April 27–May 4, 2000
by Scott Shrake
The sight of it would make Miss Ross proud: 140 rainbow flags flying all over town. I do mean Betsy Ross — who were you thinking of? No, the Motown diva won’t be on hand for PrideFest America this year, but stargazers take heart: The list of big names is long and impressive.
Columnist Dan Savage, author Rita Mae Brown, congressman Barney Frank, actor Jeff Stryker and comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer, plus many more, will all make appearances during the week of May 1 through May 7.
A record 62 national and regional organizations, plus big-pocketed corporate sponsors, have contributed to making this year’s the biggest PrideFest ever, says event founder and executive director Malcolm Lazin. When the first one was held in 1993, says Lazin, "We wanted to create a different paradigm for celebrating gay and lesbian pride by focusing on organizations and issues important to the community, rather than [just having] a parade." The program has grown to 80 events, including panel discussions on race relations, media representation, homoerotic film, election issues, military policies, family, health and religion. "We’ve attracted top national names to address each issue," Lazin adds. "One thing’s not to be overlooked: Prejudice is based on stereotypes. What PrideFest does, in its breadth, is break down those stereotypes."
The International Arts Award this year will go to journalist Mark Schoofs for his 2000 Pulitzer Prize-winning series in the Village Voice, "AIDS: The Agony of Africa." Lazin says each year the award goes to a contemporary gay or lesbian artist who impacts the culture, in this case in the literary field. He notes that the articles Schoofs wrote have relevance to everyone, and are a crucial contribution to the understanding of this epidemic in Africa. He’ll receive his award following the National Media Panel (Thu. May 4, 7 p.m., at the Prince), which features panelists from CBS, the Washington Post and the national gay newsmag the Advocate.
The arts will intersect with the festival all over the city. Some well-known and some rarely seen works by "asexual" Andy Warhol are currently on display at the Philadelphia Art Alliance under the fitting title "From A to B and Back Again." (Added bonus: Warhol’s photographer friend Christopher Makos will be at Woody’s for a "Studio Party" May 1.) Another museum tie-in are the letters from "alone" Greta Garbo to gal-pal Mercedes de Acosta at the Rosenbach Museum and Library. Local scholar Lisa Cohen will give a talk there Thursday, May 4 at 7 p.m.
Strand Releasing, considered the premier gay film distribution company, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. So the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema and the Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival are collaborating with PrideFest to show a series of seven great international films imported by Strand, including Ruiz’s Genealogies of a Crime with Catherine Deneuve, Godard’s Contempt with Brigitte Bardot and Love Is the Devil with Derek Jacobi.
And, Miss Ross aside, PrideFest America will offer entertainment aplenty. A Tom of Finland fashion extravaganza is one of the highlights at Shampoo, and there’s a party every night of the week at various local spots (see sidebar). The 9 p.m. nightly shows at the Prince Music Theater cabaret space will present a wide variety of talent. Monday it’s "She’s A Rebel 2" featuring Suzanne Sheridan in "America’s hottest lesbian rock and roll revue." Then it’s back to the boys on Tuesday for "Openly Bob," with comedian Bob Smith (who also takes part in a 7:30 p.m. panel discussion at the Prince that evening with Rita Mae Brown and Andrew Tobias, moderated by City Paper editor David Warner). Suzanne Westenhoefer works it Wednesday. Thursday Judy Garland is channeled by Mr. Richard Skipper: live, not lip-synched. African-American lesbian comic Karen Williams has Saturday covered; and finally, on Sunday it’s "female impersonator" (sounds so quaint!) Jimmy James, specializing in Marilyn.
Friday night’s show marks the return to Philly after 15 years of Penn grad Matt Yee, in "Diva 2000! The Chinese Liberace Show." Speaking from his home in Honolulu, he explained the arresting title: "Right before I go on, I channel the diva goddess. It’s this thing that happens; a light bulb turns on, the inner diva comes out and she wants to let everyone’s diva out." What’s the Liberace connection? Yee’s piano-based variety show draws on influences ("I’m a sponge, I just soak all these people up") as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Carole King, Burt Bacharach and… the fabulous, flamboyant, far-fetched Lee! Yee, who will also perform at this weekend’s Millennium March in Washington, D.C., explains that costumes are naturally involved: "In the show and in life, it doesn’t matter what you wear. But it doesn’t hurt to have boas and sequins to help you out."
Whatever your drag — sequins, heels or Log Cabin Republican pinstripes — PrideFest seems more than ever this year to have something for everybody.
To get the full scoop on PrideFest America, visit www.pridefestamerica.com on the Web, call 800-990-FEST or visit the PrideFest America Information Center at the Prince Music Theater, corner of Broad and Chestnut Streets. Also, see the "PrideFest" section in this week’s City Paper events listings.