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Entries in Drag (7)

Tuesday
Mar142017

Call Answered: Steve Willis: The Legend of Yma Sumac at The Laurie Beechman Theatre

Steve WillisI love music videos. I love documentaries. I love live performance. I love learning about people. When you get asked to interview someone that encompasses all of these and then you find out they have worked with some of the biggest names in entertainment, you jump at the opportunity presented before you.

That's where Steve Willis comes in. He has made videos for Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle, Maxi Priest, Dawn Robinson, Miranda, and many others (including RuPaul's Drag Race stars Jinkx Monsoon and Sharon Needles). Now, he is premiering his "live documentary" cabaret show The Legend of Yma Sumac starring drag performer Scarlet Envy. Featuring many of Yma's greatest hits and never-before-seen footage of Yma, shot by Steve, The Legend of Yma Sumac will play The Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue in the basement of the West Bank Cafe) from March 15-29Click here for tickets!

For more on Steve be sure to visit http://thestevewillis.com and Instagram!

1. This March you are premiering The Legend of Yma Sumac, starring Scarlet Envy. The show is described as a "live documentary" cabaret about the late star, whom you were friends with. How did you first come to meet Yma? What was it about her that made you want to be friends? What do you miss most about her? When I first heard Yma’s music I became obsessed and couldn’t stop talking about her. From the very beginning I treated her as news that must be spread. I had the feeling that more people needed to know about her. I was so shocked to find out she existed. So one of the people that heard me talking said she was making gowns for Yma and I begged her to introduce me. She took me to dinner with Yma and I asked if I could make a documentary about her life. She was totally interested but she also wanted help with her career and I eventually learned she wanted help with her life. She was quite isolated. Over the years the relationship developed from director of her documentary, to also include manager for live shows to personal assistant. We would spend long hours in her apartment listening to her new music and hearing stories of the past and the people that did her wrong.

I think what I miss about her is being around such amazing talent and her wise worldly ways. She was always full of good advice and she cared for people and animals. She had a magical quality with animals that was like nothing I've ever seen. Wild animals, birds for example, would come to her and she was acting like it was the most natural thing when it was extremely rare. I believe the power of her mind was very great, she credited her singing ability to her mind and believing she could do it. She taught me more about integrity, artistic integrity than anyone I've ever met.

Scarlet Envy as Yma SumacThe real Yma Sumac2. What made now the right time to mount this show? That's an interesting question because there are three people that were involved with Yma at the end of her life trying to do projects with her. All three of us, without communicating with each other, returned to our projects again at the same time, around seven years after she died. The seven year itch? I've read the human body completely replaces all its cells after seven years and therefore you are a totally new person. Maybe we all had to heal a little before getting back to work on our projects? The other two people are Damon Devine, who was Yma’s caregiver and friend. He is working on a book that I really want to see come to life and I want to help promote. The other is Thomas Lauderdale of the band Pink Martini. I introduced him to Yma to record a song and she gave him a great start.

3. Why is Scarlet Envy the perfect drag queen to portray Yma? What aspects of Yma do you see in Scarlet? Spencer Rothman, the editor of this project has gone so far and beyond helping make this show come to life, introduced me to her. He saw I was really struggling to cast the project. I went through so many options. The problem was...if I was making a show that says "Yma has the greatest voice in the world ever," then how do I cast a live singer? No-one can sing these songs. (if you are reading this and you think this is incorrect….please introduce me to the singer that you think can do this).

Also, if I was in the audience for this show, I would want to hear Yma’s voice. So, the only choice seemed to be to do a lip sync show. I did consider real women along with drag performers but when it came to lip syncing, I think Drag performers have a little more practice…haha. I was already following Scarlet Envy on Instagram, so I was a fan of her beauty. She has an old Hollywood glamor to her look. She’s a beautiful woman and not a girl. I wanted the person playing Yma to be an older version of Yma. When I saw Scarlet paint herself to look like Yma, the resemblance was shocking and exciting. She had to do it. Yma’s career suffered somewhat from being considered "campy" or "kitsch" so I carefully considered whether casting a drag performer was the right thing to do but in the end I decided that the gender of the artist on stage is the last thing anyone needed to worry about. There is no nudity in the show except the male dancers show a lot of side ass.

Scarlet Envy as Yma SumacThe real Yma Sumac4. Some of Yma's greatest hits were "Malambo No. 1," "Mozart's Queen of the Night," and "Claire de Lune." In rehearsing this show what memories come up for you as hear these songs being performed? Because it is pretty rare to hear Yma’s music out in the world, I look forward to hearing my favorite songs by her on a nice loud system in a public place. I never heard Yma sing any of these songs live but when I would drive her around I would play these songs and she would drum on my dash board and sing along. One of my biggest regrets is not filming these moments. The way she would sing on top of the existing song was incredible. She would do this with any song by the way, not just hers. It was always in perfect harmony. I don’t know musical terms that well but she would also counter the melody in a very interesting way. She was also a great percussionist. Who knew the dashboard of a car could add so much great rhythm to a song?

5. The Legend of Yma Sumac incorporates unseen footage of Yma that was shot by you. How did you decide what footage to pick? What was it like to watch this footage now as opposed to when you first shot it? When I first picked up this project five years after her death, I needed to digitize some pretty archaic video formats (the project started in the 80’s). When I first started watching the footage, I literally broke out in hives on my face. The experience of watching the footage was a overwhelming. I put it away again until now. This year, I also won a grant from the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts for my feature documentary about Yma so I’ve been working on that as well. Chip Duckett knew I was doing this and asked me if I wanted to do a live show at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, I wanted the live show to be a tribute to her so I picked footage that was happy and she looked great in.

Scarlet Envy as Yma SumacThe real Yma Sumac6. What do you hope audiences learn about Yma from attending the show? I want them to learn that she was a serious artist and had the greatest voice ever recorded. According to some experts I've interviewed, there are two other women who could sing the same scale as Yma and we know this from the music that was written for their voices but this was before the technology to record them existed.

