Shenay O’Brien is a vivacious, dynamic, and versatile performer and one of SA’s premiere entertainers. Breaking boundaries, making waves and redefining the industry as we know it. She has been active since 2009, performing at various events and functions such as Jabula Dames and 67 Blankets for Madiba, Sandton SPCA, and Monte Casino to name a few.
She has also been in various theatre and television productions such as Die van Aarde’s van Grootoor, Vellies & Feathers, Naledi Theatre Award Winning “AS”, Dragging 30, and made her quick TV debut on Sober Companion. In 2015 she made SA history by becoming the FIRST drag performer to receive a “golden ticket' in the popular reality series Idols SA, and making it to the Top 16 (Top 8 girls). In 2016 she performed and MC’d at multiple events including her Productions. 2016 also brought along Two nominations from BroadwayWorld.com: Best Actress in a Lead Role (AS) and Best Actress in a Featured Role (Dragging 30).
2017 saw her partnering with the United Nations and Lisa to be the first Drag Artist from South Africa to partake in the global movement: Drag Queen Story Hour which took place in Soweto, was another first for SA. Getting the youth more involved in reading and education and breaking stereotypes and stigmas. She performed at various Corporate Events from 2017-to 2022. Shenay loves inspiring young people through her platform and career in the performing arts and focuses on educating and uplifting the youth of SA through her performances and Motivational Speaking and also creating awareness around the LGBTIQ community Created and Produced her online series: We’re Queer my Dear in 2019 that focuses on discussing an array of topics from a South African Society’s point of view.
The series has been welcomed by SA communities, bagging the Media of the Year Award 2019’; at the South African Feather Awards, and released Season 2 end of 2020 focussing on more in-depth topics such as Mental Health Awareness, HIV awareness, and Coming out in School to name a few Season 3 will air in June 2022 to coincide with International Pride Month. Guest for Seasonb3 includez Dr. Bev Ditsie, Crystal Hendricks, Louw Breytenbach z Yahto Kraft and Big Brother Mzanzi star, Sis Tamara.
At the end of 2020, Shenay released “Al wat Ek vir Kersfees will he” a parody set to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas with a specific focus on our current existence within the Pandemic. the video went viral with 40 000+ views and multiple media coverage.
She is also a motivational speaker, constantly sharing her knowledge and experiences with others, recent collaborations involve, Ford SA, Visa SA, SADAG, and Global Shapers Mental Health Webinars.
recent work involves releasing a cover version of John Lennon’s Imagine, in support and awareness of the horrendous LGBTIQ Hate Crimes we as a community are experiencing. I am attaching a link to my youtube channel below should you wish to look at it. It has received incredible feedback with media coverage from Mambaonline, Nework24, and Die Burger. She also had the privilege to perform for the 2nd annual Pride Afrique earlier in June 2021.
Tucked and Loaded created in mid-2021 during lockdown she joined forces with Betty Bangles and their show has been a raging success, traveling to towns like Nelspruit, Rustenburg, Centurion, Pretoria, Potchefstroom, and Tzaneen, and this show not only educates but entertains. In 2022 it played to a sold-out show on the MSC Orchestra for the yearly Oppiwater Arts Festival and also performed at the Centurion Theatres’ first Annualn#QUEERFEST in May 2022.
In 2022 she was also contacted by the producers of Queen of the Universe (a spin-off of RuPaul’s Drag Race) to partake in the 2nd season of this show, she is currently still waiting to hear whether she will represent South Africa on a Global Stage.
Shenay is always entertaining and educating, hoping to leave the world a better place and spreading her #glitterkisses wherever she goes.
- Tell us a little bit about your career and how you started?
