By Joseph Myers, Staff Writer
Seattle-based drag performer BenDeLaCreme (DeLa for short, De for shorter, Ms. Creme if you’re nasty) became a household name in the drag world after her appearance on season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. While she definitely showed her performing chops on the show, that was only a taste of DeLa’s skills. Currently, she is performing in “Inferno-a-Go-Go”, a cabaret show that she wrote based on Dante’s “Inferno.” BenDeLaCreme sat down with WSN to discuss the her new show.
WSN: I was blown away by your show. I’ve never been forced to think so much from a drag show!
DeLa: Good! I love forcing people to do stuff against their will!
WSN: Ok, not forced, but you know what I mean.
DeLa: I do and thank you! That’s always been my favorite thing about drag and camp and that kind of thing. You can just slip all sorts of stuff in if you’re like “Hey look, colors! Hey look, jokes!” and you can put anything in there, you know? And I feel like that’s what, to me, a lot of the drag and camp tradition is about.
WSN: How did you decide where in the show was a good point to have a serious moment? How did you balance the serious with the comedy?
DeLa: I always—because of the way that I work and the way I construct things—I don’t have any theater training or anything like that—I just make it up as I go along, so it’s always a little bit of a shot in the dark, but I feel if you go like “candy, candy, candy” and then you start to go into something a little more topical, like the centaurs, then you can go there, but then you have to lift it up with some gay guys voguing on a beach. I kind of feel like that is what I found that is a rhythm you can sort of get away with in a show like this. It’s not as if that section is the only section that has content, it was one of those things where I chose the topic—and I’d never read the book at that point—but then I actually read the whole book and was like “What have I done to myself?” And I was like “These topics are so serious and I want to do them justice and I don’t want to ignore them. So this was the result of that!
WSN: To me, it felt very natural about the way you included it in the show.
DeLa: Well thank you!
WSN: I didn’t see it coming, but it really worked. It took me aback. I was wondering since you just mentioned Dante’s “Inferno”, I noticed at the end, you didn’t do the frozen ring of Hell. What was the decision behind that?
DeLa: Originally I was doing a whole thing, where I had the whole plan about the three-headed Satan chewing on everybody and I was like “okay, there’s going to be like ten legs coming out of his mouth” and stuff like that. But a lot of the time I’m writing a show, or even an act, I don’t understand why I’m drawn to a specific image or topic and then it kind of reveals itself the more you get into it. This has been a fucking hard year personally; this is part of why I wanted to write about this idea. Then beyond personally— fucking look around! It’s been a shitty time for most humans. So the original idea was to stay closer to the storyline but then as it kind of developed and I thought about it I realized that this concept of constructing your own prison and really setting yourself up was really more interesting to me and the similarities between “Inferno” and “Alice in Wonderland” or “The Wizard of Oz” are so strong, that I was just like “Let’s just lean into ‘Wizard of Oz’ and just do it!” and really do that moment. Originally that frozen Hell thing was exciting but then I decided to abandon that and do this.
WSN: Was the concept of creating a personal Hell part of the reason for why you chose “The Inferno” as inspiration for your show?
DeLa: Like I said, a lot of the times I don’t quite understand why I am drawn to something. I feel if you’re an art-maker, you have to trust that your subconscious knows something that you don’t a lot of the time, and it will lead you to knowing. Part of what happened to me this year was that I had a really hard time with some people that were really close to me—we were having a really difficult fight. And I was like “I feel like I’m right and these people are wrong”; how can that be true of somebody who is so important to me and has stood by me for so long and I’ve stood by them? That kind of absolute state of mind has to be fictional. I originally chose this topic when I was one an airplane back from New Zealand and for whatever reason, Dante’s “Inferno” popped into my mind and when I got into the airport and I went into the bookstore and Dante’s “Inferno” was the first book I saw and I was like *gasp* and it chose it. The thing that was happening with my friend made me think “Oh, this is what the show is about” then as I wrote it we actually solved our problems. Writing about it helped me realize that people aren’t just right or wrong, that’s just not how it works. Then we made up!
WSN: That’s incredible! I love that you made your own discovery though creating “Inferno-a-Go-Go.”
DeLa: Yeah, it’s great! As a human who feels no choice other than to make art, it’s like your job, but it also nourishes all aspects of your life.
WSN: So you mentioned that you had not read Dante’s “Inferno” prior to choosing it as the topic of the show; what was your knowledge of it at that point?
DeLa: Literally nothing. I was on my plane back from New Zealand asking myself “What am I going to do a show about next?” and I really liked doing my last show, “Cosmos”—I had a fun time with that structure, using something that already existed and translating it into a cabaret comedic format, so I kind of knew that I wanted to do that with something else. I thought “Inferno” would be fun – using the sins that are themed and are divided into sections, so you can do a cabaret. Then I actually sat down and read “Inferno” and I thought “What the hell did I do to myself?” And of course I had already created stuff for the show. I first designed the poster, then I read the book and I was like “Fuck…” but it was a really good journey!
“Inferno-a-Go-Go” is currently playing at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 W 42nd St.