7. What was the hardest/most emotional part of the show to write? What was the most fun part? The hardest part of the show was the end. Every time we would get to that part I would get emotional. It was a little embarrassing but luckily Spencer the editor is a friend. The "fun" part?…..did I say I had fun? Actually the whole experience has been fun.

Patti LaBelle8. In addition to Yma, you have made videos for numerous high profile artists such as Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle, Maxi Priest, Dawn Robinson, Miranda, and RuPaul's Drag Race stars Jinkx Monsoon and Sharon Needles, amongst others. Is there a really crazy story that stands out from one of these shoots where you were like, "I can't believe that just happened?" Meeting Patti LaBelle was crazy and amazing and educational. She was the first big name person I ever directed. The record company guy took me to her hotel room and as we waited in the living room of her suite I was very nervous. From the bedroom she called out "Is that Steve Willis? I love your work!" I said "yes." She answered "Oh my, I look terrible and I don’t want to come out of my bedroom, I'm on my period." We all laughed and my nerves went away. She came out and we had a great meeting. I realized after what a pro move this was. She has probably met and intimidated many people and that's not the best place to start working with someone. Complimenting me and bringing herself to a human level was a great way to start working together.

Rebecca Romijn9. You also directed the documentary Wet Dreams with Rebecca Romijn about your attempt to approach Wet Design, the creators of the Bellagio fountain, to choreograph a fountain show of your own. What did you learn from this experience? Are there any secrets about the Bellagio fountain or fountain show that you can share with us that we, the public, might not know? That was an amazing experience. I was the first civilian to swim in the Bellagio Fountain. The film is about what we learned and the secrets of the fountain. It is on Youtube. So, if you want to know the answer to this question you need to watch the film ๐Ÿ˜Š

10. What is something Yma taught you that you can share with us? She taught me not to compromise on your artistic vision no matter what. Once you have a clear vision, everyone can go to hell before you compromise on any small detail. I’ve never seen anyone hold to this more strongly and I've worked with many of the top people in the Film, TV and Fashion Industry.

Steve WillisMore on Steve:

Steve Willis is a filmmaker, photographer, and music video director. As a music video director, he has made videos for numerous artists, including Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle, Maxi Priest, Dawn Robinson, Miranda, and many others (including RuPaul's Drag Race stars Jinkx Monsoon and Sharon Needles). He directed the documentary Wet Dreams with Rebecca Romijn, and is currently working on a documentary about Yma Sumac, who he befriended in 1987.

Saturday
Mar112017

Call Answered: Miss Richfield 1981: 20/20 Vision at The Laurie Beechman Theatre

With her unique brand of humor, fun songs, and entertaining videos, I know my cheeks will hurt from the amount of laughter ensued after attending a Miss Richfield show and since 2006, I have been in constant pain. 

Now Miss Richfield 1981 brings her brand-new show 2020 Vision to The Laurie Beechman Theatre in New York City (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, in the basement of the West Bank Cafe) from March 14-16! In this show, Miss Richfield 1981 offers a survival guide for the new world we live in, helps calm any post-election panic, and provide tools to prevent the apocalypse! This is one show you can't afford to miss! Click here for tickets! 

For more on Miss Richfield 1981 be sure to visit https://missrichfield.wordpress.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter!

Miss Richfield 19811. After seeing you several times in Provincetown, I'm honored to be getting to do this interview. Since this our first interview together, let's start at the beginning. How did you become Miss Richfield 1981? It was a beauty pageant July 4, 1981, on a simple plywood stage in Richfield, Minn. And like so many beauty queens, I won that title with my natural beauty, my booming baritone vibrato and a fire that horribly disfigured all 11 other contestants when Trudy Olson lost control of her flaming batons. I was the only contestant to stop, drop and roll, which is also how I do my hair. So after they hauled off 9 contestants to the burn unit, and a couple others to the morgue, I was the only one left to receive the lovely hand-glittered sash, shiny tiara, and a power lawnmower! Our local Ace Hardware is very involved in Richfield beauty!

2. What does holding this beauty title now mean to you as opposed to when you first got it in 1981? Beauty pageants became a focal point of my life, when a ninth-grade vocational aptitude test pointed me to a career in beauty or the fragrance counter at Sears. As I never could pass the math section of the Sears job application, a beauty career appeared imminent. Then winning the pageant was just the beginning, since the day after I received my beauty title, Miss Richfield 1981, the gals at my church started a fund to buy me a bus ticket to go someplace else. And for the last 36 years, every time I get back to Minnesota, there on the screen door of my trailer is taped another bus ticket for me to go someplace else! It’s embarrassing, they just adore me!

3. What is the best part about being Miss Richfield 1981 and what is the most challenging part? Has anyone every tried to de-throne you? I adore making new friends and I’m doing that with my hectic schedule this Spring, which includes San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Tulsa, Tampa, Philly, and your godless mecca, New York City – all before I head to Ptown for the summer at the Crown & Anchor. Well popularity has its penalties! But the traveling can be a bit of a minus, as I’m trying to find a boyfriend. And you know most single gals in my stage of life are more likely to be killed by a terrorist, than find love. So I’m thinking I might relocate to Iraq to better my chances. And as far as dethroning goes, I don’t have that concern since all the other gals got heavy.

4. This March you are presenting your new show 2020 Vision at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. What are you looking forward to most about bringing 2020 Vision to New York? My new 2020 Vision show has new music, new videos, new chatter, and most importantly a new message for New York in our new world! These are some strange times, my dears, so I want to offer people a message of hope – or at least survival! And I adore doing this show. It’s supreme happiness to hear the folks go crazy with my upbeat music, informative videos and audience interaction! It’s also always a bonus when I remember the words to the songs! And the Laurie Beechman is a wonderful facility that does not require you to be a Christian to attend the show. So bring neighbors, co-workers, friends or enemies! Just think about who deserves it, and bring them along!

