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“This is a good drag show because it’s running late, so you know it’s going to be the real experience,” Chan joked as they prepped for their set.
The audience cheered as Wo Chan, The Illustrious Pearl in drag, strutted into the Multicultural Center on Western Washington University’s campus sporting a bright red lip, a black studded wig cap and carrying a basket full of mysterious props.
They performed their 20-minute set called, A Formal Feeling Comes, in a style of drag Chan referred to as Powerpoint drag. This involved a combination of visual media, talking and lip-syncing to express themselves.
After their performance, Chan talked more in-depth about how they came about their personal style of drag.
“I was just like: I have poetry; I love poetry; I love playing with words, but then I also realized language is a tool to inject this nuanced emotional narrative behind a physical body,” they said.
Throughout their performance, they had three wardrobe changes, an entire rotisserie chicken and an onion, taking a bite of the vegetable mid-song. These props are something one typically doesn’t see in drag.
They had songs in their performance that were in English and Cantonese, the latter being Chan’s first language. Hearing music in Cantonese moved Dr. Jane Wong, a poetry professor at Western Washington University, to tears, as she said that hearing music in her first language was really special to her.
Chan spoke about what doing drag in their native language meant to them, as traditionally in drag culture, most songs are performed in English.
“It feels like a different space in the heart, like a different relationship to the medium. It feels like such a tender spot for me. A spot of lost language, and my family and their culture,” Chan said.
There were moments throughout the set where Chan touched on things they had experienced that were very vulnerable. They talked about being deported in their 20s, being a queer person with disapproving family members and the struggles with their sense of self after going through these traumatic things.
“I’m going through a really bizarre moment where I feel like there is this absence of self. Not in a Buddhist, enlightened way, but like who I believe I am now,” Chan said
Jannah Hinthorne, a senior at Western, was in awe of her experience with Chan and the way they gracefully performed and spoke so freely about things that usually would be really hard to talk about.
“I think just getting to glimpse the process and then the Q&A at the end really brought it all together. They were just so beautifully elegant and it was truly a magical experience,” Hinthorne said.
The overall feeling in the space was very positive. Chan’s openness allowed the audience to feel a sense of safety in being able to share things that are difficult for them.
Wong said she was hoping to create this safe space for everyone in the event, as well as getting to celebrate Chan’s first book, “Togetherness” that you can purchase here.
“I feel like the energy was exactly where it was supposed to be,” Wong said. “It was really encouraging and warm and heartfelt and vulnerable. I just loved that there was so much excitement in the room during that hour where you’re studying or doing something else. It felt really special.”