When Zac Thompson arrived at Miller Park to sell his pieces for Chautauqua’s bi-annual Art in the Park market earlier this month, he was impressively coordinated; Thompson wore a long orange skirt with a tropical print shirt tied above his waist. His orange eyeshadow matched the orange glitter in his mustache.
Thompson is a student and emerging artist at the School of Art, who recently earned his Master of Fine Art from the School of Visual Arts in New York.
He has been dressing in drag for the last three years. He describes his drag persona, Zacrilegious, as “The Ned Flanders of Drag.”
“He’s mustachioed and glittered … (and) he’s literally the nicest queen you’ll ever meet,” Thompson said. “Basically, it’s just me extroverted. I feel like that’s why I do drag, … to engage with people in ways that I can’t do when I’m (not in drag).”
When he arrived at Chautauqua this summer, whether or not to occasionally walk around the Institution in makeup and a wig wasn’t a question.
“I’m just going to do me,” he said. “(At Art in the Park) I definitely got side eyes from people, but I made a point to say hi to each of those people, and they all said hi back, and we usually ended up talking.”
He enjoys challenging people’s perceptions about drag.
“To make people reconsider (drag) … just by being visible I think is really important, and most people have been very accepting of it,” he said.
This weekend, Thompson has joined with fellow student and emerging artist Jungmok Yi to host “Genesis: The First VACI Drag Show.”
From 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday, July 27 in the Arts Quad, more than 10 students and emerging artists will perform drag and performance art pieces at the show, which is open to all Chautauquans.
A $10 donation is requested, which will go back to the students and emerging artists who are performing in and coordinating the event. Anyone who pays the requested price will be entered into a raffle for student art.
Yi and Thompson bonded in their first week at the School of Art over their shared interest and participation in drag.
Yi is a current graduate student in the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University in Philadelphia. They have a background filming and writing about drag and burlesque shows and have published a book, Are We a Joke?: Burlesque Volume I, on pan-Asian burlesque, which is featured in the School of Art Students and Emerging Artists Exhibition.
“I think that’s why we bonded,” Thompson said. “If books and publishing can be art, why can’t drag shows? I feel like this is a work of art that we’re putting together.”
Yi and Thompson said the show is a heavily collaborative project. Besides performing, students and emerging artists are contributing by creating art and videos to be used as performance backdrops, running front of house for the show and participating in set-up and tear-down of the stage. There will also be merchandise tables for artists to sell drawings, prints, stickers and other smaller works.
“Basically everybody, all 38 (students and emerging artists), are actively involved in making this show happen,” Yi said.
Some of the students and emerging artists will be performing in drag for the very first time.
“They all have performative elements to their (artistic) practice,” Thompson said. “I want to not only let this drag show be open to anyone expressing themselves in the way they want to, but also open to anyone who wants to come (watch) and be a part of that, too.”
Thompson and Yi said that drag is more than the binary concept of men dressing as women and women dressing as men.
“The definition of it is really varied, and drag can be a lot of things,” Thompson said.
Yi said that drag has given them freedom to express different facets of their identity.
“I think there is a lot of space where I can create my own narrative to fulfill whatever identity I would like to embody,” they said. “I love how drag doesn’t necessarily have to be kings and queens. … (You) can be any kind of creature.”
During the show, Yi will be recording and photographing the event as their drag character, Golden Yok.
“Genesis” will be split into two acts, with the first half geared toward a family-friendly audience, and aims to be accessible to Chautauquans who are curious about drag.
“A lot of people have preconceptions around drag,” Thompson said. “(And) most people who have those haven’t been to shows, and I think some people are nervous about what they would see. So the show is definitely a way to be like, ‘No, it’s accessible.’ ”
The second half will be for a more mature audience.
“There are certain gallery or museum shows that have signs … giving viewers the chance to opt in to see that work or not,” Thompson said. “It’s not that it’s not artistic or (doesn’t have) merit or value, it just might not be for everyone.”
Thompson and Yi hope that viewers will come with open minds, and, as is tradition at drag shows, plenty of dollar bills.
“It’s customary and part of the culture to tip performers,” Thompson said. “Even if you have to wad it up and throw it.”