Miss Richfield 19815. In this post-election world, how did you get the whereabouts to write a show about having perfect vision when we are living in a constant state of fog? You’re right on the money there! A life of beauty can be challenging; as a lot of time folks only see the glamour. They don’t see the weeklong Greyhound bus trips, where the only person I get to talk to is the driver – that I wrap my hair in toilet paper and sleep on my face – the duties of washing and polishing my balls during cold and flu season of Bingo. It can be a grind!

6. In this show, you are going to be giving some advice as to calm any post-election panic. What are some calming pointers that did not make it into the show you can share with us? That’s tough, as I generally don’t leave anything out. You may be aware, that I’m famous for cramming a 60-minute show into 90! That’s a lot of time to fill. But there was one post-election duty I did not include in this show. The day after the election I went behind my trailer and burned everything I owned that was orange – living room draperies, a bathroom rug, two sweaters, a leotard, and most of my dishware.

Miss Richfield 19817. You are also going to be providing tools to prevent an apocalypse. How do you know these tools will work and what apocalypse have you tried them on to know they are successful? First off, it’s probably too late to prevent an apocalypse, but I believe that you can always look your best in a bad situation. So most of my advice is a bit after the fact, sort of "since we’re all going to die anyway, let’s go buy shoes and a handbag!" And I am well versed in apocalypse experiences, mostly due to the Greyhound when the bathrooms are clogged up with adult diapers. You know that senior discount is popular!

8. What is something about Miss Richfield 1981 that you haven't revealed yet in an interview? Secrets? Alright just one: I do not wear make-up.

9. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Math has never been my strong suit, so I’m not sure how much we’re talking here, plus I feel like my purpose as a beauty professional is to help other people make improvements. With that in mind, I’d like to offer your readers a word of advice from my mother, "You can lose your money, you can lose your lipstick, and you can lose your dignity, but if you pack a smile in your handbag, you’ll always be able to find a trucker to give you a ride home!" That is definitely more than one percent!

Miss Richfield 1981More on Miss Richfield 1981:

Miss Richfield 1981 dedicates her life to the friendly citizens and responsible merchants of her hometown of Richfield, Minnesota. This Midwestern maven is winning over theater and cabaret audiences around the country with an interactive format that combines homespun warmth and edgy improv, leaving audiences in hysterics with a truly original performance.

Miss Richfield’s national appeal includes riotous appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Today on NBC, as well as prestigious mentions, such as The New York Post recently honoring "Miss Richfield 1981 as the must-see act in Provincetown."

As well as sell-out performances throughout the country, including LA, Chicago and New York, Miss Richfield continues her sold-out reputation as the most successful act each summer at the Crown and Anchor in Provincetown, Mass. Miss Richfield also finds time in her busy schedule to headline for Atlantis Events cruises and resort vacations, the largest LGBT vacation company.

Monday
Sep052016

Call Answered: Lady Bunny: Trans-Jester! at Stonewall Inn NYC!

Lady Bunny, Photo Credit: Bruce GlikasLady Bunny is a living legend! She has been on my radar since the days of Wigstock and I'm thrilled to have been given the opportunity to speak with her. In what is probably one of my raciest interviews to date, Lady Bunny and I definitely take things to a new level!

We dish about her new one-woman show Trans-Jester!, the creation of Lady Bunny herself as well as her drag festival Wigstock, working with RuPaul, being a judge on Drag U, and a revelation that will make a lot of jaws drop!

In Trans-Jester!, Lady Bunny presents new parodies of selections from Adele, Rent and Bruno Mars punctuated by zany Laugh-In style zingers, as well as insightful social commentary, targeting the current overemphasis on political correctness. Lady Bunny breaks down some of the latest buzzwords that we're all supposed to remember for every for every occasion as we "evolve." Lady Bunny may also shock you with revelations about her own gender identity. "She" asks pertinent questions about cultural appropriation prior to declaring her undying love for black cock in a vulgar version of "Uptown Funk." Lady Bunny brings it on home with a show-stopping finale featuring two classics from Gypsy and Follies. The eclectic evening also resurrects songs by country star Lynn Anderson, Millie Jackson and even an original tune which pokes fun at the dating life of whatever sex it is you want to call this "Lady."

Trans-Jester! plays a month long residency at the Stonewall Inn (53 Christopher Street in NYC's West Village, the historic landmark where the Stonewall riots took place in 1969) through October 1! Showtime is 7pm Wednesdays-Saturdays. Click here for tickets!

For more on Lady Bunny be sure to visit http://LadyBunny.net and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram!

1. You just stared a month long residency at the Stonewall Inn with the return of your show Trans-Jester! What made now the right time to do this show again after just completing a three-month run of it? Well, Miss Graceful broke her little toe and was banished to wear flats for over a month. It's hard to read your audience when you're wearing Payless size 12 ballet flats! But we still had full houses when we were doing Monday-Wednesday shows, so it seemed unwise to end the show completely. Also, I had a lot of traveling to do this summer which was booked before the show kept getting extended. It was an extraordinary experience to perform at Stonewall while people grieved the shooting at Pulse. The community just sort of organically gravitated back to where it all started--Stonewall. Not the most chic venue, not the latest, but that's where gay rights began in this country. It was landmarked this summer by President Obama, so I think it's a great place to be on a stage asking: Have we got so many letters in the LGBTIQA that no one knows what that even stands for any more? How does a community which can't even name itself defend itself? I'm sick of the infighting over labels that goes on within our community when I'd much rather be fighting our oppressors--not each other. But this is all very high-minded talk for a show which is basically a raunchfest, with an overall theme of poking fun at political correctness gone wild. With the infernal Trump, political correctness is still in the news. But Trump and his followers use a shield of politically incorrectness to hide their racism and xenophobia. I'm coming from a liberal viewpoint opposite from Trump to bemoan the fact that we aren't allowed to laugh anymore. Or mock things which strike us as amusing.