I’ve always been fascinated with the arts and any extension of arts. Music has always been a constant in my life, from driving to school, howling and trying to harmonize with Celine Dion, to taking part in school revues and plays. I’ve always enjoyed being able to express myself through creativity and creating. I was never sure of what I wanted to do after school, but the plan came together when we moved in Gr11 to George and I was presented with the opportunity to take Drama as a full-time subject. I instantly knew this was what I wanted to do. After School, I went to study drama at the Tshwane University of Technology which is also where my Drag Career Started. I completed my studies in 2012. Since then A LOT has happened. It hasn’t always been easy, especially with the Art of Drag not being as accepting or mainstream back then as it is now, but I’ve always believed to create opportunities and doing what you love. I started in 2009 performing at the back then club, Legends – a fabulous and lively LGBTIQA+ space that allowed me to experiment and be free along with other drag Artists. One with whom I’m still very good friends, and we often perform together (Betty Bangles). Years later I ventured into theatre shows in Drag. Vellies and Feathers, AS (2016 Naledi Award-winning for Best Cutting Edge Production), Die van Aarde’s van Grootoor, etc. I was so fortunate to implement and use my knowledge from my studies to bring it into my Drag Career. In 2015 everything changed. I auditioned for Idols SA (in Drag) and made South African History by becoming the first drag artist to participate in the show, to receive the coveted golden ticked, and have made it to the top 16 (Live Shows). It was a surreal experience being put on a platform that didn’t necessarily promote LGBTIQA+ individuals as they do now. I of course received a lot of hate mail and comments, but I didn’t let it affect me. When the show aired it became so much bigger than I thought. It wasn’t just about me, singing and living my dream, but for the thousands of people who couldn’t speak out or stand up and be who they were, because of fear, rejection, societal influences, and discrimination, and that is what drove me to go into activism and to actively work at breaking the stigmas and perceptions of what people think of what it is to be LGBTIQA+ (more later on that) I have been very fortunate to have had a very blessed and successful (each person definition is different) career thus far and to have had opportunities to express myself through my craft and to entertain and educate all over South Africa, be it Singing, Motivational Speaking, Talk Shows, etc, and I hope that I can continue for as long as I can to spread some #glitterkisses wherever I go.
- How can we support or be an ally to the LGBTQ community?
Listen to the Community and THEIR stories, experiences, and plights. NOT what Hetero Society says about us. Information and who we are as a community are so misconstrued and negative. Take time to talk to LGBTIQA+ individuals. You might just find out that they were not so different after all. We’re ALL Human, and THAT is what we should be focused on in a world that is constantly trying to divide us. Forget about the labels, forget about the stereotypes, the hearsay, the condescending portrayals and constantly being bashed with religious beliefs of what is right and what is wrong.> > > Stand Up and Speak up for Queer individuals when they are not in the room to defend themselves when others are talking badly about them. Workspaces, create more inclusive, diverse, and safe spaces for Queer employees to feel welcome, accepted, and appreciated. When stories are in the news and you don’t understand something, go the extra mile and do some research on your own, ask a Queer person directly, believe me, we are more than willing to help and assist to get correct information across, and lastly, Respect and Accept. We are all on different paths in this journey called life. You don't have to accept or approve every decision I make in my life, but you need to Respect me to Live my own life.
- What projects are you currently involved in?
I am very blessed and grateful after this whole covid 19 saga (which is still negatively affecting the Arts sector with still restrictions on capacities etc) to be able to still perform and continue in the work that I have been pushing for so long. Currently, I’m performing all over the country in our Drag Show, #TuckedinLoaded – we take this show which is both super entertaining and educational to smaller, conservative towns where Drag isn’t necessarily showcased. We have been in Nelspruit, Rustenburg, Pretoria, Tzaneen, etc and the response has been overwhelmingly positive, people’s mindsets are definitely changing and we are slowly making progress towards a more accepting and inclusive society.> > > Then also in 2019 I created and produced an online LGBTOQA+ web series, with the specific aim to create content. discuss topics and be a guiding light to other Queer individuals as well as to those in the hetero spaces to see and hear what we are constantly confronted with and face daily. It was well received and won the Media of the Year award at the 2019 Feather Awards. Since then it has just been growing and inspiring and I'm proud to say that Season 3 will be launching this year on the 6 June to also coincide with International Pride Month (June). This year we are talking about Rejection/Disownment, Media Influence and Portrayal of Queer Narratives, Pageant Relevance and we are also introducing our fir WQMD Icon of the Year award to a trailblazer, warrior, and Queer Icon. All the episodes are available on Youtube (We’re Queer My Dear) on our Platforms as well as our Media Partner, MambaOnline’s platforms.> > > Then there are a few exciting projects lined up for the rest of the year, but none of which I can disclose as yet, but keep an eye on my social media pages on FB, IG, and Twitter (@Shenay O’Brien)
- What is your favorite thing about what you do?
