"Haunted houses are cabarets," BenDeLaCreme said. "You move from space to space and different things happen."
The artist, writer, director, producer, drag performer, and queer TV icon was in ACT Theatre's Bullitt Cabaret space, busily turning it into the interior of a haunted house. He was not in drag. He was wearing black boots, dark pants, a black sweatshirt with hilariously large drawings of houseflies on it, and a pen behind his ear. It was two weeks before opening night of Beware the Terror of Gaylord Manor, a new Halloween show he calls a "creepy, campy, fully immersive tale of Halloween horror sure to leave you howling."
He mentioned that horror films had been on his mind lately, given the state of the world and the genre's renewed popularity: "You always see cultural fears reflected in the genres of the times." He said, "I hated horror growing up. I was scared of it. But I'm in a different place now and scary things don't scare me off in the same way."
He talked about "horror as catharsis" and "the idea that growing up queer is a kind of horror show, and it haunts you, and how do you navigate being haunted that way? This is the way I think about these things, but the way I deal with them in the show is through dances and stripteases and dick jokes."
Walking through the space, he showed me two corners in which he planned to build additional stages—three total—so that the audience, seated cabaret-style, would have things happening on all sides. There are also staircases leading up to balcony seating, for a bird's-eye view of the mayhem.
He admitted that the plot was basically a high-camp riff on the 1963 film The Haunting, in which several characters show up at a haunted mansion without knowing why, but that it has other horror-film references in it, too, and that he's collaborating with his performers to create the story. Those performers include Scott Shoemaker ("a powerhouse and an incredible performer who was a really important part of creating Inferno A-Go-Go," BenDeLaCreme's unbelievably hilarious solo show last year riffing on Dante), Major Scales ("he's writing some original music" and playing the creepy character who invites everyone to the house), Mandy Price (who has an improv background and played one of the ghosts in Shoemaker's Ms. Pac-Man), and the burlesque performer The One The Only Inga. Rounding out the cast are the dancers Elby Brosch, Faggedy Randy, Randy Ford, Chloe Albin, and Moscato Extatique.
"It's the first full-scale, full-cast production I've taken on by myself," Ben said. He described the writing/directing/producing process as "15 percent fun and 85 percent excruciating. What makes it worth it is as soon as I'm in a room with other performers, it completely shifts." As if on cue, The One The Only Inga walked in, costumes in hand. All I saw on my way out the door was a black cape with a red-satin lining.