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Vix Stellar takes the stage in a white costume complete with angel wings and gold accents around his eyes. As he dances and lip syncs to “This Is Gospel” by Panic! At The Disco, other performers stand behind him holding signs. “Don’t mutilate yourself,” one reads; “Your agenda is destroying families,” reads another.
As the music swells — “If you love me let me go,” the chorus begins — Stellar tears the signs in half, revealing new messages behind them: “I am creating myself.” “This is my family.”
The drag performer, who entertains audiences as Chris Tall, was the opening act at the “True Colors” drag show on June 18 at City Limits Tavern in Provo, Utah. Bowers’ piece — exploring his own journey with gender and self-acceptance — is about “finding peace and happiness with what I bring to the table, rather than trying to figure out how to squeeze myself into someone else’s table,” he said.
He’s a member of The Divine Sister-Misters, a drag group that performs every other Friday night at City Limits. The group celebrated its seventh anniversary in June.
There’s a “strong alternative crowd” in conservative Provo, explained Tay Adams, one of the show’s managers and a sometimes-performer. Even in a city that is home to Brigham Young University, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “People are ready for culture and fun things to do instead of driving 40 miles to Salt Lake,” he said. “I think the [show] is something that’s fun and feels like it’s for everyone. Provo is ready for it.”
Meet The Divine Sister-Misters
Adams, who’s been involved with the show since 2015, said The Divine Sister-Misters sometimes has as many as 15 or 16 active performers and sometimes as few as six. Many of the performers are local college students, who inevitably move on to other adventures, he said. Currently, the group has about 10 or 11 active members.
The Divine Sister-Misters show doesn’t hold auditions: on principle, the group is open to and supportive of beginners, Adams said. Instead, he asks potential performers to put together “some kind of look” and simply show up. This helps them gain the confidence needed to be out in drag, he said. The show reserves space at the top of the night for beginners, something Adams said audience members have grown to enjoy.
Themes change week by week, but the show always starts at 10 p.m. on the Fridays they perform. Once they did a Rocky Mountain Horror show theme; another time, the show had a cake theme.
Acts range from various styles of dance to musical performances.
“So it’s kind of like a cabaret format,” he said. “Anything goes. You never know what you’re going to get.”
He also clarified that drag isn’t always a “gender transformation.” Some of their performers like to exaggerate the way they started, he said, such as women who do feminine drag. The important thing is that there’s “some gender thing going on. And beyond that, it’s kind of just up to you.”
Claiming space for LGBTQ+ people
Adams said the show’s first priority is claiming an “obnoxiously queer” space for the LGBTQ+ community in Provo.
It’s also important to their group that everyone of any age or sexuality feels welcome.
“We do tend to have very mixed crowds in terms of gay and straight, cis and trans, men and women [and] different ages,” he said.
He also said that while not everyone in Provo’s conservative community is supportive of their show, they haven’t had to fight the naysayers, either.
“There are people who are excited about it, and then everyone else just ignores it,” he said. “So we don’t really have to do battle with our conservative neighbors or anything.”
City Limits Tavern owner Jeremy Brereton added that sometimes he sees people walk by his bar with their noses in the air, but he gets a laugh out of that.
“Whether you want to admit it or not, you’re thinking about what you just saw [at] that bar, walking down Center Street. You’re going to go talk about it,” he said.
Brereton said if people just took the time to get to know the performers, they’d understand the performers are normal people with jobs and lives. Drag is something they do in their off-time as a creative outlet, he said.
The show brings a sense of community and family to his bar, he said, and he appreciates the chance to support the local LGBTQ+ community.
‘We are strong and we care about each other’
Although there’s increased LGBTQ+ support in Provo, it’s still not an easy place to be queer, said drag performer Arson Stolace.
Stolace, who performs as Ophelia Tender Flesh and uses they/them pronouns, says they sometimes get unfriendly looks from people when they’re doing things as simple as walking through a grocery store.
At the June 18 show, they performed a striking dance number that pulsed with powerful energy and even included a pink lightsaber. Stolace said the piece was about their anger towards the way they were raised and their complicated relationship with femininity.
They hope people’s takeaway from the shows is a realization that “We do exist, and we are strong and we care about each other.”
Drag performer Jaxxon Phoenix, who asked to be identified by his performing name, added that people sometimes think drag is about sex, drugs, alcohol and partying, but really, it’s an art form the performers use to process their emotions and traumas.
He said it’s frustrating when people are accepting of community theater actors — who also wear costumes, sing and dance — but reject drag as a legitimate art form.
“I think [people] are just mad because we’re gay,” he said. “And we’re not afraid of that.”
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