Climbing the 168 York Street stage, Kiki Lucia pulled at a noose hanging low around her neck, looking out at the audience with long-lashed, saucer-sized doe eyes. She jerked backward. The noose loosened, and she broke free.
Kiki Lucia ripped open her blouse, exposing a heaving chest and two bright, sweat-slicked nipples, along with a message written in black: Trans rights now.
The audience burst into cheers, rising to its feet, waving arms and hands in approval.
Delivered just after midnight early Sunday, Kiki Lucia’s performance personified the celebratory, propulsive and often moving spirit of Dragapalooza 2017, a drag fundraiser for The Imperial Sovereign Court of All Connecticut, the state’s oldest charitable LGBTQ+ organization.
With 18 performers and 20 acts, the event raised over $1,700, which the court will distribute to AIDS Project New Haven (APNH), St. Philip House, the Triangle Community Center in Norwalk, and the National Kidney Foundation Serving Connecticut and Western Massachusetts. Performers ditched their booking fees ($50-$100 per performance) to do the show pro bono.
This year marked Dragapalooza’s second appearance at 168 York. The first, organized by local queen Dandy Lyons (boy name Shawn Miller) took place in 2015. After taking the summer off from drag due to a grueling work schedule, Dandy handed the event off to Kiki Lucia, a member of the Imperial Court and director of the New Haven Pride Center in her boy life as Patrick Dunn.
Kiki Lucia said she was excited to take the event on, reviving Miller’s hope to make it “the biggest drag show in the state” two years later by continuing a community-centered mission that bought out seasoned members of the Imperial Sovereign Court and drag novices alike.
“It’s very much like in the eighties, when drag queens would get together to perform a show and raise money for someone’s funeral after they had died of HIV/AIDS,” said Kiki Lucia in an interview before the show. “It’s very much that moment that we can really come together and do something.”
“I feel like I’m doing something for my community while also doing my art,” she added. “So when I get up on a stage and people tip me however much money they tip me because I’m doing a performance for the court, I know that that money’s going back into my community and helping people in my community. That’s, I feel, a really powerful thing.”
Throughout the evening, that powerful thing — expressed in all manners of glitter, high-heeled shoes and shiny red boots, kinky wigs, and glittery, swishing dresses — reared its glued-on lashes and painted head, delving into the complexities of Connecticut’s drag community.
Emcees Kiki Lucia and Moana Cash kept the show flowing from act to act, pulling out zingers (“either this is going to be good or it’s going to be Mariah Carey on New Year’s”) as the DJ changed tracks by Taylor Swift, Judy Garland, Celine Dion, Evanescence and others.
Some dazzled with unexpected vulnerability and numbers that cut straight to the lungs and heart. Performing to Andra Day’s cover of “Burn” from the Hamilton Mixtape, corseted Lady Bella Donna brought the audience to its knees, grabbing at her throat as Day sang out: You forfeit your place in my heart / you forfeit your place in our bed / You’ll sleep in your office instead. Lucy Lockwood left the audience shaken after sporting a gauzy, all-black number to Evanescence’s “My Immortal,” and Diamond DeLight (pictured above) dazzled with a blue-on-blue outfit, down to the lips.
Others brought well-known and well-loved numbers to the show, delighting as they took the stage. 168 York regular Robin Banks tickled the audience into deep, almost-unison belly laughter with a drag rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” that included popping baloon breasts, helium-flecked vocals, and her signature cake of glittery, hydrant-red lipstick.
Lady Sylvia Heart took a high-heeled run around the audience to Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” pulling dollar bills from the audience as she strutted jubilantly from one end of the bar’s patio to the other in a slinky gold dress.
In the first half of the show, Kiki Lucia let lyrics by Taylor Swift move through her bones, grinding with members of the audience and dancing through a shower of dollar bills.
Straight out of a performance of The Wizard of Oz at the Hole in the Wall Theater in New Britain, Summer Orlando rocked it as Dorothy. Court Empress 2017 Lucia Virginity whipped her hair back and forth like her life depended on it. And maybe it did: for an extra $50 from the crowd, she performed it a second time, queens hopping onstage to help her get through it.
The show comes at a moment when gay rights — and prized meeting spaces — are under attack from both politicians and a changing bar landscape, said Miller, who spent this year’s event cheering in his boy clothes from the sidelines. Only part of it is regressive politics, he added — and “that’s always held water.” The other half has to do with a market trend he doesn’t want to see in Connecticut. As the dating scene becomes more normalized in restaurants and bars, he explained, gay bars have begun closing in record numbers.
“I think that to have community events and to support your local gay bars is very important,” he said before the show. “They’re closing in large numbers. Everywhere. The gay bar was the sanctuary spot … it’s still important to a lot of people to have a place to congregate.”