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American Holiday Story

The Jingle Bell Run. Photo courtesy of the Provincetown Business Guild

Provincetown and the Sparkle Season

by Steve Desroches

As 2021 approaches its end it seems safe to say it was a doozy of year in Provincetown. When summer began with Michael Packard getting gulped and then spat out by a whale it should have been taken as an omen that strange days were ahead. Then came the July outbreak of Covid, aggressive coyotes on the beaches, dorsal fins in the water, belonging to either mola molas or great white sharks, startling swimmers, a plane crash, and a swarm of mosquitos so ferocious we all wondered if they had escaped from a lab. It felt like it was one thing after another, and even in a town that’s used to the unexpected and bizarre happenings, 2021 had everyone asking “What’s next?!” It seemed entirely possible that the no talent losers who took “the muse” in American Horror Story: Double Feature might actually start roaming the streets in their Klaus Nomi jackets looking for fresh blood.

Throughout all the challenges of this past year, and 2020, the strength of the Provincetown community became clear. Even when it seemed like an unending torrent of bad news, the takeaway was that people came together to help each other. That grit and commitment is the mortar that holds the foundation of Provincetown together. So as we enter this season of gratitude, celebration, and rest, it is beyond comforting in this crazy, crazy world to be able to live in or visit a place like Provincetown.

Kicking off this special time of year is the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, which will, as is tradition, illuminate the Monument for the holiday season. Once again, rather than on the night before Thanksgiving, the lighting will take place at 6 p.m. on November 11, the date the Mayflower arrived in what is now Provincetown Harbor in 1620. While again crowds will not be allowed to assemble on High Pole Hill, it is hoped that the town will “get loud for the lights” and honk horns and bang pots and pans once the Monument is lit, in particular to celebrate tolerance, acceptance, justice, and equality.

The Canteen Holiday Market. Photo courtesy of the Provincetown Business Guild

November 11 is also Veterans Day, a holiday to honor those that served in the United States Armed Forces. As part of that commemoration the Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro, along with the Cape Cod National Seashore, is hosting Remembrances of the North Truro Air Force Radar Station on November 12. Curated by Dan Lombardo, this series includes films, author talks, and an original play, among other community events. It is inspired by the Cold War site on which Payomet resides. There will be a showing of Rebecca M. Alvin’s documentary film, Out of Service: A Cold War Memory followed by featured speakers: Audrey Sherwin Parent, daughter of NTAFS Commander John Sherwin; Laura Canterbury Parker, daughter of NTAFS airman John Franklin Canterbury, who will be donating an album of photos taken during the decommissioning ceremonies as well as a playbill for it; Denise Ilkovich, daughter of John Doepper, who worked on Texas Towner #2 in Georges Bank and was out there when Texas Tower #4 off Long Beach, New Jersey collapsed, resulting in the deaths of 28 people in 1961.

Things get hot and wild at the Crown and Anchor come mid-November with the Mr. New England Leather Weekend, November 19 – 21, featuring Mr. New England Leather 2020 Roberto Cuero. Despite being associated with Plymouth, Provincetown has grown exponentially over the past decade as a destination for Thanksgiving. On the actual holiday and throughout the long weekend, many restaurants in town offer dining specials, and the shops in town begin sales for the holiday shopping season. In preparation for a big Thanksgiving dinner you can burn some calories in advance at the Provincetown Pilgrim 5K Trot that raises funds for HOW (Helping Our Women). The day after Thanksgiving the popular Holiday Market at Canteen opens and continues every Friday and Saturday through January 2. The day after Thanksgiving the good times begin to roll at Drag Bingo with Thirsty Burlington at the Crown as well as a one night only concert with the fabulous Qya Cristal and Donnelly & Richardon performing the songs of Dolly Parton, the Rainbow Connection Dance Party: Turkey Burn Off Edition at the Provincetown Brewing Company, and the Anita Cocktail Variety Hour, a drag extravaganza which will run through selected weekends in December and New Year’s weekend at the Post Office Cabaret. Tin Pan Alley and the Crown will host live music throughout the weekends of the holiday season, with Bobby Wetherbee, Jon Richardson, and Donnelly & Richardson playing at the latter, and the Atlantic House offers dance parties from Turkey Day until ringing in the New Year.

Peter Donnelly & Jon Richardson.

Perhaps the most beloved event of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is the lighting of the Lobster Pot Christmas tree in Lopes Square on Saturday night. Designed by the late artist Julian Popko the 100-plus lobster pots are stacked over two stories high, decorated with ribbons, garlands, and thousands of festive lights to create a unique and historically significant reinvention of the Christmas tree in a specifically New England maritime manner.

The Provincetown Business Guild (PBG) is well known as one of the first LGBTQ+ chambers of commerce in the United States, but also as the producers of Carnival and the big parade, which has become the town’s signature event. But the PBG also presents Holly Folly and First Light, an LGBTQ+ holiday festival and the town’s New Year’s celebration. Holly Folly, December 3 – ­5, is a festival filled with entertainment, food, shopping, nightlife, and merry events created to welcome the winter season to the queerest resort town in the nation. All weekend visitors can stroll and shop their way along Provincetown’s bustling Commercial Street at the Holly Folly Shop Hop and Gallery Stroll. Buying from small, locally owned businesses helps to keep Provincetown devoid of bland, corporate chains and maintain the unique character of the town. To start the festivities off is the Jolly Holly Folly Ugly Sweater and Wig Bar Crawl on Friday night. To make it jolly, don your ugly sweater and a wig and stroll to your favorite bar or lounge for a holiday beverage, where Holly Folly hostesses, Trampolina and Constance Waverly, will be making surprise visits. Later that evening, stroll over to the Post Office Cabaret for the Tis the Season for Giving Benefit Show to raise money for the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod. Hosted by Provincetown’s own Anita Cocktail, Tis The Season will feature performances by Abby Cummings, Zola Powell, Jona Williams, Liza Lott, John Swanson, Miller Brooks, and many more of your favorite entertainers from all over New England. This live performance will be streamed online in real time via postofficecafe.net.

