Sebastian Cummings is a Beyoncé superfan, so I assumed he’d declare that his upcoming Underground Arts project, Sorry I’m Just Human, was inspired by her jam “Jealous,” the dark slow-burner from Bey’s surprise fifth album this past December, with a bridge that climaxes with: “That ain’t nothing / I’m just jealous / I’m just human / Don’t judge me.” Turns out the song’s not really the kernel, but over a couple specials at Bob & Barbara’s, Cummings and I had a great recent chat about our mutual Bey fandom, what his show stems from, how he sees drag’s role in the queer community—and what makes a good wig.
I first saw Cummings perform live at an early Ratchet, one of Josh Schonewolf’s Tabu parties, a Wednesday night moment with a midnight performance that’s typically something a little raw. The party celebrated its first birthday last week with a Rye Rye visit, but Cummings brought a few dancers last spring, along with his impressive melange of choreography, live singing, his own side creations and an alluringly mysterious X-factor. Even he struggles to articulate what he does. “There’s dance, and there’s drag, and there’s live music—there’s all those things,” he shrugs. “I have trouble describing it myself sometimes.”
Cummings, a Rutgers-trained actor and opera-capable vocalist, has been on his secret creative grind for a while now, something that’s a keystone for driven artists: that powerful urge to rehearse, practice and experiment tirelessly until you devise something that’s as stunning as you can make it. “I’m producing this myself,” Cummings says bluntly, acknowledging a role he isn’t necessarily comfortable in, but one he’s decided he must play in order to materialize his particular vision. “I make all the music; I come up with all the choreography; I teach all the choreography; I do my own marketing. I’m the only one in charge.”
And onstage, he doesn’t just prance and sing a few tunes. There’s a message in Sorry I’m Just Human, one that Cummings has been honing for over a year. “A lot of the songs that I was writing were dealing with issues that I don’t talk about all the time, how people treat each other,” he says. “I think that if people realize that [idea], ‘I’m human and you’re human’ … people just forget that.” As in, if we just admitted that we’re all just human and flawed, maybe there’d be a lot less bullshit.
As for Beyoncé songs, Cummings prefers “Blow” and, to my surprise, even “Mine” over “Jealous.” We got into how this LP was her way of showing us some edgy honesty after being so annoyingly perfect for so long. “[Bey] was the girl in school who’s very good at what she does, also gets straight As—and no one likes,” he says. “My friends and I would probably be like ‘Let’s hang out with Kelly [Rowland]’.” So, as he put it, she kind of let down the facade and built a new one. And wigs? Cummings has got more than a few: “I typically like a lace-front wig,” he says, “and the part is really important to me. I need a side part—I can’t do a center part. I don’t like it to be one color. It needs to be ombre or have highlights or something.”
Performance-wise, it appears that his efforts for Sorry I’m Just Human truly come from the heart, and this night’ll be a one-of-a-kind cultural treat that’s more than just drag, more than just dance and more than just a musical showcase. “I sing live. I don’t lip sync or anything like that,” Cummings confirms. “Some of it is just instrumentals that I dance to, as well.”
But yes, it’s a queer-flavored show—‘cause art comes from life, and, well, his life’s gay.
Cummings believes that his work will speak for itself because painstaking focus on your craft usually does. “You can study techniques and stuff,” he says, “but art is really about expression. And if you’re being honest in your work, and you’re working hard, that comes across.”
Sat., Feb. 22, 9pm. $10. With Corner Queens Cabaret. The Black Box at Underground Arts, 1200 Callowhill St. undergroundarts.org