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Entries in The Laurie Beechman Theatre (29)

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.

Sunday
Jan082017

Call Redialed: Marta Sanders: "Follow Me" at The Laurie Beechman Theatre

Marta Sanders, Photo Credit: Lou MontesanoI am so thrilled to have the opportunity to interview MAC/Bistro Award winning vocalist and top NYC tour guide Marta Sanders about the encore presentation of her show Follow Me. I have known Marta for 15 years and every time we get to do a new interview, I am as giddy as the first time we reconnected! I adore Marta and can't wait to see this show!

Follow Me celebrates Marta's twin passions -- New York, and the rest of the world. In addition to her music director John McMahon, Marta performs songs she introduced with her frequent collaborator, the late Michael Greer ("Hunk on the Bus"), she does three tunes by John Wallowitch (including her signature "Warsaw"). Marta's world-class romp around the world also includes tunes by Carol Hall, Sting, and Peter Matz, among others. Debra Zalkind and Mark Nadler are the show’s director.

Follow Me will play a four-week engagment at The Laurie Beechman Theatre (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, inside the West Bank Cafe) from February 2-25 on the following dates: Thursday 2/2Saturday 2/11Thursday 2/16, and Saturday 2/25, all at 7pm. Click here for tickets!

For more on Marta be sure to visit http://www.martanyc.com!

1. This February you are presenting a four-week encore engagement of your newest show Follow Me. What made 2017 the right time to re-do this show? I choose to do my cabaret shows in the winter when the tourism business is quiet here in NYC. I wanted to do the show again, because I got a great response to some changes I made to the format. More storytelling and comedy.

2. What are you looking forward to most about getting back into the show? I'm excited to work the material again. I get to make some edits that I think will make it funnier. It's all about the process, working and reworking.

3. In Follow Me, you are performing "Maria by the River," a song you co-wrote with your music director John McMahon & Debra Zalkind. What do you love about the songwriting process? What do you like most about performing a song you had a part in creating as opposed to a song by someone else? "Maria By The River" is a full character and story. It's not one piece of music. She came through me on my morning walk by the Hudson. I love her because she is a part of me and she is a woman who I know from my travels and my imagination. Every time I bring her to life, she fills me with joy!

Marta Sanders, Photo Credit: Lou Montesano4. In Follow Me, you celebrate your twin passions New York and the rest of the world. As a NYC resident, what are your favorite things to do in the city? As a tour guide, what are you favorite NYC sights to show people? I love exploring the City on my own. Going into a neighborhood and just walking around, or getting on a public bus and just riding through neighborhoods and absorbing the different communities. I love taking people through the Village, NOLITA, DUMBO, Hudson Yards, Central Park, St John The Divine, Chelsea, and Bushwick.

5. If you were living in NYC and New York only had five tourist attractions in which you had to live among, which attractions would you choose to live in? Washington Square, Plymouth Church Brooklyn Heights, Riverside Church, Flatiron Building, and The Players Club.

6. What are your top five favorite places you've visited outside NYC? What are your top five dream spots to visit? Favorite Places: Hong Kong, Sydney, Venice, London, & Cape Town.

Dream Places: Portugal, Bali, Thailand, Japan, & Istanbul.

Marta Sanders7. You will be performing Follow Me in the winter month of February. What do you love most about winter in NYC? I love that it's quieter and we reclaim our city for a minute. I also love the light.

8. If you put out an album of 10 duets, who would you want to sing with? Robert Carlos, Lucicita, Mark Nadler, Eric Michael Gillette, Mercedes Sosa, Delores Hall, Marin Mazie, Chita Rivera, Brian Stokes Mitchell, & Kelli O'Hara.

9. Since this show is called Follow Me, what footsteps of yours do hope people would follow? I believe you can't learn about what the real world is, if you don't travel. Travel is the greatest teacher. It is my passion as is my entertaining.

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? I'm just trying to slow down. Listen more.

