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 nasa stage, 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.
But 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.