Call Answered: BenDeLaCreme: BenDeLaCreme's Inferno A-Go-Go at The Laurie Beechman Theatre
As 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!
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.
3. 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.
5. 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.
7. 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.
9. 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.
More 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.