Marta SandersMore on Marta:

In a career spanning several decades, Sanders has won both MAC and Bistro Awards for outstanding female vocalist. Mixing her soaring alto and prowess as a comic storyteller, Marta epitomizes a freewheeling American nightclub style that was prevalent until the ‘70s -- and that has endured with such pros as Bobby Short, Steve Ross, Barbara Cooke and Marilyn Maye.

Texas born, and of American father and an Argentinian mother (her father was the head of the Peace Corp in Colombia for a time), Marta grew up in cities across the States and in South America. Soon after arriving in New York, she was cast in the original Broadway production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. But her taste for travel had her gravitating away from the theater to nightclub performing. She was featured in supper-clubs, on cruises and in concert venues across Central and South America, Russia, and on both coasts. In New York she gained a loyal following in regular appearances at such clubs as Les Mouches, The Ballroom, Upstairs at Greene Street, Reno Sweeney, and Grand Finale. She also hosted a radio program on WLIR for a time.

In October she combined her twin professions when she offered a uniquely immersive tour of New York’s storied nightlife that included performances and stories by several popular entertainers and cabaret entrepreneurs. Sponsored by Karen Lotman Productions the tour was an official event of the 27th annual Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Convention.

Marta’s recordings include Panache (available on CD Baby), and Corazon del Alma available through www.martanyc.com.

Friday
Jul292016

Call Redialed: Karen Finley: Unicorn Gratitude Mystery at The Laurie Beechman Theatre

Karen FinleyI first interviewed Karen Finley in 2014 when her show Written in Sand made it's NYC debut. I was so inspired by that interview that when this new opportunity came to interview her, I jumped at it.

Her new show Karen Finley: Unicorn Gratitude Mystery, will be debuting at The Laurie Beechman Theatre this summer! In UNICORN, Karen humorously explores America's obsession with the imagined, unattainable white-horned mythical creature. Armed with a healthy does of cynicism, GRATITUDE finds Karen obsessing on the narcissistic tendencies that fuel contemporary gentrification. And with MYSTERY, Karen dives deep into the language, emotion, and the loss of control that can happen when we give in to our fear of the unknown.

In this interview Karen and I dive deep into the creation of this show talking about Karen's interest in unicorns, what she is grateful for, and which of life's mysteries she thinks about the most. We also discuss her fears, what she still wants to accomplish, and how she would like to improve her life by one percent better!

Karen Finley: Unicorn Gratitude Mystery will play The Laurie Beechman Theatre (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, inside the West Bank Cafe) from July 31-August 21! Click here for tickets!

1. It's great getting to talk to you again Karen. You're new show, Karen Finley: Unicorn Gratitude Mystery, will be premiering at The Laurie Beechman Theatre from July 31-August 21. What are you looking forward to about performing this new show? How did you come up with the title? It is great speaking to you too Adam. There are so many reasons why I am looking forward to the performance. First, personally, I love performing and I love the Laurie Beechman Theater - and look forward to the physical intimacy of performing before a live audience being able to have a cocktail!. Secondly – the material – there will be humor, politics, and hopefully moments of profoundness. The performance has 3 sections – and each section deals with a topic - Unicorn – which is an exploration of the mythical attainment of the isolated white magical beast as a metaphor. Gratitude – explores the despair, the condescension of liberal white power, the aggressiveness of gratitude, thankfulness, forgiveness and the privilege of appreciation. The Mystery section explores the preoccupation of unknown events – trauma – such as flight 360 that vanished, the fear of the unknown. And the blues, depression that accompanies the not knowing. It is still in development….

Karen Finley2. According press notes, this show is divided into three sections. In Unicorn, you humorously explores America's obsession with the imagined, unattainable white-horned mythical creature. Why are you fascinated with unicorns? What do they represent to you? I have been interested in unicorns – for sometime since a child, probably since seeing the famous Cloister medieval tapestry with the gated unicorn. But what I am interested in – is the symbol – or the replacement – and the interest of the unicorn by the unconscious - and what that means. I think that the white, mythical creature – with the phallus on it’s head – a dick coming out of it’s brain – and that the imagination - circulated only in whiteness mythology. The unicorn is always alone…

3. In Gratitude, you talk about the narcissistic tendencies that fuel contemporary gentrification. Do you find any gratitude in society's obsession with each individuals narcissism? What are you most grateful for today? It is more that narcissistic tendencies but a narcissistic prevalent culture that disguises its exclusivity and elitism by the purchasing power of coconut water and the yoga mat yet the aggressiveness seen in the aisles of Whole Foods. Yet, I go deeper with the masochism in apologies – that can be ever so gendered.