Saturday, December 4, is Holly Folly Express Yourself Day, a new Provincetown tradition started this past summer. All are encouraged to convey their individuality and dress up in colorful, creative ways to celebrate the holidays, be it Christmas, Hanukah, the Winter Solstice, or whatever sparkles and shines. The day begins with the annual Jingle Bell Run and Champagne Brunch with sprinters and strollers in their finest Speedos, Santa, Rudolph, and naughty elf costumes making their way down Commercial Street. The Pilgrim House, the Post Office Cabaret, and the Crown and Anchor all have entertainment running throughout Holly Folly, with the centerpiece of the weekend the Holly Folly Follies Holiday Extravaganza. At the Crown the hometown favorite Thirsty Burlington presents her holiday spectacular and the party keeps rolling with the Babes in Toyland Dance Party and Toy Drive. This holiday edition of the Provincetown Follies brings some of Provincetown’s most iconic performers to the Provincetown Town Hall stage for a festive cabaret show that promises to be the gayest holiday show in town. Continuing the holiday celebration at Provincetown Town Hall on Saturday, December 18 is Sweet Honey in the Rock: Celebrating the Holydays. This special performance is a rare fusion of traditional American holiday spiritual songs and hymns, as well as songs from other cultures and religions ranging from Africa to Israel. This show is a seasonal presentation that also offers songs from the group’s extensive repertoire, including “We Are,” “Let There Be Peace,” “The Women Gather,” and “Come Ye.”

Thirsty Burlington. Photo courtesy of the Provincetown Business Guild

Many may be glad to cast off 2021 with hopes of better days ahead in 2022. Say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new with First Light, December 30 through January 2. Festivities include the Light Bright Bike Ride, where decorated and illuminated bicycles parade down Commercial Street. Parties, special dinners, and events abound at the nightclubs, bars, and restaurants in Provincetown New Year’s weekend, which is punctuated with the annual Polar Bear Plunge where the brave take a dip in chilly Provincetown Harbor New Year’s Day followed by fireworks at dusk. New Year’s weekend at the Crown rings in 2022 with the Provincetown Follies, the Robbie Pate Trio, and a grand New Year’s Eve Ball. 

Come January the beloved Coffeehouse at the Mews makes a return after almost two years dark, a sign of continuing progress and that 2022 may be a return to some sense of normalcy.

This issue marks the last edition of Provincetown Magazine for 2021. It been a thrill and a pleasure, as well as, at times exhausting, to cover arts, entertainment, and culture on the Outer Cape in what proved to be another challenging year. But Provincetown is tough and resilient, and we cannot wait to see all that 2022 has in store for us. One thing is for sure, you can count on Provincetown Magazine for top-notch storytelling all about one of the most dynamic, fascinating, and beautiful places on Earth. See you in April!

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Ready for Takeoff

Jessica Vosk Returns to Provincetown for New Year’s Weekend

by Steve Desroches

Jessica Vosk is head and shoulders above everyone on Broadway, quite literally, and actually much higher than that. Prior to the pandemic Vosk soared in the musical Wicked as Elphaba at New York City’s Gershwin Theatre, delivering the show-stopping “Defying Gravity” at the end of Act I, 40 feet above the stage. But this wasn’t her first flight on the Great White Way. In the 2016 revival of Fiddler on the Roof Vosk wowed audiences as the vengeful ghost of Fruma-Sarah, who appears in Tevye’s concocted nightmare with a warning of otherworldly murder should the marriage of his daughter Tzeital and Lazar Wolf come to fruition. In another scene-stealing moment, the message from beyond the grave is delivered in a towering performance, both in voice and with Vosk soaring above the ensemble with phantasmal shrieks and wails. Considering the stamina needed to perform on Broadway, with singing, acting, and dancing for over two hours, it’s a Herculean task to add in stunt work that takes Vosk into the rafters.

“I always tell people that it might surprise those not in our world, the muggles, that it’s quite an Olympic feat performing on Broadway,” says Vosk. “It’s exhausting doing eight shows a week, not just the physicality of a show, but also singing one of the coolest moments in musical theater. Little does everyone know that I’m standing on a little piece of metal about the size of my foot and thinking, ‘Don’t move.’ But that’s the magic. When I was playing Fruma-Sarah I kept calling myself ‘Dead Elphaba.’ I guess I manifested the role in Wicked.”

Vosk as Fruma-Sarah haunting Tevye and Golde in Fiddler on the Roof.

While her voice will certainly reach the stratosphere, Vosk will have both feet on the ground when she performs two concert-and-conversation shows at the Art House this New Year’s Eve weekend with Seth Rudetsky as pianist and host. But prior to coming to Provincetown again, after making her town debut this past summer, Vosk can add another triumph to her resume: her first solo show at Carnegie Hall.

On November 8 Vosk performed My Golden Age, a concert performance, with a 13-piece orchestra, of songs by artists, composers, and lyricists that were influential to her as a child growing up in New Jersey, like Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Bette Midler, Linda Ronstadt, and more. It’s basically an homage to the “brassy boss ladies” the inspired Vosk to ditch her job as a financial investment relations executive on Wall Street and follow her dream to be a Broadway star, which she did when she made her debut as a swing actor in the production of the musical The Bridges of Madison County eight years ago. It’s been a meteoric rise ever since.

