Drag at its heart is performance, spectacle, satire, style, and celebration. It has been called a mirror that reflects society’s expectations as it playfully turns them on their ear. Once considered solely the idea of men and women adopting the clothes and affectations of the opposite sex for performance, drag now is a blurring of genres, an evolution of artistry that speaks to the falling away of society’s gender norms.  

Sharon ShareAlike
Sharon ShareAlike

Illinois State University, home to one of the state’s largest annual drag shows, is also the alma mater of a celebrated member of the drag community. Sharon ShareAlike shares insights for those new to drag performances.   

“The drag scene used to be mostly just gay men dressing up like drag queens. Now there are tons of different kinds of drag and people who do drag,” said ShareAlike ’94, MFA ’98. It’s been 27 years since she made her debut at The Bistro in Bloomington, Illinois, and ShareAlike noted more than the audience has changed. “I perform all over in all types of venues with all types of people in the crowd—fairgrounds, churches, restaurants, bowling alleys, private home parties, street fairs, and the list goes on. Drag has become very mainstream and for me, that is a good thing.”  

Dos and Don’ts  

The main point of attending a drag show is to have fun and support the performers. Here are some basic dos and don’ts for a drag show audience.   

Tipping – There is a culture of tipping performers at drag shows, some say it is a nod to the underground traditions of drag that usually meant little (to no) pay for the performance. Do tip by placing the bill loosely in an outstretched hand for the performer to grab. When tipping, do not shove the money or attempt to place it on the performer.      

audience members line the stage
Audience members line the stage, with tip in hand, at the annual Pride Charity Drag Show.

Runway – The stage giving way to a catwalk allows the performers to reach into the audience. Do approach the runway for tipping and cheering. Do crouch down, if possible, to make sure you are not blocking others’ view of the performance. Do not step on to the stage unless expressly invited by a performer. The runway is reserved for performers.  

Voices Do cheer, whistle, clap, holler, and sing along during a performance. Voicing approval is definitely encouraged, especially during a fierce performance or a dramatic costume reveal. At drag shows that encourage novice performers to take to the stage for the first time (like the Pride Charity Drag Show at Illinois State), support for the performers is paramount, meaning do not loudly express criticism to performers (or do so at your own peril, as the audience tends to be very protective).   

“It’s exciting to see where the art of drag will travel generation after generation,” said ShareAlike, who is the mother of her own House of ShareAlike where she mentors and inspires up-and-coming drag performers. She tours with the “drag children” in the Sharon and the ShareAlikes show. “It feels good to see the younger generation picking up the drag torch.”  

drag performance
Memerizing costumes capture the awe of the audience at the the annual Pride Charity Drag Show.

Touch – Keeping agency in the hands of the performer is key to a fun evening. Though the costumes may be mesmerizing, ShareAlike instructs the audience to keep a fourth wall between themselves and the performer. Do not touch the performers. Reaching out to touch is “only when encouraged by the performer,” she said.   

A love for—and respect of—drag performance still keeps ShareAlike gracing the stage, more than 20 years after she captured the Miss Gay Illinois USofA crown. Though her nationally known drag enhancer designs are seen on RuPaul’s Drag Race and featured in the Lady Gaga film A Star is Born, she said the stage will always be home. “I just love performing and entertaining my audience,” she said. “I do hope that drag will always involve hard work, professionalism, respect, and love for each other and the audiences.”     

The annual Pride Charity Drag Show arrives every spring at Illinois State. Follow the Pride RSO for details.