Interview with Becca d'Bus/Eugene Tan

Ng Yi-Sheng

August 25, 2015

Becca d'Bus, aka Eugene Tan, is one of Singapore's most famous drag queens - and the most enterprising! Just this Feburary, s/he launched RIOT!, the country's first regular drag revue in over a decade. S/he's been a big feature of the Night Festival - s/he gave live commentaries over Forever Fever and Growing Up Season 4 last weekend at the Substation's Extra Extra Special Film Screening, and s/he's organising a special ticketed RIOT! drag revue at the Fest this coming Friday and Saturday.

Becca's also one of the key performers in SIFA's closing event, The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers, is the drag queen Becca d'Bus. Hell, she's even on our poster.  And since I've known her - or Eugene Tan - since 1993, when we were schoolmates together in the ACS Drama Club, I figured we could do a little interview.

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NYS: Could you talk about your role in the Night Festival?

Eugene: We’re in the second week. I run a show I Singapore called Riot, and it is part of the Night Festival House of Glamour in the second weekend. We’re gonna be up on 28 and 29 august at 1:00 am. The late night spot taken by the most risqué of the cts. So last weekend t was tiramisu and next weekend it’s us.

NYS: How did you get involved in Border Crossers?

Eugene: I was at 72-13 for another event, and he asked if I wanted to be in a show and I said yes. Of the Border Crossers I’m the only one who’s born in Singapore, although “Becca d’Bus” is born in Boston. So in a way it confuses things: with Becca, it’s a different kind of border she crosses. 

But it also involves a geographical border: as we were developing the material for the show, I also started to think of Becca as an expatriate person. In a lot of ways she’s not born in Singapore. In a lot of ways the persona grows out of very specific circumstances in Boston. She comes out of the drag scene that I was living in in Boston, and drag scenes are specific to different parts of the world. I always say that drag’s a regional form, and so in the Singaporean context Becca is completely foreign to what’s happening here. And that’s something that I started to think about very specifically when I was in Border Crossers.

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NYS: How is Singapore scene different from Boston scene?

Eugene: As a city, Boston is informed by a few things. First among them is that it’s a university town, and so there are a lot of people who come into drag with backgrounds in things like gender studies and performance studies and so on and so forth. For them, drag might be a space in which they are discovering or working through stuff about their own gender. But drag is also a space in which, a strategy in which they can articulate ideas that they might have. So the Boston scene in some ways is informed by this one idea of a kind of academic, institutional population. So for us, coming into that community, we were informed by a sense of “throw everything to the winds, just experiment with gender, experiment with performance”.

And it’s also informed by of course there is a more longstanding, more traditional drag scene that is centred on a cabaret, which has served that community for more than 70 years now. For some of us it’s a very deep connection and even respect for a more traditional way in which drag happens. 

And those things feel different from Singapore, because those influences don’t exist in Singapore in quite the same way. We don’t really have a lot of people coming out of performance studies running into the club and becoming drag performers.

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NYS: Not yet, anyway. Back to The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers. What do you do in the show?

Eugene: Well, essentially Becca d’Bus performs incredible numbers from a repertoire and occasionally removed her clothing. [In Paris] the removing the clothing part was really awesome. People were really into it. It was also apparently a hit on Instagram.

NYS: Can you tell me about the other Border Crossers?

Eugene: We come from all over the world. There’s a really varied set of experiences. There’s a married couple, both of whom are in the show, there’s a gay married man who’s in the show, there are housewives, there are people who are teaching in NTU. It’s a pretty broad range and very varied range of experiences. 

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NYS: Is there anyone who’s working a blue-collar job?

Eugene: Hmmm. That’s a good question. Do you consider service industries blue-collar? So I can think of at least one person whom I could call that, but she’s now a housewife.

Actually there were parts that were really challenging because we kind of came into it and were very quickly developing very large amounts of short performances for video, and then that process got refined, or in some cases cut, and stuff gets moved around. And in the end you end up with this five hours twenty minute performance. Part of it involves us learning from each other, so there are giant group numbers, but for the most part the show is built around small individual performances or videos, interspersed with really grand moments of everybody on the catwalk.

The catwalk is used in a whole bunch of different ways. But there’s a strong influence of fashion, the costumes are all by Reckless Erica, who are our designers, and the set does include a giant catwalk. The fashion show is a reference to the show.

Hope everyone enjoys the show!

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  • 2015