The show at Carnegie Hall is really coming full circle for Vosk. Not long after taking the leap from the world of finance to musical theater, she received her big break. While trying to get her foot in the door Vosk performed frequently at venues like Birdland and the Duplex, as well as in roles in shows and revues at small venues like the Laurie Beechman Theatre. It was during this time she caught the attention of musical director and conductor Paul Gemignani, who was so impressed with her vocal prowess and stage presence he offered her a role in his new project without an audition. That show, an English language concert adaptation of Kristina, a Swedish musical written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of the mega pop group ABBA, was staged at Carnegie Hall in 2009 and then again in London at the Royal Albert Hall in 2010. While Andersson and Ulvaeus are known for writing global Euro pop hits and of course their jukebox musical Mama Mia!, this musical was a lush orchestral piece with some of the “most beautiful music,” says Vosk. It was quite the entrée to the world of musical theater.

Vosk as Elphaba in Wicked.

“At the after-party after the Royal Albert Hall show, we were in Elton John’s piano room, you know, as you do,” laughs Vosk. “And Benny sat down at the piano and began to play. I said to myself, ‘You know Vosk, now’s the time to just go for it.’ I went over and sang ‘The Winner Takes It All.’ All of that was one of the best experiences of my life.”

With New York City’s theaters coming back to life, Vosk can feel the corresponding excitement of all those who work on and off the stages of Broadway. She’s taken in a few shows herself, and feels both relieved that this world she loves so much is all coming back and that it’s doing so with firm Covid safety protocols. The pandemic put so many dreams on hold. In the fall of 2019 Vosk appeared in Becoming Nancy at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. The new musical is based on a true story about a gay schoolboy in 1970s London who is cast as Nancy in his secondary school’s production of Oliver. Vosk says the experience was great and that there were hopes the show would eventually make its way to Broadway. And perhaps now it will, as the creative pipelines are unclogging. As for now, she’s basking in the glow of Carnegie Hall and looking forward to welcoming 2022 here in Provincetown.

“I’m obsessed with it,” says Vosk of Provincetown. “When I first went I was like, ‘okay, this is where I want to go when I die. This is my gay heaven.’ I loved it immediately. I couldn’t believe it took me so long to visit. I loved the neighborhood I was in. One day I was walking down the street and passed a group in drag as The Golden Girls and then minutes later I’m eating this great bruschetta at a cute little place by the water. It’s pretty amazing there. I’m so looking forward to spending New Year’s Eve there.”

Jessica Vosk performs with Seth Rudetsky as pianist and host at the Art House, 214 Commercial St., Friday, December 31 and Saturday, January 1 at 7 p.m. Tickets ($50/$75/$100) are available at the box office and online at ptownarthouse.com. For more information call 508.487.9222.

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Postmark Provincetown

The Art Colony and the Tradition of Handmade Christmas Cards

by Steve Desroches

The practice of sending greeting cards for a variety of occasions is an ancient custom with ties back to antiquity in China and Egypt. And come the 15th century, cards for the New Year and Valentine’s Day were commonly exchanged in Europe. In Victorian England Christmas cards became incredibly popular, and by the 20th century postcard and greeting card companies in the United States began to mass-produce and market their products for just about every event that can be imagined. They’ve been such a part of so many cultural expressions for so long. Perhaps they’re taken for granted a bit as just an ephemeral sentiment. But on closer inspection, in addition to the message from a friend or family, each card is a bit of art in your mailbox, usually designed by an unknown hand ever since the Industrial Revolution brought about mass manufacturing. But for many artists and artisans the practice of making a card by hand seemed only natural, a custom and tradition that lasted for decades here once the art colony was founded in 1899, and in the process put a uniquely Provincetown mark on their creations.

Barbara Haven (Brown) Malicoat (1903-1987) Noel Noel,1963,
Linoleum block print, 8” x 9”

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Provincetown art colony received an infusion of new views and ideas when Americans living in Europe, as well as European artists, fled the continent, many settling in New York’s Greenwich Village as well as here in the summers, or year-round.  In the years that followed, a group of artists that came to be known as the Provincetown Printers developed the white-line woodcut print, sometimes called the “Provincetown print.” Instead of creating separate wood blocks for each color, only one was used, and in most cases the space in between the shapes creating the image was left white, though not always. This practice became popular very quickly, garnering international attention from the art world as to what was happening in Provincetown. While the prints graced the walls of galleries around Provincetown, the artists who worked in the medium also began to use the technique when making Christmas cards each holiday season, creating small works of art that are now collectible themselves. The Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) has about a dozen of these cards in their collection, according to Chief Executive Officer Christine McCarthy, dating from 1928 to 1965.

Barbara Haven (Brown) Malicoat (1903-1987) Malicoat Family Christmas Card, 1965 Linoleum block print, 8.5” x 11”

“Based on the artists who created the cards (this is referencing the PAAM collection), it seems as if the holiday cards would have transpired out of the white-line tradition considering that many of the artists represented were printmakers: Oliver Chaffee, Blanche Lazzell, Ferol Warthen, Charles Martin, and Barbara Haven Brown Malicoat,” says McCarthy. “It would make sense to use printmaking as the vehicle for making multiples, which most people do when sending holiday cards instead of creating a unique one for each person or family. And why would you spend money on buying holiday cards if you could make them?  I know that artists used to make invitations to parties or gatherings through printmaking, as well. I think it served as an economic and creative vehicle for well-wishing and gathering.”

In 2009 PAAM presented a show curated by artist Breon Dunigan featuring over 70 of these holiday cards, some of which were made by Dunigan’s grandmother Barbara Malicoat, who would add an image of each new grandchild as they were born that year. The show increased the attention and interest in these cards, which are considered rare, as many were not saved over the years. In addition, the custom faded, as the artists that began it were largely all gone come the 1970s. In 2011, to help revive the tradition PAAM held a juried show, overseen by artists Pasquale Natale and David Foley, that featured original holiday cards chosen for exhibition.

