Jinkx Monsoon :: It's All Just a Case of History Repeating
Many of the drag contestants on LOGO's "RuPaul's Drag Race" are now staples on the gay club circuit. But, Season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon has chosen a different route to stardom that better fits her talents and creativity than lip-synching the latest Beyonce or Rihanna remix.
With a degree in theatrical performance from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, and ten years experience on the stage, the likely places you will see Jinkx spread her drag wings will have the word Broadway or Carnegie on the marquee. "The Vaudevillians," her college creation performed with stage partner Major Scales, just might be the vehicle that propels her drag career to those theater heights.
Over the past year, Monsoon and Scales have taken their wildly warm received "The Vaudevillians" from Seattle to off-Broadway to Australia. Admitting that the show is probably best described as obscure and eclectic, Monsoon never imagined that the show would have such a mass appeal.
"It was our joke that we would be doing this show for the rest of our lives because it was our dream, but we really never believed it. It was a huge hypothetical," says Jinkx of the show's success thus far.
Monsoon and Scales' story concerns a 1920s vaudeville couple literally frozen in time only to defrost (from global warming) in a time that finds history repeating itself. Their characters, Kitty Witless and Dan Von Dandy, find their music, stolen by others, just as relevant today as it was when they first wrote it. Through the use of familiar pop songs, Monsoon and Scales are able to tell the story of Witless and Dandy with a clarity that makes it nostalgic themes and topics relevant.
With a stop this summer in Provincetown and another month in Seattle thereafter, "The Vaudevillians" makes a stop in San Francisco for a short but sweet engagement at the historic Verdi Club June 6 & 7, 2014. I had the pleasure of speaking to Jinkx about the journey she has been on with "The Vaudevillians" over the past year, her new persona in Kitty Witless, the longevity of the show and her plans to still do a one-woman show.
BeBe: You have to be extremely pleased at the reception you and Major Scales have received over "The Vaudevillians" over the past year since its debut on off-Broadway in New York. Are you taken aback on how this project you developed while in college has been the toast of the town as it travels from city to city?
Jinkx Monsoon: It's really surreal because, honestly, when we starting doing this show, Major Scales and I had this joke that one day we would be performing it in our late years and we will eventually have to retire and then have a come-out-of-retirement show with a reunion one last time (laughs).
It was our joke that we would be doing this show for the rest of our lives because it was our dream, but we really never believed it. It was a huge hypothetical. We've always thought that our show was so eclectic, obscure and out of nowhere that it's hard to think it would be a crowd-pleaser. We thought the only place it could survive would be Seattle where there aren't many people that say 'no' to anything. But now we've been in New York, three months in Australia and now San Francisco. It's exciting to think that this weird show that I created that I thought no one would appreciate is now my bread and butter.
BeBe: During your time on "RuPaul's Drag Race" you were known as the theatrically and culturally astute drag queen, so much so that the material you do most likely goes over the head of most of your contemporaries. I would imagine that most theatergoers are probably outside of your twenty-something "RuPaul's Drag Race" demographic. Did you have a fear that any of your fans that were drawn to you from "Drag Race" might not get "The Vaudevillians?"
Jinkx Monsoon: I think the show is definitely more accessible to older people, and definitely more accessible to the gay community. But what we've found is that our audience has been everybody. People we thought would never opt to come see it are now our fans. We're talking about young people, and people who have never heard of vaudeville before. Though the show has obscure elements to it and has dated classic references, it has always been our goal to try and make this stuff relevant. Even if they didn't get everything, they enjoy the experience.
BeBe: Is "The Vaudevillians" like the film "Moulin Rouge," which was set in Paris during the Belle Époque, but used current pop music?
Jinkx Monsoon: Yeah, I think audiences come into it thinking it's going to be harder to understand than it is. But, there is something timeless about musicals and show tunes, at least in pop culture.