The fact that I get to enjoy it. Living my Dream, Performing and Entertaining, Educating and Uplifting, and knowing the work that I do is not just for self-gain, but also for others to benefit from. To also know that the work, and just by being visible as a queer artist may inspire and encourage others to do the same and push themselves.
- If you could give some advice to someone in the LGBTQ community and starting their career in the creative industry what would it be?
DON’T compare yourself to others and their journeys. Stick to who you are and find the uniqueness and magic that makes you, YOU! It sounds so cliche but we are living in such an age and era where we are constantly bombarded with social media and images of what we should be, how we should be etc. It’s a difficult industry, but also so rewarding. Stay grounded but stay “hungry” to be better, and greater and to be a standout. Don t be afraid to lose, fail or make mistakes, Keep going, get up, try again and find other avenues to pursue if something doesn’t work. You are the master of your destiny, take control. Put in the extra hours. Go the extra mile. All good things and worthwhile adventures take time.
- How do you think we can grow the creative industry and bring more Queer Content content to the world?
I think this answer is so important, with a specific aim at the LGBTIQA+ creatives. We have progressed so far in terms of visibility and finally have Queer narratives being told and showcased, but now we need to let QUEER individuals tell our OWN stories. Often what happens Straight writers, who write queer storylines, characters, etc. They are depicted and portrayed in stereotypical lights, placed in the background, and not inclusive enough. We need realistic and authentic representation and current stories and narratives. Let Trans individuals tell trans stories. Let Queer individuals be the main characters. Let Queer writers write and tell their stories, we have lived the experience and through that more truthful stories and performances can emerge. We also need to be more supportive of each other and help where we can, I think sometimes we get so lost in the journey to success that we want to conquer it all solo and single-handedly but imagine how powerful we could be if we opened up and let other creatives into our spaces and worked together to create movements that will ultimately make queer content unmissable.
- We know you recently went on your first-ever Boat cruise on the MSC Symphonia to Pomene, Mozambique for the first time. Tell us a little bit about your experience?
It was AMAZING. Sometimes in our line of work, we get to go cool places and to still do what we love. We (Myself and Betty Bangles) were invited to do the #OppiwaterKunstefees earlier in April this year and to perform our Drag show, Tucked and Loaded (the only Queer Show to form part of the lineup of 36 shows) – We had a sold-out show, and the feedback from festival-goers was Phenomenal. The cruise-goers are, in my opinion, still a bit on the conservative side, but this cruise showed me that people can open up, explore and take a leap to immerse themselves in new adventures, hesitant, yes but willing. The Cruise overall was an INCREDIBLE experience, and I hope that I get to experience it again one day.
- What and who inspires you?
My Friends. People who stand up for what is right. Individuals who fight and push back on the injustices in the world. The Rule Breakers, the Rebels for Change, The Gender Benders, and Every single person who ultimately accepts and loves themselves for who THEY are! I, if I can be frank, inspire myself. to be at the forefront to bring change and educate and to try and leave this world a better place for future generations and Queer people so that they do not have to struggle with the things we are struggling with now (whether that will happen in my lifetime, I don’t know, but I’m optimistic and will devote myself to awareness and a positive outlook for as long as I am allowed to do what I do!> > > LOVE inspires me every day, and I think the world, now more than ever needs exactly that, unpretentious, unconditional, and unlimited LOVE.
- Why is Pride month important and what does it mean to you?
I’ve always had a bit of a struggle with Pride, especially those in SA! I think it is fantastic that we have the freedom and rights to celebrate ourselves, but I’ve always felt the core values and meaning of pride get lost.> > > Pride was born out of oppression, struggle and a rebellious act to be seen and to be treated as human beings. Nowadays it feels like there are too many external factors that influence a pride that the core message and what we SHOULD be celebrating gets lost, but with that being said, I do think pride month is important as it is an opportunity for the Queer community to celebrate themselves and to be celebrated for the progress and strides we have made over the past few years. To acknowledge our power and perseverance, our strength and resilience to still rise despite all the challenges we face from a world, society, and community that seeks to destroy and erase us. We have always been there. We will always be there. We' is Here. We're Queer.
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