Karen Finley performing "Written in Sand"4. In Mystery, you dive deep into the language, emotion, and the loss of control that can happen when we give in to our fear of the unknown. When was there a time in your life that you lost control? How did you find your way out? Thank you for taking the topic seriously – for yes, mystery – the mystery in life, in death is a space of not knowing. Mystery for me is to allow a designated space or time to knowing the not knowing – and the mystery that surrounds the situation. Allowing mystery without knowing rather in the literary genre the crime or mystery is solved. For me mystery serves both a spiritual and psychic function. Once I stopped searching – but allowed mystery a presence in my life was able to feel or accept blueness, depth, and beyond.

5. What is one of life's mysteries you think about the most? There are so many different ways to answer that – whether in my personal life- society – and larger questions of the universe – but somehow there are questions – or events that answers are never given – and for me the part is to try and not to obsess about or wait for an answer but to be present and to have a connection to humanity regardless.

Karen Finley6. What is your greatest fear? Donald Trump becoming president. I fear the escalation – continued violence in this country and abroad – I fear racism, sexism, oppression – bullying.

7. 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? That is a lovely part of your column - I would think of it as in one step on a staircase – How can I transform my pain into compassion?

8. What is something about Karen Finley that most people don't know? That I am an introvert.

9. What haven't you accomplished that you would still like to? I would like to host my own talk show.

10. If you could star in a film or TV show that was a mystery, centered around a unicorn or featured one, and made you feel grateful, which films or TV shows would have liked to be in? LOL - hahaha. The Golden Girls where ("Rose") Betty White, buys a cute Unicorn in the winodw of a Romantic Depot - shows it to "Blanche," "Dorothy," and "Sophia" and it turns out to be a unicorn sex toy. Mystery solved! And boy, were they grateful!

Karen Finley performing "Written in Sand"More on Karen:

Since her first performances in the early 1980's, Karen Finley has become synonymous with performance art. A performer, artist, writer, musician, poet, teacher and lecturer, she is the recipient of two Obies, two Bessies, and multiple grants from the NEA and NYSCA. She has toured internationally with pieces including Make Love, George & Martha, The Jackie Look, The American Chestnut, A Certain Level of Denial and The Return of The Chocolate Smeared Woman and Written in the Sand. In 1990, Karen became an unwilling symbol for the NEA when she, along with Tim Miller, Holly Hughes & John Fleck, sued the NEA for withdrawing grants on the grounds of indecency; the controversial case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Among Karen's books include Shock Treatment, Enough Is Enough: Weekly Meditations for Living Dysfunctionally, the Martha Stewart satire Living It Up: Humorous Adventures in Hyperdomesticity, Pooh Unplugged,  and A Different Kind of Intimacy.

Wednesday
Jul202016

Call Answered: BenDeLaCreme: BenDeLaCreme's Inferno A-Go-Go at The Laurie Beechman Theatre

BenDeLaCremeAs a life long RuPaul fan, I was super excited to get the opportunity to interview another RuPaul's Drag Race favorite. This time around, I got to talk with Season Six's BenDeLaCreme whose new show, BenDeLaCreme's Inferno A-Go-Go will be making it's debut at The Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC this summer. In this show, BenDeLaCreme seeks to answer that age old question: What the Hell? Turning her gay gaze toward Dante’s Inferno -- the original travel brochure of the damned -- this rollicking romp through nine circles of fire and fun is equal parts brimstone and rhinestones.

After reading a bit about BenDeLaCreme's Inferno A-Go-Go, I couldn't wait to pick Ben's brain about the creation of this show, starring on RuPaul's Drag Race, and finding out about his own suffering as well as how he wants to improve his life by one percent better everyday!

