Friday, July 12, 2024

BenDeLaCreme on love, community and Pee-Wee Herman

BenDeLaCreme is the beloved drag character created by Ben Putnam of Seattle, Washington.

Audiences were first introduced to BenDeLaCreme, or ‘Dela’, on Rupaul’s Drag Race season 6 where she captured our hearts and won the title of Miss Congeniality. She returned to the franchise for Rupaul’s Drag Race All-Stars season 3 where she shocked the nation with a bold and unexpected self-elimination, despite being the front-runner in the competition.

Since her time on Drag Race, DeLa has remained at the pinnacle of drag touring the world, producing various stage shows and even producing her first feature film (which she also directed): The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday Special (2020) which was exclusively licensed to Hulu.

Photo: Magnus Hastings

With all that already accomplished, DeLa is now ready to embark on her biggest solo tour yet as star and Lead Producer of her critically acclaimed, narrative-cabaret, “BenDeLaCreme is…READY TO BE COMMITTED” (produced by BenDeLaCreme Presents). This one-queen extravaganza is a hilarious and heartfelt spectacular that blends burlesque, comedy, and original music with her signature Terminally Delightful charm.

That’s right, BenDeLaCreme is finally ready to tie the knot in something besides her corset. Now, all she needs is a potential spouse. And a dress. And a cake. And the ability to consider others. 

It’s a relay race to the altar as DeLa dodges pervy Grindr suitors, bitchy wedding-cake-toppers, and the errant arrows of Cupid himself! Join the blushing bride as she tackles the pitfalls of love, marriage, and romance in a limited engagement about the limitations of engagements.

Photo: Eric Paguio

I recently had the chance to sit down and dish with DeLa about the show and life post pandemic:

Q40: Hello DeLa!! I’m so happy to have this opportunity to chat with you. Before we dive in, I have to ask you your thoughts on the quarantine and the last few years in general. You have a great way of taking life experiences and synthesizing them with your own worldview, making them into something better.

What, if anything, have the pandemic and our tense political climate in the U.S. taught you?

DeLa: I mean there’s obviously been so much outside of our control, and that has been a real challenge for all of us. To figure out how we how we navigate, how we stay positive. I think that is something that I have really tried to focus on in my drag and artistic career- the idea of both community building, the importance of connection, the importance of supporting each other with open hearts, and the importance of finding the good in the situation that you’re in. Figuring out those small ways in which you can find a positive light. 

But at the same time, while there’s a lot outside of our control, there is also a lot going on politically that if we all take action on strongly enough IS within our control.  I think taking accountability and realizing that our choices matter is so important. It is our responsibility to the community and it really counts for something. Being there for each other is important. 

There’s so much false information flying around out there and we all really have to work hard to stay informed and figure out how we want to proceed. And hopefully through that we find that sense of togetherness that has been so incredibly lacking for us over the last couple years.

Q40: That’s beautiful. What a great take-away from all this chaos. Thank you for that. 

So, one place we can feel that togetherness is at your upcoming show! I’m very excited for the tour and I saw that it’s already been extended, so congratulations on that!

I know the show originally debuted in 2019 and of course, there’s now been a three-year hiatus. Have any aspects of the show changed?

DeLa: I’ve taken this extra time to beef up the production value, the spectacle, the visuals.

But interestingly with this show, it’s all about relationships and how we navigate the idea of being alone and being together and what it means to really connect with people. It’s about how we all deal with these sort of cultural ideas that we’re inundated with.

It’s something that I really worked hard on when I was writing, to write something that would speak to a lot of different experiences and perspectives. Looking at it now not only did I not feel like anything needed to be updated in terms of content, but I also felt like it’s even more relevant because we are even more focused on the importance of connection and the importance of just having those human moments that make us feel like we’re part of something larger.

Photo: Liz Nicol

Q40: That’s fantastic. It’s really amazing what poignancy the last few years have added to all of our common everyday experiences. We have learned hopefully not to take anything or anyone for granted.

Now, I know that you have said that Varla Jean Merman was a huge influence for you in terms of inspiring your drag, but I was wondering who or what inspired you to pursue and create art in the burlesque world? You did some work with The Atomic Bombshells, right?

DeLa: Yeah you know the Bombshells are a blast from the past! I haven’t worked with them in a while but there’s quite a few members of the Bombshells who I am still close friends with and perform with. In fact, a couple of them were dancers in the holiday special.

