Courtesy of Nadav Ben-David

Gagged seeks autonomy, bound by bureaucracy

Gagged, a student-run drag group, staged a Halloween show this October that took campus by storm. Nearly 400 undergraduates packed Stamm Dining Room to capacity and then some, spilling out into the upper level Templeton lobby to witness the extravagant “Dragged to Hell” show.

“The Halloween (show) was crazy,” Anya Upson ’23, who organizes Gagged shows with Venus Edlin ’23, said.

Shows in past years, typically held in the Platteau — the on-campus art and multimedia space — paled in comparison to the Halloween show in grandeur, budget and attendance.

The group’s performance during New Student Orientation (NSO) this past August marked their first collaboration with an administrative office. The performance garnered the attention of the historic class of first- year students who then returned to attend the Halloween show.

Gagged’s interaction with the NSO committee proved difficult.

“It’s hard to deal with them and hard to book things,” Upson said. “Especially for a drag show because they don’t really prioritize that as much.”

In light of the group’s surging popularity and separation from both the Queer Student Union (QSU) and the Platteau, Gagged is embracing its new role as an autonomous entity on campus. To Upson, Gagged showcases Lewis & Clark’s queer community independently from what the school’s administration,academiccurriculaor established LGBTQ+ clubs on campus deem permissible.

According to Upson, Gagged also provides a platform for queer students to exist and express themselves through means independent of explicit social activism.

This newfound independence poses questions for the club, especially when it comes to receiving funds. As a recognized club, Gagged could receive funding from the school. Though the club plans to file the paperwork over winter break, Upson is wary of the censorship Gagged could be subject to as a recognized and funded student organization.

“I worry that close affiliation with the school could limit what we are able to do and what we are able to perform,” Upson said. “When drag becomes explicitly political, they get defensive and say it’s inappropriate and I don’t want that to happen and I don’t want to have that fear of censorship.”

Upson made their Gagged debut as a first-year at the Halloween show in 2019. They had begun performing drag in the Bay Area at 14 and did not plan onleavingitbehindincollege.

“Gagged was actually one of the main reasons I came to this school,” Upson said.“Itwasreallyimportantto me that I could continue (doing drag) wherever I went because I was feeling like I was leaving a really important community and I wanted to stay connected with it.”

Upson and Edlin partnered with the Center for Social Change and Community Involvement to organize and stage the Halloween show. The planning began in mid-September.

Led by Associate Dean of Students Dr. Kayleigh McCauley-Sayer, the Center is an approach to service- learning that runs four student leadership and volunteer programs. It replaced Student Leadership and Service, the previous student leadership office run by Harold McNaron,insummer2021.Oneofthe Center’s better known initiatives is the pride flag painted on South Residence Hall Dr. below the staircase that leads to Maggie’s.

According to Center staff member Erin Khong ’21, the Halloween show was first conceived as a way to implement the office’s “party with a purpose” initiative, the aim of which was to showcase and raise money for a student organization.

The Center funded the event and paid a stipend to all performers. With the assistance of the offices of Conferences & Events and Student Engagement, the Center took care of staging, lighting, sound and social media promotion.

The next Gagged show is currently planned for Dec. 10. However, time concerns with preparation of the event may cause its cancellation.

“It’s a lot of work that I do not necessarily enjoy, but I know it’s important to do and important for the people at this school,” Upson said. “We do the work of six people.”

The upcoming show will most likely be held in either Evans Auditorium or the Agnes Flanagan Chapel. Upson and Edlin will run the show with the assistance of a small team of stage managers. Lovers of drag can expect performances from eight to ten LC undergraduates.

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