BenDeLaCreme's Inferno A-Go-Go will play The Laurie Beechman Theatre (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, inside the West Bank Cafe) from July 28-August 19! Click here for tickets!

For more on BenDeLaCreme be sure to visit http://bendelacreme.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

1. This summer you are premiering your newest show BenDeLaCreme's Inferno A-Go-Go at The Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC. What are you looking forward to most about performing this show? Everything! I love doing solo projects where every aspect is within my control - the writing, the props and costumes, the music and video elements. It’s a fully realized experience that I get to share with the audience. And this time I’m working with some pretty dense source material - this is a comedic cabaret based on Dante’s Inferno - and I’m really proud of how it’s taken shape! The story is SO epic and has SO many characters - taking it on as a solo show means finding a lot of interesting ways to solve all those problems - and for me that always leads to the best comedy.

2. What made now the right time to debut a new show? Momentum? I’m not sure - I just had one in me! Apparently I am on a kick where I write one show a year. Who knows if that will last, but so far I’ve been inspired to do that. I premiered my first solo work, Terminally Delightful in NYC in 2014. After getting that ball rolling I immediately felt ready to create something new for the following year, resulting in my scientific spoof, COSMOS - Space. Time. Splash of Cran. The reception was great and I had so much fun doing it that this next piece just started bubbling in my head.

It’s interesting because I chose Inferno as subject a while back, and at the time didn’t quite know why I was so drawn to it. But I’ve learned to trust that, and to know that at some point about half way through the process I’ll go "OOOOOH - THAT’S why I chose this." This time, that happened personally, but also in this completely unpredictable way where 2016 turned out to be a pretty horrific nightmare year, and one that we are all desperately trying to make sense of. And here I was, elbows deep in Dante’s Inferno a story about suffering and anguish - the idea that we are possibly doomed by some greater power. That our punishments fit our crimes. And it’s a text filled with death and torture and murder and just the worst that humanity has to offer. And I thought, "Ok. Ok. This is a lot to tackle, but let’s do this. Let’s make an uplifting comedy about the atrocities of the world with a journey through Hell as the central metaphor." And here we are.

BenDeLaCreme3. This show is about hell, the eternity of suffering, and so much more. What is something you have done that you feel might send you to hell? What is the hardest thing you've suffered from so far in your life? Well, I don’t actually believe in Hell. While in this show we do take a ridiculous romp through the nine circles, the main idea behind the show is a corruption of one of Dante’s themes, which is that we all create our own Hell. I believe that "Hell" is an idea devised to wrap our mind around suffering, which is a part of our lives. When you accept that, and realize that to a certain degree you have control over it, you’re already on your way out of it. I’ve suffered through some stuff, the death of my mother at an early age, growing up a pretty reviled gay kid in the country, depression - and all that is pretty damn tame in the grand scheme of tragedy. I’m pretty sure that to whatever degree it manifests, suffering is one of the things we all have in common as humans. And that common experience is a place form which we can draw strength.

4. This show is a blend of burlesque, comedy, performance art and music. How do you feel this combination of performance styles helps tell the story you want to convey? Well those are the mediums through which I tell EVERY story. They’ve always been my languages of choice. And I love to take subjects that do NOT seem to want to be told through those methods and push them through that meat grinder to see what kind of bizarre, sparkly, hilarious goo comes out on the other side. Plus, for me, going high camp, high glitz - it’s the perfect counterpoint to subjects that are scarier, sadder, darker. It allows you to really go there. It takes the edge off. If you’ve lubed the path well enough, you can go further down it.

BenDeLaCreme, Photo Credit: Maddelynn Hatter5. Going back to the beginning, how did you come up with your name BenDeLaCreme? Well, Ben is just my name. So I initially chose "BenDeLaCreme" as an extension of my own name and a play on the phrase "Creme De La Creme," meaning "The Best of the Best." Little did I know I was in the beginning stages of creating this character that was sort of eternally optimistic. The more she took shape, the more I felt she was highlighting the best qualities that I possess. The most generous, caring, exuberant part of me. So the name became very fitting - BenDeLaCreme; "The Best of Ben."

