Patti O’Dour stood in her leotard on the McCain Auditorium stage Saturday night, warming up the crowd at Kansas State’s 10th showcase for drag queens.
Her hair stood so tall, it garnered a reference to “Whoville,” the town created by Dr. Seuss.
Books by Dr. Seuss have been a part of many people’s childhood, but O’Dour’s language wouldn’t have been a part of those books.
“This is not a family-friendly show,” O’Dour said of “Kansas State Drag Show: A Decade of Drag.”
Beneath all of the song-and-dance routines, colorful costumes and unprintable words, the vision of Monica Moree, the show’s emcee, came into form.
Off-stage, Moree is Dusty Garner, a native Kansan.
Garner said he decided to start a show at Kansas State to help students find their comfort zone.
“The show was really to send a message to the gay students that this was a safe place,” Garner said.
“What it had a bigger impact on was sending a message a message of acceptance and tolerance to people who had not experienced this before.”
Over the years, the drag show has addressed topics such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues, body image, self-esteem, sexual assault and homelessness.
Garner said members of his performance troupe, “Hot, Sticky and Sweet,” share a common belief in fundraising and philanthropy.
“Drag entertainers have an opportunity, and in my opinion an obligation, to help bring the community together,” he said.
Joshua Reed, who performs as O’Dour, said he always is impressed by the “eclectic crowd” that attends the drag shows.
“We legitimately have individuals from almost every possible walk of life come to these shows,” he said. “That’s always been my favorite part about it.”
The nature of the show means that the performers are challenging the norms of society.
Reed said he’s been “continuously impressed and surprised” by the university’s willingness to work with them, but not everybody is as welcoming.
“I was just shocked at seeing and hearing the kind of noise that a man gets by dressing in women’s clothing,” Reed said. “Individuals almost find it as in insult to do that.”
He said he doesn’t identify as a woman, but he likes how the persona that he takes on helps get a message across.
“For me, it’s almost like having a superhero persona,” Reed said.
Reed said the persona of Patti O’Dour isn’t just liberating for himself but the audience as well.
Many people felt comfortable enough Saturday to have dialogue with the performers.
“They just don’t act like they normally would in other settings,” Reed said. “It’s a safe place for people to be kind of crazy.”
The show has even worked on the performers’ own views of the world.
Garner said he’s learned not to judge a book by its cover, as he’s been surprised at the tolerance level that any group of people can exhibit.
He said he’s seen members of the university’s FarmHouse fraternity chapter enjoy themselves during shows, which he didn’t think was possible at first.
“When I started here, I was uncomfortable walking through the agriculture side of campus,” Garner said.
But as O’Dour would mention during the show, the College of Agriculture became
one of the show’s biggest contributors in the early years.
As O’Dour kept getting the crowd ready, Belinda McKee and her fiance, Jeff Jordan, enjoyed the banter between the performers.
McKee went to her first show last year.
“I’m very supportive of it,” she said. “I think they’re awesome people.”
McKee and Jordan sat with some first-timers: her parents.
Barry McKee, who was stationed at Fort Riley from 1987 until his retirement in 1992, admitted he didn’t have the best understanding of the LGBT community but wanted to learn more.
“They have the right to live just like everyone else,” he said.