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The Bitten Peach is building a family of queer, Asian performers

Meet the pan-Asian cabaret troupe using comedy and performance to create space for underrepresented talent.

05 Jul

Corinne Cumming

From parodying pop songs to calling out racism, to comedy tea-making sessions which trace colonial legacies, The Bitten Peach isn’t afraid of tackling serious issues through playful performances. As the UK’s only pan-Asian cabaret collective, The Bitten Peach’s performances have featured over 70 artists and spanned multiple genres, including: comedy, burlesque, drag, dance and music. In 2022, the group has been reaching new heights, from premiering a new Netflix documentary, to performing at Glastonbury.

After growing tired of the lack of diversity and tokenization of Asian performers on the cabaret scene, three queer Asian performers – ShayShay, Evelyn Carnate and Lilly Snatchdragon – founded The Bitten Peach together in 2019 to provide a platform to champion and support queer Asian creatives. Their first cabaret show that year celebrated the Lunar New Year, as an event “by Asians for Asians”; if they weren’t being given the same opportunities as other performers, they decided it was time to create their own. “The Bitten Peach is all about disrupting, and not fitting in, and owning and claiming back our voice and culture,” says Jason Kwan, musician, model and The Bitten Peach member. 

“The Bitten Peach is all about disrupting, and not fitting in, and owning and claiming back our voice and culture”

Jason Kwan

Jason grew up in Hong Kong, and moved to the UK during his/their teenage years to continue his musical education. “I found it very difficult to access venues as a queer Asian musician,” says Jason, whilst speaking about the early days of his career in London. 

For Jason, meeting ShayShay and performing at the collective’s first show would be a turning point. “When I turned up, and I met everyone, it was like I found my family. All these queer Asian people from very different walks of Asian-ness and different walks of life, from different generations, all have come together to perform and be on stage,” he says. Looking out for each other is a key part of the family, whether that be giving other performers advice on how to improve a set, or offering to fix another artist’s makeup. 

Additionally, The Bitten Peach also offers an eight week cabaret course, ‘Peach Fuzz’, where performers sign up to workshops and access mentors, who support them in creating an act and polishing their costumes, makeup and performance. The goal is for the performers to debut and perform as part of The Bitten Peach at the end of the programme during the Peach Fuzz graduate showcase.  

Having a space where he could develop as an artist at a later stage in his career has been an incredible experience for Jason. “Growing up in Hong Kong, being queer was not accessible to me, but performing was. But I was never able to bring in my queerness into [performing],” he says. 

One of the only cultural references Jason was able to look up to was Hong Kong-born singer and actor Leslie Cheung, a superstar across East Asian pop culture during the 1980s and 1990s. Cheung was also unafraid to take on openly gay roles in films such as Farewell My Concubine and Happy Together, and express his gender and sexuality during concert performances. As a child, seeing Cheung express his queerness on screen was the first time Jason saw another queer person on TV and they realised that was who they wanted to be. “Leslie really took power over his own narrative, and he never shied away from making incredible art,” says Jason.

Whilst drag houses are not new, The Bitten Peach feels special. “Growing up, we were always told that you can not be a queer Asian, and a lot of us have suppressed a lot of this queerness. It’s only us finding these families that we can fully, not just explore queerness, but also the Asian-ness that we’ve missed out on,” Jason says.

“Whilst drag houses are not new, The Bitten Peach feels special”

The collective pays homage to the queer histories and myths that have long been part of various Asian cultures, as The Bitten Peach playfully takes its name from a historical tale about two queer lovers set in China’s Zhou dynasty. Stemming from one particular legend thought to have been recorded around 200BC about the ruler Duke Ling and his courtier Mizi Xia who shared the delicious taste of a bitten peach together, the phrase “bitten peach” has become a code word for queer male relationships in Chinese culture. “Also in queer culture in the modern day, it’s like eating ass, right? So we just thought [this name] would be a beautiful way to blend something so regal, but forbidden with something so queer in your face, which is what caberet is,” Jason adds with a laugh. 

As well as reclaiming queer histories, the collective has created a space where queer Asians can reclaim and shape their own narratives, which has been especially vital given the harmful stereotypes and sharp rise in violence against the ESEA community during the pandemic. For example, Jason recalls how he decided to use pop music to challenge racist remarks on stage. Taking Ariana Grande’s hit-single ‘Seven Rings’ as inspiration, Jason performed a cabaret parody named ‘Seven Masks’ at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern as part of The Bitten Peach. “I came out in a hazmat suit and just named every single racist thought that everyone had at the time, and called everything out. It felt like such a solidarity moment of ‘I know everyone’s thinking it so I’m going to say it out loud and shame you for thinking it.’” 

“As well as reclaiming queer histories, the collective has created a space where queer Asians can reclaim and shape their own narratives”

Looking to the future, Jason hopes that The Bitten Peach can reach out to a wider range of queer Asian communities, especially those who might be more geographically isolated. “We’d love to go to the rest of the UK. We would love to represent and give space to those Asian people in different communities, who might be experiencing different types of hardships, not being in a major city as an Asian person,” Jason says. 

After performing at The Bread & Roses tent at Glastonbury in June, the group will be bringing their signature blend of wit, glamour and talent to Brighton Pride and Manchester Pride later this summer. 

Lastly, Jason hopes that The Bitten Peach can “keep growing in a really lovely way” through continuing to invite new performers into the family and celebrate a diversity of identities and talents, and if you’re a young, queer Asian performer interested in joining The Bitten Peach, their doors are always open: “Drop us an email,” Jason adds.

For more information and upcoming performances, follow The Bitten Peach on Instagram.

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