6. What went through your head when you found out you got selected to be on RuPaul's Drag Race? What did you learn from RuPaul himself? Oh I was overjoyed - for sure! I had not felt interested in auditioning for Drag Race until that year. Suddenly, I was like- "this is it. It’s time for you to do this. RIGHT. NOW." I had been really happy with my career in Seattle but I felt like I’d hit a ceiling and this would be the way to break through it. So I put every ounce of energy and intention into making it happen. All my eggs in one basket. I was excited and RELIEVED when it happened!

As far as learning from RuPau l- I don’t think I learned much from Ru while filming the show. For one thing - we don’t actually have much contact with Ru, which makes sense for the purposes of the competition. Secondly - you’re a little too busy trying to live through the day to start picking up inspirational tidbits. But I will say that Ru was a huge inspiration to me growing up. When she published Lettin it all Hang Out I took the train into Boston to go to the one gay bookstore I knew of to buy a copy - and I poured over that book every day for months trying to absorb it all. I learned a lot about the mechanics of creating a look, but more than that I learned about what it takes to be a queen - an ability to channel a certain kind of serenity that allows you to know who you are and why you're here - and that those other opinions just don’t really matter.

BenDeLaCreme7. How do you feel being on the show helped move your career forward? It’s immeasurable. I went from having a very loyal and wonderful Seattle fan base to being an internationally known performer. I’m still making the same sort of work I was making pre-drag race but on a much larger scale, with more resources, and the insight and refinement one gets from touring work to audiences around the world. I just feel very blessed to happen to live in a time when drag is getting so much respect as an art form.

8. What was something that happened to you on RuPaul's Drag Race that you wish you could take back? Mmmm…I would have won? I dunno. I don’t really have any regrets. I played well and, more importantly, when I look back on the experience I feel proud of the work I did and the way I conducted myself. I actually managed to make some lasting friendships, and I feel I represented my character in a way that supports my work moving forward. No complaints.

BenDeLaCreme9. What is the one thing you feel gets the most misunderstood about you? That the character of BenDeLaCreme’s "happiness" is two dimensional or shallow - or a way of turning away from difficult things. I can see why one might have gathered that from viewing Drag Race, but anyone who’s ever seen one of my live shows knows this is a device. I use BenDeLaCreme as a foil for most every idea I present. Her relentless desire to cling to the bright side is always a way of highlighting the darker more complex aspects of humanity. Her purposefully ditzy demeanor speaks to the way we all sometimes play dumb when stuff gets too hard. But she always comes around. She always learns and grows and then finds the real good in the situation, not just the superficial. But the message of this character is not "BE HAPPY ALL THE TIME UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES." It’s not a tool to mask pain or struggle. It’s the opposite! It’s a magnifying lens! It says "LOOK AT THIS STRUGGLE! I have one! You have one! Let’s dig into it and laugh a little!"

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 every day? Every day I try to be more accepting of who I am right now. Am I stressed out? Ok, I’m stressed out. Do those shorts not fit anymore? Ok, they don’t fit. Did I not hit the deadline I set for myself? No, I didn’t. Quit dwelling on it. Hit it today. Striving to be better is a wonderful thing, but beating yourself up never helps you get there.

BenDeLaCremeMore on BenDeLaCreme:

BenDeLaCreme has appeared in theaters and nightclubs from coast to coast ever since the fateful day in 2002 when s/he realized that normally unsavory behavior could be dressed up in fancy clothes and called "Performance Art." Formerly based in Chicago, but with lucite heels now planted firmly in Seattle, BenDeLaCreme combines his/her background in the performing & visual arts with a love of spectacle, glamour, and Saturday morning cartoons to create a thick sludge of sparkly entertainment. BenDeLaCreme is best known from season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race and has since been voted one of the show’s "15 fan favorite queens of all time." In 2014, the premiere of Terminally Delightful wowed audiences nationally, including an encore engagement in New York. Her 2015 follow-up, Cosmos, blended Carl Sagan with cocktail culture and cemented her reputation as one of drags most creative talents.