Marshall Vielle was sitting in his bedroom last month, vanity full of makeup, about to start preparing for his drag show at a local Forest Lawn pub.
Since graduating from the University of Lethbridge’s Fine Arts department in 2017, Vielle has been working with Trickster Theatre and Making Treaty 7 while performing at local drag shows in Calgary.
His drag queen persona, Mavis Vontrese, was born out of silly conversations between Vielle and his grandma when he was a teenager.
“I like to refer to her as a granny-chic supermodel of the world,” Vielle said.
Growing up on the Kainai Nation in southern Alberta, Vielle said there wasn’t much opportunity for him to explore his interest in theatre.
Vielle remembers the majority of his childhood dancing and singing to his favorite “female divas,” such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga and Whitney Houston.
“It was always something that was under the table. It was something that I did but was afraid to show others because it could have be seen as wrong,” he said.
As a two-spirit person, an Indigenous person who has both feminine and masculine qualities, Vielle had to do a lot of coming to terms with his gender identity.
Prior to contact with European settlers, Vielle said Blackfoot people who had both traditional masculine and feminine qualities played a significant role in their communities.
“In our traditional teachings, it was [two-spirit peoples’] job to raise a lot of the young children or help pass on teachings,” he said.
He adds that being a two-spirit person was a gift from the ancestors. They were put on earth to help connect traits of both masculine and feminine people.
Vielle says that his creation of Mavis is a way for him to express himself in a more feminine way.
“I think that is why I latched onto it, because of years of allowing others to see myself in a feminine way would be looked down upon by others,” he said.
So bringing forward his inner Mavis was a pivotal moment for Vielle.
It has been three years since Vielle started performing drag for different festivals and shows in Alberta. One of his favorite numbers he performs is a rendition of Cher’s Half Breed. From Vielle’s perspective, she is talking about what it was like to be raised in two different worlds and feeling like you don’t belong in either one.
“I allow myself to tap into this world,” he said. One way he does that is by referring to himself as a “fat-femme-queer-savage.”
“It seems like it is a very in your face term, that’s because it is. I am somebody who fits into so many different intersections [inside that term].”
When he steps on stage with Making Treaty 7, or as Mavis Vontrese, Vielle allows himself to be seen as a “fat-femme-queer-savage” who is willing to share ideas that may be uncomfortable to people. One of the many ways he gets this message across is by wearing his natural hair as opposed to wearing a wig.
The decision not to wear wigs comes from the residential school era, when many Indigenous peoples’ hair was cut.
“In our own Blackfoot culture, we are taught that our hair is very sacred. It gives us strength,” he said.
As he continues to grow as a drag queen and a theatre performer, he hopes he can find more ways to incorporate his Blackfoot culture into the performances he does. He is currently working on a play titled Where the Two Spirit Lives which is about the revitalization of the two-spirit and explores Vielle’s connection to it.
Where the Two Spirit Lives will be premiering in Lethbridge during the cities pride festival from June 14-18.
- By Tawnya Plain Eagle