Something's queer at HERE Arts Center. "It's not me!" declares Carmelita Tropicana, the Obie Award-winning lesbian comedienne whose variety show opens this year's Queer @ HERE Festival. "I'm not 'queer'!" she proclaims with a heavy Cuban accent. Spanish is the flamboyant performer's native language--maybe she doesn't understand English slang for gay and lesbian. Next, I call actor Michael Goldfried whose one-man show The Making of Michael Gold closes the dynamic festival on June 11. I ask him how he got involved in the yearly event, which is curated by HERE's executive director Kristin Marting. "I had to father Kristin's child!" he proclaims. Instinct tells me I'm not getting straight answers from these quirky performers.
For the truth, I turn to Marting herself. "Michael is not the father of my child," she laughs. The executive director assures me that the artists participating in Queer @ HERE were invited to perform based on their previous work, reputation, and gay-and-lesbian content. "I'm always looking for performers whose art is edgy and humorous," says Marting, who favors material that is political, social or "just plain fun." This year's roster features 16 diverse productions including solo performances, musical extravaganzas, dance, readings, works-in-progress, and the film version of Theatre Couture's Charlie!.
"The festival is a great opportunity to experiment with new material," explains performance artist Shelly Mars, who brings her one-woman show Mars Behind Bars to Queer @ HERE before taking it Provincetown for a two-month run. "A one-person show is an on-going journey of writing and rewriting," says Mars. "You need a long run to really make it work. A solo show is always a 'workshop'--until it reaches Off-Broadway." Subtitled "A Sexual Autobiography," Mars Behind Bars explores the actress' life as a Jewish lesbian from Ohio trying to make it big in Manhattan. Directed by Janice Deaner, the evening exposes Mars' off-beat family, therapy sessions, and adventures in the sex business. "It's wild, fun, and full of black humor," promises Mars.
A journey from Ohio also features prominently in Andrew Horwitz's one-man show Radius. Written by Horwitz in collaboration with Thomas Drymon, the piece is about the experience of being young and queer in America, and feeling like an outcast from straight culture.
"No matter how much gay people try to become 'mainstream,' we will always be considered outsiders," states Goldfried, whose The Making of Michael Gold humorously examines the struggles and pleasures of gay life. "Wanting to belong is a common theme in queer theater." Presented in last year's festival as Enter, Then Pause, and previously performed at KGB's Kraine Theater, Goldfried's ever-changing show charts one man's self-actualization progress through yoga and anonymous sex. This version "is tighter, funnier, and sexier!" boasts Goldfried, who also directed Mike Albo's Sexotheque, currently running at the Kraine.
Other one-person shows in the 11-day festival include: Bruce Ward's Fabulous Ride into the Unknown, Maggie Moore's unauthorized Liz Renay biography The Girl with the Polka-Dot Eyes, Mina Hartong's Mimi's Wedding, David Mills' Swallow Your Pride, and Regie Cabico's Faith, Hope & Regie.
Variety also takes center stage at this year's queer festivities. HERE welcomes Judie Ruliani (Johnnie Moore) as host of The Queerest Show on Earth. Boldly going were no gay show has gone before, the vaudeville-style evening will feature guest appearances by Allan Tibbetts, Basil Twist, author Charles Kaiser and others. Tigger (James Ferguson) drops by the theater to host Tigger Tails with Scott the Blue Bunny, Julie Atlas Muz, and Dirty Martini. "I'm gonna dress inappropriately, get drunk and talk trash!" vows Ferguson.
"I'm gonna have a nice outfit," confirms Tropicana who is currently promoting her soon-to-be bestseller I, Carmelita Tropicana. "I work from the outside in. And by the way," she adds, "I think everyone in my show is the queerest." The Carmelita Tropicana Variety Show co-stars Lizerace, Coco Frio, Charles Scott Richard, Richard Termine, and many more. "I'm glad to be here!" she states proudly.
On a final note, gays and lesbians are represented throughout the year at HERE Arts Center, which annually offers an astounding variety of productions. "The festival is really just to celebrate and acknowledge this community of people at a time when others are taking notice of them," states Marting, referring to June's status as Gay Pride Month. "But we're queer-friendly year round!"