As part of Rainbow Week at LMU, the College of Communication and Fine Arts, in partnership with LGBT Student Services and the Department of Theatre Arts, invited famed drag queen and television star Kim Chi to campus to educate and entertain. As a world-famous performer of gender identity, Kim was a guest lecturer for a day in the Department of Theatre Arts, speaking to the students enrolled in Beginning Stage Makeup, which was followed by an evening performance and Q&A session with students.
Born in Korea and raised in Chicago, Kim is known for her makeup and fashion artistry, earning her the title of runner-up on season 8 of the television reality series RuPaul’s Drag Race. Kim came to drag relatively recently, starting off with a career as a graphic designer, before dressing up in drag one night out with friends in 2012 and “falling in love” with the concept. She draws inspiration from fashion shows and looks she sees on the runways and incorporates that into her performance costumes and looks.
Leon Wiebers, assistant professor of costume design in the Department of Theatre Arts, asked Kim to visit for the valuable input she could give to his makeup students. “I wanted Kim Chi to visit class because it is a rare opportunity for students to see how a professional creates, applies, and uses makeup to transform their identity and perform gender,” said Wiebers. “The students not only got to see and learn techniques from a gifted artist, but they also go to hear Kim Chi’s story about pursuing a dream and working hard to be an artist.”
During the lecture, Kim answered questions from students on her process, origin, inspirations and even favorite anime characters. Kim did a full makeup application for the class, describing each step and choice as she proceeded. The hour and a half-long process was engaging and informative, and allowed students to see first-hand how a professional works. The end result was one of complete transformation, as Kim transformed from male to a glamorous female.
Anthony Garrison-Engbrecht, director of leadership programs and LGBT Student Services at LMU, was passionate about the impetus for Kim being on campus. “It is important for our students to have opportunities to celebrate the rich LGBT culture through performance. Artists like Kim Chi help to remind our LGBT and ally students that they are welcome at LMU. Seeing and hearing people speak about their identity, in all of its dimensions, allows for our student to have a better understanding of their own identity.”
In his introduction to “A Fabulous Evening with Kim Chi, CFA dean Bryant Keith Alexander, Ph.D. discussed the importance of shining a light on the concept of gender performance, not just as it relates to drag queens, all individuals regardless of gender or sexual orientation. “The performer you will engage with today will ask us to suspend our disbelief while also believing in the real or surreal [aspects] of gender performances,” Alexander said. “Drag for me, besides being a performance, becomes a study in the presumption of gender. It forces a close examination of the construction of identity.”
Kim performed two songs, did full outfit changes, and took time to answer questions from students in the audience about topics as varied as behind-the-scenes reality show drama to the challenges of hiding her sexuality and drag persona from close family members. After the performance, the students in attendance were elated by the experience. One young woman approach Wiebers and Garrison-Engbrecht, commenting “this is the best thing that LMU has ever done.”