BeBe: Your show is a reincarnation of what you created back during your days in college, so have the songs performed in "The Vaudevillians" changed from when you first did the show?
Jinkx Monsoon: They have since the time we started (doing the show). The piece we are doing now is sort of the best of the best. What we really care about the most is that the songs that we have chosen really tell the story we want to tell. With the songs that we choose, it's less important where they came from. They have to be pop standards, something you've heard on the radio, something people will recognize one way or another. But what's more important is telling the story. Kind of like when we do this long diatribe about the women's suffragette movement then go into "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," that's the payoff. We do "I Will Survive" as a dramatic ballad that relates to the story told in Ibsen's "A Doll's House," which is a classical (three-act) play that not many people know anything about. That doesn't really matter. We tell this story of how hard it was for women to gain independence (which Ibsen did in the late 19th century), and how hard it was for a woman to leave her husband if she were in an abusive marriage and all this stuff, and then we sing "I Will Survive." You don't have to have all the context, it's more about hearing all of these songs that were written in the last couple of decades applied to something from the past, and the songs work perfectly. "The Vaudevillians" is about this couple from the 1920s who were frozen in a glacier in an avalanche, thawed out later and now trying to fit in modern society realizing that little has changed. Here they are thinking they are relics from the past when in reality history is just repeating itself.
A case of history repeating...
BeBe: Sounds like there could have been a place for Dame Shirley Bassey's "History Repeating."
Jinkx Monsoon: Mmmm Hmmm. And, don't think that it won't be in the next show (we both laugh). We've already talked about that. We are in the process of writing the sequel to the "The Vaudevillians" that picks up where this one leaves off. We want to keep making this show relevant and accessible to as many people as possible, so we can continue to do this for years and years and years in new ways with new scripts to tell new stories. (My character) Kitty Witless is now taking on as much data as Jinkx Monsoon in a lot of areas.
BeBe: Yeah, what's interesting is that Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales are personas of your real selves ( Jerick Hoffer and Richard Andriessen, respectively) who have personas they play in the "The Vaudevillians," Kitty Witless and Dan Von Dandy. The way you present this show, Kitty and Dan are going to be as relevant as Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales. They are going to have identities separate from Jinkx and Major.
Jinkx Monsoon: Jinkx Monsoon is the base of all my drag work. There is no drag work that I do that does not involve Jinkx Monsoon in some way. I really don't care if people know me as Jerick Hoffer, Jinkx Monsoon or Kitty Witless because it's all my work. Before "Drag Race" I did several different characters. Jinkx Monsoon has just emerged as the strongest one, my alter ego with super powers, and I honor that.
A solo show in the offing?
BeBe: With the success of "The Vaudevillians" and the development of its characters and the creation of more material for them with your creative partner Major Scales, what does all this mean for you and the development of a one-woman show outside of the duo?
Jinkx Monsoon: Definitely, for example, when we released my album ''The Inevitable Album" (May 7) we created a concert version of the album which is very much a one-woman show with a band. It's really me telling my life story and how I became to be who I am and my year on "Drag Race" and how my life has changed. We incorporate all those stories into the album. It's a reflection of my drag career.
We have "The Vaudevillians" all summer in Provincetown and then a month at the Seattle Repertoire Theater, and then I'm hoping to shift my focus to the album and start touring with this one-woman show that's focused on the album. This will also keep the "The Vaudevillians" fresh and give it a rest and let it evolve a bit more.
Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales bring "The Vaudevillians" to San Francisco for a limited 2-night 4-show engagement at the Historic Verdi Club June 6 & 7. Tickets available at www.brownpapertickets.com. "The Vaudevillians" will be at the Art House Theater, Provincetown on June 27 -29. 2014.
Jinkx Monsoon's album "The Inevitable Album" now available on iTunes.
For information on the "The Vaudevillians" tour and all Jinkx Monsoon endeavors, go to visit the Jinkx Monsoon website.