TAP hosts Diva Night, celebrating drag amid tense social climate

Despite anti-drag legislation in states such as Tennessee, Diva Night provides an environment for students to express themselves, said Tracy Grady, music theatre lecturer of voice and judge of Diva Night.


Alex Minyard

Austin Patterson performs in the Kleist lobby.

On March 18, BW’s Theatre Arts and Performance organization hosted Diva Night, an annual drag competition that enables students of any major to perform in an intimate, accepting setting.   

Jeff Herrmann, Department of Theatre and Dance chair and a Diva Night judge, said that he hopes to provide a safe space for all students on campus.  

“We have a wonderful atmosphere on this campus, and I want to see that continue,” Herrmann said.  

Events like Diva Night provide a space where students can experiment with things they haven’t done before, which is very important especially during a time when drag and LGBTQ expression are facing legislative threats in multiple U.S. states, said Tracy Grady, music theatre lecturer of voice and member of the judging panel.  

The performance, typically located in the Student Activities Center, moved to the Kleist Center for Art & Drama lobby this year. The theatre department has access to two stages on campus, which are in constant use, Herrmann said.   

“With a drag show, we wanted to keep that intimate audience interaction,” said Emily Polcyn, senior acting major and president of TAP. “That’s why we decided to go in the lobby, and I think it ended up really well. We’re trying to bring more events, especially theatre, into Kleist so we can have more of that centralized community in there.”   

A stage was set up in the lobby, and it was surrounded by throw pillows for comfortable seating. Groundlings Café was open with refreshments and mocktails for students while watching the performance. 

The relaxed environment created a “wonderful little cabaret night,” similar to the atmosphere of a small off-Broadway show, Herrmann said.  

Nine competing performers took the stage that night in front of five faculty judges and about a hundred audience members. First place was awarded to Bennie Bender, second to Tobias Yeung, third to Trevor Patchen and an honorable mention to Chase Gilroy. (Editor’s note: Gilroy is a Staff Writer for The Exponent.)  

“It’s really special we get to have a place to [perform drag] openly and loudly and with departmental support and with such a great turnout,” Polcyn said. “It was just a really beautiful thing to see at a time like this, where people don’t want to see that.”