The performing arts took a massive blow since the beginning of lockdown in the Philippines and all over the globe, with theater performances abruptly cancelled to make way for social distancing protocols and less invigorating stay-at-home regulations.
Nestled right in the outskirts of this industry, the drag community was, of course, severely affected by this sudden change, and as other industries gradually shift to the virtual space, drag queens have been left to figure out how they could replicate the energy of live performances online. After all, as performers, how do you feed off of applause that you can’t even see, let alone hear?
We caught up with the fabulous Divine Bar trio, where seasoned queens Brigiding Gigi, Precious Paula Nicole, and Viñas Deluxe chart their first steps into the drag world, and how their friendship has allowed each of them to shine brighter in the face of the digital shift.
BECOMING A QUEEN
Performing has been in the heart of each of our queens way before they even knew that there was a thriving drag industry here in the Philippines. Both Gigi and Viñas fell in love with performing as theater kids, while Precious was a cultural dancer in her teenage years. Each of them was introduced to the vibrant and exciting world of drag by their peers, and even by each other, in the case of Viñas who was brought into the industry by Gigi.
So much of the art of drag comes from the intricately-designed costumes and makeup looks each queen has to put on for every show, a wild convergence of their most fabulous idols, and their innermost personal goddesses. But how does one’s drag persona and “look” actually come into existence? Is there even one set aesthetic for each queen in the first place?
For Gigi, who’s been actively working as a professional drag queen for 8 years, these things are ever-changing, as she’s constantly evolving her looks as the years go by, and as she experiences more of the world.
This sentiment is also carried over by Precious, who’s celebrating her 10th anniversary in drag this year. At first, her career was marked by impersonating iconic personalities like Beyonce and Mariah Carey. But 4 years ago, after watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race, it inspired her to work on her own personal style for a change. “Hanggang ngayon, mas gusto ko pa rin nilalaro ang lahat at walang pressure,” she shared with a smile.
For Viñas, it was the pressure from senior queens to conform that made her find her own path as a drag performer, pushing away others’ influence to discover what makes her the most comfortable. The process takes on a more personal role in her performances as she shared that she usually bases her songs on what she feels on that certain day, “When I am feeling sad, I’ll perform an emotional song. If I’m feeling a little silly, I will perform a funny song. I don’t really box myself to a certain category because it’s natural for me to try new things and explore.”
Perhaps the beauty of drag is that everyone is constantly transforming and evolving to better represent themselves and their personal growth. In line with Viñas’ words: there is no box to categorize a queen as the possibilities are infinite when it comes to their art.
A QUEEN ONSTAGE IS A QUEEN ONLINE
“No matter what platform, Drag and the art of the LGBT community will always find its way to fly.”
When the pandemic hit and the livelihoods of drag queens were drastically cut off, it’s understandable that they felt anxious, depressed, and unsure of how to move forward. But just like everybody else, these queens pushed themselves to get back up in order to provide for their loved ones, and to fulfill their own sense of purpose.
Thanks to their own social media following, they were able to host live virtual performances for their fans, something that was daunting to do as performers who feed off the energy from the crowd.
Gigi admitted that the rapid and drastic shift took a toll on her own mental health, requiring her to take some time off to accept the new reality of drag: “I have to take a break… kasi hindi ko matanggap. Until I’ve come to realize and accept that my talent is bigger and that its only me who will help myself and that you can still strive and continue kahit mahirap…”
Precious also shared her own sentiments on this transformation, sharing that in the first few virtual sessions, her motivation took a big hit as she couldn’t experience the cheers and applause from the crowd anymore—a massive source for her own strength and inspiration during performances. But she had to adjust and learn quickly in order to earn the income she needs: “I started doing Facebook Live almost everyday nung nagstart ang quarantine dahil wala talaga akong income kung hindi ako kikilos. No work, no pay kasi kami sa bar. Natutunan ko narin tanggapin na kahit hindi ko nakikita ang audience ko, may nababasa naman ako na comments from them at nakakatanggap din ako ng tips.”
But for Viñas, the virtual shift opened an entirely new space for her to fully express herself without the pressures of following a boss’ rules, sharing that it made her realize how liberating it is to know she could be successful without traditional clubs and events.
“People watch us because they want to see us. In clubs not everybody watches, some people are just there to mingle, some just wants to drink. Also in online, people get to know our personality because they can actually hear us talking. Right now, online show is helping me gain confidence in other fields such as singing and hosting.”
SUGAR, SPICE, AND EVERYTHING “DIVINE”
These days, the trio is known in the online drag world as the Divine Bar. The three friends who would just normally hang out after work were hit with the idea to perform a show together amidst quarantine, something they weren’t able to do before while working at different clubs.
“We enjoyed it like we’re not working at all. We’re just best of friends together drag and having fun! We always use the word Divine as our catch phrase so we decided to use it and name our show as if we’re in an online bar,” Gigi shared.
The group has released a number of drag collaborations, with each of their individual styles shining through the screen. And the chemistry that they have is so palpable and contagious, that it successfully creates a fun and vivid bond between the queens and their loyal viewers. “Even though we have different kind of style and background and experiences we always try to challenge and push and learn from each other. We always try to excite everyone! That made our bonds even tighter as we know what are our strengths.”
Now the Divine Bar is booked with thrilling new opportunities in and out of drag. From Facebook live shows, to private ticketed events on Zoom, the trio has also started doing online brunch sessions, and regular weekend shows with Spaces_MNL, a social media channel that initiates to give the LGBT community a platform to share their stories and creations.
At the heart of it, Drag is a wonderful art form that captures and enraptures the audience by transporting them to a colorful world of beauty, sass, and undeniable entertainment. Behind all the elaborate costumes and extravagant make-up looks, it’s a pocket of the performing arts that offer a unique sense of relief and comfort, albeit temporarily—something we all need at this time.
As Gigi so beautifully put it: “[Drag’s] main goal is to entertain. We want to give joy and continue to be the shining light on people that are stressed about this pandemic. We want to give hope that there’s life during this pandemic, and that the community is still alive. That we are resilient and that we are here to stay. No matter what platform, Drag and the art of the LGBT community will always find its way to fly.”
Produced and art direction by: Leo Balante
Photography by: Josh Tolentino
Shot on location at the Penthouse Studio