BWW Interview: BenDeLaCreme of ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS ATTENTION at The Town Hall
BenDeLaCreme and Jinkx Monsoon are back in town for the holidays! Actually they are in a lot of towns this holiday season. After the enormous success of their 2018 holiday show "To Jesus, Thanks for Everything" the two stars decided to re-team for a new Christmas play "All I Want For Christmas is Attention" and they will be traveling around the US and the UK to bring all their fans a healthy and happy holiday gift to enjoy on levels as multi-faceted as the ladies up on the stage. With 17 stops on their whirlwind Christmas tour, DeLa and Jinkx will be yucking it up in this high-spirited scramble that features a lot of laughs, some song and Pa-LENTY of eggnog to help keep their audiences howling along with the hijinks.
"All I Want For Christmas" is the inaugural presentation of BenDeLaCreme Presents, a brand new International production company created and helmed by the Drag Superstar named Miss Congeniality on Season Six of RuPaul's Drag Race; and while DeLa loves the shows she does with her Seattle Sister and winner of Season Five of the Emmy Award winning show, with BenDeLaCreme Presents, she will be producing many different shows of varying styles and natures.
Before the two powerhouses hit the road on November 29th, I was able to sit down on the phone with Benjamin Putnam to talk about the ways in which he and DeLa differ and don't, how it feels to be totally in control of his artistic destiny, and what it is that make he and Jinkx the perfect pair to be on your Christmas Wish List.
This interview has been edited for space and content.
Ben, you have a new Christmas show this season, and you've asked Jinkx Monsoon to star alongside you, as she did last year in To Jesus, Thanks for Everything. How soon after Christmas 2018 did you ladies decide to spend the holidays together this year?
I don't even think it was a question in our mind, we were both so excited when we got the idea to do with the first year's show together. I think that, already in our minds, we thought, "okay, this is going to be an annual thing" and it would take a real disaster between the two of us this December to make it not happen! Halfway through the run we were just having so much fun with it, I think we both knew that it was... we both took it for granted that this is something we can do yearly.
You ladies knew each other before becoming members of the Drag Race family, didn't you?
We did! We've known each other for, at this point, at least 10 years.
Did you get to see each other develop your drag styles on the way up the ladder?
Oh, absolutely. I'm a few years older than Jinkx - she'll make it sound like many more. So when she first started in Seattle, she was fresh out of college and she was really finding her aesthetic... her baby drag queen legs. Although, in terms of her talent, what she does on stage, she was more fully realized than many people I've ever seen. So I've really gotten to watch her blossom into being the buxom beauty she is today. Cause when she started, she was really, you know... she was thrifting dresses that didn't fit her - and she got a matching bra that you wear, and the dress would be four inches below where it should, and then she just hoped that the bra looked like the top of the dress. So it's been fun because now of course, she's just a fully put together powerhouse. I was a little bit more developed when we first met, so I get to dodge the ridicule of her seeing my first very messy drag.
How do your different styles compliment each other?
The good news is we really... you know both of us share this love for camp aesthetic, a love for the tradition of cabaret. While our characters approach things differently - mine with sort of eternal optimism and hers with a sense of cynicism, we both have the same messages of heart behind what we want to say. We're both very politically minded. We're both very socially conscious, and the bottom line of both of our work is that we want people to come away with new thoughts about how to own our own space in the world, how to honor other space in the world. But we both do it, on our own or together, through comedy and music, and all the trappings of spectacle. You could appreciate the show just for those trappings, or you can listen in and get something a little more out of it,
Where does DeLa get her optimism from?
I think for me, oftentimes, that optimism is actually just a lens for Ben to talk through. You know, sometimes people assume me and my character come from the same perspective, but really I am somebody who thinks of things from a lot more angles, and is not necessarily always optimistic about all the difficult things that we bump up against in life. So for DeLa to be eternally optimistic means that every time she walks on stage she can be trying really hard to make things good and she can bump up against a lot of things that challenge that perspective. And so for me it's kind of a way to use her to communicate more complicated ideas because she always has to kind of say something that's difficult, that has to challenge her optimistic view, and then she has to figure out how to remain optimistic despite having actually come up against something difficult. I think that's what we all have to do. It doesn't make any sense to turn away from the hard stuff, but real optimism... that is how we really remain positive and make a difference in the world. We have to look at it, internalize how difficult it is, and figure out how it is that we're going to keep going anyway.
When creating a new show, what's the process like for the two of you?
Every time I'm creating a new show, whether it's solo or otherwise, my entire living room is like a forensics movie, where there's notes all over the wall and a million drawings of costumes, and little notes about what a number might be and what a concept might be. And so I tend to really be the one who sort of...you know, Jinkx and I will both be on tour separately and we'll talk about concepts, and then I'll outline a lot of paired down ideas and come up with a lot of the costume and production sketches. We've both been (separately) on our own, and touching base, and developing (separately) some of these ideas. Then we get together and we do basically what looks like an artist retreat. She just comes into Seattle, we get together with everything that we created separately and we just buckle down and we make it into a show. And we're both nose to the grindstone workers -- that works for us.
All I Want For Christmas is your first international producer credit under your production company, BenDeLaCreme Presents, what was the impetus for becoming your own producer?
I think that it's really some thing that... as queer performers, as Drag Queens, sometimes there's sort of the message that... there's not much of a model for what happens post Drag Race. You know what I mean? There was a handful of nationally and world known Queens before Drag Race who really managed their careers. But post Drag Race, there's sort of an expectation that you find a manager, somebody to guide your career, who tells you what to do. But I think that comes sometimes from not stepping into our full power. You know what I mean? We as queer performers and Drag Queens are sort of sent the message, no matter how amazing we are, there is still a history of getting the message that we're second tier, we're not capable of everything. And so I think really stepping into producing your own work allows you to really be fully in control, that it allows you to really present what you want to present, to really go down the path you want to go down. And I think it's so important to realize "I have the power to do all of this. I don't need a producer who's just looking at the business angle." There can be true artistic intention behind the whole thing. I love getting to be involved in every detail, to make sure that the product we put out is the best product we can put out.
