Return To ’Grey Gardens’ With Peaches Christ and Jinkx Monsoon
What do you get when you pair Peaches Christ, the master mind behind the 16-year strong, cult film/drag show Midnight Mass, with Jinkx Monsoon, the most recent "RuPaul Drag Race" superstar? You get a loving homage to the gay-adored film documentary "Grey Gardens," retooled as "Return to Grey Gardens," with Peaches and Jinkx playing the mother-daughter duo of the unforgettable Beales - Big Edie and Little Edie.
A pre-Halloween thrill, the show takes the audience 40 years into the future. Little Edie and her mother are living in the now dilapidated Castro Theater where they wait for their successful and famous drag cousin (played by Lady Bear) to visit and perhaps rescue them. Always a trouper, Little Edie diverts herself by entertaining the raccoons (voiced by Mink Stole) and crickets that live in the theater.
Fans of "RuPaul Drag Race" Season 5 will likely remember how Monsoon won over fans and fellow drag artists alike with her musical impersonation of Little Edie, a performance that was a major reason why she won the Drag Supermodel crown that season. "I think it was the earliest thing that set me apart as specifically the theatrical old school drag queen," Jinkx has said about her Little Edie impersonation.
With its roots at SF’s Heklina’s Trannyshack, Peaches Christ’s Midnight Mass continues to be a space for drag queens to express their creativity as well as a place to see iconic gay movies.
"Midnight Mass was definitely created to celebrate my love for old movies and just cinema in general, but it was also an extension of Trannyshack in that the performers were all the same. The spirit in which we presented the movies was done with debauchery and craziness," says Peaches.
It was an immediate success, growing so popular that in 2010 Peaches Christ needed to move from the small theater (The Bridge) where it began to the historic Castro. There Christ would present such gay faves as "Purple Rain," "Paris is Burning," "The Craft," "Silence of the Lambs" and "Showgirls" (amongst others), each accompanied by a creative pre-show parody of the feature. With "Return to Grey Gardens," Peaches is able to tap the superstar drag talent of Jinkx, who repeats her spot-on parody of the iconic Little Edie Beales.
I had the rare opportunity to catch both stars of "Return to Grey Gardens" to speak to them about what significance the film documentary "Grey Gardens" has for them, how the parody came about, what has been Jinkx biggest thrill since "Drag Race," and what will Peaches bring next to Midnight Mass.
Making the connection
BeBe: So how did this meeting of the minds between the two of you come about?
Peaches Christ: I met Jinkx when I did a couple of Trannyshack shows up in Seattle. She was a local performer there that performed with Trannyshack. She was someone’s who talent I admired before she got on ’RuPaul’s Drag Race.’ We actually started talking about ’Grey Gardens’ over lunch when she was in San Francisco for a ’Drag Race’ viewing party in the Castro.
Jinkx Monsoon: I have been a big fan of Peaches Christ for awhile now. I saw her movie ’All About Evil’ (which starred Natasha Lyonne of Netflix series ’Orange Is The New Black’) when she was touring it around and it came to Seattle. It sort of shell-shocked me! A lot of drag queens talk about making movies. A lot of drag queens have grand ideas. But, here is Peaches, who not only had an amazing idea, but she pulled it off.
During that lunch on my stop in San Francisco for the viewing parties of ’Drag Race,’ we began talking about all the projects Peaches had coming up, like ’The Craft’ with Sharon Needles. I said, ’If you and I did anything together, I’d love for it to be either ’Death Becomes Her’ or ’Grey Gardens.’ When I said ’Grey Gardens’ her eyes sort of lit up, and I started to tell her what ’Grey Gardens’ meant to me.’
Later that evening Peaches came to the viewing party there in the Castro which happened to be the ’Drag Race’ episode where I won the Snatch Challenge with my Little Edie impersonation. She saw the overwhelming response to my Little Edie.
BeBe:Why ’Grey Gardens?’
Peaches Christ: ’Grey Gardens’ has always been on my list of movies I’d love to celebrate. I was just waiting until the right time. A lot of it (the wait) has to do with the early days of Midnight Mass. It was such wired, sort of offensive pre-show that I was a little worried how the audience would have responded to a more serious documentary like ’Grey Gardens.’ It is really important that we celebrate the subjects (Big Edie and Little Edie Beale, who came to fame as cousins to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy when they were discovered living in squalor in a Long Island mansion). That we pay homage to them. It wasn’t until we moved to the Castro, and I become an older queen, did I realize that I can set the tone and make the event what I want it to be. I want it to be a reverent screening that pays tribute to the subjects of this movie versus a hoot-n-holler midnight show.
Jinkx Monsoon: I have always been obsessed with Little Edie. This is the back story: There is popular show in Seattle hosted by drag queen named Sylvia O’Stayformore called Bacon Strips. It is a monthly cabaret, drag, burlesque and performance art all in one big ’eclecticism’ on one stage. So the first time I got to perform Little Edie was for Bacon Strips. In that performance I sang ’Maybe This Time.’ The audience really went with me on it. There was such a huge, huge response to my Little Edie impersonation that I knew it was something I had to keep in my back pocket. And, the resurgence of ’Grey Gardens’ after the success of the recent musical based on the film, it felt like a good time for Midnight Mass to screen it.
Old school drag queen
BeBe: Many drag experts have said that Jinkx performance of Little Edie during the Snatch Challenge on ’Drag Race’ was the one thing that set her apart from the other two finalist on the show and led to her walking away with the title of the Next Drag Supermodel. What are your thoughts on what role the Little Edie performance played in winning Season 5?