Barbara Haven (Brown) Malicoat (1903-1987) Malicoat Family Christmas Card, 1964
Linoleum block print, 9” x 8”

Many of the cards in PAAM’s collection. as well as those held by private collectors, are specific in their imagery of Provincetown, Cape Cod, and maritime life, making them even more valuable, historically and artistically. One card in particular, not in PAAM’s collection, was created in 1918 by Mildred “Dolly” McMillen and features her with fellow artist Ada Gilmore relaxing on a winter’s night by a cast iron wood stove. It’s long attracted attention not just for its artistic aspects, but also its bold depiction of two women together in such a domestic situation. Is it an early expression of two relatively out lesbians? Is it a document of a so-called “Boston Marriage,” where women seeking independence lived together sometimes in romantic relationships, sometimes not? Or perhaps it’s evidence of the bohemian ways of many in Provincetown at a time when social conventions were eschewed for then-radical thoughts on open marriages and the like, as they sent out Christmas greetings as a couple, and their cat Pico, with an extra layer of wondering if it is named for one of the islands in the Azores, another uniquely Provincetown feature considering the town’s Portuguese heritage. It’s not appropriate to place labels on anyone, especially when looking back historically, but the image nevertheless stands out as particularly Provincetown.

“Both Gilmore and McMillen were part of the Provincetown Printers,” says McCarthy. “They met in Chicago studying at the Art Institute, then went to Paris to study with Ethel Mars who also came to Provincetown. They moved to Provincetown together in 1914. McMillen preferred to print in black and white and I believe this is her design in the card.  Gilmore was married to Oliver Chaffee, although she and McMillen were longtime companions.”

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Svadba

A crew captures footage of performers Victoria Awkward and Jackie Davis (l.-r.) as Boston Lyric Opera films Svadba on Ballston Beach in Truro.

Boston Lyric Opera Comes  to Truro

by Rebecca M. Alvin

Weddings spark an array of emotions. Whether here in a country where marriage has been on the decline for decades and divorce a 50/50 chance, or in a more traditional culture where marriages are expected for everyone, with the assumption they will last forever, the union of two people in matrimony can bring out our best and our worst. But while one’s wedding day can have its own particular anxieties and joys, it is only the culmination of other events, such as wedding showers, bachelor parties, and bachelorette parties. In Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic’s play Svadba (which means “wedding” in Serbian), it is that night before the wedding that is the focus. Specifically, it begins on the bride’s final night as a single woman, and the women in her life, her friends, celebrate this with her. In addition, there are fantasy/dream sequences as she looks forward to her wedding.

Svadba is an a capella opera, for female voices, and the composer Ana Sokolovic created what we believe to be this really inspiring and powerful and complex piece of music that is telling this abstract, nonlinear story,” says Bradley Vernatter, artistic director of the Boston Lyric Opera’s (BLO), which is currently shooting a film version of Svadba in Truro.

 “And just musically it’s really unique. It’s a contemporary piece that still has very warm and wonderful harmonies that are really drawing you into it,” he adds.

Director Shura Baryshnikov with Cape Cod resident Erica Gomes, the hair and makeup coordinator for the shoot.

Like many opera and theater companies around the world, BLO was deeply affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. And while they have commenced performing for live audiences again now, for the past 18 months or so, they’ve struggled with how to continue to bring groundbreaking as well as traditional operas to audiences safely. The strategy that emerged was to not just stream opera performances, as the Metropolitan Opera in New York City does, but to work with operas in a cinematic way. Instead of competing with that much larger institution, they decided to work with cinematic operas, as film and certain operas share many common threads, and shoot them for the screen.

So the story itself is not narrative, it’s pretty abstract; it’s not linear and it’s not really literal. And it’s investigating the sites of these relationships with her family and with her friends on the precipice of this next chapter of her life. And because of the abstract nature of the storytelling, and really the way that this core is written, as well, it just – when I first heard it, it just felt to me very much like a cinematic core,” he explains. “And because it’s based on Slavic and Balkan folktales, which sort of happen in scenes or episodes, rather than a very strict literal storytelling and so the abstract nature of it really, we believe, lends itself to being explored in a cinematic way.”

To direct the film, BLO tapped Shura Baryshnikov (daughter of Jessica Lange and Mikhail Baryshnikov), who is also an accomplished choreographer and brings those sensibilities to her work. Vernatter says Svadba is a piece that merges together the disciplines of music and dance, in addition to lending itself to a cinematic interpretation, making Baryshnikov ideal for the job.

BLO has produced one other opera-film, The Fall of the House of Usher, with music by Philip Glass, and also a very successful opera miniseries called in desert, which was shown on Operabox.tv. Now, Vernatter and Baryshnikov have chosen to film Svadba right here in Truro, giving the opera a uniquely coastal New England vibe. While Sokolovic didn’t set the story on the Cape, she has stated in interviews that it was very much her intention to make something culturally specific but with vast universal connections so that it could be set anywhere. And certainly bringing Balkan culture to Truro is a nice fit.

Observing the cast and crew working hard to capture a dream sequence from the opera on Ballston Beach in Truro on a sunny October morning, with the white-capped waves crashing closer and closer to a cameraman’s feet, the risks and rewards of shooting on location in New England are clear. Just as it seems his feet are going to get wet, Baryshnivok calls cut and the crew is on to a different setup slightly farther inland. Coincidentally, it is just after high tide and the waves recede anyway, perfectly supporting this production. But according to Vernatter, such has not always been the case; the day before, an entire scene had to be restaged because of the chilly wind that tore through our region for 24 hours. The only things you can rely on in New England are unreliable weather reports and drastic shifts in wind and temperature. But also the light shifts. As this story is set over a specific period of time, from the evening before to the morning when the wedding occurs, Vernatter says they have felt like they were always “chasing the light” to anchor this abstract story in a particular time frame.

“But what a wonderful place,” he says. “I mean, artists for decades have been chasing the light out here in Truro and the end of the Cape. And in this case we’re just letting it inspire the work that we’re doing. So it’s a good challenge to have.”

