Dixon Gets Hot & Queer
Dixon Place's Hot Festival celebrates queer culture all month long. Jennifer Callahan gets the story.
"There's no other place I go to workshop new material," performance artist Reno says of Dixon Place. Reno, who on July 5 opened the Hot Festival, Dixon Place's month-long celebration of lesbian and gay performers, has tested many of her major shows, including the HBO specials The Campaign Project and Reno Finds Her Mind at Dixon. "I don't even think there is another place to go like this. And the audience is a mix of straight and queer people--you don't even notice the difference, which I like."
Emmett Foster, who shared his Festival bill with Moe Angelos and Philip Kain on July 7, likes attending performances at Dixon Place because he's "interested in meaningful, personal theater and in performances that reflect what's going on in people's lives." Foster's tales of dating in New York, and the continual re-surfacing of his Mormon childhood in his adult consciousness, comprised most of his reading.
The Hot Festival began in 1992, six years after executive director Ellie Covan founded Dixon Place, which was originally housed on East 1st Street, and then on the Bowery, and is currently on East 26th Street. A very friendly atmosphere among the performers, audience, and house persists at this Obie-winning theater, which stages over 400 pieces a year. This year, 37 shows make up the Hot Festival calendar.
"In my mind, it was an art project that would last from six months to a year," Covan says. That was in 1986, and "it" was a tiny performance space, dubbed Dixon Place, situated in Covan's small apartment among her personal items. Covan, freshly returned to the United States from travels that had ended in Paris, basically transported the salon that she had accidentally founded in a borrowed apartment on the Left Bank. "I read my first story I ever wrote in front of a group of people, mostly French, on a Tuesday night in that Paris apartment. It was a very supportive environment. We all had a really good time, and people kept coming back. I think at the end, 75 people were coming."
Covan's pleasure in producing and performing risky new theater somehow connected to the bohemian fantasy of the Paris apartment's owner, an American who embossed his private library with the words "Dixon Place," after a house in San Diego. Covan moved t New York, and followed the logic through.
"This year I booked all but one night of the Hot Festival. Every night is different, and the Festival, in general, draws from a mix of new and returning artists," says Covan. Her long hair, slender frame and the little orange-flowered dress she was wearing on Friday could have belied the steely will underpinning her mission: to maintain and ultimately institutionalize a bit of a Parisian sensibility and a thriving laboratory for new theater in an ever-corporate New York City. "I love watching a piece take shape. We've developed an audience, too, for these kinds of raw, unprocessed efforts."
Annie Lanzillotto, another Hot Festival performer, says of Dixon Place, "It's home. I can breathe and be honest with the audience." Lanzillotto, just back from a trip to Italy, performs dialogues about feuding family members on July 11.
"I like seeing the creative process at work," Philip Kain says of Dixon Place. "I can go spur of the moment and catch something interesting. And the new place has air conditioning." Kain's happy relationship with his now-deceased, singular mother generated his performance: a multi-media homage to his mother.
Moe Angelos, one of the Five Lesbian Brothers, read her script, Kitchen Sink Drama, her first solo performance in 14 years, after Kain and Fraser performed. Kitchen Sink Drama is a puppet play that follows the deadpan, neatly told story of a marriage in a town north of Buffalo. For Angelos, Dixon Place "is such an important laboratory for all of us trying out new work. Ellie gives us freedom. It's amazing how she and her staff keep the place open."
Carmelita Tropicana, who will open the evening of July 17, says she has learned a lot about her work thanks to a question-and-answer session that she regularly conducts at Dixon Place. And regarding the current program, Tropicana says, "The Hot Festival is muy caliente!"
For a complete listing of Hot Festival events, click here.