Student group bends time, gender identity through on-campus drag shows

Time Warp, a student-led drag performance group, sang a variety of songs at their April 4 show. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

Ebonique Little, Spectrum Editor

Now much more than a pass-through to get to the other side of campus, Monroe Park has become a safe haven for “kings, queens and everything in-betweens.”

John Carmel, a freshman film major, and Harris Erickson, a freshman theatre major, started Time Warp, a drag performance group, last October. Seven students perform at Monroe Park, with themes including nods to past decades or holidays. 

Since their inaugural show on Halloween, they’ve performed on six additional occasions, though there is no set schedule. Their performances have been well received, Carmel said.

“Drag is an inclusive art,” said Carmel, co-organizer of the student group. “And performing isn’t delegated to one sex or another. That whole sense of everyone is welcome — that’s what drag is.”

Carmel, whose drag character’s name is Jessica Peru, said he has always loved drag performing since he was a child and wanted to find a way to explore his passion for the art at VCU.

“I see pictures of me, like wrapping like blankets around myself at such a young age,” Carmel said. “It was just natural.” 

Carmel said he and Erickson got the idea to form the group after meeting each other through the VCU Class of 2024 Instagram page. Their first conversation was about drag culture and how they needed a platform for expression at VCU, Carmel said.

Harris Erickson, co-organizer of Time Warp, sings “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus as his drag persona Thea Trickality at Monroe Park. Photo by Kaitlyn Fulmore

“We knew that it was going to happen serendipitously, somehow or another,” Carmel said. “It was just like a perfect pair for us.”

Erickson, whose stage name is Thea Trickality, said they met other interested participants in the VCUarts theatre program or through other acquaintances. Some had never performed drag before, and their understanding of it was limited to cross-dressing, rather than a theatrical performance integral to the LGBT community.

“The reason that it’s tied to LGBT culture is because it was necessary for survival, and it was necessary for communication,” Erickson said. “Now we get to take that history and add a little bit to it, specific to Richmond and VCU.”

Erickson said he enjoys introducing the other group members and viewers to drag culture in such an open format, and feels bad for those who have to hide their sexual and gender identity in public spaces.

“John [Carmel] and I always talk about what would happen if [we] were freshmen in the ’70s or the 1800s,” Erickson said. “It would not be the same circumstances, like it probably wouldn’t even happen.”

Junior theatre student Jamar Powers, who performs under the drag name You’neek, said he was initially afraid to tell his family about his performances when he got started in 2018 at a Richmond club. He didn’t allow drag organizations to post his photos on social media, or tag him in any of their posts in fear of losing acceptance from his family.

“Here we are surrounded by former Confederate statues. To be doing this form of self-expression, it’s really something that we should be so proud of.” — John Carmel, co-organizer of Time Warp

Although he was harassed in grade school for his sexual identity, Powers said he has found a greater sense of confidence and continues to perform other shows in the greater Richmond area.

“I’m just mainly being comfortable with what I do,” Powers said during a Zoom call. “I knew that I just had to mature, and then I’ll be able to succeed.”

Powers said he did not hesitate to join Time Warp when Erickson approached him with the opportunity last fall, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted club closures.

“Since Harris [Erickson] found me, it was such a blessing that I got to perform more,” Powers said.

Powers said being a part of Time Warp has enriched his college experience. Before joining the group, he thought he was one of the only people who did drag on campus, but now this group has become like “family.”

His favorite part of performing with the student group is indulging in You’neek’s “sexual, kooky and crazy” personality. Powers credits historic LGBT activists, such as Marsha P. Johnson and William Dorsey Swann, for this ability. 

“William Dorsey Swann, the first drag queen on record, fought throughout history — from the 1880s to now, where we’re at a point where I could walk down the street literally, in a full gown, and have parades of people walk past and hype me up,” Powers said.

Carmel and Erickson plan to continue the drag shows with a diverse range of cast members and themes throughout their college careers, and the two freshmen hope the group will thrive even after they graduate.

“Here we are surrounded by former Confederate statues,” Carmel said. “To be doing this form of self-expression, it’s really something that we should be so proud of.”

 

To support their next performance on May 2, visit Time Warp’s online fundraiser.

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