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Lights! Cameras! Drag Queens! Invade SSU During Raspberry Swirl

By John Toothaker
On April 20, 2012

A sea of around 15 to 20 Salem State University students flooded the lounge of Ellison Campus Center last week, waiting eagerly to purchase a ticket for the annual Raspberry Swirl.

What is Raspberry Swirl, you might ask?

It's held each spring on campus, and it's a night when gender, sexuality, and everything you once knew about everything around you is shaken, not stirred, then is beaten, smashed, and served up in a ball of fierceness.

In other words, it's a night featuring many student drag performers, dressing up as the opposite gender, and often performing during choreographed lip-synched routines.

Despite a delayed start, the event started off strongly this year on April 12 when two students walked out to the runway to announce that the fabulous Liam Sullivan, known for his sensational YouTube video "Shoes" in 2007 would be the master of ceremonies this year.

After the announcement, the fabulous Kelly, played by Sullivan, strutted out onto the little stage/runway, making opening jokes to start off this year's Raspberry Swirl.

In her attempts to make fun of the local cuisine, Kelly made a joke about clam chowder looking similar to a bodily fluid, which produced uncontrollable laughs from the audience.

Once she was done with her jokes, she introduced the first queen to begin the night.

Things have come a long way for Salem State's annual drag show. The show started 11 years ago, when it was originally a dance.

Now it has become much more than that, and it has been one of the most anticipated Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) student events of the school year.

"Swirl is always looked forward to at SSU," said Nicole Fountain, an editorial board member of SSU

Alliance. "We get Freshmen coming in, already knowing about it from their friends here, and they join the Alliance just to go in the spring sometimes."


Highlights of the night included performances by queens Vanessa Rox, Candi Warhol, Bambi Summers,and drag king Nick Voight.

Candi Warhol performed Lady Gaga's energized pop hit that put her on the map, "Just Dance." While performing, she was dressed in a hoodie, a latex catsuit, and a futuristic coat reminiscent of the earlier Fame-era, which Gaga was getting her start with. Warhol also danced and lipsynched her way through the energetic performance.

"I've wanted to perform for a while," said Candi when asked what made her perform at Swirl. "I wanted to do Raspberry Swirl because at clubs it's about competition."

Vanessa Roxx performed sullenly to Amy Lee's rendition of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" "Sally's Song,"a poignant performance, camisole and all.

Bambi Summers also danced along to both Enya and Cher, with motions which matched each song and Nick Voight danced to Say Anything's cover of "Got Yo' Money".

Despite there only being 40 or so audience members, the event raised $750 for NAGLY (North Shore Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth) and Safest Link, an AIDS research organization based in Danvers.

Although the event was successful, many do not realize how much time and effort is put into a show of this magnitude.

So how much preparation does go into an event such as this?

"It takes about a month for the final details to get worked out each year, but we begin searching for a new host almost the very next day," Fountain explained.

"Typically, we need a theme and a host, such as last year's 10th Anniversary "Diamonds" Wedding theme with Sassy Gay Friend, since it was the 10th Swirl. But sometimes, like this year, the Host provides a theme (Kelly + Shoes + Swirl = OMG! SWIRL)."

Fountain said that the theme process takes about two to four weeks of planning, whereas the process of finding and securing a host has gone anywhere from two weeks to six months.

Response from the audience members seemed quite positive as well.

"I enjoyed it a lot," said SSU student Joe Aubrey. "I really liked the Lady Gaga moments and I loved the Amy Lee part too."

Liam/Kelly was brilliant performing one-liners, and was an exceptional MC for the night. He brought the character we have all known as Kelly to life on stage, and said that he enjoys getting into character.

"When I put on the wig, the lipstick, I just transform into that. The voice, the body posture, everything," Sullivan said of his character transformation.

He added that it's not just a costume, and it's exposing another part of his personality, while dispelling

the notion that drag characters are merely that.

Swirl also had fun events, which included humor, games, trivia, prizes, shoes, glamour, queens and kings.

Hopefully, the show does not lose the "pizzazz" it had this year, as that was what brings people back year after year.

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