We don't know about you, but we can't wait for the Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret on December first! It's gender-twisting, it's rock-and-roll, and it's an all-around good time—cabaret style, of course—that we're sure you'll love. Get your tickets today before they're gone.
We recently had the privilege of chatting with Dito Van Reigersberg, who portrays Martha. We learned a bit about the audience experience he strives for, his creative vision, and how cabaret can bring people together in an increasingly alienated world.
Artist Series: Hometown?
Dito Van Reigersberg: Washington, DC.
AS: Home now?
DVR: Philadelphia, PA!
AS: How old were you when you started performing?
DVR: Hmmm... I guess I was in high school when I started doing the school plays. I was an awkward teen so I suddenly felt like I found my people in the drama club. Around that time, I was singing in the shower for hours. That was my training ground: in the reverb-filled bathroom.
AS: Who are your idols? Who inspires you?
DVR: Oh, man. So many singers inspire me, from Aretha to Patti Labelle, Prince to Joni, Axl Rose to Chet Baker. I definitely tried to copy all of these people vocally at some point.
AS: Who is Martha Graham Cracker? What’s her origin story?
DVR: She is the tallest, hairiest drag queen in the world. She is a flirt. She likes to confuse you. She is clumsy. She makes mistakes. She wears her heart on her sleeve. She is quick witted. She likes polysyllabic words. She is honest. She is outspoken.
I was in acting school in the 90's in New York and I saw all these amazing singing drag queens, like Joey Arias and Raven O, and I tentatively said to myself: I should do that. But I didn't... yet. I just tried drag once in my living room. Then I moved to Philly and would sometimes perform as a guest with a band. That band eventually joined me when I got a monthly gig at my home club called L'Etage. I've been doing Martha ever since. That was 13 years ago.
AS: How do you write your lyrics? What is your creative process?
DVR: Well, I have dabbled more recently in writing songs for Martha, but usually Martha covers pop songs. I would say that part of the joy of Martha is doing familiar songs in unfamiliar ways, or weird mashups. What?! A samba version of WHITE RABBIT by Jefferson Airplane?! A klezmer version of THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD by Bowie? I collaborate with my band members to pick songs that feel right for Martha and re-imagine them.
AS: Why cabaret?
DVR: I started doing Martha before people carried those thin glassy computers in their pockets everywhere. Those things keep us from being fully present. I think live performance is still a place and time when you can't avoid the messy joy of communal human contact—it seems an antidote for the alienating, virtual world we find ourselves living in. I think we need cabaret more than ever... an art form that doesn't happen, for me, unless the audience-performer line is permeable and playful.
AS: What would you like the audience to take away from the performance?
DVR: I hope the audience finds joy. A lot of times, people say their face hurts from laughing after a Martha show. And I hoped they are moved emotionally by the songs.
AS: What’s on your playlist these days?
DVR: Donny Hathaway, Tori Amos, Lizzo, tune-yards, Paul Simon—an eclectic mix.
AS: Tell us a little about the non-Martha parts of your creative life.
DVR: I am an actor and co-founder of a theatre company, Pig Iron Theatre Company. We create and tour original works of physical theatre. We also have a grad school for devising theatre in Philadelphia where I teach. Check out www.pigiron.org for more info!
On December 2 at 2:30, Dito will give a Prologue lecture entitled "Cabaret and Holiday Performance" in conjunction with Theatreworks' production of A Christmas Carol. Cabaret, pantos and other musical performance have a long and rich history at the holidays. In addition to working with our theatre and music students, Dito will put this unique style of performance in perspective and relate it to a larger conversation about the styles of performance that we associate with the holidays. And, as you will see, Dito will talk about whatever he likes, and we will be all the happier for it! Register here.