Marking the fourth-annual Werk Witch 2021 drag competition at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB), Werk Witch was hosted by both the Otter Student Union (OSU) and the Otter Cross Cultural Center (OC3) on Oct. 17. Held in the new OSU ballroom, the show filled all 300 of its reserved tickets.
Five student competitors and three professionals made appearances on stage. First-place was shared between Sara Tonin and Ace Heartz, second-place to Ellen Degenerate and third-place to Feisty Fergie. Following up from her 2020 success, Sara Tonin, once again, won Mx. Congeniality.
Dressed in a tight power ranger suit, DJ and queer activist Ayumi Please returned as the event’s emcee. Judges included fourth-year Palia Van and 2019’s Mx. Congeniality winner Tara Card. Tara Card gave her own nightmarish, star-studded performance of My Chemical Romance’s “Na Na Na” before joining the judge’s table.
“Judging [Werk Witch] was really cool. It’s really fun to be on the other side of it and put that inner critic outward instead of on myself,” said fourth-year Lindsay Newey, the student behind Tara Card.
To begin the show, Emcee Please explained the history and cultural significance of drag.
“Drag is an art form… drag is an expression of the chaos of gender for all of us that are willing to experience it,” Please said. “Drag is a lot of things to a lot of people.”
The first performer was Oakland-based Maraschino Cheri who, adorned in bubblegum pink and rhinestones, showcased her signature porcelain doll look to “Don’t Cry Out” by Shiny Toy Guns. She later returned to the stage as a monochrome, mourning mime dancing to “Flowers” by Regina Spektor, complete with a dried-out bouquet.
Second-place winner Ellen Degenerate kicked off the competition with a first-rate witchy flare. She made her mark to Pink’s “Slut Like You,” enchanting the audience with her walking cane-turned-broomstick before shockingly ditching her robe. In their critique, judge Van noted her performance to be full of energy and expressiveness.
Third-year Charlie Claudino, who performed as Ellen Degenerate, spoke on the inspiration for his look.
“I found this really cool Wicked Witch of the West costume, but that was really expensive, so I tried to do something like it,” Claudino said.
He noted that the livestream aspect added pressure to the experience.
Alpha Andromeda, a professional drag queen from San Jose, wowed the audience with an unprecedented transition between ‘50s housewife and dominatrix, set to both “Freak” and “Streets” by Doja Cat. In a ghoulish return, she boasted a tattered bodysuit and whipped her wig to “Enter Sandman” by Rina Sawayama.
Student performer J. Cole graced the stage to Keisha Cole’s “Love,” embodying elegant femininity in a fur shawl and evening gloves. The crowd waved their phone flashlights as she poured herself into a soulful, captivating act. Judges remarked that she stole their heart away.
Performing to Lizzo’s “Rumors,” Salinas native Catinni P. Vandon brought a western flare to the show, dancing in red chaps and a towering orange-pink wig. Vandon closed the show as a hilarious, spell-binding Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty.
First-place winner Ace Heartz owned the stage in a sparkly slit gown and purple wig. She emerged from the stage to “I Put a Spell on You” by Betty Milder, and the audience was bewitched. “We love a queen with a beard,” commented judge Newey.
True to her name, third-place winner Feisty Fergie gave it her all while performing her namesake’s song “Fergalicious.” The audience chimed in as Fergie strutted the stage in a black romper and heels.
Continuing her reign of terror, Sara Tonin weaponized severed arm and leg props as a fierce man-eater. Her song of choice “Cannibal” was fitting for her menacing attitude and calculated act. She won over the crowd and judges with her expert choreography, ironically breathing life into the meaning of drag.
Competitors joined the stage for awards, receiving sashes, bouquets and spray-painted barbie trophies. All eight queens posed for pictures afterwards, awaiting a line of attendees wrapping the side of the ballroom.
“It was so awesome feeling the hype of the event,” OC3 student coordinator and third-year student Valerie Ordoñez said. “It’s been so long since we’ve been to an in-person drag show.”
OC3 student lead and fourth-year Amelia Parker added, “I think it’s incredibly special and unique that our university is able to put on a drag show.”
“I haven’t really heard about drag shows happening at other universities,” Parker said. “You can really tell in the attendance and also the excitement that it’s something really unique.”