Local Talent

A Fiendish Conversation with Major Scales

Seattle's "pianist to the drag queen stars" preps for 'Unwrapped,' his holiday show with Jinkx Monsoon at Seattle Rep.

By Seth Sommerfeld November 24, 2015

Major scales fallqs

Major Scales at his most pensive.

There’s the reliable yuletide cheer of traditional holiday standbys (A Christmas Carol, Handel's Messiah, etc.), and then there’s brazen, boozy bawdiness of the Jinkx Monsoon (aka Jerick Hoffer) and Major Scales (aka Richard Andriessen) show Unwrapped. After scoring a hit at Seattle Rep last year with their musical The Vaudevillians, the local-turned-national half-drag duo revives their dazzling holiday program. Unwrapped opens in the Rep's Leo K. Theatre this Wednesday, November 25, and continues spreading its spirit of the season through December 13. Beware: Attendance might land you on Santa’s naughty list.

For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to Scales about Unwrapped's holiday dinner vibe, unexpectedly finding a niche in the drag scene, and Seattle theater binging.

What are you most looking forward to about this production of Unwrapped?

Well this is our second show in the Rep space, and it’s not a Vaudevillians show per se. It’s our slightly more laid back stage characters Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales. So it’s a little bit different in that we don’t have whole 1920s shtick behind us. It’s a little bit more of us talking about our own foibles with the holidays, I suppose. I’m excited to have that sort of different connection with the audience, whereas with Dr. Dan [of the Vaudevillians], I’m a little more in a character. When I’m on stage as Major Scales, I feel like I can just shoot the shit with the audience and be like, “We’ve all had bad holidays, right? Let’s talk about it.”

What are some of the things you value in regards to your chemistry with Jerick?

Well we’ve worked together since college, and we started creating the Vaudevillians almost six years ago, so we’ve had plenty of time to collaborate. The great thing that I like about our relationship is that we know each other well enough where we can fuss around with something even mid-show and the other person has to go off of it. We both have a certain background in improv as well, so if we’re not feeling a moment tonight the same way we felt last night, we kind of feel free to try throwing a wrench in it and see how the other person reacts. Even if things get messed up on stage, trying to figure out how to solve those challenges is a lot of more fun for us, and we trust each other doing it.

When what’s the creative construction process when putting together a show like Unwrapped? Do you start with certain songs? Stories? Jokes?

For this one in particular, we had an idea of certain songs that we want to do. Some of them are seasonal, and others are ones we just sort of have a seasonal idea about them. You know how some songs just become part of the holidays just because you have an emotional connection it? That sort of thing. So we gather a few songs we want to do, and then we think about the stories that can kind of tie them together; how they connect to our lives with Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, or what have you.

The sort of idea for Unwrapped is we’re putting on a holiday party for 300 or so of our closest friends in the audience. And so it will progress sort of like your of normal Christmas dinner might: everyone starts out really excited, and then you all have had maybe a little too much alcohol and food, and then that’s when the real talk starts. [Laughs]

How do you feel Seattle has influenced your artistic output?

When we started working in theater in Seattle, we sort of surprisingly found ourselves working in the burlesque and cabaret scene, which wasn’t something I was considering when I was going through theater in college. But we found ourselves working alongside a lot of burlesque and cabaret performers. And I think that has really helped us find our style, this sort of musical comedy that we have. Now we’re kind of forming a cottage industry for ourselves: we have the Vaudevillians, this holiday show, and various other shows that we’re touring with around the country where we get to just put together songs that we like and make our own comedy out of them. There is sort of a looseness to the humor, and a loose quality to the play we have together that I think was fostered by Seattle’s willingness to experiment. That would be my main takeaway from it. Seattle was what made us willing to practice, and have fun, and mess up. 

Beyond this show, projects do you have lined up for the future?

Well it’s funny, I’ve kind of found myself as the pianist to the drag queen stars these days, which is not the major that I went into, but here we are. It’s a funny niche that I’m happy to work in. So I’ve been working with Jinkx quite a bit, and recently I have done some songs for BenDeLaCreme and some of her solo shows like Cosmos, which she just did here in Seattle. And more recently, I’m working on a new album with Jinkx, that’s going to be a little bit farther into the future.

I just recently started a musical theater writing workshop with Andrew Russell. We’re working on a book and music and lyrics type thing together, which will be a longer process. But hopefully that’s going to end up with a musical between the two of us that we can workshop around Seattle.

Is their any part of you that would like to slowly get back to the other things that you were interested in?

I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve been able to dip my toe into both music, which is something that I’ve had in my life since I was young, and theater, which was also something I’ve been interested in forever. I’ve always managed to keep them balanced in a way. I do have a solo show that I have that kind of includes my favorite things: mostly songs I have written and other favorite songs of mine. It’s sort of a one-man show for myself where I am a little bit more in front of the drag queen instead of behind. I’ve been able to shop that around a little bit, and the hoping I get another chance to do that in Seattle.

Do you have any favorite performances you’ve seen recently?

Well we travel so much now that whenever I’m in Seattle, I try and see as much theater as I can while I’m here. I think the last show that I got to see was [Washington Ensemble Theatre’s] 99 Ways to Fuck a Swan, which I really enjoyed.

It’s one of those things where you don’t get to visit your home town often, and so then when get a chance to be there, you try and shove in everything you can: all my favorite restaurants, all my favorite theater groups. I mean I definitely I have to make room for hibernation, but since most of my friends are in theater and making careers out of it, if I want to go see them, I’m also going to see their shows.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m excited for this show, and I’m exited to see how much further we can tarnish the Repertory name.

Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales: Unwrapped
Nov 25–Dec 13, Seattle Repertory Theatre, $34–$72

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