Peaches Christ: When I saw Jinkx’ Little Edie during the viewing party in the Castro, and saw the audiences explosive response to it, I knew it was special. I think it was a pivotal part to her winning ’RuPaul’s Drag Race.’
Jinkx: When I’m touring, I have people coming up to me constantly saying, ’you had me at Little Edie.’ That was their moment that I clicked with them, and they were on Team Jinkx from that moment on. I think it was the earliest thing that set me apart as specifically the theatrical old school drag queen. It was one of the deciding things that differentiated me from Alaska (Thunderfuck) when it came down to dividing our fanbase. I won over the older audience, the ones who are of the cult pop culture base, and the theater crowd who realized I, as Little Edie, was from the theater community too.
BeBe: The cast of the pre-show features Midnight Mass stable and go-to-gal Mink Stole of John Waters’ films fame, one of San Francisco’s theatrical drag queen stars Lady Bear, and of course, Jinkx. This is not the first time a ’RuPaul’s Drag Race’ queen has been cast in a Midnight Mass pre-show production. ’Silence of the Trans’ had Sharon Needles from Season 4. ’The Craft’ had Needles joined by Season 5’s Alaska Thunderfuck and Honey Mahogany, and ’Paris Is Burning’ brought Season 4’s Latrice Royale to the Midnight Mass stage. So, I wonder, Peaches, do you have some kind of exclusive agreement with RuPaul on using the ’Drag Race’ queens in your shows, or are you just drawing on the star power they bring to the production?
Peaches Christ: Well, no, I don’t have an agreement with Ru, but wish I did (laughs). I will say I’m a fan of the show. Although I agree with those who feel the show does not represent them or their style of drag. I agree that our Midnight Mass drag is never going to be showcased on ’Drag Race.’ But as far as individual queens being sort of celebrated or entertaining on television, I actually think the show is quite good, and I am a fan of it. I’m certainly a fan of some of the queens that come from the show. A number of them, especially Alaska, Sharon, Honey and Jinkx were already apart of ’our universe’ before they went on the show. And, yes, I am in some ways using their star power to be a profile of our event, but I’m very careful in the way they are cast. It has to feel right, and it has to make sense to me as a writer and director.
BeBe: Jinkx, you have said more than once that you are a drag queen that comes from the theatrical community. So, since winning Season 5 of ’RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ what has been the most thrilling moment for you as theatrical drag performance artist?
Jinks: First and foremost, the fact that I got to take a show (’The Vaudevillians’) that I wrote when I was a junior and senior in college to New York this year. It wound up being a big success, which was a dream come true for me. When I step off the Season 5 wave, which will be when Season 6 starts airing, I know I’ll be yesterday’s used goods, But I am really excited that I have this next thing to step into which brings my craft as a drag queen to the stage and still give something really special to my fans.
BeBe: I know some of the other Midnight Mass film screenings and pre-shows have gone from the theater in San Francisco to other cities in the country. Does ’Return to Grey Gardens’ have the legs to go elsewhere?
Jinkx: The full circle to this story is after our show here in San Francisco, we will be taking the show to Seattle where I first performed Little Edie in the Bacon Strips show. And, Sylvia O’Stayformore will be joining us in one of the big roles in the Seattle version.
BeBe: Peaches, you have presented many, many film screenings of gay iconic and cult films over the past 16 years through Midnight Mass. What other films may be on that Yet-To-Play Midnight Mass list of yours that we would grow excited to see?
Peaches Christ: No one knows this yet, so you are getting a Midnight Mass exclusive, but in early 2014 I’m finally going to do ’Clueless.’ I love that movie. I knew it was a movie, when I first saw it that would find a huge audience. ’Clueless,’ I think, still stands up as one of the greatest teen comedies of all-time.
Finding that camp sensibility
BeBe: Let me take it one further, Peaches. Is there a film you have seen in recent years that you think may have that formula to be come a cult or gay iconic film in the future, and possibly make it on that Yet-To-Play Midnight Mass list?
Peaches Christ: That’s a great question, BeBe. I see so many movies. Going to the cinema is my favorite form of relaxation. The problem is I see so many movies that I can’t keep any of them straight in my mind (laughs). One movie I did enjoy as sort of a modern day Barnum and Bailey Circus freak show experience, a sort of Herschell Gordon-Lewis gore horror film type, was ’The Human Centipede.’ Not a great film, but it has that old midway carnival experience brought-to-the-theater: you pay money and it promises to disgust you. It seems to say, ’I’m going to really make you want to vomit.’ No real redeeming value in the more literary sense. People pay money to have that kind of experience, especially in a room full of people at midnight. I can see that making Midnight Mass in the future. ’The Human Centipede’ is more of a cult movie thing. But, a gay iconic film to be embraced by the gay community in a way the rest of the world doesn’t seem to understand, the film is usually about an underdog winning or overcoming an obstacle, and has some sort of transgressive element. Or, it’s just over the top with a bit of camp sensibility that gay men appreciate.
BeBe: That describes ’Grey Gardens’ to a tee.
The documentary film ’Grey Gardens’ and the pre-show drag parody ’Return to Grey Garden’ starring Jinkx Monsoon and Peaches Christ with Special Guest Mink Stole will play at the historic Castro Theater in San Francisco at 3pm & 8pm shows on Oct. 12.
For tickets and more information www.store.peacheschrist.com.
Follow Peaches Christ and Jinkx Monsoon at www.PeachesChrist.com and www.jinkxmonsoon.com respectively.
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media’s next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.