By Jack Short
Hello there! My name is Jack Short, and I am an intern at Art Spark Texas studying at Bennington College. I am assisting in the editing and posting of several recordings taken from the Lion and Pirate Open Mic program.
At Bennington College, I co-run the drag club with my partner. It’s a lot of work- communicating with the college and drama department to reserve venues for practices and shows, advertising our club so that fellow students come see all the hard work we’ve put in, and on top of that, we had about twelve (give or take) club members to manage. The drag club has always had an open policy. Anyone can join, no matter your skill level, your identity, or your disability status.
Drag is an art form that isn’t usually considered an art form- and definitely not an art form that just anyone can participate in. Have you ever seen a disabled drag queen? Have you ever seen a drag king? It’s such an exclusive industry that most people think they just can’t do it. Or when they try, they’re told they’re doing it wrong. And trust me… there is no wrong way to do drag.
First of all, why is drag art? To me, it’s a performance of gender, whatever that might mean to you. You put on a character that has their own personality and look, and you play it. You dance and tell stories. It’s art for the same reason that any performance is art. Not to mention all the artistic work that goes into bringing your character to life; costume design, makeup, acting, etc. For a lot of people, getting all dressed up is a way to free themselves, to be someone they’re not, to feel confident and comfortable in their own skin. Whenever I do a show, one of my favorite parts is talking to people afterwards and hearing them say ‘Wow! I had no idea that was you!’
This fall term, all of our performers were neurodivergent and/or physically disabled in some way. I think this is because of a couple reasons: 1) Gender is a complicated topic to explore, and for a lot of neurodivergent people, it’s a very prominent part of their lives, including my own. Drag is a fun way to play with the concept around people that won’t judge you. 2) We won’t turn anyone away. I strongly believe that your disability status shouldn’t affect what you can and can’t do in the eyes of everyone else. Any disability shouldn’t stop you from being able to dance and perform, whether you use a movement aid or you get distracted easily.
One of our performers was in a wheelchair, and did an amazing job in all of our shows. My partner and I made sure that they could perform, even when the college itself seemed to be against us. One of our venues had a stage that wasn’t accessible, so we asked the college for a ramp. What seemed like a simple request turned into a wild goose chase- we were passed between multiple people and nobody seemed to know if we even had a ramp. On the day of the show, we still didn’t have one, but as we were setting up a campus officer walked in with a ramp! We were saved! Until…
Ugh, this part still baffles me. He walked in with a tiny ramp, obviously too small for the stage. He looked at the ramp, looked at the stage, set it down and left. And of course, it wasn’t going to work. The ramp was way too steep to be of any use, so we had to clear out a space in front of the stage to let everyone perform.
Roadblocks like this may stop a lot of people from trying new things. Things they think they can’t do. Things that seem intimidating. Things that you’ve always wanted to do, but you’ve been told you’re doing it wrong, or maybe you just can’t. I had never performed in my life before college. I thought I couldn’t do it. I was too scared, too stiff, too anxious and distractable, too awkward. But I really wanted to… so I did. And I was scared and stiff and awkward. But I had fun- so much fun, in fact, that now I co-run drag club and I feel so much more confident in my abilities.
My point is- go out and do it. I’m sure you’re sick of hearing that you can do anything you put your mind to, but really, it’s mostly true. You have people who are rooting for you, who will do anything to back you up and make things easier. And hopefully, when you’ve been doing the things you want, you won’t need to be told that worn out phrase. You’ll just know it.
Jack Short is currently a sophomore at Bennington College studying drag and computer science. He enjoys video games, crochet, and taking care of his dog (Pluto).