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Radio Free Provincetown: Tanya O’Debra Hits the 4 Star Solo Show Festival

 Photo: Molly Braxton

by Steve Desroches

Where was Tanya O’Debra on the night of the twelfth? Most likely in her home in New York City. But come three nights this week she’ll be at the Provincetown Theater presenting her one-woman show as part of the annual 4 Star Solo Show Festival. 

The truth is it isn’t exactly a solo show. Yes, O’Debra will be the only person on stage, but over the course of Radio Star she’ll give voice to all 10 characters in this 1940s radio detective spoof in which she’ll also provide all the sound as the foley artist. When it comes to the “Case of the Long Distance Lover” femme fatale Fanny LaRue hires Nick McKitrick: Private Dick to find her husband’s killer. And every squeaky floor board or the striking of a match is part of the plot providing humor as how the sounds are made are quite different than what they illustrate.

“I’d been watching a bunch of 1940s detective stories and it really struck me about all the blatant sexism in the movies,” says O’Debra. “It just seemed ripe to be made fun of. I mean, there’s all these idiot men and the women cleaning up after them. If you enjoy mysteries you’ll love this show.”

A native of Quincy, Massachusetts, O’Debra moved to New York City to pursue life as an actress. But as she says, she quickly learned this would be no easy pursuit. Since she was “not a model and had no connections,” she’d have to make her own opportunities and began working as a playwright. Performing her own written words has taken her all over the country with shows like Shut UP, Emily DickinsonHockey Wives; and Then What Brung You. But it’s Radio Star that seems to have the strongest legs taking her from fringe festivals to small theaters from Northampton to New Orleans. And she thought it perfect for the Provincetown Theater’s annual June festival, which she became aware of through her friend Peter Toto, a rising star in Provincetown himself as an actor and singer. Of all the places she’s performed, coming to Provincetown with Radio Star is particularly fulfilling not just because of the town’s long and storied theatrical legacy, but because of what Provincetown means to her.

“I grew up in Massachusetts and first came to Provincetown on a high school field trip,” says O’Debra. “It was on that trip walking down Commercial Street that I saw a leather daddy, and learned what that was. After that I was like, ‘Hell yeah, this town is the place for me. I’ll be back!’”

Provincetown does indeed have a gravitational pull to a lot of people. But O’Debra’s has a rather unusual origin story. Back in 2010 O’Debra entered the comedic Miss Fag Hag Pageant in New York as Miss Bowery. That year’s judges,Michael Musto, Leslie Jordan, John Cameron Mitchell, and Jerry Torre, were all wowed by her as she competed in evening wear, presenting her gay in a swimsuit, and talent. She took home the crown of Miss Fag Hag 2010 that night. And over that year she made appearances here and there as the reigning queen, including a camptastic smile and wave at the fabulous, annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade. And then she packed her crown and sash away, continued her work as a writer and actress as well as earning a bachelor’s in English language and literature from Smith College and most recently an MFA from New York University in Dramatic Writing. But it’s her reign as Miss Fag Hag that seemed to be her crowning achievement. As social media grew in scope and influence her photo as Miss Fag Hag became a consistent source for memes. She was gaining social media fame.

O’Debra at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade in 2010 
Photo: Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

“It happened so long ago I couldn’t believe it was still around, that that photo was everywhere on the internet,” laughs O’Debra. “It was everywhere. And it ended up as the Wikipedia page for fag hag. If you look up fag hag on Wikipedia my picture comes up!”

That photo grabbed Toto’s attention and last Halloween he dressed up as her in the now iconic photo, much to her delight. In the small world department Toto’s cousin went to NYU with O’Debra and the connection was made. And then Toto did her another solid by connecting her to the Provincetown Theater for her to bring Radio Play to life here.

The show’s genesis dates back to about the time of the mock pageant strangely enough. She was deeply ensconced in the sketch comedy scene in New York, so the idea of crafting a play where she does all the characters was something she felt quite comfortable with. But she’s yet to master the art of the quick change, so to present 10 characters required some creativity. It then evolved into a foley sound show so she could easily tour and all she’d need is a microphone and several items like a piece of sand paper, an old-school telephone, and a pair of men’s loafers. And voila, she has a road company that fits neatly into a suitcase.

“The foley sounds are really fun because there’s this cognitive dissonance adding another layer to the joke,” says O’Debra. “It makes it that much more exciting.”

The 4 Star Solo Show Festival presents Tanya O’Debra in Radio Play at the Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St., Thursday, June 20 through Saturday, June 22, 7 p.m. Tickets ($35) are available at the box office and online at For more information call 508.487.7487.

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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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