DeLa and Robbie and Jinkx, Oh My!
An interview with the Capitol Hill webseries creator, Wes Hurley
by Allison Marman
If you don’t know Wes Hurley, you will. His list of accomplishments includes being The Advocate Magazine’s People to Watch in 2015, City Arts Magazine’s Artist of the Year, his award-winning documentary “Waxie Moon” about the international boylesque sensation and “Fallen Jewel,” a comedy musical also starring Waxie Moon. In addition, he’s the creator, writer, and director of the YouTube and film festival smash hit webseries “Capitol Hill.” I had the pleasure of working with Hurley as a production assistant for season 2 of “Capitol Hill,” which had its Seattle debut at the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival on October 10, 2015. I asked the Seattle-based filmmaker about his life, his love of drag, and “Capitol Hill.”
What brought you to Seattle and how were you able to begin your directing career?
“I was super lucky to escape to Seattle from Russia when I was 16 with my mom. It was an amazing adventure and I’m going to make a film about it soon. I’ve always wanted to make films and tried to make my first films back in kindergarten – but I didn’t have a camera. In Russia, it wasn’t even a possibility for someone like me without any connection to arts or culture to get into arts. When I came to the States, it took me a couple years to accept that I could be anything and follow my dreams. I went to University of Washington, where no film program existed at the time (there is one now). I double-majored in arts (mostly painting, which I used to do a lot) and drama with particular focus in women studies, gender studies and ethnic studies. I was a very angry militant gay kid and very consumed with identity politics. I’ve mellowed out a lot since then. After I graduated, I knew that I wanted to work in film, but I really struggled with figuring out how to start. Around the same time digital cameras started to become an acceptable tool in making films. I saw a film called “28 Days Later” – a very successful zombie film which I soon found out was shot with a digital camera that even I could afford. This gave me hope that I could make films with my very limited resources. I started doing videography for my many theater friends. Then I made a few shorts. My friend Marc Kenison was getting obsessed with burlesque and created a burlesque personae named Waxie Moon. We talked about making a meta-mockumentary about Waxie Moon’s career. I started filming every burlesque show in town. Over the course of a year, I probably filmed a thousand performances and interviews…These performers were very complex, with varied and fascinating histories and refreshing take on feminism and gender. I fell in love with the new-burlesque community. Miss Indigo Blue, Swedish Housewife, Kitten LaRou, Lily Verlaine, Dirty Martini, Ruby Mimosa, Lucky Penny (Jamie Von Stratton), Babbette LaFave, Shanghai Pearl and the list goes on – they all became, and still are, my heroes. “Waxie Moon” became a real documentary. When the film was finished, it became relatively successful. Marc and I traveled around the country to festivals and even spoke on few college campuses about the film. That was definitely the project that launched my career in a way – even though I never made money on it.”
For those who aren’t familiar yet, tell us a bit about Capitol Hill webseries and how it came to be.
“Capitol Hill” started out as a another collaboration between Waxie Moon and I. I was really inspired to do a series inspired by 70’s-80’s shows with Waxie Moon playing the lead. Waxie and I talked about it for years. Then I heard that ‘webseries’ is a thing. I finally sat down and wrote the script and decided to shoot something we could just put online. We finished the show just around the time BenDeLaCreme was announced as a contestant on season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. BenDeLa was supposed to be in the [webseries] show, but was too busy when we were filming. We came up with the idea of BenDeLa doing little intros. BenDeLa is so brilliant, she improvised the intros which became an integral part of the show. BenDeLaCreme was hosting RPDR screenings at the historic Century Ballroom drawing audiences of hundreds each Monday. We decided to premiere a new episode of “Capitol Hill” each week at BenDeLa’s screenings. It was a wonderful way to introduce the show to the local community before releasing each episode online.
Along with BenDeLaCreme, “Capitol Hill” includes two other huge names in the drag world- Robbie Turner and, in season 2, Jinkx Monsoon. Why did you decide to include drag queens in Capitol Hill? And how did those Queens in particular come to be a part it?
I’ve always loved drag integrated into film. One of my favorite films is “Girls Will Be Girls.” I also love plays and movies by Charles Busch and John Waters. I think cross-gender casting adds another layer to how you watch a show. The whole concept of “Capitol Hill” was creating a project for me to work with Waxie again, so it was built around the idea of drag and gender-fuck. Robbie Turner is someone I’ve admired for a long time. She’s such a talented performer and so easy to be around. I’ve always wanted to work with her. The role of Dottie Pearl was written for Robbie. I’ve been friends with BenDeLaCreme and Jinkx for a long time. I’ve worked with BenDeLa a lot in the past. Jinkx had her first film role in my feature “Fallen Jewel.” I knew from the start that I wanted those two on “Capitol Hill” – they were born to do this kind of show. It was only a question of scheduling. RPDR creates so many opportunities for their queens – their schedules are insane. I’m happy it worked out and I’m thrilled that they are part of it. Aleksa Manila is another performer that I’ve always wanted to work with and glad she was interested in playing Helena Pen Poison – she’s so funny in the part.
What are the Queens REALLY like to work with?
All three are impeccable professionals. It’s no surprise that these three Seattle queens are so successful. Not only are they incredibly talented, but they have no ego or attitude. They’re kind and professional and fun to be around. They definitely have different styles. But at the same time, what I love about all three of them is that they draw on more classic cultural references – old Hollywood glamour, burlesque, Pee-Wee and cartoons (for BenDeLaCreme), Weimar cabaret (for Jinkx). To me, those are much more interesting references than Britney or Beyoncé.
You really outdid yourself in season 2! There are a lot of fun surprises, including the addition of gay porn megastar Colby Keller in season 2. What other season 2 surprises can you tell us about?
“Season 2 is much more elaborate. More characters, bigger sets, bigger effects. And there are many, many surprises. My favorite character is Tanya played by the incredibly talented Alexandra Tavares. Tanya has quite an arc in this season – Waxie actually pointed out that in some ways it’s Tanya’s season to shine. Also, I was very excited to work with one of my favorite people in the whole world – Jackie Hell. Jackie Hell is a pioneer of a very different kind of drag – you could call it ‘punk drag,’ ‘shock drag’ or ‘horror drag.’ Jackie plays a fallen child star, Dinky Pie, in the show and she’s hilarious and scary. Jason Carter from the Pit Crew on RuPaul’s Drag Race is another addition to the cast. He was such a pleasure to work with and I can’t wait to bring him back to Seattle for season 3. My dear friend and lesbian film icon, Guinevere Turner, has a role this season. I also hope to bring her back for a much larger part next season. And of course, Colby Keller, as mentioned. He’s adorable in the show and I think people will be delighted with his role on Capitol Hill, which was inspired by an element from 80’s She-Ra cartoons.”
Thank you, Wes! The first episode of Capitol Hill season 2 and season 1 in its entirety on YouTube now (Click here)! If you are in the greater Seattle area, there will be a Capitol Hill screening next Tuesday, January 12th (Click here for more info!).
Along with being a production assistant and occasional extra for Capitol Hill webseries, guest contributor Allison Marman can be found front and center at many Seattle drag shows.