Magazine article Out

Whores, Clowns, Whore-Clowns, and Humiliation. Welcome to Showgirls

Magazine article Out

Whores, Clowns, Whore-Clowns, and Humiliation. Welcome to Showgirls

Article excerpt

Here's a story that nicely sums up the showbiz spirit of Provincetown. Ryan Landry, the host and creator of the hugely popular drag night Showgirb, recalls how he got bis start here, one evening, maybe 15 years ago:

"I was dressed in garbage bags with a trash-can lid for a hat and pizza slices taped to my tits in an effort to win some costume contest But I got so wasted I fell off the stage and landed on the buffet table. Someone dragged me to a corner where I fell asleep under a pinball machine. The next day - yes, they left me there - I was told by the morning bartender that I had won the first prize of $100. 1 thought to myself, Christ, if I can make $100 by getting high and falling asleep, I ought to do this for a living."

Such was the landing pad - or buffet table - that Provincetown represented for up-and-coming artists in the '80s and '90s. For Landry, who arrived there in his early 20s, it was lifesaving. "I'd already lived in New York since I was 17, hustling the streets, shooting heroin, sleeping in the abandoned buildings on Christopher Street and the West Side Highway," he recalls. "We all thought it was very rock and roll. Now I think that I must have been out of my mind."

But since getting up from under that pinball machine, Landry (now thankfully more sober) has become a creative force in Provincetown, both with his theater company, Gold Dust Orphans, and with Showgirb, a major tent pole in the loud chaotic circus of performance that takes over the town every summer.

The town has matured somewhat too. These days there are dozens of acts: drag personae, old-school female illusionists, lesbian stand-ups, comedy outfits, porn star solo shows, naked boy revues, men as women, women as men, women as men as women, and a Cher on a motor scooter. P-town has become the gay borscht belt.

Every evening after doing the beach, eating seared scallops, and then picking out their clothes to go out dancing, the gay (and, increasingly, straight) Provincetown vacationers wander up and down Commercial Street, the main thoroughfare, past the battalions of performers attempting to lure them into their shows. If you don't cut it in drag and don't have a reputation the size of comics like Kate Clinton or Margaret Cho, you'd better be willing to dress up like a whore or a clown, or better yet, a whore-clown, and hand out fliers like a human Kinko's.

"I have never worked the streets so hard in my life," says Adrienne Truscott, half of the comedic-acrobatic duo the Wau Wau Sisters. Last summer was their first in Provincetown, after touring all over the country and producing a hit show at the Edinburgh Festival. "I was walking around on my hands with fliers in my toes."

With so many acts vying for attention, performers have to become tireless show dogs to get an audience - prancing, begging, and, yes, barking. And if you aren't drunk, you have to act like you are to get through it.

Nora Burns performs alongside Terrence Michael and John Cantwell as the comedy trio the Nellie Olesons. She remembers their first show back in 1993: "We didn't know about the barking thing at all. We were just sitting backstage waiting for the show to start. The tech guy came in and said, 'Um, there's no one here. You've got to go bark.' If we didn't get as crazy as possible, we weren't going to eat." So the boys slipped on red bikinis, and they marched through the town doing cheerleader chants and screaming lines like "Disturbing and offensive - or your money back!"

After a season of barking and fliering, performers are ready for autumn. "Toward the end of summer, we get bitter giving fliers to all the drunks who say stupid things to us believing themselves to be clever," says Terrence Michael, "so we'd hand out fliers and say, 'Crystal! Free crystal!' 'GHB?' 'Syphillis?' "

"There is nothing like a first summer in Provincetown to completely rob you of your dignity, except maybe being caught in a Dateline pedophile sting," says Jeffery Roberson, better known as Varia Jean Merman. …

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