Lady Bunny outside Stonewall Inn, Photo Credit: Jeff Eason2. In this show, Trans-Jester!, you will be performing new parodies of songs, hilarious, zany Laugh-In style zingers, and offer insightful social commentary. You also break down some of the latest buzzwords that we're all supposed to remember for every occasion. What is about a song or a situation, that makes you go, this would be great material for a show as opposed to just a brief laugh amongst your friends? I chose several pop songs to parody which contain lyrics referring to my own looming sex change--which is fictitious. So Katy Perry's "Roar" becomes my version of "Sore" and Britney Spears' "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A  Woman" takes on new meaning while a dildo swings from my crotch. Obviously, if you parody songs which are either hits now or treasured classics, you'll get the best results since everyone knows the original tunes' lyrics.

But the outrages over what we can and can't say is giving me new examples every month of everything from fat-shaming to slut-shaming to cisgender to gender queer. It's hard to keep up. I do see a sort of Oppression Olympics with the content outrages of twitterverse. Do all of these coddled babies realize that the words they consider slurs are tools of even the most mainstream comedians? And that mainstream comedians like Chris Rock, Bill Maher and Jerry Seinfeld no longer perform at colleges because the audiences are too PC. At some colleges, students give their professors trigger words which they aren't allowed to hear or they might melt down. This is directly at odds with the often mean-spirited world of comedy. Take an insult comic like Don Rickles, Lisa Lampanelli or Bianca Del Rio, for example. Their job is to look around in the audience to single out people and insult them so that everyone laughs at their expense--whether they are Gay, Black, Latino, Transgender, old, fat or whatever. Is this a dying art? It's brought joy to so many. I'm not an insult comic who picks mercilessly at the audience, but I am sometimes criticized for even touching on a certain topic. One girl jumped down my throat on twitter after I made a joke about Bill Cosby, claiming that rape is never funny. Unless you're being raped by a clown! In no way am I condoning rape by making a joke about a rapist, just as the many mainstream TV hosts which joked about Michael Jackson's fondness for kids for years were condoning pedophilia. We have just become too sensitive to laugh.

Lady Bunny, Photo Credit: Jeff Eason3. What do you think will shock your long-time fans most about this show? For someone who has never seen you perform, why is this the show they should come to? My existing fans have never seen me dabble in show tunes before--and there are three chestnuts in Trans-Jester!...One of my oldest friends told me that my demented, bitter version "Rose's Turn" has given them chills. I've also re-worked the lyrics of the genius Sondheim classic "I'm Still Here." I make fun of all things lost (like my waist), the gentrification of NYC and our inability to laugh at what we used to enjoy. "I'm Still Here" climaxes with the lyrics:

"my generation fought for medicines for AIDS, 
your generation fights over silly names."

 

Many older--ie my age-- gay audience members really gravitate towards that song because many of us never dreamt we'd make it through the AIDS crisis alive. Yet we're still here.

As far as why Trans-Jester! is the show of mine to catch, one fan called it my "zenith." I'm not exactly sure what zenith means even after googling it, but I think it means a substantial improvement from past performances. But there's no guarantee that a zenith will last long! I think this particular show combines everything I've ever done from stand-up, to song parodies, to the Laugh-In spoof, to choreography (if you could call it that) and even a skit. I also am starting to throw in some of my own original music--which is a first for me. While they are not in this show, two serious collaborations I released this summer are "Keep On Dancing (Until We're Free)" with a swedish producer named House Of Wallenberg and a latin-infused dance track called "The Samba Is Waiting" by Nova Fronteira featuring Lady Bunny. I'm also doing a Christmas tune with Drag Race winner Sharon Needles.

4. In Trans-Jester! you make a declaration for your undying love of big black cock. In your opinion, what makes a big black cock more enjoyable than another race's cock? Well, they are normally bigger. But I was bussed to a largely black school right before puberty, and the black guys knew I was gay before I did. So this has simply always been my sphere. I do like white guys too, as long as they have big black cocks!

Lady Bunny, Photo Credit: Mathu Anderson5. Aside from the above declaration, what is something else about Lady Bunny you have to reveal to anyone? I like Asian cock...when I can find it! I like Syrian refugee cock, but it just keeps on coming. I like American Indian cock, but they have reservations. And I loooove Muslim cock...you've never been had until you've been jihad!

6. What has been the funniest thing to happen to you during one of your shows? At La Escuelita, the ceiling on the stage was a little low and my wig got caught in the fire extinguisher. Because I didn't notice what was wrong at first, the audience was howling at my expense. I ought to work that into the act. Everyone likes a big gorgeous hairdo, but they also love to see it get destroyed! And as you might surmise from the broken toe which ended this show's first run, I'm a tad clumsy.

7. Let's go back to the beginning for a moment. How did you come up with Lady Bunny and her performance style? It took me years. Lypsinka is a dear friend who knew exactly what she wanted he character to be and do. Mine developed over years, since my initial goal for getting in drag was to drink and score sex. Lady is a common drag name in the South for queens like Lady Chablis from Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil. When you are working in bars basically for tips, adding "Lady" to your name adds a touch of class--in their minds. For me to add it with my thrift store budget was an in joke. Bunny was the name of Sgt. Carter's girlfriend on Gomer Pile and Bunny was also the name of a Marvel comic book I collected in the late 1960s: Bunny, Queen Of The In Crowd.

My performance style developed in gay nightclubs, where often drunk gay men reward filthy humor because it's part of our gay subtext. The Laugh-In skits enable me to turn stand-up into a number which involves dancing, but it also is easy for a wasted, late night audience to understand. Now she's dancing, now the music stops and she's telling a joke. Likewise, the song parody medleys allow me to appeal to an ADD-riddled audience by hitting the heart of the joke in each parody and then moving on to another song before they have a chance to get bored.

8. For many years you have worked with RuPaul, recently recording two songs with her and worked on Drag U. What did you learn from working with RuPaul? What was your favorite moment from Drag U or recording with Ru? My favorite moment from Drag U was making my fellow judge Chaka Khan and Ru bust a gut. Her voice and her music has simply enthralled me since I purchased my first album, her Rags To Rufus. So for me to be able to make her laugh her ass off is something I'll never forget. Charo and Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman) were two other judges I adored.

