Suspension of Disbelief

Posts Tagged ‘Drag Manila

The matriarchs of drag

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Outrage Magazine | 20 October 2017

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“Age does not matter. Every time we perform, we forget our problems. Every time we are on stage, all our stress goes away. It’s a way to keep us fit physically and mentally.”

So said 62-year-old Mama Bobby, one of the Lola Divas, the oldest drag performers in the Philippines, along with Mama Roming, 67; Bong, 62; and Annie, 57.

“(We may already be) in our sunset years,” Mama Bobby said, but the energy is still there. “Age ripened us.”

Mama Bobby, the lead of Lola Divas, first got his taste of being in the limelight in the 1970s.

“I started performing at the age of 18. I used to be a live mannequin in department stores. And when I entered college, I started getting different offers,” he said. “Then I eventually became a member of a group that regularly had a show.”

Mama Bobby was also a front act performer of Pilita Corrales, Didith Reyes and Pia Moran, among others.

For the Lola Divas, “we were already together since the 1980s. One of our first stints was at the legendary Coco Banana. We were the Cocoquettes. At that time, we were very much ahead of the entertainment scene. That experience opened a lot opportunities to us. And the rest, as they say, is history,” Mama Bobby narrated.

The lolas (Filipino word for “grandmother”) claimed to have also pioneered the Filipino-style gay entertainment scene in Japan, where they were actually regulars at different clubs. But in the mid 2000s, when Japan-based entertainers started having problems with their status there, they all went back to the Philippines.

It was in 2004 when Mama Bobby and the other lolas became known as the Lola Divas. And not for long, The Library – a renowned comedy bar in Malate, Manila – welcomed the Lola Divas to its family.

“When we were just starting as a group, we didn’t think that we would survive because we are already old,” Mama Bobby said. “But then dancing is really our passion and performing is in our blood, so we were challenged.”

Mama Bobby is first to admit that “we do lip syncs and dancing; but we are not gifted when it comes to live singing.” Nonetheless, “as long as we are able to entertain the audience, and we enjoy what we are doing, it’s all good.”

Their journey has “not always been rainbows and butterflies.” For one, their age is admittedly a deterrent for them to get more gigs. Another challenge, related to this, is the changing landscape of LGBT entertainment in the metro. There are now only few venues that offer drag shows, and unlike before, most bars now emphasize stand-up comedies and dance numbers.

A DYING ART?

Drag, simplistically the “art of performing and impersonation”, as Mama Bobby put it, has changed throughout the years. Today, someone who knows how to put make-up on and do some lip syncs is already considered a drag performer. While these qualities complement the art of drag performing, Mama Bobby says that there is more to it than those two things.

“There’s YouTube and the Internet now. Young drag queens can easily copy the people that they want to impersonate. But during our younger years, we only used our imagination to recreate things, and we had our own personal style,” he said. “And of course, we were fabulous!”Mama Bobby added: “Some young drag queens are like dragons, they breathe fire every time they are on stage. I like watching them. But there are those who give lackluster performances; when you watch them, there is no impact – you cannot even remember them afterwards. They need to step up. Yes, they are disciplined and they rehearse all the time, but they need to have a unique selling factor. Otherwise, they will just be plain impersonators. And there is no real art to that.”

LIVING LEGACY

The Lola Divas fear that one day the world of drag in the Philippines will just die out and they will be forgotten. They recalled how the world of drag was also centered in Malate, now considered as the “old world” of LGBT nightlife, a reminder of the Bohemian past of Manila. But with LGBT spaces now no longer confined in one area, and there is a lack of substantial exclusive LGBT bars and clubs, the fear for the risk of “just disappearing” is there.

Nonetheless, the Lola Divas’ members are still optimistic that one day, the drag world will thrive again at levels they remember it to be.

“Among the challenges that we face as drag queens is the lack of funding. Even if we want to create a really good show, complete with costumes and props, we cannot. It’s really frustrating,” Mama Bobby said.

Add to this the fact that “ageism exists even in the LGBT community.”

But these challenges “do not mean that we will give an unremarkable performance.”

Every life, said Mama Bobby, has a unique meaning and purpose attached to it. For the Lola Divas, it is to entertain and bring a smile to the people. “Hanggang pinapalakpakan kami, we will not stop, we will continue to perform,” Mama Bobby ended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(Established in April 2007, Outrage Magazine remains the only publication exclusive for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and allied community in the Philippines.)

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Fulfilling a lifelong dream to be in the spotlight

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Outrage Magazine | 8 June 2017

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“Two hundred binayad sa akin noong una akong mag-perform, pero masaya na ako. Okay lang kasi matagal ko na itong pinangarap (I was paid P200 the first time I performed, but I was already happy. It’s okay because this has been my dream for so long).”

That was how Richard Fabella, better known by her stage name as Princess Jolens, broke into the drag scene, perhaps highlighting how her journey into the spotlight was not an easy one. But more than the failed attempts, it was perseverance that “paved the way for the fulfillment of my dreams,” she said.

