Gabrielle J Marquez, star of Chennai’s first exclusive drag show, The Gabrielle Show, swaggers into the room, grooving to the dance music, and introduces herself with a hilarious, expletive-laden monologue.
The stage was thus set on Saturday at Backyard, Adyar for her flirty, offensive and riotous self. Singing, dancing and making jokes both taunting and self-deprecatory, Gabrielle is a consummate entertainer. Frequently going off-script, she teases the audience, roasts select targets, and goads others into being a part of the proceedings - generally blurring the boundaries between the performer and the audience.
And that’s the charm of a drag show - according to the official description, it’s ‘a creative vent, a form of self-exploration and expression. It includes dresses, singing, slut walk, humor, glitter, rainbows [...]’
Gabrielle is the drag queen persona of Jabez Kelly, who identifies as genderfluid. He explains that to him, “gender means nothing,” and being genderfluid is, “as the name suggests, being fluid and not accommodating to gender norms.”
Jabez putting on make-up before going on stage as Gabrielle.
Talking about how he came into drag, Jabez says he’s “always loved to dress up, to wear clothes that are socially unacceptable as a man,” adding that it was not just about clothes, but a reflection of his gender fluidity.
Gabrielle's performance was hilarious.
She wants to take The Gabrielle Show to different parts of the country.
“Me doing drag was never planned per se, and now it’s what I do for a living,” Jabez says. Starting with Chennai, Jabez is taking The Gabrielle Show around the world, including to Australia, Thailand and more. In the face of a conservative city like Chennai, Jabez “wanted to break a lot of gender stereotypes” through kicking off the show here, saying that “being who you are is all that matters, and this show would take it out loud.”
Jabez says he’s “not an activist, but an entertainer,” choosing to deconstruct stereotypes through the show.
These sentiments were echoed by fellow performer Nalin, stage name Fatty Bao, who sees drag as a “huge, loud middle finger to society, which tells them that I will wear what I want to, and behave the way I want to. That’s my entire aesthetic too - I don’t shave, I don’t do makeup, I put on a dress and I’m here,” he chuckles.
As Fatty Bao, she performed the Slam piece ‘Same Parts’ by the drag queen Tatianna, a tongue-in-cheek piece on the obliviousness of straight men to the fact that drag queens had the ‘same parts’ as them.
Fatty Bao performed a slam piece during the show.
Thaeja Singh performed his dance piece "Transcending," depicting Vishnu taking the form of Mohini to protect a pot of Amrit.
Miss Roxi Marquez put on an energetic dance set, which had the audience applauding throughout.
As for what’s the most fun part of a drag show, both Jabez and Nalin agree it’s the roast sessions, made possible by handing out “Roast Me Momma” forms to the audience, where they fill in their name, age, sexuality and a few more cheeky details. While Nalin says it’s hilarious to be “as insulting as you possibly can,” Jabez thinks it’s “being roasted by people you don’t know.”
The audience did not mind getting roasted.
As expected, the roasting at the show was ruthless and funny, never leaving the audience unscathed. With a few choice targets Gabrielle returned to repeatedly, the roasts almost became inside jokes for the attendees.
The Gabrielle Show was an exuberant event that sought to break gender stereotypes through sheer entertainment. And seeing the peals of laughter and applause that kept up throughout the evening, it would seem like the show was an unqualified success.
All pictures courtesy Haris Manian.