would be no gay rights movement. Among the clips were footage of Rivera, Warhol superstar Candy Darling, and Octavia St. Laurant. Davis made the point that, "Drag is social responsibility..."
The third and final workshop in the series"Burlesque; History and Politics of Production"will be presented on Friday, April 25, at 4:15 p.m. with Junior Mister and Red Hot Annie. It will also take place at SAIC's Leroy Neiman Center, 37 S. Wabash Ave. The event is free and open to the public.