September 11, 2001
WIGSTOCK CURLS UP AND DYES
A look back at the cultural impact of the popular annual drag festival as its demise in New York nears.
Dingdong the wig is dead? It’s a sorrowful refrain, especially in light of Mayor Giuliani’s successful vendetta to annihilate anything fun in Manhattan, but Wigstock – the city’s internationally recognized, Woodstock-inspired annual celebration of drag, dance music and queer entertainment – is indeed coming to an end after 17 years.
Wigstock began in 1984 as a free celebration of East Village underground queer culture, held in Thompkins Square Park. By the 90’s it became an annual pilgrimage for fun loving wig wearers the world over and moved west to pier 54, with an admission price instituted to cover rising production costs (under $1000 to mount the first Wigstock but $118,000 for the 2001 edition) Late “scene greats” like John Sex, Leigh Bowery and cofounder Ethel Eichelberger have graced Wigstock’s stages, as have today’s hippest pink friendly personalities: John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig, Kiki and Herb, Rupaul, the B-52’s and Kristine W.
“I’m really going to miss slapping on two hours worth of make-up, a polyester wig, panty hose, girdle, bra and a costume, and then trudging out in heels in the middle of a New York summer day to perform for free,” Jackie Beat muses.
Bunny insists that Wigstock leaves behind a legacy – the festival ha already been immortalized in Barry Shils’ eponymous 1995 film and a recent CD compilation, and there are plans to release a Wigstock book and possibly another movie – this year’s event will be extensively videotaped. There will also be traveling editions of Wigstock including one in Chicago on August 31st. “I’ve always wanted to do it in Miami to coincide with the dance music conference,” Bunny adds. “But it can’t be set up so we lose money. That’s retarded.”
As for the final New York Wigstock on Sept 2? Bunny promises to “Blow it out with a bang.” Featured acts include Rufus Wainwright, Book of Love, Deborah Harry, Girlina, Flotilla Debarge, Kevin Aviance, and Obie award winning actor-singer John Kelly performing his traditional number, “Wigstock” which is lifted from Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.”
“I may shed a tear,” Kelly admits. “but it’s hard to sing and cry at the same time.”