As far as a bad experience with Ru, he did turn me on to this great silicone medical adhesive to keep wigs in place, since ours are rather large. However, he did not tell me about the remover! So I went to yank my wig off at the end of the night and it ripped out some of my own hair. Ru was sabotaging my full head of hair because she's bald! I'm kidding, but she never did tell me about the remover. So for a year, I had a reverse widow's peak which got some very odd looks.

9. You created the hugely successful drag festival Wigstock, which ran for over 20 years. What are some sordid stories you can tell from this time in your life? Who was somebody you wanted for Wigstock, but was never able to book? Great question! One sordid story was when a set piece which was like a mobile overhead came crashing down onto the stage during a queen named Afro-dite's number. No one knew what to do and was running around madly when a queen came up, opened her purse, removed a giant knife, winked at me, and quickly cut everyone loose from the tangled mess.

Because the festival was mainly drag acts with a few recording artists thrown in, I never really had to beg people to do it. I do remember being told that John Cameron Mitchell, who was performing in the original Off-Broadway version of Hedwig at WestBeth, couldn't make it between his matinee and evening show. I begged! And he consented. I'll always owe him for his generosity because even though Westbeth was right across from the pier we held Wigstock on, that must have been exhausting for him. He certainly thrilled the crowd.

10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Very commendable of you! I'd like a firmer grasp of tech stuff. Technically, I'm too dumb for my own smartphone! So I'd love to grab an intern and have them help me to catch me up with Instagram and all that stuff. But I did have a camera installed in my bathroom. So now you can all follow me on shitter!

Lady Bunny, Photo Credit: Jeff EasonMore on Lady Bunny:

With her glitzy outfits, sky-high wigs and false eyelashes long enough to embarrass Tammy Faye Baker, multi-talented drag artist Lady Bunny would turn heads even if looking glamorous was her only talent. But "she" isn’t just another man in a dress: Bunny is a successful comedienne, DJ, actress, singer/songwriter and most famously, the emcee and creator of Wigstock, the outrageous drag festival of drag and music which electrified New Yorkers every Labor Day for over 20 years. Wigstock featured almost every queen who ever worked in NYC, but also attracted more mainstream recording acts who just wanted to join in the fun–including Dee-Lite, Debbie Harry, Boy George, RuPaul, John Cameron Mitchell as "Hedwig," The B-52s’ Cindy Wilson, Crystal Waters, CeCe Peniston, Ultra Nate, Kristine W, Barbara Tucker and Vickie Sue ("Turn The Beat Around") Robinson. Soon, the festival became known as a hipper version of Gay Pride Day.

Post-Wigstock, Bunny tours constantly, bringing houses down from Cinncinati to Tel Aviv with her bawdy mix of potty-mouthed humor, zany, Laugh-In-style joke routines and X-rated pop parodies. From headlining clubs to gay pride events worldwide, Bunny has been lucky enough to share a stage with many of her idols–including Patti Labelle, Joan Rivers, Bea Arthur, Charo, Elvira, Lynda Carter, Chaka Khan, Jennifer Hudson, Grace Jones, Melba Moore, Jennifer Holliday, the late great Frankie Knuckles, Loleatta Holloway, Jocelyn Brown, Martha Wash, Larry Kramer and Margaret Cho.

Lady Bunny, Photo Credit: Jeff EasonBunny’s also made the leap to television and film, with appearances on Sex And The City, The Comedy Central Roast Of Pamela Anderson and in the feature films Dragtime (HBO), The Out List (HBO), To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar, Party Girl, Rupaul’s Starrbooty and Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild. Most recently, Bunny played "The Dean Of Drag" for three seasons on Rupaul’s Drag U and can be seen in the upcoming feature film My Dead Boyfriend opposite Heather Graham.

Bunny DJs at fashion events, club events, corporate bashes and hell–gay weddings and bar mitzvahs! Her specialty is nailing what your crowd wants to hear. As she always says, "Please give me requests because I’m spinning for your party and my goal is to get you on the dance floor. Besides, I can play what I want at home for free!" Guests go crazy when Bunny leaves the DJ booth to join the crowd on the floor–so you’re basically hiring a DJ and a clown for the price of one! The Empire State Pride Agenda’s latched onto Bunny as their regular DJ for almost a decade now, claiming that "We’d been doing this event for years but Bunny was the first DJ to get our crowd to dance." As the in-house DJ for Visionaire and V magazine, Bunny literally travelled the globe spinning atop the Eiffel Tower, Tokyo’s Mori Tower, the Fendi Showroom in Milan, London’s Harvey Nichols, The Delano in Miami and was the first DJ ever to spin at Paris’s palatial L’Opera Garnier. This lead to even more high profile DJ gigs like Van Cleef & Arpel’s 40th birthday bash in Paris and The Standard’s Black Out Party in NYC celebrating Naomi Campbell’s 25 years in fashion.

Lady Bunny, Photo Credit: Jeff EasonLike many DJs, Bunny moved into songwriting and has released two duets with RuPaul and a solo effort "Take Me Up High," which hit Billboard’s Dance chart at #18 in 20013. She’s collaborated with Lonnie Gordon, Deee-Lite’s Lady Miss Kier, electro pioneer Mann Parrish and legendary NYC DJ Disciple. This summer, Bunny has teamed up with the ultra-groovy Ursula 1000 for the seismic dance track "Blast Off" on the new Ursula album. It’ll be released with remixes in August 2015. And a full-length solo album is in the works.

Bunny was a commentator in Star magazine’s "Worst Of The Week" column for eight years, and has written for publications as diverse as Paper magazine, Interview, Out, Time Out and Visionaire magazines. Bunny was chosen one of the most stylish New Yorkers by V magazine, The Daily News and Time Out NY. She’s interviewed subjects as varied as Scarlett Johansson, Marc Jacobs and Antony of Antony And The Johnsons fame. In recent years, this Lady has taken an increased interest in politics and social issues and has penned blistering pieces for Huffingtonpost with a decidedly liberal slant. After winning a few awards for her blog and many Facebook friends sick of her long diatribes telling her to "Write a book!", Bunny is currently penning a memoir.