Svadba will be premiering in late January 2022 on operabox.tv. For more information about this and other Boston Lyric Opera productions visit blo.org.

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REVIEW: Albert and the Whale by Philip Hoare

 by Rebecca M. Alvin

Reading a book written by Philip Hoare is a unique experience. The British-born nonfiction writer who is a part-time Provincetown resident most years (when there isn’t a pandemic preventing him) has a way of selecting a topic—such as whales or the sea—and organizing his books’ structures not as chronological tales, not as subtopics building on the central subject matter, but as a many-tentacled mythological creature, with tangents stemming out from the main body, the stated topic, that we follow out and then back inward. In the process, we sometimes stray quite far from the core issue, even losing focus for a bit. But when we retrace our steps, it’s clear why we had to do so to understand something more than what we could in a traditional structure.

In his latest book Albert and the Whale, Hoare takes us on his journey toward a deeper knowledge of the great artist Albrecht Dürer by studying how he depicted nature, non-human animals in particular. But Hoare accomplishes this feat not by focusing entirely on Dürer himself (although there are some fascinating historical insights about him) but also on others who came after him and were in some way moved or influenced by him, like Thomas Mann and Marianne Moore, or like Hoare himself. And so the book not only details Dürer’s life, referencing his own writings and other reference materials, it also describes how just as Dürer drew and made woodcuts of animals he’d never actually seen in real life, like the whale of its title, relying only upon the reports of others, other artists (especially writers such as Hoare) connect with Dürer hundreds of years after his death, through his artworks. Albert and the Whale is about art itself.

But aside from Hoare’s intriguing stylistic and structural approach, he is also capable of communicating his deep connection to Dürer in the same way he lovingly wrote about the ocean in The Sea Inside and about whales in Leviathan (both topics that resurface again in all of his books, including this one). For example, in one passage, where he visits a man who has what is supposedly a lock of Dürer’s hair, Hoare describes the anxiety and awe he felt touching it in terms that give one chills: “I’m holding Dürer. He’s as heavy as a tooth or a tusk. He doesn’t feel safe in my bent hands. He ought to be in a baroque chapel, in a monstrance, not this academic basement. Martin and I talk about what it means. Neither of us is sure. Because I don’t speak his first language, and he only fitfully speaks mine, and because there’s this powerful thing between us, our words are more precise… Dürer was raised on relics. Now he is one. His hair growing on after he’s gone, a floppy lock fallen from the barber’s chair. A token for a lost loved one. Locked up, like the princess in her crystal coffin, waiting to regenerate. We could make a new Dürer from his genes.”

One can truly lose oneself in Hoare’s writing. Confusing sometimes? Yes. Meandering even? Yes, I think so. But so is getting lost in the woods or losing track of time or losing yourself in someone else’s embrace.

Albert and the Whale (2021, Pegasus Books) by Philip Hoare is available wherever books are sold. Please support your local bookstore.

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ANNOUNCEMENTS: November 11, 2021

Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Top Image: A scene from Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

MET Opera Has Returned to WHAT

The 2021-22 season of live broadcasts at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (WHAT) began in October and features ten operas, with four Met premieres and two new productions. Tickets are now on sale. Due to reduced capacity, advance online ticket purchases are strongly encouraged. The season kicked off with two operas in October: Boris Godunov and Fire Shut Up in My Bones. What follows is the remainder of the season.

December 4, 2021, 12:55 p.m. – Eurydice (Matthew Aucoin) New Production/Met Premiere: Brilliant American composer Matthew Aucoin brings a new take on the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus. With a libretto by Sarah Ruhl (The Clean House, In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play), adapted from her acclaimed 2003 play, the opera reimagines the familiar tale from Eurydice’s point of view. 3:03 (183 minutes)

January 1, 2022, 12:55 p.m. – Cinderella (Massenet) In this New Year’s Day performance, Laurent Pelly’s storybook staging of Massenet’s Cendrillon, a hit of the 2017–18 season, is presented with an all-new English translation in an abridged adaptation. 1:47 (107 minutes)

January 29, 2022, 12:55 p.m. – Rigoletto (Verdi) New Production: Tony Award­–winning director Bartlett Sher’s bold new take on Verdi’s timeless tragedy resets the opera in 1920s Europe, with Art Deco sets by Michael Yeargan and elegant costumes by Catherine Zuber, themselves boasting a combined 11 Tony Awards. 3:26 (206 minutes)

March 12, 2022, 12:55 p.m. – Ariadne Auf Naxos (R. Strauss) The exhilarating soprano Lise Davidsen makes her Live in HD debut in one of her signature roles, the mythological Greek heroine of Strauss’s enchanting masterpiece. 3:04 (184 minutes)

March 26, 2022, 12 p.m.* – Don Carlos (Verdi) New Production/Met Premiere: For the first time in company history, the Met presents the original five-act French version of Verdi’s epic opera of doomed love among royalty, set against the backdrop of the Spanish Inquisition. 5:14 (314 minutes) *please note differing start time.

