Lil Wenker on Bangtail

Coming to A Pinch of VAULT this week, Bangtail is a cowboy—specifically, the baddest man in Texas. But he’s missing something in his wild day-to-day: his purpose. So he sets off to find it, leaving the Wild West for a day job in middle America. Now, instead of wrangling cows, he wrangles the books at a mid-sized animal feed manufacturer in rural Minnesota. But, when that’s not quite right either, he searches for something MORE. Armed with only a penchant for cacti, a mustache made of plasters, and a friend or two, Bangtail searches to become someone more than a lone-ranger or a lonely pencil-pusher.

The show is performed by Lil Wenker, a clown from Minnesota and the co-founder of Chekhov’s Gum. Chekhov’s Gum makes rowdy and highly physical comedies that remind the audience of the power and stupidity of live theatre (audiences see costume changes, cardboard sets, the beautiful chaos of the present). Chekhov’s Gum has toured around NYC, debuted work at the Edinburgh Fringe, and released several digital projects.

We spoke with Wenker about Chekhov’s Gum and preparing for Bangtail.

Q&A with Lil Wenker

How did you come to form Chekhov’s Gum?

In 2019, David DeRuiter and I were cast in a children’s puppet musical as part of an extracurricular club at our college (American for “uni”). I made the puppets using cardboard I found on the side of the road, and David played a talking volcano. We became best of friends, almost lovers, and have been joking around with each other ever since. Spring of 2023, we wanted to do our first show in New York and pitched what would become Chekhov’s Gum to a business start-up program. Surprisingly, the board invested in us! We spent ten weeks last summer with the most eccentric group of entrepreneurs including crypto bros and young app developers, all whilst forming the bones for our theatre company!

What can you tell us about your show Lil Wenker: Bangtail?

BANGTAIL is a clown western about a cowboy-turned-accountant searching for his purpose, directed by the marvelous Cecily Nash of TROLL. It’s a rowdy romp through the different lives of “man,” and it gives me the excuse to wear extremely silly mustaches. I only moved to London six months ago and was dying to make this show, so I DM’d Cecily and introduced myself. After a few glasses of wine at The Glitch, lots of laughing, and a storyboard of my initial idea, Cecily was on board. And the two of us have been hard at work ever since—watching westerns, gigging, practicing walking like a tough tough guy.

What was the inspiration for it?

When I was a little girl growing up in Minnesota, my dad and I would stay up late and watch old westerns together. I loved the slowness and theatricality built into the entire genre. But I also loved how much my dad loved these movies. For context, my dad is an accountant at a midwestern animal feed company. He grew up in German-speaking, small town Minnesota and has never so much as swung a punch. My sense of humor lies in what I call “the small tragedies of the mundane.” To me, my dad’s love of the iconic tough man is one of these small tragedies. It’s charming and beautiful, for such a nice guy to long for such rugged heroism. And this kind of dream is perfect for the clown.

What can audience members expect at the show?

Audiences can expect all of the fun tropes of westerns, including shooting and looting and roping. They can expect to see … many different sides of me. They can expect to get involved, but not in the way they might in traditional “crowd work.” They can expect some BANGING music, I’m taking Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Bruce.

What’s it like to be playing the show at A Pinch of VAULT ahead of dates in NYC, Minnesota, and at Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe?

Honestly we’re SO excited for the Pinch of Vaults show. It is our last “test” before we go on international tour, and this period of trial and error is crucial when making new work, especially clown. Most rehearsal days Cecily and I spend thinking through anywhere from 10-20 million ideas, but we really won’t know if they work until we have an audience. So this PoV show is really our best chance to throw it all up on the wall and see what sticks before we get to play for American audiences. This is also my very first solo show, and I am just so excited for it all! It feels pretty surreal right now.

Lil Wenker: Bangtail is at Sino Thai as part of A Pinch of Vault on 27 February