Close this search box.

well established and here for you

independently owned and operated since 1977

En Plein Air Drag: Provincetown’s Drag Scene Goes Outdoors

by Steve Desroches

Varla Jean Merman strips off her drag hazmat suit and mask once she finds her spot on the stage poolside at the Crown and Anchor, which is a solid 25 feet from the first row of guests, all of whom are seated according to their reservation and are six feet or more from the nearest audience members in their own group as a refreshing summer breeze sweeps off Provincetown Harbor. As with everything these days, the choreography is different—an unfamiliar order to a town known for its devil-may-care ways. It’s hard to shake the surrealism of this summer in Provincetown. Most every element of what makes a season in Provincetown has been affected in a major way, with some missing altogether. But Provincetown isn’t just adaptable, it’s gritty and tough. It may not be apparent to the audience this night at the Crown and Anchor, but to put that show on was an enormous undertaking, a nimble, Herculean effort to shift operations to adjust to the uncertain times we are living in. Seeing Varla bounce out on stage under her signature, big ginger wig brought a soothing sense of some sort of normalcy as well as much needed laughs.

Dina Martina Photo: David Belisle

The approval of outdoor shows in Provincetown is more important than just providing entertainment and giving a shot of revenue to businesses dealing with an unprecedented crisis. Live performance is vital to Provincetown’s culture, every bit as much as an artist painting on canvas or a poet hammering out a stanza. In a brief moment of solemnity, Varla explains to the sold-out audience exactly what an evening of en plein air drag means.

“Guys, I’m being totally serious now when I tell you there is no city in the world like Provincetown for us performers,” says Merman, who stops to take a sip from her cosmopolitan. “I mean it. Nowhere. There’s nowhere in the world that supports entertainers like myself the way that Provincetown does. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be on stage tonight outside with all of you.”

And then Varla playfully and dramatically swats at a phantom mosquito (in actuality, the outdoor shows are surprisingly bug free!). Just down Commercial Street at the Pilgrim House, the only other venue in town that has the space to meet health and safety protocols for outdoor shows, Miss Richfield 1981 yells from far, far away, “I’m grateful, grateful, grateful! I am so grateful! Make sure that in Provincetown Magazine it says how grateful I am. Grateful I tell you!”

Varla Jean Merman

Like Varla, Miss Richfield has turned this enormous challenge into a golden opportunity. It’s incredibly difficult to connect with an audience that is so far away, and in turn, the camaraderie an audience usually feels can be hard to garner when everyone is at a distance. But it all works, as Provincetown performers like Varla and Miss Richfield are supremely talented and professional. The absurdities that may come at them during a show in the best of times, like a drunken heckler or a technical snafu, have shifted to a helicopter flying over or a loud motorcycle. “Oh, it’s past 9, that must be the lesbians heading out of town,” quips Miss Richfield after waiting a few moments to be heard over the passing motorcycles. And then she pops into the refrain of the infernally optimistic Leslie Gore pop song “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” screaming “Everything’s fine!” as an added comedic, panicked refrain. She then dips her head down, and says “We’ll get through these strange times together.”

If art in part acts as an interpreter, there is no performer perhaps better equipped for strange days than Dina Martina. Provincetown is a lifeline to those artists who don’t easily fit in elsewhere. Audiences here aren’t just ready for anything, they expect the outrageous, be it Varla taking a kerplunk in the pool at the Crown or Miss Richfield barrel-assing into the parking lot on her scooter and then getting caught in a bush. So when Dina Martina comes spinning out singing “COVID’s in the air” to the tune of the 1970’s hit “Love is in the Air” in a fetching green and gold caftan, all quickly feels right in the universe. With the world as it is, the wonderful absurdity and the intelligent grotesqueness of it all is calming. Stories about earthquake clowns and the awful day Hostess halted production of Twinkies help put into perspective the real headlines of the day. How? Who knows? But they do. And Dina Martina makes much more sense than the Grand Guignol horror show coming out of the White House.

Provincetown  has weathered global emergencies before. Not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II, Provincetown plunged into inky darkness each night under a blackout order, necessary to keep the coastline safe as Nazi submarines lurked close to shore (and were seen in the Cape Cod Canal). During the war, tourism declined and the town feared the worst as the possibility of an invasion or bombardment was very real. But art continued, as did shows, with audiences entering venues through a set of heavy drapery leading to a dimly lit room. An escape is necessary, especially in times of great strife, uncertainty, and high anxiety. Like the blackout years, Provincetown has pivoted once again, as have audiences who at all three shows were cooperative, compliant, and extra effusive to make sure the applause carried over the socially distant gap to the stage. As frightening as the times are, they are also extraordinary. We’ll never forget them. Seeing these shows, entering the venue wearing masks and playing a pandemic hopscotch on the “Xs” on the ground, and sitting under night sky as drag superstars like Varla, Miss Richfield, and Dina entertain is a uniquely Provincetown affair.

Dina Martina and Varla Jean Merman each perform at the Crown & Anchor, 247 Commercial St. For tickets, schedules, and information call 508.487.1430 or visit Miss Richfield 1981 performs at the Pilgrim House, 336 Commercial St. For tickets, schedules, and information call 508.487.6424 or visit

Recent Posts

Sign up for our Newsletter

Scroll to Top

Sign up for our Newsletter

Graphic Artist

Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

Keep in touch

Fill in your details and I will get back to you in no time.

Phone: + 1 508-487-1000 ext 6
[email protected] 14 Center St. Provincetown MA, 02657