There have been recent brushes with the art world as well. Most recently, Bunny DJed for a three day exhibit at Faena Gallery in Buenos Aires for a disco-themed art installation by assume vivid astro focus. And Bunny performed original music and conducted a heart-felt interview with pioneer video artist Charles Atlas called The Waning Of Justice at the Luhring Augustine Gallery. (Charlie’s other documentary subjects include Leigh Bowery, Antony and Merce Cunningham.) And Bunny was delighted to be picked as one of of home decor guru Jonathan Adler’s muses for his original Inspiration Points series after Jonathan designed a pitcher modeled after Bunny.

Lady Bunny, Photo Credit: Jeff EasonIn the last three years, Bunny has created two one-"woman" shows at La Escuelita. Both That Ain’t No Lady! and Clown’s Syndrome were extended for months after sell-out crowds and a rave review from the NY Times’ Charles Rooney which stated: "Most of Lady Bunny’s best lines are unprintable here, but more than any performer I saw this year "the old pig in a wig," as she calls herself, made me weep with laughter, often while groaning with disgust. And isn’t that what the best low comedy is all about?" Clowns Syndrome earned this glowing review from Irish Central: "A downtown drag fixture for over two and a half decades, in her new show Clowns Syndrome the self professed "pig in a wig" has crafted the funniest, most engagingly thoughtful and by far the most entertaining drag show I have ever seen." Michael Musto called it "the funniest show in town." Both shows toured the globe from LA to Palm Springs to San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale to Provincetown to London to Puerta Vallarta four cities in Australia. Clown’s Syndrome–It’s Back And It’s Worse! will be remounted this fall with updated material.

Talented, glamorous and funny as hell, Lady Bunny is a glittering comet hurtling toward Planet Show Biz. Brace yourself for impact!

Tuesday
May102016

Call Redialed: Jinkx Monsoon: Jinkx Sings Everything at The Laurie Beechman

Jinkx MonsoonI've interviewed Jinkx Monsoon several times as part of The Vaudevillians, but this time around, we are going at it one-on-one as Jinkx and I talk about everything Broadway for her new show Jinkx Sings Everything which will be at the Laurie Beechman Theatre from May 20-22 (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue inside the West Bank Cafe). Click here for tickets!

In Jinkx Sings Everything, the audience will be able to suggest and request their favorite Broadway songs to be performed on-the-spot by this boozy chanteuse -- accompanied on the piano by Joshua Stephen Kartas. Her improv skills and memory will be put to the test as she stumbles her way through this unforgettable show. No two performances will be the same!

For more on Jinkx be sure to visit http://www.jinkxmonsoon.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter!

Jinkx Monsoon1. This May you are premiering a brand new solo show at The Laurie Beechman Theatre called Jinkx Sings Everything. I have to ask, what made you want to do this show without Major Scales? Well, trust me, it's not that I didn't WANT to do the show with Major, this show just requires a slightly different skill set. Major is the best accompanist a queen can have, and he knows how to hold his own on stage with the obnoxious likes of me; and while he's an amazing improv pianist, this show concept requires someone who has an almost robotic memory catalogue of countless musical theater songs. Major and I do mostly original arrangements, so for this show to go as planned, I teamed up with the frighteningly talented Josh Kartas, who is an amazing sight reader and has a wealth of musical theater programmed into his brain. In fact, it was through playing around with Josh at multiple Broadway Sessions shows at the Laurie Beechman, that I even had the idea.

But don't worry! Major is not being replaced! He's just sitting this one out.

Jinkx Monsoon, Photo Credit: josuegrotesco.tumblr.com2. Jinkx Sings Everything is very different than any of your previous shows. This show is all show-tunes, all requested by the audience, so no two shows will be alike. Since you have no idea what songs will be requested, how do you prepare yourself for a show like this? I mean, what if someone asks you to sing "Are You Ready for Tonight" from the very short-lived Broadway musical Glory Days? While the set list will be by request, I will have ground rules, and at the end of the day, I call the shots. No one is going to make me sing something I don't wanna sing, or don't even know. What I plan is that through improvised conversations with the audience, we will arrive at songs together. I will talk a little bit about what I like about certain musicals. I'll poll the audience to see if they have a favorite song from said musical, and bang! There's a request. Or I may tell a sad story, and then ask if anyone has a favorite sad ballad, and see what gets generated that way. Even while opening up to requests, I will always be in control. Because I am the queen!

3. How does a show like this play to your performing strengths and weaknesses? Well, I am fairly proud of my ability to improvise with an audience. It's actually one of my favorite aspects of my drag performance style. I think doing the show this way will result in a lot of golden, fleeting moments of genius, and an abundance of stupidity on my part. All of which should be entertaining. I'm also a karaoke addict. If I go to karaoke with friends, I will be buried in the song book all night, setting up a play list of all my favorite songs to sing, and I can easily dominate the evening. That's what gave me the idea to do a show like this. I just love to sing! There are so many roles in musical theatre I'll probably never play, but I LOVE the songs these characters sing so much...I figured, why wait to be cast in the role? Why not just create a show where I do it all!

Jinkx Monsoon4. If you or someone were to write a musical about yourself, what do you think it would be called? What might some of the song titles be? If you weren't able to play you, who would? Hmm. That's tough. Of course, I think about these things all the time, but I never come to a conclusion. I've always thought a musical about my life might be called something like: Family Curse. My family has a long standing myth about a Family Curse. All the members of my family believe in it in some form or another. It's basically Murphy's Law; anything that can go wrong, will go wrong...And it'll happen to us, specifically. 

