Not often in my life do I have experiences that I would call enlightening or rapturous. In the Stearns Performance Space a few Thursdays ago, I had one such experience. The catalyst was a drag show hosted by local Burlington drag sensations Nikki Champagne and Emoji Nightmare.
Before I get into the riveting story of the headline, let me address the show in a review.
The room was already packed when I arrived – fifteen minutes early and there were only a few empty rows of chairs left. Thrilled at the crowd turnout, I found myself an aisle seat in the third row.
Any drag enthusiast will tell you that aisle seats are one of the best spots to sit in. Obviously, the front row has the best view for most of the show, but aisle sitters get attention. Drag is less a show, more an experience. If you want the best experience, you want to be interacted with.
The show proceeded as drag shows often do – it started fifteen minutes late, so a show of high quality was to be expected. Nikki and Emoji spent their early stage time talking about the history of NVU-Johnson drag shows. Though the two couldn’t quite pin it down at first, this was their fourth year performing the show – “you don’t count the years, you just count your blessings,” Emoji joked on stage.
After they’d finished reminiscing and joking, they invited their first performer to the stage. The full list of performers was Ryder Gently, Farrah Nuff, Miss Czechoslovakia, Izzy Endowed and of course, Nikki and Emoji.
Ryder Gently performed first, doing a cowboy inspired piece filled with remarkably impressive pelvic thrusts. Miss Czechoslovakia performed next. Her costume included a pair of conveniently placed, glitter-filled condom balloons which she popped partway through the song “Dance 10, Looks 3”. Farrah Nuff went to the stage next, wearing a costume of rainbow ribbons that were as dazzling in the lights as her performance on the stage.
Then Nikki went to the stage, and the show took all sorts of turns.
Shortly into her first set, half of the stage lights went off and the music cut out. She talked to the tech crew briefly before declaring to the audience that they had blown a fuse.
Shifting awkwardly around the stage for a moment, she did what any monarch would do during a halted performance – she started humping the floor.
This received a roar of applause from the audience and served as the jumping off point for the rest of the show going off the rails in the best way possible.
Once the lights were back and the music was blaring, Nikki wasted no time in thrusting herself back into her performance. Stepping off the stage, she started getting intimate with the front row – putting fingers on shoulders, leaning into laps, caressing chests.
As Nikki strutted down the center aisle, hips rocking harder than a dinghy in a hurricane, she passed by and turned down the aisle behind me. I thought nothing of it, until I felt the queen’s hands, tender and forceful at the same time, land on my shoulders.
Now, according to my own judgement, I’m a pretty queer person all things considered. Trans butch lesbian is a pretty good description of my identity, and I surround myself with queer people and culture as much as I can.
So, when Nikki Champagne’s hands stopped being on my shoulders and started being on my chest, my gay little heart went into overdrive.
Her hands were only on my chest for a second or two, but in that time frame I felt more condensed euphoria than I thought I could feel throughout my entire life.
My body didn’t move until Nikki’s hands started retreating – her touch almost pulled me upwards, erecting my back. Her fingers lifted away from my collarbones, and I felt the weight of my own existence leave with them.
I turned to my companion, who had been taking photos of the event. I remember saying something to her – likely a statement about how much of a gay panic I was experiencing. She responded appropriately: “I just watched your soul leave your body.”
When Nikki finished her performance, she invited Emoji back to the stage, where they recited “A Big Guy Took my Ball” by Mo Willems – funny voices were included. This was part of Drag Queen Story Hour, which the queens use as a platform for queer activism.
Nikki returned with a trash bag and asked if anyone was allergic to hay. With a silent room as the response, she laughed and said “Good fucking thing!” before dumping hay on the stage. Emoji came to the stage where she danced in a cow costume while spraying fake milk on the audience for several minutes.
Student performers went next, in a not-competition competition. Less intense than the committed queens, their shows were still enjoyable and raucous.
After intermission, the show got more intense than any drag show I had ever been to. The music was often drowned out during more raucous cheers. Performers were in the crowd more often than they were on stage.
Unfortunately, a lot of the latter half of the show went by in a bit of a haze for me. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying it – I was enthralled.
However, the intensity of the rest of the show and the lingering shock from being touched by Nikki left me less than able to take informative notes.
That said, this show was spectacular. For me, drag doesn’t need to be remembered. It’s a moment and a sensation. It’s not always about what happened, it’s about how much gay passion and energy can be crammed into a single room within a time frame of two hours.
This drag show had so much gay energy. It also has a five-star rating from me – the best drag show I’ve ever been to, without a doubt.