Translation of Episode 5: Amadiva: From Theatre to Drag and Beyond

January 27, 2020

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Episode 5 Excerpts

In this episode, we talk to Pathavee "Om" Thepkraiwan, or Amadiva from Drag Race Thailand Season 1. Apart from being an up-and-coming drag queen in Thailand, Om is also a stage actor and has directed and written several of his own shows. We chat with him about everything from drag and theatre to the true Om and the real Amadiva. 

On what drag means on a personal level (3:55)

This profession and doing drag allow me to do what I want to do. It’s a space that’s free. I’ve been doing theatre all my life. Nobody’s going to cast me as Little Mermaid […] but there’s this space where I can play the female roles I’ve wanted to play all my life. And there’s an audience for it; there’s appreciation for this type of work. It’s one of the spaces where I can be myself in a way that I want to be for a moment in time. It’s probably like this for many because when you’re in drag, it’s like you’re embodying another character that makes you brave enough to do things that you’ve never done before.

On Amadiva (4:55)

I introduced the character in Drag Race Thailand. I used to do a show called Pla See Roong (My Mermaid Dream), my first solo show […] I started doing that show in 2016, about four years ago. It was the show I started working on after I graduated from college. When I graduated, I was like, “How come I studied theatre but never did any show outside of college?” […] Since I had never done drag before [Drag Race Thailand], I decided to play a character that I was comfortable with, a character I had been playing for over a year [for Drag Race Thailand]. In the beginning, Amadiva was this drunk, absent-minded, kinda dopey character […] [The name] Amadiva came from my Instagram name, which was actually Omadiva, but they didn’t let me use it. They said that if I used that name in the show, it would be too similar to my [actual nickname]. So I said, “Then I’ll change the ‘O’ to ‘A.’ Is that OK?” They were like, “Fine!” […] I also like Beyoncé, and there’s this song that goes, “I’m a-a diva. I’m a-a diva.” So I just took it from there, and that’s it. I didn’t think much about it. And it’s a catchy name.

On the development of Amadiva (6:30)

She’s grown a lot. Last year, I still didn’t really know how to do anything. My makeup skills weren’t that great. I didn’t know how to make myself up very well. So I tried to be all trashy because I knew my face wasn’t very beautiful […] The first week [of Drag Race Thailand], we all understood that the challenge would be really rough. And as you know, we all had to be splashed with water. We knew that the first look had to be comfortable to move around in and not too revealing on TV. So my first look was the outfit I wore for my second solo show, Reu Yang Ja Nok Mae Lok Ja Salai (Single Ladies ‘Till the World Ends) […] In Drag Race, we weren’t allowed to be that sexy […] And the challenges didn’t give us any reason to be [that sexy]. Amadiva is comedic. She’s a comedy queen. I try to do things that are humorous and witty. I have a sharp tongue and am not afraid to use it. My humor is bitchy. If you see me in Drag Race, I was really bitchy, but I don’t think anything of it. When people insult me, I don’t really take offense. I was like, “Go ahead! Take a shot at me!” I feel like drag shows are a safe space where people can throw racist jokes and can go to the extreme, but everyone knows it’s a performance. For me, if you can laugh at these jokes, you’ll discover there’s nothing to them. I try to keep that in mind and approach it that way. These days, Amadiva is funny. I do a lot of sex jokes. I don’t know why, but I relate everything to sex. It’s terrible, but I think it’s just funny. And since I perform in a gay bar, everybody is ready to be confronted with sex jokes, which are safer than racist jokes. So that’s what I play with, and I’ve discovered that people like it—people really enjoy it. I don’t impersonate Britney or Beyoncé. I don’t do impersonations at all. So I stick with comedy. My comedy is theatrical since I’m from a theatre background. Most drag queens here don’t do theatre jokes. In the US, in New York and all that, there are a lot of theatre kids. So I have a lot of fun stringing together songs into a story within five minutes.

On the gig at Stranger Bar (10:00)

I perform there every Saturday and Sunday. The first part of the evening is walking to the front of the bar to invite guests in. The main show starts at 11 PM. There are three shows: 11 PM, midnight, and 1 AM […] I perform, collect my tips, clink glasses with the audience. That’s pretty much the scope of my work. If I want more tips, what do I do? I’ve found that the more I clink glasses with the audience, the more tips I get. I host on Sundays. I take the mic, introduce the show, interact with the audience, and host games, because I can speak English […] As a host, you have to be quick. It’s not like being an MC in malls, because there what you can do is quite limited. When you host a drag show, there are really no limits. When there are few limitations for jokes, you have plenty of things you can do. I’m game with insulting the audience, drinking from their glasses, everything. There’s a thin line between guests being angry and them finding you funny. So when you host, you have to read people. Maybe ask where they’re from. If they’re from this country, is there a joke you can use with them? You have to study a bit. A German guest, is there a [country-specific] joke I can play with? […] Sometimes it’s stressful though. When guests are not enjoying the show, not screaming, how do you make them laugh and enjoy and stay with you? You have to think on your feet all the time.