May 7, 2022, 12:55 p.m. – Turandot (Puccini) Superstar Anna Netrebko makes her long-awaited Met role debut as Puccini’s icy princess, with tenor Yonghoon Lee as the bold prince determined to win Turandot’s love, soprano Ermonela Jaho as the devoted servant Liù, and legendary bass Ferruccio Furlanetto as the blind king Timur. 3:26 (206 minutes)

May 21, 2022, 12:55 p.m. – Lucia Di Lammermoor (Donizetti) New Production: Soprano Nadine Sierra takes on one of the repertory’s most formidable and storied roles, the haunted heroine of Lucia di Lammermoor, in an electrifying new staging by in-demand Australian theater and film director Simon Stone, conducted by Riccardo Frizza. 3:44 (224 minutes)

June 4, 2022, 12:55 p.m. – Hamlet (Brett Dean) New Production/Met Premiere: When Australian composer Brett Dean’s Hamlet had its world premiere at the Glyndebourne Festival in 2017, The Guardian declared, “New opera doesn’t often get to sound this good … Shakespeare offers a gauntlet to composers that shouldn’t always be picked up, but Dean’s Hamlet rises to the challenge.” 3:34 (214 minutes)

WHAT looks forward to inviting the community back inside the theater, with upgrades to the ventilation system to increase fresh air turnover. To protect the health and safety of the audience and staff, masks and proof of vaccination are required. Seating is reserved and adheres to current guidance from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to protect the health of staff, artists, patrons, and community. To learn more about current policies and what to expect when attending a performance please visit what.org/public-health-and-covid-19. Tickets: $30 / $27 seniors / $15 students.

Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night (dir. Frank Capra, 1934).

Just for Laughs: Four Classic 1930s Comedies

 A new virtual film series curated and hosted by Marc Strauss and presented over Zoom  latest virtual film and discussion series brings four classic comedies into your living room each Friday this November.  Dr. Strauss will introduce each film and lead a discussion following each screening. The remaining films are:

Friday, November 12, 7 p.m.: It Happened One Night (Feb. 1934)–Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert were never better in this Oscar-winning romantic comedy by Frank Capra.

Friday, November 19, 7 p.m.: The Thin Man (May 1934)–More than slightly tipsy Nick and Nora and Asta Charles, in the first and best of the six Thin Man series films, investigate the disappearance of an inventor in this classic Dashiell Hammett-scripted comedy mystery.

Friday, November 26, 7 p.m.: It’s a Gift (November 1934)–W. C. Fields is a grocery store owner who goes West with his family. Charles Sellon as a blind man, T. Roy Barnes as a salesman looking for a certain Carl LaFong. Access is $10 per film, or enjoy the entire series for $30. For tickets and information visit what.org.

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November 11, 2021

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Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

Billie Hayes as Witchiepoo, Lynde, and Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West Photo © American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Paul Lynde and Provincetown

by Steve Desroches

Top Image: Billie Hayes as Witchiepoo, Lynde, and Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West. Photo © American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“Incoherent homosexual anarchy.”

That’s how one television critic described The Paul Lynde Halloween Special. And they were right. This sparkling gem of the golden age of the variety show aired only once on October 29, 1976 on ABC and has since become a cult classic for its bizarre mélange of stars of the 1970s as well as for Lynde’s campy zingers and quips that often were thinly veiled gay references that viewers were either hip to or not. The narrative of this holiday special has Lynde visiting Gloomsbury Manor at the invitation of his maid who offers to take him on a visit to her sister to escape Halloween night pranks the kids always play on him. As it turns out, both his maid and her sister are witches and offer him three wishes in return for help in improving the image of witches in society. And then glorious, strange, classically 70s wackiness ensues with a cast that included Tim Conway, Betty White, Donny and Marie Osmond, Florence Henderson, Roz “Pinky Tuscadero” Kelly, Billy Barty, Billie Hayes as Witchiepoo and Margaret Hamilton reprising her role as the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Oh, and it was also the prime time television debut of KISS.

KISS and Paul Lynde. Photo © American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When legendary television and comedy writer Bruce Vilanch was offered the job to become part of the show’s writing team he says he “jumped” right at it. Lynde was enormously famous from his star-making role in the 1963 film adaption of the musical Bye, Bye Birdie, his scene-stealing appearances as Uncle Arthur on the sitcom Bewitched, and of course as the center square on The Hollywood Squares, a gig he had from 1968 to 1981. But he also had several flops, including two failed sitcoms with him in the leading role. To fulfill his contract, ABC threw a bunch of variety shows his way, says Vilanch, as Hollywood and audiences just didn’t see him and his brand of humor as more than a second banana taking abuse and delivering bitchy one-liners, which upset Lynde greatly. And then there were of the course the rumors about his sexuality, which were dead-on accurate, but nevertheless forced Lynde into the closet very much against his will. But true to form, The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, as with almost all of his work, would be a gay affair.

“We were queens in the 70s,” says Vilanch about him and the only other gay writer on the show, Billy Barnes. “We were campy and we had that attitude. It was never openly discussed, but the other writers thought that people who would be offended wouldn’t get it anyway. That’s what got Paul through Hollywood Squares.

It really got him through his whole career. In a scene set in Arabia on the Halloween Special Lynde as a sheik hands Tim Conway, who is playing a Foreign Legion scout, a cockatoo because “it can get lonely in the Foreign Legion.” This double-fisted, double entendre was pure Lynde. On The Hollywood Squares Lynde’s lavender humor was more pronounced with famous jokes like when, in response to host Peter Marshall’s question “Why do motorcyclists wear leather jackets?” Lynde quipped, “Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.” The stealthy gay humor made him a star, but being gay limited him in Hollywood. In addition, severe insecurities brought on by childhood obesity, perceived and real limits of his talent, and loneliness all made his addiction to alcohol worse. Most everyone that knew him said he could be monstrously cruel and obnoxious anyway, but when alcohol touched his lips it seemed a more appropriate Halloween costume would have been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde than a witch on his variety show. Vilanch recalled Lynde being “all over” a young John Travolta on the ABC lot, who was there filming Welcome Back, Kotter at the same time as the Halloween show. Throughout his life Lynde didn’t do himself many favors.

“He was bitterly unhappy,” says Vilanch. “He was the only person I know who was only happy when the lights were on him. Him and David Letterman, but David Letterman was never mean about it. Paul was. He wouldn’t do well today at all. He would have been canceled more than a stamp from Monaco.”

