Gay life and drag shows may be less visible in Taiwan than in the West, but the 'scene' has long been simmering in the background. Taipei's original and largest gay party -- Paradise -- is celebrating its sixth anniversary tonight at @live discotheque. And according to organizer Victor Cheng, the queens at Paradise are just as glamorous and bitchy as those elsewhere.
The Paradise party has taken place every month at @live over the last five years, and has never failed to attract the crowds. Parties rarely bring in fewer than 800 clubbers to enjoy the night of hedonism. In effect, Paradise has become a well-established 'friendly space' for a mixed crowd of gay and straight people to explore Taiwan's gay culture.
The theme for the party is Latin Fever featuring DJs Jimmy, Timixer and Victor spinning the disks and with a live performance on conga to compliment the music. Apart from Latin pop such as Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Christina, there will also be music from Deep House, Tribal and Techno. But the main draw is definitely the Paradise drag show, which will start around midnight. Drag queen Lulu, Amuro and Wayne will be performing Jennifer Lopez's "Let's Get Loud" and Toni Braxton's "Spanish Guitar" among others favorites.
Female impersonators have a long history in Chinese and Taiwanese performing arts such as Beijing operas and Chinese cabaret. But drag that stems from the Western gay culture has only emerged over the last 10 years.
And the shows at Paradise definitely is in the western tradition. "We like more trendy stuff, shows that appeal to young people," says Cheng. In 1994, Victor Cheng organized the first gay/drag party at the now defunct club called Underground. Since then, Cheng's drag performers have come to excel at impersonating black divas of the 1970s.
Cheng says the style at Paradise is quite different from that of the Hung-ting Artists (紅頂藝人), a relatively well-known troupe specializing in drag. Hung-ting is led by variety show host and comedian Tsai Tou (蔡頭). In the early 1990s, the troupe was a professional song and dance ensemble with dozens of members with big audiences in Southern Taiwan and Japan. A major attraction of Hung-ting performances was their imitations of various female singers on the Chinese pop charts.
Another drag show group active in Taiwan is the Snow White Variety Show (新白雪綜藝團), which is led theater graduates of the National Institute of Arts (國立藝術學院). Snow White is best known for its use of high camp and its use of earthy Taiwanese slang in its risque comedy routines. Snow White performs regularly at gay rights events.
"But I think the attraction of drag shows is not about how good the imitations are, nor is it about how feminine the performers can be," says Cheng. He says his "queens" all have strong personalities. "They are tough, mean, bitchy and charismatic women, and this is displayed in different ways," he says. The show includes parodies of Danny and Marie Osmond's cheezy singing and of Whitney Houston's vibrato, which have had audiences rolling in the aisles. And the queens love to satirize 1970s local singers like Fung Fei-fei (鳳飛飛) and Lee Pei-ching (李佩菁), according to Cheng.
As one of the pioneers of local gay parties and drag shows, Cheng says there is room for non-gay audience to improve their ability to appreciate drag
shows. "People still notice the muscles and other male characteristics of the performers, and think these are flaws in the performance. Few of them focus on the creativity and dramatic style of the shows," he says. "So as a DJ I always ask people to leave if they think they're not open enough for such shows," he says.
What Paradise Gay Party 6th Anniversary — Latin Fever
Where @live Discotheque; 15, Hoping W Rd., Sec. 1 (和平西路一段15號)
When Tonight (25th); 9pm to 4am
Tickets NT$500 with first drink; or ticket stub from one Golden Horse film screening
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