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  • Lio Salazar

Welcoming back Canisius alumni to perform in Unity’s second annual drag show

By: Lio Salazar, Features Contributor

On Saturday, April 20, Unity hosted its second drag show in the Montante Cultural Center. Titled “Don’t Drag Your Heels!”, this year’s cast of drag artists included three Canisius alumni who were all incredibly eager to return to campus to bring the art they love to a whole new generation of Golden Griffins.

One alumni performer, Freddie Hercury, was welcomed back to the stage by Unity, bringing a new level of artistry to the Montante stage. Freddie Hercury is the stage name of Buffalo drag king Brittany Gray ‘10, who has been performing as Freddie for the last two years. During their time here at Canisius, Gray was an English and history double major with a creative writing minor, as well as a member of the All-College Honors Program and the German Club. Outside of performing as Freddie, Gray currently works as an Internal Communications Specialist at M&T Bank. 

“I was only just beginning to explore and understand my identity when I arrived at college,” Gray explained. “I met one of the most important people in my life when I was a sophomore, another queer person who quickly became my best friend and who has supported me in immeasurable ways throughout my queer journey.”

Neleh Slay is a fairly new queen in the Buffalo drag scene, having just celebrated her first anniversary this past January. Jacob Ducoli ‘18 was a finance and management double major, a treasurer of Little Theatre and a member of CrescenDON’Ts, Unity and Film Club. Now, Ducoli works in Accounts Receivables for a tech company. Remembering his time at Canisius, Ducoli said, “I met so many caring and outgoing individuals who will forever have an impact on my life and how I view the world. The heart of Canisius is truly its people.” 

Many different performances and pageants have happened in the Montante Cultural Center, including the Afro Fashion Show and RHA’s Mr. Canisius pageant. Ducoli is a previous Mr. Canisius and said coming back to perform “felt full circle for [me]; coming back as a woman after my queer evolution and fully realizing who I am felt incredible.” It’s important to note that for many years, Canisius rejected countless proposals for drag shows to happen on campus, and when Ducoli “was a student at Canisius, drag shows were still being rejected. I wanted to come back and celebrate Unity’s determination and strength to keep pushing for what’s important and how far we’ve come.”

Damsel ‘N Disdress has been performing in Buffalo for three and a half years. Christian Bryant MS ‘18 graduated from Canisius’s graduate counseling program and also earned both their Advanced Certificate in Mental Health Counseling and Advanced Certificate in School Counseling in 2021. Bryant also served the Office of Student Life as a resident assistant and is also a member of Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit university honor society. Bryant says, “I loved my time at Canisius, and coming back to perform as the truest version of myself was liberating.” Bryant continued on to say that they “came to Canisius identifying as a queer man. I found friends who were straight, queer, and more at Canisius. I at times felt I still was not fully myself. Since working after graduate school, I have come out and started drag. This helped me to be the fullest version of myself.” 

Bryant currently works as a licensed mental health counselor at Evergreen Health and stated that they love “sharing my happiness and love for drag through performing. I love having audience members be able to have a laugh, be in awe, feel excited, all in one performance. As much of an outlet it is for me, I hope my performance is an escape for the audience too.”

Freddie, Neleh and Damsel were also joined by Willa DeWhisp and Tara Bishop to bring Unity’s show to life. DeWhisp said, “I love performing at colleges and universities because they are a group of people that love performance, art and drag but so often — at least in Buffalo — do not have the opportunity to enjoy it because nearly all shows are 21+”, with Bishop expressing that at “any opportunity to perform, a performer should take it. New memories and connections are to come with any show, and I love it.”

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