His arrest record for public intoxication, vicious verbal outbursts, and molesting men spanned the nation, everywhere from Salt Lake City to Miami, including here in Provincetown, where he was a frequent presence for almost 20 years up until his death from a heart attack at the age of 55 in 1982. During those years here Lynde was a household name, and it was impossible for him to move about town incognito. That didn’t seem to worry him though, and most everyone who recalls seeing him in Provincetown has a story of his obnoxious behavior. He often would harass men he felt attracted to, yell at children who annoyed him, heckle performers at shows, or worse, go up on stage for an unsolicited opening act and humiliate himself in the process. He occupied this strange space in town of beloved celebrity and repellant town drunk.

Paul Lynde. Photo © American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“I can still see him sitting by the pool at the Crown and Anchor at this little cocktail table,” says Paul Asher-Best, a former Truro Select Board member. “I walked by and said hello and he said this nasty remark in a bitchy, queeny way back. He was a nasty guy.”

Despite all of his bad behavior, Lynde also elicited a distant empathy, as his unhappiness was so palpable, and perhaps even recognizable to many LGBTQ+ people facing pressures of their own. And while veiled, he was the pinnacle of gay visibility for the time, particularly on The Hollywood Squares, one of the most subversively queer television show, which would later feature Wayland Flowers and Madame, a connection Lydne made in Provincetown, as well as Vilanch himself, who has been a frequent visitor to town for the past 40 years and also performs one-man shows about his adventures in Hollywood.

It’s his gay rebel role that keeps him in pop culture and gay history. His legacy is going to get another look as Billy Eichner, who was recently in town filming his gay romantic comedy Bros, is starring in and producing Man in the Box, a biopic about Lynde. And not everyone in Provincetown has bad memories of Lynde. Former Paper magazine film critic Dennis Dermody lived in Provincetown in the 1970s and for a time worked at the hot spot Piggy’s on Shank Painter Road. He recalls that he was the one who owed Lynde an apology.

“Paul Lynde came in one night with a gaggle of gays as his entourage to see a show, Michael Greer, who did this great Mona Lisa act,” says Dermody. “There were about nine men with him and they were all drinking really heavily, but were a very good audience. I was bringing in a case of beer from out back and pushed the door open hard and hit Paul right in the face as he was heading to the bathroom. Really hard. My jaw dropped and I apologized and he said, ‘Oh honey, I don’t feel a thing’ and just walked away. I kept thinking oh my God I just hit Uncle Arthur right in the face.”

The Paul Lynde Halloween Special is available on a variety of streaming platforms and YouTube. It is also available on DVD at the Provincetown Public Library, 356 Commercial St. To request a copy visit the library in person or online at provincetownlibrary.org, or call 508.487.7094.

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Not Today Satan

Halloween and the Culture of Drag Queens

by Steve Desroches

Top Image: Anita Cocktail, Miss Conception, and Roxy Pops.

Every day is Halloween when you’re a drag queen. And drag queens, in one form or another, have been an influential part of the celebration of Halloween in America for well over 100 years, whether the mainstream knows it or not. That’s why it’s comically odd and fabulously ironic that when it comes to what many in the LGBTQ+ community call “Gay Christmas” it’s been increasingly common for drag queens to kick off the high heels and snatch off the wigs to take Halloween night off.

“I spend most of the year getting dressed up so why would I want to do it on the night everyone else gets dressed up,” says Michael Steers, otherwise known as Anita Cocktail who presents the Anita Cocktail Variety Hour at the Post Office Cabaret. “It’s nice to have one night where I can appreciate everyone else’s costumes and looks.”

Anita Cocktail

Don’t get him wrong, Steers loves Halloween. But after a summer of entertaining tourists and townies alike, the last thing he wants to do is hit Commercial Street and jump into the Halloween fracas in his “work clothes.” It’s a common sentiment among drag performers nationwide who frequently take a playful jab and call Halloween “amateur night.” It’s a pretty remarkable turn of events, culturally. In LGBTQ+ history Halloween night was one of the rare instances of freedom in pre-Stonewall America, and drag queens were a big part of the public display LGBTQ+ people participated in every October 31.

A long-standing practice on Halloween dating back to the 19th century was so called “cross-dressing.” In a night where the conventional rules of society are suspended this fit in perfectly to elicit laughs at the time and playfully poke fun at those very conventions that come November 1 will fall back into place. A good example of the popularity of gender play on Halloween is the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis. While often thought of as a Christmas movie, as it’s the debut of Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” the film’s depiction of Halloween night in 1903 is noted by folklore historians as remarkably accurate in its depiction, which includes all the girls dressed as boys and vice versa.

Miss Conception

For the LGBTQ+ community, Halloween provided a certain amount of not only protection, but also accolade. There was an informal agreement that the police would not raid gay bars on Halloween and also allowed for “drag parades” by not enforcing anti-cross-dressing laws of the day. This is when drag became a central part of urban Halloween celebrations, especially in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh where cross-dressing was a big part of Mummers celebrations. In addition, with the Great Migration, when millions of Black Americans left the South for cities in the North, Midwest, and West, the drag balls of LGBTQ+ Black Southern people became popular nationwide, and often in those early days Halloween included fully integrated drag Halloween parties and parades. And then there was the “Pansy Craze” of the 1930s, an entertainment phenomenon driven by Prohibition, as anything illegal, like drag performance, was allowed in speakeasies, giving popularity to drag as an art form. High heels and Halloween have been intertwined ever since. And now it’s often the case that many first do drag on Halloween or Pride for their first time.

“Lots of drag queens were born on Halloween,” says Kevin Levesque from his home in Toronto where he began performing as his drag character Miss Conception. “Everyone puts on a wig and some makeup looking like a can of smashed assholes. And then just a few years later, they’re a gorgeous queen making a ton of money. So many of the big stars of today came out of Halloween.”

