by Patrick Braley, Raspberry Swirl co-host and Alliance Member
Raspberry Swirl is an annual charity event run by the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (the LGBTQIA+ focused group here at SSU that promotes acceptance and understanding of all identities). Raspberry Swirl has been a long-time tradition here at Salem State University. With 2016 marking its 15th year, it is always something to hotly anticipate for both SSU students and those in the broader community alike. With each passing year, attendance seems to be increasing, with this year marking the first year with over 100 show goers. The trend in recent years for Swirl has been bringing in a famous drag queen from the hit show, RuPaul’s Drag Race to headline the show. The person booked to headline the show will typically perform about 3 to 4 song/dance routines and may even host a mini-game which requires and encourages audience participation. This year, the Alliance was very fortunate to have Pearl (real name Matthew James Lent), breakout star of season 7 of Drag Race, as the headline act.
Pearl was a graceful presence both on stage and off. She was dressed in some fierce outfits ranging from a futuristic-looking multicolored jumpsuit to an all black evening gown (which went perfectly with the spooky vibes of Salem). She sang and moved with expert precision and her passion for performing really showed through. In addition, Pearl also helped to host a mini-game titled “Fiercest Walk” in which members from the audience were chosen to strut their stuff down the length of the center isle. The winner won the right to brag to all their friends that they had the fiercest walk in the whole place.
There were also two other mini-games during Raspberry Swirl that were hosted by the event’s two hosts Patrick Braley and Eric Donnovan (better known by their drag names Ophelia Oats and Chamele, respectively). One of the most memorable mini-games was titled “Lip Sync For Your Life.” This game was inspired by the iconic last chance challenge at the end of every Drag Race episode in which the two lowest ranked queens are pitted against each other in a lip sync battle to determine who is able to stay on the show. During Raspberry Swirl, four audience members (two vs. two) went head-to-head to claim the title of lip sync champion. The first round had two audience members belting out Adele’s “Hello.” Although everybody sang their hearts out, there was only one winner in the end.
In addition to having Pearl perform, the Alliance was able to gather several kind, local drag queens and kings from the Salem State, North Shore and Boston drag scenes. Our stage was graced with so many talented acts! The crowd witnessed everything from sickening death drops to glitter flying everywhere. Audience members clapped, hollered and “YAAASSS”-ed in approval of all of the performances. After the show ended some folks had the opportunity to take a picture with Pearl herself during the meet and greet portion.
At the end of the day, however, Raspberry Swirl is about much more than dancing queens or who has the best look; when it comes down to it, Raspberry Swirl is and always has been all about fostering a sense of community, donating to local charities, and above all having a lit, lit, lit time.