I think Jinkx and Jerick would have to be played by two actors. Maybe a feminine boy to play me out of drag, and a more brassy, blunt, manic woman to play me in drag. Maybe the combo of Noah Galvin as Jerick and Megan Mullally as Jinkx? Hell. I'd watch that.

Some of the song titles might be:

-Little Red Blanket (as I used to have a red blanket I wore as a dress around the house).

-Art School Janitor

-Grandma's Wig

-My Mom, The Bottle, and Me

-Death Becomes Her

And maybe the show stopper, "Monsoon Season"

Jinkx Monsoon5. What is one aspect of your life that you would not want to be in the show and what part of your life would shock people the most? I think the part of my life that always shocks people the most, are my sex stories. I'm a very sexually adventurous person, but since I'm often labeled as "sweet" and "nice," people don't often think of me as being very sexual. The part I would leave out is my Ballet years. They aren't that interesting and looking back on my attempts at being a ballet dancer just leave me shaking my head.

6. If you could perform in concert with any musical theatre performer, who would you choose? Better Midler. Without her, I wouldn't be half of the performer I am today. I know she's more of a movie girl, but honestly, it would be my dream double billing.

7. What are your top 5 favorite musicals?

5) Grey Gardens

4) Gypsy

3) Hedwig and the Angry Inch

2) Into the Woods

1) Sweeney Todd

Jinkx Monsoon as "Little Edie" from "Grey Gardens"8. If you were to release an album of show tunes, what songs would you include on it?

To name a few essentials:

-Rose's Turn

-Mama Who Bore Me

-You Could Drive a person Crazy

-Maybe This Time

-The Last Midnight

9. Of the musicals currently playing, which ones would you want to be part of? You know, I don't think most people would think of me for this role, but I would LOVE to play "Elder Cunningham" in Book of Mormon. I think I could bring great things to that role, and the music is absolutely genius in that show. I'm a huge Trey Parker/Matt Stone fan, and have been for years.

10.  What shows of the past would you like to see revived? I have always had this dream, of playing "Mrs. Lovett" in a revival of Sweeney Todd. Where instead of being set in The Victorian Era, it was set in a post apocalyptic, dystopian society. Where all the buildings are all but destroyed from nuclear fallout, and it's every man for himself. It would be a short leap to cannibalism, I think.

I also think Bye Bye Birdie could be done in a really funny way nowadays. I think we could use it as a satirical look at hero worship and social media culture today. Social media has turned everyone into assholes, and I think through some clever staging, we could see a really funny look at that with that show. I would also do some cross gender casting. Like "Mr. McAfee" would be a gruff, butch lesbian. And "Ursula" could be a "Conrad Birdie" obsessed gay boy. Just to update it a little and make it a little more applicable to today.

Jinkx MonsoonMore on Jinkx:

Jinkx Monsoon is the alter ego of Jerick Hoffer, who graduated with a degree in theatrical performance from Cornish College in Seattle. With ten years experience on stage, Hoffer is a seasoned Portland-born entertainer who has captured the attention of his native northwest region. As early as 2006, Hoffer appeared as the lead dancer in the world's largest drag queen chorus line, which made the Guinness Book of World Records. By 2012, he had advanced to roles in Seattle theaters, playing "Moritz" in Spring Awakening,(produced by Balagan Theatre) and "Angel" in Rent (produced by The 5th Avenue Theatre). Earlier this year, Hoffer played "Hedwig" in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (produced by Balagan Theatre and Seattle Theatre Group) and co-starred with Peaches Christ in the much-buzzed-about Return to Grey Gardens.

Sunday
Jan102016

Call Answered: Jason B. Schmidt in Bea Arthur: Astral Dame at The Laurie Beechman Theatre

I am a huge Golden Girls fan. So when I was approached to interview Jason B. Schmidt about his one-man show, errr, one-woman show, Bea Arthur: Astral Dame, I was thankful for being a friend!

In Bea Arthur: Astral Dame, Jason B. Schmidt stars as the Tony and Emmy Award-winning star of Maude, Mame and The Golden Girls performing some of Bea's signature numbers along with a few surprises as only Bea can deliver, including a special duet of "Bosom Buddies" with award winning comedian Marti Gould Cummngs. Bea Arthur: Astral Dame will be returning to The Laurie Beechman Theatre on Saturday, January 30 at 7pm (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, inside West Bank Cafe). Click here for tickets!

For more on Jason be sure to visit http://jasonbschmidt.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Jason B. Schmidt as "Bea Arthur"1. You are returning to The Laurie Beechman Theatre with Bea Arthur: Astral Dame in which you perform some of Bea's signature numbers. When did you become a fan of Bea Arthur? I've had a general respect for her for as long as I can remember - watching The Golden Girls as a kid/teen/adult. My true fanatic status came in the early 2000's when a friend gave me the recording of Bea's one woman show On Broadway, Just Between Friends. I fell madly in love with her story-telling...and her.

Bea Arthur as "Dorothy Zbornak" on "The Golden Girls"2. What was the moment that made you go, "I want to create a show paying homage to Bea Arthur?" In 2010, I was doing Thank You for Being a Friend: The Musical with SpinCycle, playing the Dorothy-type role. We were asked to do a promo event at Therapy, and the host, Lavinia Draper (aka Susan Campanaro...who played our Sophia-type) asked us to bring a solo number. I knew I HAD to do something from Bea's Broadway show. So I found a track for "It Never Was You" (one of my absolute favorites). Now, I can't say that exactly killed the Therapy crowd, but it certainly sparked the idea in my mind, "What if Bea got to come back one more time?" On that show (Thank You For Being A Friend) I also met my dear friend Amy Anders Corcoran who was our choreographer. And I knew I wanted to work with her again. We've stayed close over the years since, and she really pushed me to write this show, then agreed to direct, and brought on our first big producer, Robert W. Schneider.

Bea Arthur "On Broadway: Just Between Friends"3. Bea had quite an extensive career between Broadway and Television. How did you decide which numbers you wanted to include in this show? Like all good things in my life, it came from a list. I wrote out the must-haves, the probably's and then the hmmm-mayybes. I culled most of it from her Broadway show, but filled in from the internet, interviews, etc.

