Rocky Mountain High!

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Wyoming’s Madge and Bisket Do Bear Week

by Steve Desroches

Living in Wyoming, Madge and Bisket are used to bears. But they were surprised when on their first trip to Provincetown they had several chase them down Commercial Street. The drag duo portrayed by Wayne Noffsinger and Stephanie Michel, he a gay man and she a straight woman, found fame accidentally when they decided to tape and post on social media the shenanigans they got up to each weekend where they live in rural Wyoming, near the border with Idaho.

Being politically liberal makes them enough of outsiders in ruby red Wyoming, never mind deciding to do drag in a part of the country where the nearest drag show is four hours away in Salt Lake City. Drag queens are a resourceful lot, and as such Michel turned the basement of the home she shares with her husband into a private gay bar just for Madge and Bisket called the Velvet Clam where they send out their broadcasts for the world to see. And they did indeed hear from all around the globe, especially during the pandemic as people sought ways to be entertained at home. As they received messages from fans there was a persistent stream of notes from Provincetown, a place they’d never heard of, but quickly realized might be a place sympathetic to their cause. On a whim, they booked a trip to Provincetown that coincided with Bear Week. And when they hit the town in drag, Noffsinger and Michel realized for the first time just how well known Madge and Bisket had become. It took them three hours to go from the Crown and Anchor to the Aqua Bar as they heard a refrain of people shouting their drag names and subsequently being surrounded by adoring fans. It’s an only-in-Provincetown story for the Internet Age that connected these two people who are misfits where they live, but superstars here. And in turn they found a home away from home.

“One of the things we both said was that we’ve never been anywhere that encouraged you to be absolutely yourself,” says Michel. “You can take your defense off and just wiggle down the street! We came into town thinking we were under the radar. We just did what we did back home and didn’t think about. But when we got to Provincetown we were like, ‘How did this happen? What the fuck is happening? This is crazy!’”

Feeling Provincetown’s embrace, they became a street sensation last Bear Week. So much so that performance venues and bars around town noticed and reached out. What started out as a vacation proved life-changing as Madge and Bisket returned this past April to perform in the Pilgrim House’s 4/20 variety show as part of the town’s larger celebration of the marijuana holiday. That weekend Noffsinger and Michel were stunned when the drag community embraced them and showed them even more of the town. And now Madge and Bisket are making their return as special featured guests in the popular Sunday Service Drag Brunch at the Pilgrim House each Sunday that bookends Bear Week.

The ballad of Madge and Bisket is a fabulously circuitous one showing the power of inclusion and the strength of the magnet pull of Provincetown that drew them almost 2,500 miles from the tiny town of Alpine, Wyoming to an eccentric sandbar way out in the North Atlantic. In addition to the giant geographical and cultural leap, the two find both their Internet fame, with hundreds of thousands of followers crazy enough, but that Provincetown would embrace them even more stunning, giving their careers in drag a huge boost. It’s not every day that two people in their fifties with demanding day jobs, he a certified medical assistant and she a special education director, suddenly find success as drag queens, with Michel adding a deep laugh as she is almost always mistaken for a man when dressed as Madge. Provincetown has turned their world upside down in the most marvelous ways.

“I’m getting teary just thinking about it,” says Noffsinger about Provincetown. “I’ve never been in a place like it. I’m 54. To be as old as I am and to be a gay man in this country, and in this part of the country…I’m at a loss for words to describe how Provincetown affected me. When I came to Provincetown I felt like I was coming out again. It was freeing and cathartic. To feel that level of acceptance and encouragement. And to experience it with my best friend who is having this journey with me is just amazing. How can it be anything but transformative? Going to Provincetown has been one of the most defining experiences I’ve ever had.”

While they’re packing their wigs and ostrich feather boas with views of the Rocky Mountains for their trip to Provincetown, Noffsinger and Michel reflect on how Madge and Bisket are slowly changing things in their rural community, one dominated by “Mormons, cowboys, and red necks.” Homophobia is endemic there, with not much changing since the murder of Matthew Shepard, they say. But the post office employees smile whenever they swing by to empty their post office box full of letters and packages for “Madge and Bisket”. And with their newfound swagger, thanks in part to Provincetown, they’ve begun to appear in drag at various spots between their home and Jackson Hole, about an hour north. Drag is always political, but especially in Wyoming.

“Being here in drag in our community is a form of protest,” says Noffsinger. “We get it. We’re taking a stand with beaded eyelashes.”

Madge and Bisket will be special guest stars at Sunday Service Drag Brunch at the Pilgrim House, 336 Commercial St., Sunday, July 10 and Sunday, July 17, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Admission and brunch buffet is $50 and tickets are available at the box office and online at pilgrimhouseptown.com. Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks are extra. Advanced reservations are highly recommended as brunches frequently sell out. For more information call 508.487.6424. To learn more about Madge and Bisket visit madgeandbisket.com.