On lessons learned from “Drag Race Thailand” (32:50)

I was inspired by all the older contestants […] Some of them started doing drag since they were in their teens. They’ve accumulated lots of experience—as well as accessories and costumes [laughs]. I started at zero and kept learning from them. Apart from sleep deprivation, I really learned a lot. After doing a show where I struggled and fought, today I’m more grown up, I’m more ready to do things in a limited amount of time. I had been doing theatre for a few years after I graduated from college, and I kept seeing the same people because [the theatre community] is very small. [Before Drag Race Thailand], I never met anyone outside the theatre community. It was a culture shock [laughs]! I learned from watching what they did. You can’t learn anything in drag if you don’t start doing it.

On his theatre roots (34:45)

I can’t do anything well. I can sing, dance, and act […] When you’re like this, you don’t feel like you’re good at anything. If I had to say what I’m really good at among these three things, I would say nothing […] I started studying hip hop dance in high school, waacking as well, that’s how I knew P’Pun [Pangina Heals]. I liked theatre since I was young, but there was a point where I didn’t know what to study. I asked my mother whether I would be able to get a job. Then when I went to the US in Grade 11, I got to perform in a musical. And I really liked that. I liked being on stage. So when I came back to Thailand, I told my mom that I was going to study theatre. If I couldn’t get a job, we’d deal with that later. But I can get a job after all!

On drag and theatre (36:35)

My advantage is that I’m used to being onstage. I’m not afraid of the audience. I’ve always done solo shows. They’re quite similar. Drag is just more limiting in terms of time, from doing a solo show that lasts an hour, where you can take your time and the audience is stuck with you for that length of time, to doing something that’s more like a street play all the time. It’s only three minutes, and you have to try and hold everyone with you. All the skills I learned from studying theatre really help—eye-contact, being in the moment, problem-solving. I think the way I do my drag shows is maybe different from others. My show has a story, has a concept. I try to put meaning in my shows […] Sometimes I forget that drag is something the audience has to understand right away as soon as they see you. Sometimes I was too conceptual. The runway challenge where I was Pojamarn [female protagonist of a famous Thai novel and soap opera Baan Saitong], I thought that I was really smart and did a really good job, but nobody got it. People not only have to get [your character], you also have to be really beautiful. People expect drag queens to be beautiful […]

Drag makes it hard to play other roles. I was just in Namngoen Tae: The Musical. I hadn’t used my body that way in a long time—in a masculine way […] I had to look like a soldier […] I hadn’t done that in two years. I had been running around in heels […] But lately, since I’ve been working as Amadiva, people are casting me in female roles, like Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream […] And I haven’t played many male roles in a musical ensemble. I was just in a music video, and I played a drag queen […] Since I became known through drag, I don’t mind being typecast as long as there’s space for me to work […] I used to think, “If I could play manly roles really well, I would be cast more often.” I did my first solo show because I thought that nobody would ever cast me in anything, because apart from my own work, I got to play in B-Floor productions. They don’t want you to play a specific character. They want bodies that can move well, which I can do […] If somebody wants to cast a manly role, why wouldn’t they hire a man to play it? Why hire an actor who’s not so manly to play a manly role? […] Sometimes I tried too hard to play a manly role, but if I can play more effeminate roles, then why not push myself in this direction? When there’s a role like this, they usually think of me. Then I don’t have to try so hard, and I’m happier that way.

On ongoing and future projects (55:35)

I have a project I’ve been wanting to do for two years […] I want to play Pocahontas. I really want to do that—my version. I just really want to play a woman. I played a katoey [a male-to-female transgender person or an effeminate homosexual man] in my first solo show, did drag in my second, so I want to play a woman in my third solo show […] I do queer theatre. So in the first show, I tackled gender. In the second, politics, queerness, otherness. There was the case of Chaiyapoom Pasae [a teenage Lahu human rights activist killed by a soldier at a military checkpoint in 2017], where otherness is about race, origin, homeland. I’m also interested in somtam [Northeastern Thai papaya salad] vendors, Isan [Northeastern Thai] people in Bangkok, people living in Bangkok who come from other provinces […] Why do we talk to somtam vendors differently from other Bangkokians? Do they feel Bangkok is their home? Some people say they will not go home until they’ve become successful. What’s the limit of success then? But since I’m a katoey, I have to play Pocahontas. There are hill-tribe people in Thailand who have lost their homes. What used to be their home can no longer be called home. Pocahontas had to move to England. Did she feel at home there? And she died mysteriously […] It’s going to be queer theatre, and I’m going to sing. I’ve already asked permission from Rasmee Isan Soul because I want to sing morlam [a traditional Laotian and Isan music] […] And I’m just going to use Pocahontas’s story […]

