It’s not that the intricacies of cell division don’t inspire the creative mind, or that reading Chaucer in its original Middle English isn’t a swell way to spend a Friday night.

But college students at the four-year mercy of a University Degree can become consumed by the educational quest.

Weekends are spent propagating plants and fine-tuning Spanish verb conjugations while students sustain themselves on Ramen noodles, dry cereal and catnaps in the campus library.

Sure, the textbooks appreciate the together time, and the dorm lounge coffee maker has never felt so useful. But where does the freewheeling, self-discovery stuff fit in?

For at least some students this week, those implements of higher learning will take a back seat to tools with a bit more theatrics, like fake eyelashes and brassieres stuffed with rolled-up socks.

The USM Royal Majesty Drag Competition and Show returns to the stage Friday at Portland’s Holiday Inn by the Bay, featuring a fine lineup of professional and student performers.

The event, now it its 11th year, is organized by the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity.

“It was something that would be an entertaining event and also a fundraiser,” said Sarah Holmes, the center’s coordinator and one of the event’s original organizers.

“It was initiated by myself and a student that year,” said Holmes, “a student who, since that time, has gone on to be a professional drag queen in New York.”

The show features a few non-student performers, including “Portland’s Punk Princess,” Bunny Wonderland, as host.

But the student competition is the real drag draw.

Students compete for the Royal Majesty King and Queen crowns by impressing the audience and the panel of judges with their opposite-sex costuming, dance moves and lip synching aptitude — slightly different criterion that most students are used to.

But these are the all-important talents that drag nobility is made of — whether for a Portland night or a post-collegiate New York career.

The competition is open to students from any Maine college or university, not just USM.

“Students might have (had) an interest in drag but didn’t have an outlet for it,” Holmes said. That is, until Royal Majesty came to town.

Eleven years ago, organizers were thrilled to get 100 people into the Woodbury Campus Center, Holmes said. The show’s popularity soon outgrew the space, so the festivities moved over to Holiday Inn by the Bay, where more than 600 drag fans fill seats.

At least half a dozen student performers are expected to do a turn on stage, with background music ranging from Katy Perry and Broadway tunes to Disney movie music.

And while it’d be wonderfully clich?o say, “There’s no test at the end of this school-sponsored night,” there actually sort of is. As part of the competition, student performers also have to answer a question asked by a panel of judges.

The judges are looking for “smart, witty answers,” said Holmes. “It shows how quickly they think on their feet.”

At the end of the night, the official King and Queen will be crowned. And while the honorable pair will return to their art history and post-colonial literature classes on Monday morning, they’ll return as royalty.

Students can attend for only $5 with an ID. Admission for non-students is $10 and the funds raised go straight back to the Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity for future programming that supports the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities on campus. It’s also, as Holmes noted, a heck of a lot of entertainment for 10 bucks.

Which is good, because most students are gloriously broke.

And somewhere in a dorm in Maine this week, there’s a bio major forgoing his experiments in cell division and instead experimenting with the most flattering shades of eye shadow. 

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

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