Glitz, glamor to engulf Ojibwe

Drag show fundraiser returns for third year running

Story by Jessie Tremmel, Staff Writer

Last year, around 900 people crammed into a room to experience a drag show on a Tuesday night. This year the event is on a weekend, and is spread between two nights to create a more comfortable experience.

This year, The Fire Ball is at 6 p.m., Feb. 28 and March 1 in the Ojibwe Ballroom. The theme is industrial decadence. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and Chris Jorgenson, the coordinator of the Women’s and LGBTQ Resource Center, said he suggests arriving early to get preferable seats.

There are two different ticket options; General admission is $6 and the DIVA Pass is $9. A general admission ticket will provide a seat around the room and a DIVA Pass offers tabled stage-side seating.

But The Fire Ball isn’t just a drag show.

“I’ve always wanted The Fire Ball to be more than a drag show, so at the heart of the event it’s a LGBTQA Students Support Fund fundraiser, that happens to be a drag show,” Jorgenson said.

Jorgenson started the LGBTQA Student Support Fund when he started The Fire Ball three years ago. All ticket and merchandise proceeds go to the fund. The LGBTQA Student Support Fund allows students to engage in social justice activism, and has supported students on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, an Eau Queer Film Festival San Francisco Travel Immersion trip, women’s leadership conferences, and students attending the largest queer conference in the nation.

This year there are 13 performers and a headliner each night. The headliners are different Friday and Saturday night and the other performers will have different performances for  both shows.

Shangela is the headliner on Friday night and Chad Michaels is the headliner Saturday night. Chad Michaels took the title of “Queen of Queens” after winning RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race in 2012 and, according to the queen’s website, she does a stellar Cher impersonation.

Along with headliners and performers, there will be people working the crowd, pre-show performers and backup dancers.

Michael Faris, a UW-Eau Claire English professor, as Faris Hilton will be entertaining the crowd waiting to get in the doors.

“There’s a hunger for big fabulous events,” Faris said. “I think there is a hunger in town for over-the-top-ness.”

Once the doors open at 5:30 p.m., a few pre-show dancers will take the stage. Lucas Schilling is a pre-show and backup dancer who has been involved with The Fire Ball since it started. The backup dancers will dance for an hour before the show.

“We give the audience something to look at while they are getting comfortable and getting drinks and finding their seats,” Schilling said. “Just setting the tone for the whole event. It’s just a very small taste of what’s to come.”

New this year at The Fire Ball is a time-lapse video of the queens’ transformation from masculine to feminine, more merchandise and a meet-and-greet after the show.

The Fire Ball draws in Eau Claire students, community members and high school students. For some people, this is the first chance to experience drag, Jorgenson said.

“To people who feel that drag is not for them, they are exactly the people that should go to it, because it is incredibly entertaining and at the heart of it is about gender performance,” Jorgenson said. “I think it allows people to not hold so close to how society asks them to perform their own gender.”

Eau Claire junior Erin Sherwood attended The Fire Ball last year at the last minute. She had never been to a drag show, but had heard about drag shows from her high school band teacher, and had seen the posters advertising The Fire Ball around campus. She said she enjoyed the performance and will be attending again this year.

“I learned a lot about the atmosphere, about what a drag show is,” Sherwood said. “A lot of people have big misconceptions about it, and it is for everybody. Everyone can go and have a great time.”