Will you be producing other acts or will you be focusing more on personal projects?
(Laughing) There's certain personal projects that are in the works now and that are concepts for down the line from now. It's really about all of these projects that are... there's such a range in terms of my solo work, and this work with Jinkx, and more narrative based work that I do as well. For now that's all that's in the works. However I don't think there's limits to this. And when I look at what I'm doing now, I never could have predicted it four years ago. And so who knows what will be happening in four years, maybe I'll be helping other performers to get out there.
All I Want For Christmas is Attention is playing a lot of cities - how do you decide which cities and venues are the right ones for your shows?
Last year we toured the U.S. It was a little bit of an experiment - we chose larger cities that we thought we could get a draw in, but we really learned which cities resonate with the kinds of work that we're doing. This year we're returning to some of those and we're also trying a few new ones, here in the U.S. In the UK... we're super excited because there's been such an amazing response to both me and Jinkx out there separately. UK audiences really seem to resonate with our style. You know, we hear a lot when we're out there that it feels very much in the pantomime tradition. So we're very fortunate and we're so excited to bring this overseas because we know that they're ready for exactly what we're doing. In terms of looking for theaters and venues, this is a theatrical production. It's honoring cabaret and there's certainly elements of improv, but for the most part it's a two person play and we really looked for places that fit that. We're not playing like clubs, some of these places are music concert venues, but they're all places that can really support a full stage production. And you know that you're going to an evening of theater, and it might be raucous drag theater, but it's still theater.
What's the best drag tip you and Jinkx have gotten from each other?
The best drag tip? I don't know. I mean, I don't know that there is any specific where we come in and say, "Hey, I've got a note for you." But we've been working together for so long and I do feel like there's always this sense of...sometimes we call it friendly competition and sometimes we call it inspiration. But both of us individually are such hard workers. And I think every time I see a Jinkx show I feel inspired. I feel inspired to up the ante on what I do next and I know that that feeling is mutual. You know, we both, in our own ways, have really influenced each other's work a lot just through knowing somebody else who strives so hard to get to the next level every time.
What is the essence of the chemistry between you and Jinkx?
I think a lot of it is truly knowing each other inside and out. We have a really rich understanding of the other, just by virtue of being so close for so long that it means we really understand not just our aesthetics but our thoughts, and where we come from, and our hopes, and what we hope to communicate on seeing each. I think that chemistry comes from a real knowledge and reverence. And then we have similar styles of wit and so our rapport can really ping pong back and forth. When we're writing, it's like one of us will write a joke and then the other one can build on that joke. And by the time we're done with a scene, it's like each punchline ups the ante on the next. And that's really because we understand each other's point of view and sense of humor.
Is there a difference between chemistry and rapport for you?
I guess, yeah, there is. We certainly have the sort of ability to communicate -- that is what rapport is. There's obviously an understanding, but the chemistry is what really makes it electric. When we're on stage, we both fuel each other so hard. There's no question in my mind that there's a real electricity between us and that it's infectious. There's something about each of us individually and the space between us that really knows how to fill a room
Your beautiful aesthetic is very vintage. Is there a vintage diva who inspires you more than the others?
Gosh I would say if that... there's obviously a lot - you collect them over the years, but when you think about my youngest role model in terms of my aesthetic, I was mesmerized by Ann Miller - this Raven haired beauty who is always smiling, and those kinds of get-ups that we see in those old MGM musicals. It's this extreme kind of cartoony aesthetic almost, where everything is color blocks and the silhouette first. So extreme. And so I think that she's definitely a role model for DeLa.
What's the recipe for perfect eggnog?
Oh gosh, the grocery store! I am not a cook! I'm very inspired by the idea that someone at some point decided that raw eggs and alcohol with some spice in it was somehow a festive beverage and somehow that got hooked and people are not thinking about salmonella on a regular basis.
How do you keep Jinkx awake?
You know what, sometimes I wish I could send her off to nap time as a punishment! (Laughing) Her narcolepsy seems to... when it comes down to doing her job, she definitely is fully alert, but you know, every once in awhile I, um, I really do wish that I could put her down.
For information, tour dates, and tickets to ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS ATTENTION please visit the jinkxandela Website
For all things BenDeLaCreme please visit her Website
TOUR DATES FOR ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS ATTENTION:
11/29 WASHINGTON, DC at The Lincoln Theatre
12/1 MANCHESTER, UK at Palace Theatre Manchester
12/2 LONDON, UK at O2 Forum Kentish Town
12/3 GLASGOW, UK at The Old Fruitmarket
12/6 PHILADELPHIA, PA at Union Transfer
12/7 PROVINCETOWN, MA at The Paramount Theatre at the Crown & Anchor
12/8 BOSTON, MA at Paradise Rock Club
12/10 CHICAGO, IL at Thalia Hall
12/11 NEW YORK, NY at The Town Hall
12/12 MILWAUKEE, WI at Turner Hall Ballroom
12/13 MINNEAPOLIS, MN at Cedar Cultural Center
12/15 AUSTIN, TX at Emo's
12/17 DENVER, CO at Paramount Theatre
12/19 PORTLAND, OR at The Aladdin Theatre
12/21-27 SEATTLE, WA at The Neptune Theatre
12/28 SAN FRANCISCO, CA at 16th Street Victoria Theatre
12/29 HOLLYWOOD, CA at The Montalbán Theatre
Photos from To Jesus, Thanks For Everything by Matt Baume: