Philadelphia drag cabaret performer Martha Graham Cracker (aka Dito van Reigersberg) brings singing, dancing and improv entertainment to Oberon on June 15 for an event hosted by the Jewish Arts Collaborative and the Theater Offensive. Until then, Ms. Cracker held us over with a little snack.
Tell us about Martha. Martha Graham Cracker is the hairy lady who lives inside of me. She’s unusual for a couple reasons. She sings with a live band. She’s not a lip-syncer. No two shows are the same because a lot of it is improvised based on what happens with the audience.
What part of choreographer Martha Graham did you want to channel into Martha Graham Cracker? I went to the Martha Graham School of Dance, so I studied that technique. It was also part of the training when I went to acting school. We heard all of these stories about how kind of cruel she could be, which I found strangely exciting because I’m not that way. … And not that Martha Graham Cracker’s terribly cruel, but she definitely has more permission than I do to read people and to put people in their place.
How does your theater background inform your drag? As part of [famed mime Jacques Lecoq’s technique], one of the things you study is something called clown. … You might wear something really ridiculous as a clown in that tradition, but the emphasis is on really experiencing things in front of the audience and being really honest and truthful in front of the audience, and that’s kind of the backbone of the clown. With my theater company Pig Iron here in Philly, that’s one of the techniques that we rely upon. … Part of what’s endearing or humanizing about the clown is that you see them fail in front of you. And I think part of Martha’s humanity is that she wants to believe that she’s this gorgeous, glamorous woman, but she has a lot of chest hair and she’s kind of clumsy.
What would a dream show look like? There’s an Aretha Franklin album that I would just love to do from beginning to end. I have done Purple Rain from beginning to end, and that was really exciting and fun.
Who would be sitting in the front row? I don’t know who’s in my ideal audience, but hopefully the effect that I have on the audience is one of both taking them on an emotional journey that’s deep and felt, but also tickling their funny bone so hard that they can feel it for the next three days.