I actually want to do drag abroad […] New York should be fun. I should be able to find a place to perform in New York. There are many venues. It’s a theatre town, and the drag scene there is theatre-heavy […] I told my mom that I’m going wait and see where drag can take me in the next few years. This year, I’m starting to get more gigs. People are starting to know what I can do […] It’s expanded my career options. I’m also making music, so I’m waiting to see whether I’ll succeed at that. I formed a band a year ago—a progressive rock band. I’m the lead singer. I love rock—I’m a rock girl […] I usually do rock songs at the bar when I sing live, like “What’s Up,” “Creep,” “Bohemian Rhapsody”. 

On his drag idols (1:01:45)

I watch a lot of foreign drag queens. In Thailand, Pangina Heals. She’s so good. I want everyone to see her theatrical shows. They’re so good. We usually see her doing disco and “beautiful” numbers, but when she did “But First Let Me Take a Selfie,” which is very comedic, she’s so funny. It was so fun to watch […] Outside of Thailand, I like Jinkx Monsoon, who’s a theatre queen. She has a degree in theatre. Once when I went to England, I saw her show Hocus Pocus. It was crazy, totally nonsensical. It was an hour and a half of nonsense. It was so much fun. After seeing that show, I came out saying to myself, “This is the kind of theatre I want to do.” I want to do comedy, just fun, crafted, well-thought-out theatre. I feel we still lack this in Thailand. Even though some of us call ourselves comedic, but in the end we all want to do something with deep meaning. But I don’t think we need to be that precious all the time. Sometimes laughing is meaningful enough. And Bianca del Rio, I guess everybody likes her. She does stand-up. She just grabs the mic and insults people, in drag […]  She’s a RuPaul’s Drag Race winner. She doesn’t lip-sync though. She doesn’t really like to lip-sync. She’s got solo shows, and they pay her to roast people […]

In theatre, when it comes to comedy, I love P’Iew [playwright-director-actor Parnrut Kritchanchai] and P’Jaa [Jarunun Phantachat of B-Floor Theatre] because they have the same sense of humor as I do—very biting […] I love P’Kage [Teerawat Mulvilai of B-Floor Theatre] because he’s funny in all of his shows […]. I really appreciate this type of work in the Thai theatre scene.

Lightning Round

1. Which musical character would you prefer to play?

Mae Nak from “Mae Nak The Musical” or Mekala from “Mae Bia: The Erotic Art Musical”

Om: Mae Nak

Annie Oakley from “Annie Get Your Gun” or Orphan Annie from “Annie”

Om: Orphan Annie

Maria from “West Side Story” or Kim from “Miss Saigon”

Om: Maria

Elphaba from “Wicked” or Mary Poppins from “Mary Poppins”

Om: Mary Poppins

Hedwig from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” or Angel from “Rent”

Om: Hedwig

Christine from “The Phantom of the Opera” or Eponine from “Les Miz”

Om: Eponine

Evita Peron from “Evita” or Anna Leonowens from “The King and I”

Om: Evita

Roxie Hart from “Chicago” or Sally Bowles from “Cabaret”

Om: Sally Bowles

Khunying Keerati from “Behind the Painting: The Musical” or Parnrung from “Banlang Mek: The Musical”

Om: Keerati

 

2. If you could be in the body of one these people for a day, whose body would you prefer to be in?

Mariah Carey or Celine Dion

Om: Celine Dion

Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera

Om: Britney

Jennifer Lopez or Beyoncé

Om: Beyoncé

Miley Cyrus or Nicki Minaj

Om: Miley Cyrus

Lady Gaga or Madonna

Om: Lady Gaga

Marsha [Vadhanapanich] or Christina Aguilar

Om: Marsha

Marina Abramovic or Yayoi Kusuma

Om: Yayoi Kusuma

Jarunun Phantachat or Parnrut Kritchanchai

Om: Jarunun Phantachat

Sunny Suwanmethanon or Sky Wongravee

Om: Sky

Sorapong Chatree or Sombat Metanee

Om: Sorapong