BenDeLaCreme is not your typical drag queen. And his act is not your typical drag act.
“I use a lot of puppets and interactive video,” says drag artist BenDeLaCreme. “I use cabaret to put together narrative theater. This particular show is based on Dante’s Inferno — it’s about going through hell, and that’s very related to our current political climate — which I know is an odd subject for a drag cabaret.
“But you get people laughing, you get them looking at something sparkly, and then you can suddenly have a deeper conversation with them. It’s a really campy, comedic, but actually weirdly accurate version of Dante’s poem.”
The 35-year-old, who finds inspiration in legendary drag performers like Coco Peru and Varla Jean Merman, had been doing his act in Chicago when the opportunity arose to appear on season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“It was an incredible experience,” he recalls. “Any queen you talk to that’s been on that show will say that if it looks hard to the TV audience, it’s a thousand times harder. But it’s also an honor to be there, competing with the very best of the best.”
As we talk, it’s Monday, June 12, and he’s in Orlando for a Pulse benefit that night. His afternoon, however, was going to be spent, in drag, at the Orlando Public Library, to hold “a story hour for kids.” Talking about the Pulse massacre from a year ago still audibly shatters him.
“I remember the day we woke up and found out this had happened,” he says. “It was time to get on the tour bus and move to the next city where we were performing that night. Everyone came out of the hotel just pouring tears…. I think it lit a fire under a lot of us. It made us see that even though we’ve come a really long way — and those strides are very real, and we, as a community, have so much reason to be proud about that — there is a lot of work still to do.”
As for our current president, he doesn’t “have a message for him, because I don’t think there’s any getting through to him. I don’t think he’s a person who’s listening. My message is for everyone else about not losing faith in what we can do as a collective people. Stay strong, and keep doing what you need to do to move history in a better direction.”
BenDeLaCreme’s Inferno A-Go-Go! is Thursday, June 22, at 7:30 p.m. at The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave. in Alexandria. Tickets are $29.50. Call 703-549-7500 or visit birchmere.com.
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