Princess Jolen’s exposure to the drag scene was somewhat atypical.

“One time, nagkaayaan kaming mag-barkada, mga workmates ko, na pumunta sa isang hosto bar. Habang aliw na aliw sila sa mga macho dancer, ako naman manghang-mangha sa gay impersonator. Sobrang na-impress ako sa host (One time, me and friends went to a male go-go bar. While there, they were so fascinated with the macho dancers; but me, I was fascinated with the gay impersonator. I was so impressed with that host),” Princess Jolens said.

That first exposure to the world of drag left an indelible mark on her.

Habang pinapanood ko ung impersonator, maraming sumagi sa imagination ko – kung ako ung nasastage, sisiguraduhin ko na magandang-maganda ung suot kong gown (While watching the impersonator, a lot of things entered my mind. I was thinking that if I’m the one onstage, I’d make sure I’d be wearing a really fabulous gown),” she laughed.

When the night ended, as they headed out of the bar, Princess Jolens saw the impersonators eating outside. She didn’t let the opportunity pass. She walked over to them and introduced herself.

“Mama, magkano per night niyo dito sa bar (Girls, how much do you earn every night here in the bar)? Princess Jolens asked. “P150 a night lang; tapos kung walang tao, P100 lang (They earn P150 per night; and if there aren’t any people, just P100 per night). Oh my God!

She was shocked after hearing how much the performers were earning, “but they seemed happy with what they were doing, and that’s the most important thing.”

That encounter encouraged her to pursue her desire to perform.

During one of her night-outs, she stumbled upon an opportunity to make her dreams a reality.

“I went to this bar in Pasay and I saw at the counter a poster announcing the bar’s annual beauty pageant. The floor manager approached me and asked if I was interested. I immediately said ‘no’. It never crossed my mind to join beauty pageants,” Princess Jolens said. “I told the manager that I prefer performing than be a ‘beauconera‘.”

The floor manager told Princess Jolens “that one of the prizes that I would get if I win the pageant would be a regular set at the bar,” she recalled. With some hesitations, Princess Jolens joined the contest.

She was able to reach the grand finals. But, unfortunately, she did not win

A few days later, she joined another pageant in Cubao. And this time, she won the title.

Princess Jolens went back to the bar in Pasay to let the performers – with whom she became friends with during the contest – know about her victory.

That night at the bar, she met the floor manager again.

“He introduced me to the owner. They asked me what my talents are. I told them that I can do anything – that I’m even willing to perform for free. I just want to perform,” Princess Jolens said.

And that was the turning point for her, as she “officially” entered the drag scene.

She earned P200 on her first night and she was happy with it.

It was a thankless beginning to a drag career.

Different bars noticed her, and eventually, she started getting bookings left and right.

“I started from P200 a night, but when I started performing in other bars, it became P3,000 per night,” she said.

She juggled her daytime job and the demands of being a performer.

“It’s all good. I love what I was doing. It did not matter if I was only able to sleep for a few hours because of rehearsals. There was also a time when I made costumes while at work. It was tiring, but it was really fun… because I love what I was doing,” Princess Jolens said.

But then, another chapter of her life started. Princess Jolens got an offer to work abroad with her ex.

She gave up everything for love. Princess Jolens and her partner at that time went to Jeddah.

Pero isang taon pa lang ang nakakalipas (But after only a year), I felt that my ex could not love me the way I was hoping he would. After I gave up everything, that was what happened,” she recalled.

When she finished her contract, she went back to the Philippines.

Princess Jolens got in touch with the bars that she was connected with before – and in no time, she started performing again.

“The art of drag is slowly dying,” she sadly said. Nowadays, “there is no production value, especially those who perform in small bars. That’s wrong. Regardless if it’s a small or a big venue, you should always be at your best. Your next performance will depend on your last performance. If you do well with your last performance, expect that you will have another set the following day. But if you did not do well, don’t expect another booking the following day.”

Although there is a growing number of drag performers in Manila, for Princess Jolens, “the quality of their performance is no longer that good.”

“It’s not always about how much you are earning. It’s not always about the money. It’s about entertaining the audience. It’s about being beautiful on stage and giving your best performance,” she said.

Princess Jolens also said that some drag performers now do not value the opportunity given to them. “You will see that they are not taking their job seriously, like as if they are just playing on stage. Some of them are prima donnas.”

For Princess Jolens, “whenever you perform on stage, put yourself in the position of the audience. Ask yourself what you would like to see and experience. That’s what you should give. The audience should be in awe when they watch you. And if you successfully achieve that, then that’s the only time you would leave a mark as a performer.”

And Princess Jolens ought to know, of course; considering what she had to go through to be where she is now.

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(Established in April 2007, Outrage Magazine remains the only publication exclusive for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and allied community in the Philippines.)

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