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Tiny Bubbles and Lucky Pennies

The Odd, Fabulous, Absolutely True Story of a Cosmic Drag Reunion

by Steve Desroches

It’s been said that somewhere in the world we all have a doppelgänger. But not everyone has a drag queen namesake. Imagine it. While many drag queens choose names that are a play on words like Farrah Moan, a clever change-up of a celebrity name like Helluva Bottom Carter, or a unique creation altogether like Dina Martina (though it would be amazing if someone was actually named Dina Martina), it’s a rarity that a nom du drag is actually a person’s real name, as is the case with Penny Champayne.  And perhaps even rarer that the two should randomly bump into one another on a rainy day in a summer season already set on a strange frequency. But that’s exactly what happened one day in Provincetown when the drag goddesses brought two Pennys together.

Over the past 25 years, Penny Champayne has become a household name in Provincetown through her performances at Showgirls, her raucous turns at the mike with the glam band Space Pussy, and scene-stealing roles in productions by the Gold Dust Orphans with her husband Ryan Landry. Brought to life by Scott Martino, Penny is a beloved rock and roll bad girl with a heart of gold. But Martino began his la vie en drag quite differently. He, along with Dean Bryant, would wrestle in various foods in a kiddie pool as Demonica Harm and Gloria Hole. It’s how they ended each night at a club party run by Landry called Hell in the mid 1990s at the Crown and Anchor. They’d duke it out in vast amounts of baked beans or Jell-O, with Gloria as the eternally victorious villain and Demonica, that tender-hearted loser. But there was a problem. Landry pointed out that Martino’s character was too sweet to have such a dark name.

Photo: José A Guzmán Colón

“Ryan said to me ‘You need to pick something bubbly,’” says Martino, sitting wearing a Stevie Nicks facemask and his mustached dog Dolly at his feet. “When he said, ‘bubbly,’ I thought back to junior high, and there was this sweet girl named Penny Shampang. I remember loving her name, and how she dressed and did her hair. And you can’t get any more bubbly than with a last name like that. Over the years I’d always meant to look her up.”

The years flew by though, as they do. Martino and Shampang last saw each other when they graduated Griswold Middle School in 1986 in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, and then went on to different high schools. And over that time Shampang would marry, becoming Penny O’Leary, and go on to have three daughters and settle with her “soul mate” and husband of 25 years in Colchester, about halfway between Hartford and New London. At some point in time, be it 10 years ago, maybe more, a friend had traveled to Provincetown and said to her, “Did you know there is a drag queen there with your name?” When she found out it was Scott Martino, she remembered what a sweet kid he was. To this day O’Leary is not on any kind of social media, and only once did a Google search, finding one picture of Penny Champayne.

Penny in Griswold Middle School’s 1986 yearbook.

“I thought he looked great,” says O’Leary. “I thought, ‘you go Scott!’ And his hair in the photo was the same way I did my hair back in junior high school, back in the days of teased big hair. I thought Scott looked great!”

More years passed and O’Leary’s husband’s uncle and his husband came back from a vacation to Provincetown and just like several years prior, asked, “Do you know there is a drag queen with your name in Ptown?” That’s when O’Leary decided she had to make a trip to Provincetown and find Martino. She’d planned to show up at a show and introduce herself by saying, “Remember me? I’m Penny Shampang!” With her children now grown, she and her husband and his uncles planned a trip to Provincetown for Carnival. She was especially excited to see a drag show. Years ago she and her girlfriends saw a drag show in Hartford and O’Leary loved it so much that she’d wanted to make seeing one in Provincetown a priority. But alas, the pandemic struck, canceling Carnival and shuttering indoor entertainment. O’Leary was disappointed.

So, too was Martino. By mid-August Martino would usually be garnering applause on stage at the A-House in Showgirls or up at Fisherman Hall hamming it up with the Gold Dust Orphans. Instead, he picked up a few shifts at the Brew House, working along side fellow Orphans legend Olive Another. And on what would have been a crazy Carnival Week workday, it was rather quiet, exaggerated by the overcast skies, which turned to rain. The Brew House only does outdoor dining, moving customers indoors to the socially distanced layout to finish their meals should the weather turn. Martino felt terrible for the couple that already ordered when it began to rain, so with masks on all around he began to chat with them to keep them company in the nearly empty space. Little did he know he was in for a little only-in-Provincetown kismet.

Scott in Griswold Middle School’s 1986 yearbook.

O’Leary and family had decided to come to Provincetown anyway. It’s a beautiful spot and they can enjoy the beach, they thought. And as a surprise, her uncles-in-law bought tickets to see Varla Jean Merman poolside at the Crown. Things were looking up. So it didn’t get her down when she and her husband had to move inside to enjoy their lunch, particularly since they found the host to be so friendly. Conversation eventually moved to a shared home state, and then town, which led to a eureka moment when O’Leary looked into the man’s eyes above his mask and saw the spirit of the sweet boy she went to school with all those years ago. She said, “Scott? Scott Martino?! I’m Penny Shampang!”

“I screamed ‘Holy sh*t!’” says Martino. “Ollie came over and gave me this bug eyed look like what are you doing. And I said, ‘This is Penny Shampang, THE Penny Shampang! He screamed, too, and said it’s such an honor to meet you!”

Martino recalled the reunion in a Facebook post that garnered an enormous amount of attention, particularly because it’s a happy story in a time of such grim news. They reminisced, told each other about their lives, and laughed a lot. Martino couldn’t believe it, the completely random confluence of events that led to this sliding door moment. Neither could O’Leary, who at that night’s long-awaited drag show received a rousing ovation when Varla told the story to the audience. They made plans to stay in touch as well as create a more public reunion of the two Pennys once things are back to normal and Provincetown is running at full capacity.

“I’ll definitely be back,” says O’Leary. “I loved everything about the town. It’s so beautiful. I love how everyone can be themselves; that you can be whoever you are so freely. Love is love. I loved seeing those that dressed up in costumes even though Carnival was canceled. I loved it all. I’ll definitely be back and can’t wait to see Penny on stage.”

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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

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