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And all that drag!

PERFORMER: Le Gateau Chocolat

“WE’RE ALL born naked, and the rest is drag.” Those were the famous words uttered by RuPaul and a quote that rings true for many – including Nigerian drag performer Le Gateau Chocolat.

“Drag is used as vehicle to reveal a lot of truth, but also to really hone in on the concept of what it means as a way of survival and disguise and that for me was really interesting.”

Le Gateau Chocolat was born and raised in Nigeria in an extremely religious Christian family. “Growing up in Nigeria with an incredibly religious, Christian environment was difficult and I think that resulted in some issues that took a lifetime to understand and battle the kind of shackles I was put in.”

“In Nigeria, its not only criminalized but it is one of the countries that has the hardest laws against homosexuality,” he says. “But also it’s so deeply ingrained – not just culturally but religiously as well – that it’s not even spoken about.

“For me, that upbringing sowed seeds of self hatred and lack of self-confidence. So moving to England meant I spent a lot of time unpacking all of that.”

Le Gateau Chocolat moved to the UK as a teenager, where he went onto study law at the University of Sussex and encounter his first drag experience. “I first really saw drag at this place called ‘The Joint’ in Brighton,” he recalls. “I used to go to their club night and that was my first experience of cabaret and because I was a regular and attended for three years. I slowly but surely changed from being a viewer to a performer on the stage and that’s how it begun.”

Cabaret and drag performances spoke to Le Gateau Chocolat, as he had the opportunity to explore this art form in a new and exciting way, whilst living out his truth as gay man of colour ¬– something which did not come easy.

“Coming from where I’m from, living my truth was an interesting experience,” he says. “I think it’s a bit like habits learned and habits unlearned. You just have to go through it because there is no guide. You may fall and make mistakes but hopefully you’ll find your way through it and I still am.”

Le Gateau Chocolat now operates a space in cabaret as one of the post prolific performers out right now, stepping outside of stereotypes and using drag as a means to discuss different elements of his life, as seen in his show ICONS, which he will perform at Homotopia on November 10.

“ICONS is an autobiographical show about my real life. The thing about the art of drag is that it’s the art of revealing the person behind the mask. So even though I celebrate internationally recognised icons in the show like Elvis, Kate Bush, and Gladys Knight, at the end of the day it’s about my life. However, the themes and topics are things that you would recognise.”

“The reality is, at some point in your life you are wearing some kind of drag. It might seem kind of comical to some, but when you go to work, there’s a certain kind of drag you where when dealing with your colleagues or your boss – and it’s a different kind of drag from when you’re with your family for Christmas or are with your friends etc.

“I think for me, that’s what’s really interesting, to kind of underline that human part of what drag is, and how that plays in our everyday lives, which I explore through my art.”

ICONS revisits various elements of Le Gateau Chocolat’s life – from growing up in Nigeria to talking about friends who committed suicide, making it a very personal experience. Even still, as a black gay performer he explores the many facets of his existence – but is still is plagued by limitations and stereotypes placed on him by others.

“It’s weird because in some parts of the community I don’t struggle to occupy in white LGBT spaces, but in many parts of the community I do,” he admits. “And in certain parts of the community I found that I was incredibly fetished and it made me realise that even within a marginalised community you can be further marginalised and sometimes you don’t have an identity unless you’re fetished which is unfortunate.”

As a result, Le Gateau Chocolat feels it’s important to dismantle stereotypes and often uses his art to do so. “It’s a part of what I do. My drive is to question those stereotypes. Not just to question stereotypes as a black, gay man but as a drag queen that is often compared to others based on a shared background rather than the work.

“People have preconceived ideas about certain things and I have to inform them,” he affirms. “That’s why I understand the responsibly I have as a performer who’s gay, of colour, from Nigeria, and I think all of these things are always with me when I make a show or go to make a statement.”

Despite stereotypes and adversities, no one can deny that Le Gateau Chocolat is one of the hardest working men in cabaret – and 2018 sees no sign of stopping him.

“I will be touring in Australia in January, Edinburgh in August, touring ICONS again alongside my kids show Duckie. I’m planning to bring my shows worldwide and look forward to what next year will hold.”

Le Gateau Chocolat will be performing ICONS during Homotopia on Friday 10 November, at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool. Tickets available here: http://www.homotopia.net/festival-item/le-gateau-chocolat-icons/#.WgL5VracbMV

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