by Steve Desroches
Top Image: Photo: Greg Salvatori
A year ago a friend gave Jonathan Hawkins a book of the poetry by Mary Oliver. The natural world, especially here in Provincetown, was Oliver’s muse. The work of the late, master poet captured the beauty and inspiration of the overwhelming majesty of the Outer Cape like few others. Oliver put words to the feelings of those in love with the sweeping beaches and wooded enclaves of Provincetown. But at the time for Hawkins, it wasn’t that great of a present. He thought he’d never read it. As both a performer and a producer he’s spent the past decade touring the world, spending 75 percent of each year on the road. He was in constant motion. Until, of course, the pandemic hit.
It wasn’t just his summer plans that were altered. Hawkins had the next two years scheduled, and seemingly in an instant, that calendar evaporated. Calling nowhere in particular home Hawkins came to Provincetown to hunker down, a place he’d fallen for on arrival 10 years ago. While he started Live From Provincetown, an online performance platform created with friend and fellow performer Jon Richardson, and began plans for outdoor shows in Provincetown once approved, he for the first time in a long time had down time. He finally read that Mary Oliver book. And it opened his mind and spirit up to all that Provincetown has to offer beyond what he was familiar with. It’s changed everything.
“The stillness has been the greatest gift,” says Hawkins. “I know the pandemic has been hard on a lot of people. It’s been devastating in a lot of ways. For me, it’s probably been the most meaningful time in my life. It’s been a reset button for me. Having this stillness, it’s given me time to think. It’s totally shifted my value system. I was afraid to stop touring as I thought I’d be bored. But I’ve never been bored for a second in this town. There is nowhere in the world I’d rather be than right here.”
Hawkins sighs and then smiles, in an expression of true contentment. Wearing a blue bandana-print gaiter around his neck and a black “86 45” t-shirt with a line incorporating the Progress Pride Flag through the number representing Trump, the 45th President of the United States, he shifts into a completely relaxed posture and sighs again. It’s been a long road both to Provincetown and to peace of mind.
Born and raised in an evangelical Christian home in Salem, Oregon, Hawkins was for many years a “true believer.” So much so he attended Indiana Wesleyan University to become a pastor. During his sophomore year he auditioned for a campus musical and became a star at the university. The music department had plans to propel him into the world of Christian music and he transferred to Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical school at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains just outside of Los Angeles. He was on his way. And then he realized he was gay. In a religious community that treats being gay as something that needs to be treated and overcome on par with drug addiction and alcoholism, Hawkins found himself at a crossroads.
The promises of being the next big Christian singer were not compatible with being an out gay man, and in particular, a happy, out gay man. He’d have to walk away from the faith and community he’d grown up in, as it was clear it was working against him. It took him years to overcome a “religious trauma.” But he did, shifting to secular music in a career that seemingly shot him out of a cannon to success and deeper personal happiness, though he does still contemplate what his own religious or spiritual beliefs are.
Being out, fully, became one of the most powerful things in Hawkins life, something he feels many, many men in the Christian music industry would benefit from as well. “I’ve signed too many NDAs [non-disclosure agreements],” says Hawkins in regards to how many Christian male singers are closeted. “I’ve signed a lot, so that should tell you something. It is very gay.”
Leaving the Christian music world began Hawkins’ marathon sprint touring the world with musicals and concerts, and most notably with Bravo Amici, the first “popera” band to hit it presenting classical opera with a pop-music styling. His deep love for live performance spilled over to production as he also began to work with solo artists as well as creating musical revues, booking them all over the globe, with acts like the Boy Band Project, Yoli Mayor, and Todrick Hall. Eventually, the gravitational pull of Provincetown pulled him into its orbit.
In 2010 he came to Provincetown with his friend Colleen Ballinger, a fellow Azusa Pacific University alumni, who struck YouTube fame with her comedic musical character Miranda Sings. Ballinger’s act was so new and off-kilter, even for Provincetown, she worried her gig at Art House would be a bust. She asked him to sing the Puccini aria “Nessum dorma” while stripping down to a Speedo. He obliged. And the show was a success, for all that it offered.
That introduction to Provincetown was a bit like Dorothy being swept up in the twister and plunked down in Oz. Yes, he saw the potential Provincetown had for his career. And certainly as a gay man discovering Provincetown can be a Technicolor moment. But Hawkins felt the magic that for generations before him artists and writers have documented. For the past six years he’s had some professional role in Provincetown, performing and producing shows at various venues. And this pandemic summer he’s largely worked with the Crown and Anchor, whose owner Rick Murray took him under his wing, says Hawkins. He has an eye and an ear for what works in Provincetown as well as what may be a slow burn as it’s new, but has potential. At 34 year old, Provincetown is the perfect place for him, professionally and personally.
“Living in a community that is all about acceptance, that accepts you for who you are, was a good fit for me,” says Hawkins. “I was being given a lot of cookie-cutter roles to play. I wanted to do more. And when I came to Provincetown I found a place where I could excel and explore my career and discover who I was as a queer artist. I was hungry to create and here I finally had a full color palette. I had all the colors to work with.”
Over the past 10 years Hawkins has never stayed in one locale longer than two months, making the past five months in Provincetown both relaxing and cathartic, despite still being relatively busy. Along with Jon Richardson, he’s been hosting a weekly variety show Poolside at the Crown and Anchor, a gig that wraps up this Indigenous People’s Day holiday weekend. Hawkins bristles with enthusiasm at the thought of the explosion of joy and creativity that will happen in Provincetown once the pandemic is over. That summer will be one to remember. But Hawkins knows that Provincetown’s magic doesn’t end on Labor Day. His vision is to keep live performance vibrant and ongoing through the winter, scrubbing away the idea that when it comes to art that there is an off-season.
“This community is full of incredible talent,” says Hawkins. “There’s no reason it can’t be a draw here year-round. It’s great to have the big headliners here in summer, but we can create something special with the 3,000 people who live here all the time.”
The Jonathan Hawkins and Jon Richardson Variety Show Live is Friday, October 9 at 8:30 p.m. and Jonathan Hawkins and Jon Richardson: Broadway On The Beach is Saturday, October 10 at 8:30 p.m. Both shows are Poolside at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St. Tickets ($35) are available at the box office and online at onlyattthecrown.com. For more information call 508.487.1430.