4. Bea Arthur is very well known and revered, especially in the gay community. When you decided to create a show about Bea and play her, did you have any hesitancy in doing so? If so, how did you overcome the hesitancy? There certainly was a voice saying, "well, they'll expect to see A, Bea, and C," but I allowed that to guide me rather than hold me back. I set out to write a show about Bea that I would want to see, and Amy and Rob guided and pushed me when I felt doubt. Thank goodness.

Jason B. Schmidt as "Bea Arthur" in "Bea Arthur: Astral Dame"5. Where do you draw line between playing Bea Arthur as everyone knows her and making Bea your own? I feel that my portrayal of the Bea-type in Thank You For Being A Friend was much MUCH more of a caricature because that's what the show called for - high camp - which I LOVE. I knew, though, that that was not what I would be creating for this show. I needed to dial that back, because I wanted this to be a loving homage, rather than an over-the-top send up. So I did my best to add mannerisms, vocal affectations and speech patterns that I learned from watching her, and then allowed those to meld with my own performance style. Amy was genius in helping me combine the two. And Rob pushed back when I got to be too Jason and not enough Bea. Honestly, that is still a challenge for me, and something I constantly work on, in preparing for the show. It's tinkering with a recipe until it tastes just right. Lamb, anyone? ;)

6. At this show, will be special guest Marti Gould Cummings. What is it about Marti's performance style that made you want him to be your special guest? I feel that a larger-than-life, big broad Broadway-type is the perfect accompaniment to Bea's grounded, dead pan style. All my guests have embodied this, and been friends of mine. I really trust and respect Marti and I know (hope) her fans will also enjoy what I have created, and likewise, I know Bea's fans, and my fans, either already love Marti, or will, once they see her in my show. We've known each other for years and years, so it was an easy call to make. Hey, if I can't get Liza, Marti's next on the list!

7. If Bea herself came to see this show, what do you think her reaction would be? A raised eyebrow and a knowing glance that would be emblazoned onto my corneas and heart for the rest of my life. I think she'd chortle...or cut me.

Bea Arthur as "Maude"8. If "Maude" and "Dorothy" were to compete in Celebrity DeathMatch, who do you think would win and why? I think "Maude" is more cutthroat and would most likely wind up the victor, unless "Dorothy" could suffocate her with a tricked out cowl.

9. What is something about Bea Arthur that we might not know? The jury is still out for me, but I saw an interview where she flat out denies being in the Marines, but meanwhile, the Internet vehemently disagrees. There's pictures and everything. So, there's still a bit of mystery there. To her, at least in that interview, she went directly to dramatic school in NYC, and did not join the Marines. The pictures though. I want to believe her. I'm so torn.

Also, she had two adopted sons with Gene Saks. I love that they adopted.

Jason B. Schmidt in "Bea Arthur: Astral Dame"10. What are your top: Golden Girl episodes? Maude episodes? and favorite Bea Arthur Broadway shows?

Golden Girls: "Chicken Little," "The Rusty Anchor," "Chronic Fatigue."

Maude: Her 1st appearance on All in the Family. OMG. I want to LIVE in that episode! But I don't want to get the flu. "The Slumlords!" "Maude" and "Walter" are accused of being slumlords. Hilarious. And still relevant. "The Abortion." I know, I know, but the way she and "Walter" LOVE each other in that episode...I die. Falling asleep in church. "I'M UP I'M UP!"

Bea on Broadway: Just Between Friends, Mame, A Mother's Kisses (I should've put this under little known facts: this was to be her big LEAD starring vehicle by the guys who wrote Pajama Game, but it closed in Baltimore… but if you want to hear her big number from it, come to my show!!)

BONUS QUESTION:

11. If you could star in a re-launch of The Golden Girls as "Dorothy Zbornak," how would you stylize "Dorothy" today...from personality to clothing? Interesting. Well, I certainly agree that she invented Resting Bitch Face, so we could start there. I think she'd have to take current isms and twist them, like "I'm just sayin." "Well, I'm just sayin...you're an imbecile." or "YOLO." "YOLO? How about HELL NO. Get out." Though I'd have to make nice with the next Norman Lear to get new jokes written. This speaks to personality though. I just read an article about basically not giving a f*ck but still being polite. That's what I would re-invigorate into "Dorothy," including her style (which would still have to be Fabulous Diva Librarian Glitter Marm-realness). I think there was always something beautiful about her no-nonsense attitude, and I think that's something today's audiences still connect with: HELL NO, but thank you very much for offering...GET OUT <eyebrow raise>.

Jason B. SchmidtMore Jason B:

Jason B. Schmidt is a NYC based actor, Bea Arthur aficionado, voice over talent and half of the musical comedy sensation The Parodivas! In addition to his extensive Off-Broadway, Off-Off and Regional credits, Jason B. has also traveled the US starring in numerous productions. Previously Jason B. starred in Dog Opera by Constance Congdon which he also co-produced at The Little Times Square theatre opposite his performing and producing partner Darlene Rae Heller. He is proud to have been one of the dynamic ensemble cast of Momentum Rep’s It’s Only Life, the theatrical revue of John Bucchino’s best musical numbers, featuring Mr. Bucchino at the piano. Other favorite credits include the German transvestite assassin "Friedrich" in Hit Girls: An Ass Kicking Musical in Heels as well as "Dorothea" in The Golden Girls Parody, Thank You For Being a Friend: The Musical at The Kraine Theater. He also flaunted his "perfect comic timing" Off-Broadway in The Gayest Christmas Pageant Ever! Jason’s voice over talents can be heard in The Red Dead Redemption by Rockstar Games. His comedy music duo The Parodivas have headlined Off-Broadway, in comedy clubs and all over NYC including The Triad, 54 Below, Gotham, The Chain and more! Jason B. has a BFA in Acting from Adelphi University.