Wigstock Now Star-Studded Event
NEW YORK (AP) — Neil Patrick Harris and his husband, chef and actor David Burtka, are firing up what they call New York’s “last summer blowout” — a six-hour, 50-act drag-queen spectacle being staged Saturday on a glitzy Manhattan pier.
It’s the revival of a 1980s festival called Wigstock — an impromptu creation of unruly patrons in drag who stumbled out of an East Village club at about 2 a.m. to improvise for homeless people in garbage-strewn, rat-infested Tompkins Square Park. It was, of course, free of charge.
By contrast, thousands of elbow-to-elbow spectators are expected at Saturday’s super-organized show in lower Manhattan, featuring drag stars Lady Bunny, Bianca Del Rio and Latrice Royale, plus plenty of younger men in fancy dresses and wigs.
There’ll be food, drinks and dancing on Pier 17 by the Brooklyn Bridge, with the audience urged to wear over-the-top attire for a shindig that kicks off with a cannon shooting out wigs for those who want one.
Tickets start at $95 and top at $1,000 for the well-heeled at a VIP after-party with performers. A limited number of passes are selling for $18.95.
With Tony, Emmy and Oscar award winners involved in the production, the drag culture has gone mainstream.
And Wigstock has come a long way from the wee hours one night in 1984 when Lady Bunny led the inebriated charge into the park.
“In those days, drag used to be very gritty and dirty, with real shock value and people saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m laughing at this sick club comedy,'” says Burtka. “The first Wigstock ended up being a party — the last summer blowout.”
The annual celebration eventually moved to a pier on Manhattan’s West Side until it was rained out two years in a row, dampening ticket revenue and bankrupting the event by 2001. A much smaller Wigstock popped up sporadically in the park and on New York Harbor cruises but, short of money, it pretty much vanished until now.
“David and I are rabid fans of any kind of live spectacle, and we go to drag shows,” says Harris. “So one day, I said to David, ‘Why don’t we revive Wigstock?'”
Though he didn’t know her well, says Burtka, “I ended up calling Bunny and saying, ‘Hey, would you be into doing this?'”
Wigstock founder Lady Bunny sure was, starting Saturday at 3 p.m., rain or shine, on the rooftop of Manhattan’s freshly renovated Pier 17.
Working on the revival with her as executive producer are Harris, Burtka, Jack Turner, Jason Weinberg and Oscar award-winner Bruce Cohen, along with production company Matador Content and Pride Media, which publishes Out and Advocate magazines. Broadway’s Tony Award-winner Michael Mayer is directing.
The main creative credit goes to Lady Bunny, whose legal name is Jon Ingle, a 56-year-old DJ and promoter with a Tennessee drawl in a foot-high wig. “Everything runs through her. Bunny’s the backbone, she’s the driving force, she’s our almanac,” says Burtka.
Performers include Harris, who won a Tony for the 2014 Broadway revival of the cult musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” about a transgender, East European rock singer. He’s re-creating part of that glam-rock performance on Saturday.
Harris and Burtka, who are raising their two young children, note that drag culture has gone from an underground fringe phenomenon to front-and-center pop culture, with RuPaul hosting the Emmy award-winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” competition featuring musical challengers in wigs and heels.
Turning drag into performance art isn’t the main aim of the new Wigstock. “It’s live and it’s real, and it allows everybody to stand tall and cheer and celebrate with an abandon they may not have had before,” says Harris.
He hopes Saturday’s show draws a younger crowd oblivious of previous Wigstocks — never mind the 1969 culture-shattering Woodstock festival — but steeped in today’s disturbing daily news.
“Given what’s going on in the world, we all need a laugh, a moment of positivity and recognition and exultation,” says Burtka. “There’s nothing fake about these people; they celebrate who they are.”
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.