Story by Andrea Valadez and Max Guerrera
The annual Werk Witch drag show on Saturday, Oct. 15 surpassed audience expectations for its fourth year at California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB).
Doors opened around 6:30 p.m., with more than 60 people eagerly waiting to find the best seats to watch their fellow Otters perform in the Otter Student Union (OSU) ballroom. Those who did not purchase a ticket beforehand were put on a waitlist and some were even seen trying to talk their way into the show to see one of the only on-campus events to consistently sell out.
“I wanted to experience it for myself,” said Elizabeth Mackey, a second-year at CSUMB who attended Werk Witch for the first time. “I came into the event expecting to have a good time and my expectations were definitely met.”
The night was hosted by the Otter Cross Cultural Center (OC3) which prides itself on fostering “opportunities for continued knowledge, civic engagement, and social justice activism.” Sean Meeks, one of the main organizers of the night believes the inclusivity and diversity that the show is based in is the reason behind its popularity.
The theme of the night may have been Halloween, but the atmosphere was completely devoted to acceptance. According to organizers, the popular event has been in the works since August. Their hard work definitely did not go unnoticed, as the OSU ballroom was decorated head-to-toe with bats, spider webs, and different lighting to match the energy of every performance.
The show’s judges were three notable drag queens from diverse backgrounds and throughout the show they fostered the crowd’s energy and gave contestants tips on how to improve their performances. In a space outside of their normal scene, judge Kenya Belove hoped a heterosexual crowd would take away “how to be accepting of different genders and identities, and to understand the world we come from.”
A diverse crowd came to appreciate drag, which judge Betty Fresas described as an art form. The judges all performed their own routines and Betty Fresas wowed the audience with a marigold-covered dress to celebrate her Mexican heritage.
Competitors showed up with their spookiest costumes and most theatrical routines to impress the judges in accordance with the Halloween theme. Personas ranged from an NSFW cowboy, a jellyfish from the beloved Nickelodeon show Spongebob, a pirate, a witch and an entertaining twist on movie character Megamind. Each performance was paired with a unique soundtrack that kept the crowd on the edge of their seats for the duration of the two-hour show.
While the night was filled with lively entertainment and lots of laughs, drag is much more than just a show, said judge Tori Tia. “It’s taught me a lot about resilience, perseverance and to nurture my creativity.”
The night was a new experience for many, as a majority of the contestants were newcomers to the drag world. It was also a first time for some of the judges, as it was their first experience evaluating student competitors. Judge Kenya Belove was honored to have “the opportunity for [the judges] to nurture new drag.”
Whether it was their first time performing or not, all contestants were welcomed to the runway with open arms.
This could definitely be felt as the audience wildly cheered for each of the eight performers who left it all on the runway. Audience members later voted for their favorite performances through a Google Form and winners were revealed at the end of the night.
Chi Daria’s captivating performance as a jellyfish won the third place spot. Second place went to MiniMind’s animated routine that left the audience smiling.
Kai Merra, a recent graduate from CSUMB, took home the tiara and sash for winning first place in the popular vote of the night.
Merra appreciates drag as a way to express their gender identity because “that little bit of separation gives you the distance to play around and not feel the pressure society puts on gender.”
The crowd also had the opportunity to vote for Mx. Congeniality of the show.
Mx. Congeniality is someone who has “charisma, nerve, talent, connects with the crowd and is personable,” advised judge Kenya Belove, who has learned to not take life too seriously through drag.
The title of Mx. Congeniality went to Drag King Lightning Storms McKing, who no doubt received the loudest applause of the night. McKing dazzled the audience with their lively rendition of the hit song “Life is a Highway” and received compliments from the judges about their captivating energy.
McKing confessed that they were “terrified on stage but I have a terrible memory so when the scary thing is over it’s pretty much gone.”
The end of the night produced a bit of a surreal moment as many felt the air was filled with immense joy and contentment for what they had just collectively experienced.
It makes complete sense why Belove described drag as a “labor of love.”