Dito van Reigersberg, a.k.a. the colorful and hilariously over-the-top drag queen extraordinaire Martha Graham Cracker, is hitting the stage in Philly this weekend with her one-of-a-kind cabaret show and trusty band. There will be two unforgettable performances, one unfiltered for adults and a PG-rated matinee performance for a younger audience. Reigersberg sat down with Metro to discuss what to expect at a Martha Graham Cracker cabaret show, dive into why Martha is always unscripted, and explain how important it is for a younger audience to experience the magic of Martha Graham Cracker.
When was Martha Graham Cracker created?
Hard to say. I think we are turning 15 years old this year, but we have been in residency at L’Etage on 6th and Bainbridge since then. So, she’s pretty old. I was even doing her before that, but that was the beginning of me doing her every month. [L’Etage] is not a huge venue but it really has a nice intimacy — it’s elegant and it’s where I could see the audience’s reactions and it [allowed me] to do this show where I build on what the audience is giving me.
Your shows are all unscripted, but what do you do to prepare for a Martha Graham Cracker cabaret?
I do a lot of just thinking about what’s going on in the news or what people are thinking about at the moment. There’s a lot of references to current events, but there’s also a lot of reference to what I’ve been going through. I’ll tell a ridiculous story, some of which might not actually be totally true. As an actor, they say you have to learn your lines totally cold so you can then be playful and just go for a ride every time you perform. And I think it’s sort of a similar thing [with Martha] where I want to do my homework and think about all of the things I could talk about. Sometimes I make long lists and think about everything that’s going on in the world or what I’ve been thinking about or a funny thing that’s happened to me recently. Or sometimes I’ll go somewhere alone, maybe eat dinner by myself or meditate on those things, and then I’ll sort of just take the ride. I try not to plan it because the audience might be more important than the thing I have planned. I’m allowing myself to be permeable to what’s going on in the space in real time.
You are performing a kids’ show as well. What can you tell me about that?
There may be some songs, there may be some singalongs, and I will definitely read a book or two to the kids. That’ll be much more PG-rated.
Why do you think it’s important for a younger audience to experience the magic of Martha Graham Cracker?
There have been all these things in the news where there are drag queens reading to kids at libraries that have been met with some excitement and coolness, and also some protest. There’s this sort of old-fashioned idea that you make a child gay by exposing them to things that will turn them gay — I just know, being a gay man myself, that that’s just not how it works. So I guess part of what it is, is that people need to be given the freedom to explore who they are or come to terms with who they are. Kids need to be given options, and options without any panic. It’s exciting that we’re living in a time where you really can’t claim that you’ve never met a gay person or you can’t claim that you don’t know what that is. We’re a lot more conversant about that stuff. There is pushback, of course, with that old-fashioned idea of, “Oh, we can’t expose the children [to this].” But I think exposing even children who will become straight in the future, it gives them a chance to think about how broad the spectrum of human beings [can be]. Their first impulse is to just take everyone at face value and not be set in strict categories. That’s the serious part, but also I just think kids like to have fun and like to be playful and Martha Graham Cracker is the most playful part of who I am. I do think people who are performers like myself know who their audience is, and with an interactive performance, you know how to adjust to the kind of audience that you are seeing in front of you. When it’s an adult show late at night I adjust one way, and when it’s a kids’ show at 11 a.m. I adjust another way.
How does it feel to be performing at the Wilma?
I’m excited because I never performed at the Wilma, actually, I’ve seen many performances and I adore that company and that theater. I have performed in the lobby with the Bearded Ladies many times, so it feels like I’m moving up in the world. I made it to the main theater with real lights, and it’s tall and grand, and I think they are going to pull some crazy set elements from past shows, too, to decorate the space.
Now for the adult cabaret extravaganza. What would you tell Philly audiences to expect?
Adults often say “Ow, my face hurts from laughing and smiling so much,” which is my favorite thing [that people] say. That’s one thing. Another thing is, no one is safe. You can be sitting in the back row and because I have a wireless microphone and a spotlight operator, I can be anywhere. I think it’s a little bit scary, in an exciting way, and hopefully you leave having laughed a lot.