But yeah, I started working in burlesque so long ago. I mean at this point like 15 years ago, when I was living in Chicago. I was performing with a group of drag kings called the Chicago Kings at the time and there were a few femme presenting performers who also were burlesque dancers, so that’s kind of how I got pulled into the burlesque world. I just love that it’s another way of exploring this sort of heightened gender presentation of femininity and camp.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with just some incredible performers from all around the world like Dirty Martini in New York and Catherine D’Lish, who is a West Coast legend. I’ve gotten to host the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend. I feel such a strong connection to that community, I really love it.

Q40: That’s awesome. Are there elements of burlesque in this new show?

DeLa: There is a number which is very much a riff on a classic burlesque troupe. And I don’t want to give too much away about it, but there’s many different versions of this number where half of a person becomes a different character. It’s sort of burlesque, it’s sort of puppetry, but it’s basically one person becoming two. It is a key scene in the show that really is a pivotal plot point. Lovers of burlesque they will definitely know the reference.

Photo: Christina Army

Q40: Speaking of lovers, I read that if DeLa could run away with anybody and elope it would be with Pee-Wee Herman, is that still the case?

Dela: Oh, absolutely! I think that DeLa and Pee-Wee are fully kindred spirits. I think that the two of them are ridiculous and larger than life and playful and youthful and have sort of their own rules. And I I could see them living out their golden years in a Playhouse very happily.

Q40: I could too! But let’s pretend Pee-Wee is not an option and DeLa has to enter the dating pool. I’d guess she’d be looking for a man with similar interests so to that end…what sort of books does DeLa like?

DeLa: Oh gosh you know DeLa mostly reads picture books… Doctor Seuss and drink recipe books. That’s her that’s her major form of literature.

Q40: Love it!

Dela: What more do you need?

Q40: Absolutely nothing. Well then, what are Dela’s favorite movies?

DeLa: Oh gosh well of course The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Special is probably her number one.

Let’s see what else? Her favorite stuff tends to be things like The Great Muppet Caper. She’s very much loves the world of animation. There’s The Three Caballeros, that crazy Disney movie that’s like mid-century where Donald Duck goes to South America. It’s super bizarre. But you know, for me as Ben I would say that my favorite movies are the ones that are really weird and kind of surreal. Things that are a little darker, which is what I try to do in my work, so I would say Death Becomes Her and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Those are probably top two for me.

Q40: Certainly some of my favorites as well! I’m a huge horror afficianado. I know you directed The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Special and I hear that if you got the chance to direct again, you’d be interested in doing horror. Is that true?

DeLa: You know I am a huge horror fanatic. I have an annual show that I’ve been doing in Seattle for many years in October that I hopefully will get to bring back soon which is based on old haunted house movies of the 50s and 60s. Horror is a real passion of mine and I think that would be the perfect next directorial move for me, which is something I know a lot of people wouldn’t  expect.

I’m going to be featured in the new Shudder documentary series Queer for Fear which is all about queer horror. I’m very excited about it!

Photo: Liz Nicol

Q40: That’s fabulous, I did not know that! I will definitely keep an eye out for it.

So, lastly, I was wondering how do you think that Dela as a character, or more specifically, how your show will appeal to our reader demographic of LGBTQ+ people over forty?

DeLa: You know as somebody who just turned 40 this year, I feel like I’ve gained all the wisdom (and hip pain) of a 40 year old, while still getting to live an exploratory freewheeling life.  As queer people we get to reinvent ourselves and make our own rules which is unique to our community.

I love when I get to have an older queer audience. You know when people are my age and above there is a different kind of appreciation for the tradition of camp that is pre Drag Race. I mean Drag Race is really really fun but there’s so much richness to the kind of queer pop culture that we all had before the show and I really tried to pull all of that into my work. And so, with respect to the show, I’m definitely giving the kids something for their taste but there’s plenty for the older crowd too. There’s always something really special about the way that a 40+ plus audience seems to resonate with the types of humor and references that I am making.

Q40: And that’s why we love you DeLa! Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with me. Best of luck with the tour. Break a lash!

“BenDeLaCreme is…READY TO BE COMMITTED” opens on April 13th in San Francisco. Full tour itinerary and iicket information is available HERE.

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John Hernandez

John A. Hernandez is a staff writer for Queer Forty with a focus on entertainment. He is also a writer for Vacationer Magazine and a contributor to Bear World Magazine and Gayming Magazine. He has a special love for all things horror and Halloween. He currently resides with his husband in New York City.

John Hernandez has 135 posts and counting. See all posts by John Hernandez

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