Roxy Pops

This weekend in Provincetown both Steers and Levesque have special Halloween shows, which they’re delighted to do. No matter the custom, work is work, and they’ll take it even if it lands on the 31st. But often the big money is putting other people in drag, which they both have done for years at times and get requests starting in September. Perhaps it’s another twist in the story of drag and Halloween, but many performers say the holiday brings out the man in them. With so much of drag focusing on the feminine, it’s with the theme of Halloween to do the unexpected. And for queens, that means not shaving and butching it up for the night. Once done with all the shows, Steers plans on just handing out candy to trick-or-treaters with his husband in their Eastham neighborhood, sans costuming of any kind, while Levesque leans into the fetish elements of Halloween in Provincetown and will either wear a wrestling singlet or leather gear, forgoing the normal sparkle and shine of Miss Conception. For Roxy Pops, a.k.a. Devin Marchany, one of the stars of Illusions and Divas by the Sea Drag Brunch at the Crown and Anchor, he, too, will begin the day in high feminine mode and then, come nightfall, camp up his masculinity.

“Honestly, Halloween is one of the times I gravitate to be one of the boys,” says Marchany. “I haven’t done drag on Halloween in years, maybe five years or so. For me it’s work, it’s my job, so unless I’m working that night I’d prefer to dress as a boy. Years ago my friends and I all went out as gladiators. A few years ago we were gay residents of Oz, wearing gingham harness and red shoes. Drag is uncomfortable, so I much prefer to go out as a boy as it’s much easier to have fun without heels slowing you down.”

A Beary Spooky Miss Conception is at the Pilgrim House, 336 Commercial St., Friday, October 29 and Saturday, October 30 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($30/$40) are available at the box office and online at pilgrimhouseptown.com. For more information call 508.487.6424. The Anita Cocktail Variety Hour is at the Post Office Cabaret, 303 Commercial St., Friday, October 29 and Saturday, October 30 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($35) are available at the box office and online at postofficecafe.net. For more information call 508.487.0087. Divas by the Sea Drag Brunch is at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St. on Sunday, October 31 at 11:30 a.m. Tickets ($15) are available at the box office and online at onlyatthecrown.com. For more information call 508.487.1430.

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Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!

at the Provincetown Food & Wine Festival

by Rebecca M. Alvin

There’s no question, after the fun of Halloween weekend, things quiet down in Provincetown at least until the holidays. But this year, Matthew King gives us a new festival the first week in November, to keep the party going. The Provincetown Food & Wine Festival is inspired by the Key West Food & Wine Festival, for which King worked. However, King stresses this is not a carbon copy of that event, but rather very much a Provincetown affair.

“There’s more to Provincetown, you know, and I didn’t want to pick up some expo and just dump it in Ptown just because we can; it had to make sense. So when I first applied for the grant, through the Tourism Board, I really wanted to connect back to the restaurant industry in town,” King explains. “Because of the pandemic, I was kind of trapped in Florida for a couple years, which wasn’t the intent. It was supposed to be seasonal, and then I’d come back. So this gave me some time to really wrap my head around how to really come back in a way that embraces and gives thanks to the businesses, the industries that, you know, they’re the backbone of this community here. I mean, we can have Bear Week, you can have Women’s Week, but everybody needs to eat.”

King comes to this venture with years of experience in a wide range of areas in the hospitality industry. He’s worked in catering, as a food stylist for film and television, in liquor stores, and a lot of restaurants and bars, including, he says, the Crown & Anchor, Ross’ Grill, and the Boatslip. He also briefly owned a restaurant here in town called Castaways, which was at the Gifford House. But wine is his main interest now. A former chemist, he retired from the science field in 2006. It was in 2015 that he began to really study wine in Napa, and he says he’s obtained his WSET level 3 wine certification and is passionate about wine education. And while he doesn’t want people to feel like they are going back to school at this event, he does have a seminar planned at the Post Office Café, which he hopes will help people broaden their understanding of Tuscan wines.

The festival kicks off Thursday with the Uncorked Opening Reception at the Masthead Resort and then runs all weekend with events at various restaurants in town, including an Amalfi Coast wine dinner at Tin Pan Alley Friday Night, pairing five Italian wines selected by Ciro Pirone of Horizon Wine Company; the Winemaker’s Dinner at the Crown & Anchor on Saturday night, featuring winemaker Remy Drabkin of Remy Wines; and the Under the Tuscan Moon five-course dinner at Strangers & Saints, where diners will feast on oysters, sweet potato gnocchi with a roasted wild mushroom sauce, seared duck breast with thyme-fig wine reduction, and many other delicious items paired with fine Italian wines selected by wine expert Jessica Brennan, and capped off with chocolate panna cotta. For a more low-key event, check out the Grilled Cheese & Beer pairings at Provincetown Brewing Company, with three seatings on Saturday afternoon and live entertainment by local duo Donnelly & Richardson.

But the cornerstone event is the GRAND Tasting at Provincetown Town Hall, a kind of wine exposition featuring suppliers, vendors, wineries, and winemakers offering samples of their wares. That event opens at 1 p.m., and requires a paid ticket, however, King says he’s holding a special event for anyone who works in the restaurant business—whether a waiter, bartender, or chef— to come in one hour before the general public for a free tasting as a way of giving back to the community here. (While it’s free to this group of people, it does require contacting King to reserve a ticket.)

Tickets for each event range in price from $50 – $275 and King explains these prices include tax and 20% gratuity, in many cases with a portion of the money going to local charities, such as Soup Kitchen in Provincetown (SKIP) and Helping Our Women (HOW). Nevertheless, there is also a free event for everyone to enjoy, the Friday afternoon art gallery stroll where visitors can sample wines and enjoy fine art at numerous galleries in town.

The Provincetown Food & Wine Festival takes place in various venues in Provincetown, November 4 – 7. For an updated, complete schedule and tickets (even free events require registration) visit ptownfoodandwinefestival.com.

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