When popular Washington DJ Shea Van Horn dons his drag alter ego Summer Camp, it isn’t what most would expect from the sweet, humble fixture on D.C.’s nightlife scene. Unlike Van Horn, Summer Camp is brash, offensive, innocently dimwitted yet vulgar, and the carrier of multiple venereal diseases.
While audiences may expect drag to entertain with polished outfits and pageant routines, Van Horn emulates the drag created by John Waters and his protege Divine in movies like Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble. It is shocking, yet endearing, and fits beautifully into the offense comedy show created by Van Horn along with Chris Farris and Karl Marks. Attracting audiences both straight and gay, their show CRACK returns this Saturday night to Town Danceboutique to offend, entertain, and push the limits of acceptable social humor with ORANGE IS THE NEW CRACK.
Brightest Young Things: I think the first thing that many want to know is “Why the hell did it take you so long to mount another CRACK show?” You’ve left a wake of sold-out shows and fans who have clamored for more and more productions. Yet, you’ve been more selective in recent years about when you mount them.
Shea Van Horn: We were holding out for more money. Or drugs. Or better dressing rooms. But Town said, “Go to hell.” So we said, okay, we’ll do another show. Seriously, though, it’s been a wild and exciting journey. We started CRACK almost ten years ago when the three of us met in Chris’s kitchen to chat about what we thought DC nightlife was missing. We decided it needed a messy variety show that gave a stage to the weirdos of this great city. Every CRACK show is a unique little egg of crazy that needs to be hatched when the time is just right. And the time was just right for another show.
BYT: You’ve mentioned that CRACK draws much of its influence from the work of John Waters and Divine – as does your alter ego Summer Camp. What can modern drag learn from their work?
Shea Van Horn: I can’t do anything on stage or as Summer Camp that doesn’t have some connection to John Waters and Divine. I’m infected and it’s incurable.
BYT: How do you make that adaptable to mainstream audiences (admittedly, you still do have occasional people walk out of CRACK performances out of shock)?
Shea Van Horn: I don’t think I ever try to make anything I do adaptable to mainstream audiences, and I don’t think CRACK has ever attempted to make our show more palatable. Each show takes on a life of its own based on the performers we gather together. When it comes to Summer Camp, there are some subjects that I like to put into my drag that are more prone to making people squirm like religion, scat, and sexual taboos. Darker subjects. This new show has some dark themes. I’ve got a dark side and it always finds its way into my performance.
BYT: Karl, you were involved with CRACK for a long time before moving to New York, and you still return to Washington to produce and perform in the show. What type of inspiration have you taken from CRACK to New York? How is your experience with it in DC manifested by your work there these days?
Karl Marks: CRACK was the first time I went back to the stage as an adult. Prior to collaborating with Chris and Shea, I just thought of myself as an event planner and social curator. Their friendship inspired me to perform more and to write more for other performers. I’ve performed all over downtown NYC and Brooklyn and this year I was honored to perform at MoMA PS1 and Earl Dax’s infamous Pussy Faggot, alongside greats like Justin Vivian Bond and Justin Sayre. I would never have moved in the directions that I have creatively without Shea and Chris and I love coming back to DC. The CRACK audience is insane and I never have any idea how they are going to respond, so I love putting forth my best and worst and seeing what tickles DC most.
BYT: Chris, you play the straight man in the show; the utility guy who moves scenes along and serves as a comic prop to Summer Camp. What has that been like for you, and how do you see the role of the straight man who holds up an otherwise over-the-top show?
Chris Farris: I haven’t been called straight since Ronald Reagan was President. That aside, I think I am in some ways both part of the creation of CRACK and a result of it. When we started CRACK, the idea was both to bring something edgy and fresh to DC and to create a space for reluctant people to get on stage. I was fine with edgy and creation, but I am not a performer by nature like Shea and Karl – so over time, I have tried to push myself to be on stage more, and the role of “utility guy” seems to fit. Plus, as a utility guy, how can I not use my pole to fill Summer’s slots, as needed?
BYT: How much nudity can we expect?
Shea Van Horn: You’ll have to wait and see…along with us. A lot of what happens on stage, we see for the first time with the audience. A lot of what we end up doing on stage is also spontaneous and improvised. (Remember the time that Summer Camp fisted someone on stage? No one, not even Summer, knew that was going to happen).
BYT: Can you give us a glimpse of the setup or performers that will be on stage?
Shea Van Horn: We are so excited about this show. We’ve wanted to do a prison-themed show for a couple years. Orange Is The New CRACK finds Summer Camp sentenced to death and imprisoned in the Marion Barry Correctional Facility for Depraved Women for first degree murder. However, she insists that she was framed. While serving time in prison and waiting to face her maker, she’s abused by the head guard and falls in love with her hangman. She buddies up with two other prisoners (Chris and Karl). Along the way, she meets a slew of criminals and social rejects.
BYT: Any new performers you’re especially excited for?
Shea Van Horn: One of the great things about taking a little time off is that we had the chance to comb this city for a new crop of crazy-ass performers. We’re so excited to have some fresh faces joining some CRACK favorites. The cast includes Pu$$y Noir, Jaxknife Haunt, Rumor Millz, Champagne Supernova, Harley Q, Dan Carter, Rene PorcelainDahl, Trisha Bordeaux, Troye, Salvadora Dali, Sutton, Aaron, Brandon, and more.