It’s a bit of an understatement that Fringe festivals lead you to encounter some very interesting people. Every now and then you run into a kindred spirit, as I did when I was getting ready to see another show at the Sixth Annual Charm City Fringe Festival. Brooklyn-based performance artist and storyteller Neil Arthur James and I struck up a conversation and found that we both had similar backgrounds as queer Southerners with a penchant for the dramatique arts. I asked Neil about how this aspect of his identity influenced the creation of his alter ego Dandly Darkly, star of Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth!, which he is showcasing at this year’s Charm City Fringe.
Darby DeJarnette: Can you describe how Dandy Darkly came to be?
Neil Arthur James: Dandy Darkly has always been there, hiding inside this little chubby Southern boy who simply adored ghost stories and camp movies. I was fascinated by so many bitchy old queens on the tv growing up, icons like Paul Lynde and Liberace. They were the funniest, meanest queens in the room, but also seemed to be the saddest. My drag art (I consider myself a cisgender male drag king) is certainly homage to that vanished breed of hissing sissy.
What influenced your current show?
My current show, Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth!, was heavily influenced by all the celebrity deaths we had in 2016. By comparison, bad news of a dead icon almost feels quaint today, but at the time it got me thinking about the unspoken pantheon of queer luminaries that somehow inspire beyond their mortal lives. And how we all tap in to a collective creative unconscious. I wanted to consider who the first queer artist may have been, and that’s where Cha-Cha the Caveman was born.
How has being a queer man from Georgia influenced your work? Do you feel there are any aspects of your background that set you apart from other storytellers?
The term “storyteller” has been irrevocably altered by the competitive, anecdotal “true story” scene. I was blessed to have had a grandfather who enjoyed spinning a yarn, sharing Georgia folk tales with us kids. It’s a tradition I honor in my own work today. I’ve got 8 track recordings of little five-year-old Dandy sputtering Southern Gothic ghost stories, so it’s certainly something I’ve long admired.
What does working in the Southern Gothic tradition mean for you?
Freedom! Camp comedy! Supernatural intrigue! Cheeky profanity! Florid language that simply drips off your tongue like molasses followed by spit fire syllables shot so fast I dare the audience to keep up. And they do. Audiences are very surprised after wandering into this kooky clown show that they’ve instead stumbled upon a literary performance. My job is to keep them engaged for a fat hour, and I think we achieve it. In addition to my tales, there’s also a backing track peppered with sound effects and an original score for each show produced by my incredible musicians Adam Tendler, Rachel Blumberg and Bryce Edwards. I love creating it all almost as much as performing it.
Are you working on anything new right now?
Oh yes. I’m gearing up for my fifth year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (the granddaddy of all Fringe Festivals) with my 2018 show Dandy Darkly’s All Aboard! We’re focusing on concepts of American exceptionalism, infrastructure, transitory states, the middle ground between origin and destination and trains! I’m so excited, but also very bittersweet. I’ve toured this show for a year, I’m going to miss Cha-Cha, Persephone, Laika, Hiro and all the characters I’ve created this go around. I’m proud to be ending the tour at Charm City Fringe.
Are you enjoying Charm City Fringe?
Most definitely! Baltimore is actually where my mom grew up, but growing up in Georgia, we rarely visited our maternal half of the family. It was incredible performing for aunts and cousins on my opening night. I’m in love with Charm City Fringe! Zach and Michael are the best and Baltimore is so lucky to have this organization creating avant garde, outsider art. Fringe Festivals are so crucial to cultivating original perspectives and emboldening new artists (young and old) to take a stab and creating something. And the Bromo Arts District is such a vibrant and diverse locale for a festival. As my mom would say, “Fabulous Fringe all around, hon!”
NYC’s internationally acclaimed, cult storytelling sensation, Dandy Darkly, makes his Baltimore debut with his latest fables focused on religion, addiction and social media obsession in Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth. Tales include a junkie Persephone, space-puppy Laika, deadly virtual reality and humanity’s premier poppycock, Cha-Cha the Caveman! Nothing else like it at the Fringe.
Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth! plays through November 12, 2017, at the DCAC Lounge – 401 North Howard Street, in Baltimore, MD. Tickets and Charm City Fringe Festival buttons may be purchased at Fringe HQ (Le Mondo, 406 N Howard Street), the venue, or online.
Baltimore’s historic Lexington Market is joining DC Theater Arts in support of our coverage of the Charm City Fringe Festival. The Market closes at 6 PM on weekdays and is closed Sundays, but we recommend that Fringe-goers stop by on Saturday to grab lunch and take a look around, in addition to checking out the local bands which play from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM.