By Marie-Amelie Marchal
There are Paloma. Flamboyant redhead, eccentric actress, Daphne’s mix of Scooby-Doo and Patsy Stone (Absolutely Fabulous) which extols Valérie Lemercier. Then The Great Lady, known as Ladga. Endless legs, fantasized vision of fashion designers with trucker humor.
Both are part of the merry troupe of King Chiefs and Drag Queenscarried by Philippe Quintin-Stern. A former journalist, he left everything at the age of 50 to set up this crazy project, that of “reviving gay Paris and reconnect with20s cabaret art“.
In addition to their performances within the “Comédie-Française du drag”, Paloma and La Grande Dame can be found on France 2Saturday 25 June 2022 – day of the pride march in Paris-, in the French version of the iconic American show drag race. A competition that will oppose ten drag queens and whose eight episodes will be viewed on France TV Slash.
Drag, an art in full resurrection
“Drag is raising the disguise in the rank ofart “, slips Philippe Quintin-Stern, at the head of the troop of King Chiefs and Drag Queens. An art in full resurrection after a long desert crossing.
After a slump in the 2000s, the discipline is making a strong comeback with a new generation that is sweeping through Parisian cabarets, nightclubs, and now in public service.
What is a drag queen?
“DRessed As a Girl”, which means to dress like a woman, could be one of the origins. As for “queen”, it is a slang word that defines a homosexual person. Unlike transformists who imitate well-known personalities, drag queens invent their own character.
Philippe Quintin-Stern changed his life to embark on the adventure. “I frequented the best gastronomic chefs and, supported by my friend the starred chef Eric GuerinI wanted to bring up to date the essence of Parisian cabarets,” he rewinds enthusiastically.
I told the cooks ‘you’re crazy’, the drag girls ‘you’re crazy’… Let’s do something!
“To slum around a good meal”, such is his mantra. To the New Eveone of the oldest cabarets in Paris inaugurated 125 years ago at the foot of the Montmartre hillhe offers with his daughters, new numbers that combine songs, comedy, dance, lip sync (playback, an essential discipline in the drag world) and stripping.
“I was disfigured during an attack”
On stage, La Grande Dame deploys her silhouette of fashion sketches and her scathing humor. At 23, she can already boast of having marched for jean paul Gaultier and harbors ambitions of being the first drag queen to walk for Chanel Where Dior. Native Nice (Alpes-Maritimes), leaving the South was “vital” for her.
” I was disfigured during a assault “, she delivers. Ladga therefore settled in Paris five years ago, started working in a bar in the Marais and “drag imposed itself on (her)”.
At first I did it for fun and then I wanted to make it my job. I have never found anything else that makes me want to get up in the morning more.
If for the moment, she juggles with the status of self-employed entrepreneur, she aspires to become intermittent of the show for more stability. “The days when we slipped a ticket to the artists after a performance are over, today we are trying to professionalize and to live of our art”, explains Ladga.
“Drag has become obvious”
As for Paloma, a native of Clermont Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme), it is the theater that guided her to Paris. “I moved there 14 years ago to join the Cours Florent. I was doing a bit of drag in Clermont and I was doing drag roles at the theatre. But very quickly, I was confined to just that and the characters I was offered were very caricatural. It was reduced to a prostitute, in a van, ”she laments.
“I distanced myself from these personalities and tried to virilize myself. I didn’t believe it myself so obviously, I couldn’t find a role…”, remembers the 30-year-old. Then, she writes a short film and created the character from scratch by Paloma.
It was the most fluid thing that happened in my life. It has become obvious. As an actor, I always felt like I was lying. By doing drag, I reveal myself. It is a multidisciplinary art where make up is as important as costumes, improvisation, singing, dancing, staging…
“Being beautiful is not enough”
But beware, ” being beautiful is not enough, we quickly go around it, ”launches Lagda. What she loves above all is creating a break between her cold beauty and the humor of a “60-year-old veteran”.
A character that looks a lot like Yann when he is not his female version. “Humour has always helped me to transform the negative, to make fun of it, when I had a difficult journey,” she says.
While Lagda is an extension of Yann, Paloma is an actress, far from the personality ofHugo. “Her credo is to interpret a personalized version of great ladies like Fanny Ardant, explains Paloma. It is not Fanny Ardant but Paloma who imitates Fanny Ardant. »
Beyond art, a political posture
“We are no longer in the 1980s when drag artists dressed up as Cher, Madonna or even Dalida, even if they remain the icons they were. Today the drag have their own personality », explains Philippe Quintin-Stern.
In addition to the performance and show side, drag queens still carry with them the political issues of the older generations. “We must not forget that originally, drag queens were the flag bearer of the queer protests “says Paloma.
The drag have claimed and still claim today the right to be different, to acceptance, to non-judgment. They have always had a political posture, but a political one in the noble sense of the term, which refers to claiming one’s place in the city.
Philippe Quintin-Stern is proud that a television show highlights the drag scene. ” Ru Paul (American drag queen producer and presenter of the original show drag race) started in 2009 ! France is certainly late, but it’s great to find this format on the public service“, he rejoices.
“There will always be people who think we are the devil”
However, he remains suspicious, “I expect the usual comments from conservatives and what we do with them royalty fee…” The increasing presence of drag queens in the public space reveals for Paloma “a climate of tolerance “even if there will always be people who think that we are the devil”.
As long as the amalgam remains between drags, trans and sex workers, the situation will remain complex but it is gradually changing.
Paloma, Lagda and the daughters of Philippe Quintin-Stern are actors in this change of mentality. During the evenings organized by King chefs and drag queens, they distil testimonies, “exorcise on stage” their complicated journey in a sometimes intolerant society, all under the seal of humor because “(their) public does not have the ‘used to hearing militant speeches,’ notes Paloma.
Media figures, the drag queens of Philippe’s troupe and the upcoming show are aware of the model role they will play and the “kick in the anthill” that they will give.
Before taking the spotlight on stage, Paloma gives one last piece of advice to those who would like to get started: “Drag must be visceral, come from the heart, and don’t forget, anything is possible. We don’t care about the rules, our role is to bend them, so have fun! »
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