Meet the Queen 2
One of the iconic faboriginals of the Sydney and Melbourne indigenous drag community and a descendant of the Gomeroi Nation – this weeks Q&A is with a very valued member of our Impy family… Dorreen Manganini!
Known for her sharp tongue, sexy pins and customised version of “I Will Survive”, she loves a lager and tequila chaser and a bloody good laugh!
Dorreen with friends in the 1990s (Sydney/Melbourne)
Who is Dorreen? What is your drag name and what does it mean?
I moved from a country town to Sydney at 16 to go to catering college. I was given a job at the Sydney Opera House and the first day I walked and these older queens were like “what’s your name?” I said “Darren”. They said “Right, you’re Doreen, go stand there next to Vanessa.” Vanessa was this big Fijian man.
My last name got given to me by the legendary Simone Troy – she saw me and Kerryn St James in a talent contest called “Search for a Tragedy”. The movie Manganinnie was on television and Simone told me that would be my new last name – and that first week asked me to spell it for the audience. I said “I’ll give you an M this week, come back next week to find out the rest.”
Pictured with Felicia Foxx at the 2019 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras
When did you realise you were a trailblazer for indigenous performers in Australia?
I realised at the start. I honestly did. Simone [Troy] said to me “There’s never been an indigenous performer on any of the [drag] stages in Australia, so when you step out there tonight you’re creating history”. I used to say all kinds of aboriginal jokes on the microphone. The things I used to say back then, if we did half of them now people wouldn’t cope.
Do you think it’s harder to be funny now?
I come out and say “I’ve been doing drag for 35 years, I’m politically incorrect, if you don’t like my sense of humour you’ve come to the wrong place.” It’s ridiculous how fragile everyone is. There’s an entertaining way to insult people. You know when you’re overstepping it – and you bring it back on yourself. This boy the other night said “You’re beautiful! I love you!” I said “You’re f***ing blind!”
You’ve got to be that one step ahead. When I’m singing my first number I’ve already looked around the room and I’ve got three talk spots. I grew up in a family of nine children – so if you didn’t make noise you weren’t heard.
Dorreen and the other stars of 3 Faces Nightclub in South Yarra, circa 1990s
What is it like being a drag performer who sings live?
For fourteen years, I didn’t sing, I won all my awards in Melbourne for lip syncing. I started to host karaoke everywhere – and I realised if I couldn’t hold a note I wouldn’t be able to bag people out. For eight years I did karaoke, it was crazy. I was working five days and five nights. I’d host karaoke until three in the morning but be awake at five to do my catering job – you’ve got to keep both.
Never let the drag persona take over who you are as a person. Dorreen is my sister – she tells everyone I stole her money but she stole my life.
You’ve outlived a lot of other performers, what are some tips for emerging queens?
Never think that you’re bigger than your last performance. We know we’re good. But don’t be throwing it out there. The younger queens used to stand at the bar trying to get my attention. I’d say “Look love, there’s going to be someone else standing in your spot next week and I’m not going to remember her name either!”
To the ones who are flavour of the month, enjoy every minute of it. Respect the people who you work for, the hotels you work in and the performers around you. If people are being nasty – let them go. They’ll sink themselves so don’t go down with the ship.
Pictures L-R: Dorreen hosting Drag N’ Dine at The Imperial July 2018, with Polly Petrie at Stonewall Hotel in May 2018, backstage at The Imperial with Etcetera Etectera July 2019
What is different about being an older drag performer?
Dorreen is an old lady. I can swear at the crowd and they don’t find it offensive – it’s funny coming from me. It’s all in the delivery. A lot of them [younger queens] think they have it but they never do. When I’m performing I give 110% but I’ll spend the next two days buckled on the couch. But I was taught to do it that way by Simone Troy.
You should also never be seen at the bar in the outfit you’re going to be on stage in. And after doing this for 35 years I can proudly say I’ve outlived prime ministers, I’ve outlived presidents, I’ve outlived popes – and I’ve outlived a lot of queens.
Why do you think the Imperial is such a special place for drag?
It’s an institution now! What they’ve done to this venue is amazing. Am I happy to be part of the family? Bloody oath! And are other performers jealous? Yes, and don’t they mention it!
Keep an eye on our What’s On and social media pages for Dorreen’s next performance!
Q&A by Oliver Levi-Malouf