Lab Coat by Day, Heels by Night

By Melissa

Images courtesy of David Campbell.

It’s a Friday afternoon and David Campbell is wearing a collared button up shirt and a white lab coat. His glasses sit delicately on his face as he focuses with intention on his experiments. A fourth-year specialization student in biochemistry, David works hard in class and in the lab Monday to Friday. He’s working on a project dealing with HIV and how it causes neurodegeneration (early onset Alzheimers) in some patients. While his lab hasn’t had a breakthrough yet, he thinks they’re well on their way to discovering new things about HIV.

It’s the night of the Stiletto Awards, and Ivy League dons a flowing silver wig with blue crystal earrings and vibrant glittery makeup. Her impressive diamond necklace swings across her chest and her dark blue dress is bedazzled with gemstones and glitter. She stands tall in 5-inch heels with grace and poise — like true royalty.

Little did she know that later in the evening, she would be chosen to be the wearer of an extravagant diamond crown — finally taking her place as the leader she was born to be. Her name is called, the crowd goes wild, and Ivy walks with dignity, pride, and honour to receive her title: Miss Evolution 2019.

Finding Ivy

In 2016, David was part of Outreach, the queer and ally student association at the U of A, and in this role, he was part of planning their annual Pride Week amateur drag show, one of the largest in Western Canada. None of the other executive team members wanted to host (and it was a tradition for one of them to host) so he ended up getting looped into it.

“I remember I said yes and then later I thought ‘why did I do this? I have zero interest in this’. Drag queens are fun but I can’t be one — that’s crazy.”

Each day the show grew nearer, so too did his excitement — and his terror. As the show approached, he had the outfit, the shoes, the hair, the makeup; he had everything — everything but a name.

“It’s kind of a weird thing because it’s very personal and you want it to represent every facet of your drag character. I didn’t want it to be super raunchy all the time, so I wanted a versatile name. I was in my office at work flipping through a drag name generator and “Ivy Sprinkles” popped up, and I liked the “Ivy” part — and I was like “ah ha!” Ivy League, like the schools — business in the front, a party in the back — I can make this work.”

The name stuck, and so did drag. After the Outreach show, David decided he wanted to do it again. Now, three years later, Ivy League has graced many stages, hosted shows, competed in Alberta’s Next Drag Superstar competition, and won countless awards.

“My favourite part is getting to watch an audience react to you while onstage. The ability to have a platform to either brighten someone’s day or maybe impact how they think about the world around them is one of the biggest things as a performer that you can experience. It’s one of the most validating for me personally.”

Behind the Bench

At night and on weekends, David wears a different hat…high heels and fancy dress. During the week though, he can be found donning his lab coat — safety glasses and all. Now nearing graduation, David’s passion for performance is rivalled by his love of science.

To David, biochemistry is the forefront of discovery. Just as his time on the stage has provided him with opportunities to further Ivy’s impact in the drag community, his skills behind the lab bench have given him opportunities to take his science know-how to a more global stage. Last year, David went to Sweden to do Alzheimer’s research and helped understand Zikka in a virology lab.

Making It Work

How can a budding scientist and rising drag star fit everything in? For David, a typical Friday adds up to a nearly 14 hour-long day; 2–3 hours in class, 2–3 hours in the lab, followed by another hour painting his face to get ready for a show, and 4 to 6 hours for the show and performances. When asked about how he balances everything he said: “it just kind of happens and I have to go with it.”

David says he hopes to continue doing drag for a long time as it’s something that jazz’s up his life. “I need those artsy and science sides to complement each other instead of negating each other.”

After graduating in June, David hopes to pursue medicine and intends to write his MCAT in the summertime before taking a year off to make money, volunteer, work, and perform a lot.

“I love drag and producing art, but science and some sort of medical profession I think will be my career. Because getting to help people with that understanding of science that I think is so cool would be the best.”

See Ivy League at the Outreach Drag Show on March 15 at the Dinwoodie Lounge in SUB as part of the University of Alberta’s Pride Week!