BenDeLaCreme’s “All I Want For Christmas is Attention” tour with Jinkx Monsoon showcases the … [+]
Eric Richard Magnussen
It usually only takes a few words—or sometimes none at all—to make a viral TV moment. In the case of “terminally delightful” drag performer BenDeLaCreme, it only took three: “I’m going home.”
Many audiences around the world were first introduced to BenDeLaCreme after her impressive runs on RuPaul’s Drag Race and RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars. In the years since her reality TV debut, DeLa has been busy writing, producing, and staging shows that highlight the theatrically trained performer’s ability to tell thought-provoking stories in an entertaining way.
Take, for example, her one-woman show “Ready to Be Committed,” which wrapped up successful runs in New York and Provincetown this summer. On the surface, the show’s wedding motif makes it seem like a play on common jokes about how miserable marriage actually is; indeed, the show came to fruition after her engagement to longtime partner Gus. But rather than harp on those themes for cheap humor, the show turns its focus to the institution of marriage rather than DeLa’s own life.
“Writing really solid work always means that it’s been inspired by something personal that’s really going on in my mind,” DeLa tells Forbes. “I don’t write work that’s sort of autobiographical in a direct way; it’s all filtered through fiction.” As a result, the show is as entertaining to those who are unfamiliar with BenDeLaCreme and her engagement as it is for those who’ve followed their relationship on social media for years.
“I realized that I had a lot of really complicated feelings about the institution of marriage, about what wedding culture is, and a lot of larger stuff,” she continues on the topic. “In ‘Ready to Be Committed’ I explore the idea that we place commitment and marriage at the end of a narrative, with a ‘happily ever after.’ But there is this much longer story to it, and commitment is inherently linked to an end.” Don’t be fooled if the subject matter sounds off-putting for a live show, though; keeping you entertained while making you think about your place in the world is all a part of the BenDeLaCreme experience. “Ultimately, it’s about a lot of things that really are on our minds and in our hearts, but just kind of explores them all to a logical extreme.”
It’s this same creative approach that informs her new holiday show with fellow Drag Race alum Jinkx Monsoon, “All I Want for Christmas is Attention.” The show marks the second holiday tour between the two Seattle-based queens, and one of DeLa’s first with her production company BenDeLaCreme Presents. Like “Ready to Be Committed,” the show questions traditional institutions—in this case, the holidays—and challenges the ways we think about their place in our lives. “What we really are exploring is the concept of the pressures of upholding tradition, that desire to uphold tradition and the ways in which tradition can be problematic and make us feel bad, and also the other ways in which it can support us,” DeLa says.
This is all, of course, told through the voices of DeLa’s and Jinkx’s characters in the show. DeLa has famously referred to herself as “terminally delightful” in the past, and says that that same “bubbly, overly-optimistic-to-a-fault” personality acts as the perfect foil to Jinkx’s “cynical, bawdy, and brassy” character who rains on DeLa’s parade by pointing out the many problems with perceptions around holiday tradition. “The tension between those two characters really lent itself to talk about the holidays,” DeLa says about the show. “We all love this idea of this warmth and this holiday glow, and the imagery that we’ve all been bombarded with forever of elves and reindeer and snowflakes and snowmen. And no matter how much you want to push against it or embrace it, it’s deeply ingrained in us that these are pleasurable things.”
Pleasurable things, she says, that often come at a difficult time of year for many people. “The sort of main thesis of the show is that one thing we all have in common is that we may all have different types of difficult times at this time of year, but there are difficult things for everyone about this time of year. Whether you celebrate Christmas, whether you don’t, whether you have a relationship with your family, whether you don’t, we’re all bound by a certain level of holiday trauma,” she says. “And people may not come [to the show] expecting to think about that or talk about that, but I think they experience a joy in getting to explore that and feel that in company and not feel alone in it.”
By the show’s finale, DeLa and Jinkx (along with the audience members) find the resolution that they didn’t even know they were looking for. The queens’ back-and-forth eventually ends with the two “coming to some place in the middle that holds the complexity of what holiday tradition can be, how we can make it new, and how we can reclaim it and make it a safe and happy space for everyone.”
The way DeLa and Jinkx’s opposing characters play off each other mirrors the two accomplished performers’ work ethics when conceptualizing their productions together. “It’s something that I’m really proud of because we both have our own distinct writing and performance styles, but they really compliment each other,” DeLa says. “I love getting to do what I do and I love what Jinkx does, but when we come together, it really creates a whole new sort of breed of entertainment that I think is really exciting and that combines the best aspects of both of our skillsets.”
With over a decade of theatre production experience and solo shows under her belt, DeLa is no stranger to producing stage shows, but the birth of BenDeLaCreme Presents has afforded her new creative freedoms. “The scope of what I’ve been able to do and create has really increased,” she says, now maintaining creative and hiring control on all of her productions. In the midst of planning for a move to Los Angeles and a deep dive into the world of scripted television next, this is the best possible situation for a performer as dedicated as DeLa.
Launching a production company can be a risky, career-compromising move if not done right. The success of BenDeLaCreme Presents, then, has not just proven DeLa’s commitment to craft to herself, but to the countless theatre producers, fans, and performance artists watching her as she continues to grow. “I think a lot of times we’re more equipped to do bigger things than we realize, and for years I sort of thought, ‘I don’t think I can do this on my own,’” she admits. “I’ve actually been sort of surprised about how prepared I was, and I think there’s a lot to that, where we often don’t believe that we have the skills that we have. Sometimes you just have to take the risks to find out.”