CULTURE CLUB SERIES: Interview with Scarbie (Star & Creator of Lip-Schtick Drag Show)

Who was your first musical crush?

Thanks for including me in your blog, Karin. It was great to have you and your group there. I love the exchange of energy that takes place in a live theatrical performance between me and the audience.  My first musical crush?? Wow, what an interesting kick off to an interview. I am going to have to say David Cassidy! I did not know this myself until now, but I can imagine back to my childhood and that this is what I remember. Boy, did I want hair like his!!

When was your first time doing drag? How did you get into this? What gave you the idea to create this show?

Well, if you consider playing dress up in your mom’s clothes, and shoes DRAG, then let’s chronicle my first time about age five…six?? But truly, my FIRST public performance in drag was at my high school’s annual mock beauty pageant Mr. Ugly, back in 1976. I did a marginal Bette Midler routine, but I was a finalist! It amazes me that back then they had an annual drag event at the school. We must have had an interesting “bachelor” teacher at some time who got inspired to put on a show for school spirit!! Who can say?

This is your 12th year of doing Lip-Schtick. What was your first show experience like? How did the show change over the years?

I first staged Lip-Schtick in 2006 as a one night only event, as I stepped down from the title Showgirl Of The Year at a long running “talent show” in Provincetown. I was involved as a subject of a documentary called ‘Ptown Diaries’ that summer and they wanted to film my last performance at the weekly variety/talent show, but the organizers did not approve it, so I put together a facsimile of Lip-Schtick, and it was a big success. That first show had other performers along with me, because I thought I needed minutes to changes characters and outfits, but in actuality, as you have seen, most of my changes are done fluidly in about 40 seconds or less. So, the show became a one PERSON show, and in it I evolve through two genders, seven characters and eleven costume changes without ever leaving the stage. The anchor numbers have remained the same but the topical material is ever changing and the improvisation aspects of the show are spontaneous each show, so in some ways the show changes every single night!

Who are your characters based on?

My show is current in its relevance but the characters I impersonate are nostalgic to my youth. My audience members over 40 know the character back stories. My audience members under 40 do NOT know the backstories, but I confidentially let my potential ticket buyers know that the so called impersonation aspect of the show is not the focus. There is a story thread, a theme, which weaves all these characters, these impersonations together, so that, like any other musical play you attend, you are introduced to them and are fully on board with the story; the message. I designed the show for all ages, and everyone can fully understand and follow along even if they do not know the early characters of actors such as Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett and others.

How different is Scarbie from David?

Good question. Scarbie, the fictional drag persona, and David, the actor, have a lot in common.  Temperament, disposition, a basic good and friendly nature. Scarbie is definitely more extroverted and outgoing than David. David is more grounded in reality and more pragmatic than Scarbie. But in the show, Lip-Schtick, both David and Scarbie are narrators and central characters to the show.  David is fact, Scarbie is fiction. Scarbie is silly, David provides sentiment. My drag persona Scarbie and myself David, the guy, the actor are alter egos. Yin and yang, but definitely complimentary, compatible and comfortable together.

Do you prefer to be called Scarbie or David?

It’s ALL good. I love that my chosen drag name ‘Scarbie’ is rather gender non-specific.  The guys at the hardware store call me Scarbie. The bank tellers call me Scarbie. Even when I am dressed in full fabulous drag my close friends just automatically call me David. I huff and roll my eyes, but as I said, it’s ALL good. All okay.

I met your husband Richard selling tickets with you and doing a wonderful job lighting the show. Do you have kids?

Richard and I recently celebrated our 20th anniversary!! Who’d a thunk?? We have the great advantage of loving, living, and working together doing things we really enjoy.  It is a blessing for sure, although hard work and sometimes stressful. Life, right? He brings a lot to the production end of the show, particularly when we doing touring shows, which can be a challenge to set up, tech sound and lights and DO the show in one day sometimes. He has a good eye and ear for details. We do not have children, although both of us love and respond and relate well to the little ones. I love my time with families and kids on the street in Ptown. You hear such honest and insightful things from kids.

You said in the show that you made your costumes and hats yourself. What inspires you in your design ideas and what is your favorite costume?

I do. I have worked with my costumer/friend Dawn for years now and mostly assisted her with pattern cutting and surging, hemming and grunt work in the beginning. I can now create my Scarbie outfits and costumes on my own, but we still work together on a lot of things mostly because we have fun and a lot of laughs as we sew. My Scarbie outfits are based on women’s swing style outfits which are full silhouettes and flowing upper garments. I love their retro look, but tailored to my own frame they make a somewhat timeless impression, and they suit my large stature, broad shoulders and narrow waist very well. I do not include a curvaceous feminine form to my persona, so the swing outfits lend themselves to my verticality well. I am not trying to appear or pass as a female. I see myself more as a gender neutral clown, albeit in what appears to be female garb.

We absolutely loved the show and thought that it was very witty, clever and funny. I really loved that it has a beautiful message: follow your dreams, work hard, respect and accept each other and add a little humor and life is good. Tell us something more about this beautifully positive attitude.

The message, the attitude was instilled in myself by my parents. A naval officer father, and a journalist mother who simply expected and raised their children to do what was right, do their best at what they did, and respect others. More or less the golden rule. And we did. There didn’t seem to be any other way or reason to do differently. It is easy to see how blessed we were back then in middle America. Not that we were shielded from the various realities of modern life, but that we were privileged to have what we had, and at the same time understand that not everyone was so privileged. As an adult I remind myself of that constantly. So with the show, I wanted to provide good, solid, professional entertainment that was fun, funny, silly and joyous, but still had integrity and reminded each of us that we are blessed in so many ways, take each day at face value, and know that things could change for any of us, at any moment. Cherish this moment when we are so blessed.

What advice can you give parents who find out their child is gay?

Wow. That’s a difficult one. I don’t think I have sage advice on this. But just love, care for each other and grow together. Learn together, and communicate. Here is a quick story I love. One of the great rewards of my job. Couple seasons ago, a mother and teen son, maybe 15 bought tickets to my show during the afternoon while I was out on my bike selling. They came to the show. Great night. Wonderful audience. Afterwards I greet people out at the street and the son comes out sheepishly smiling. Thanks me. Gentle handshake. The mother comes out in joyful tears, barely able to speak but says to me: “between the time we bought our tickets and your show, my son came out to me”. I could see they were both happy, nervous, uncertain, and emotional. I told them that I could see and sense their love for each other, and suggested to them that from this point on, that they were going to be more than mother and son; they were going to become best friends in life. I get emotional every time I think of that.

You said in the show that you realized you were gay when you were 9 years old. It was nice to hear that your military dad was an inspiration to you. Was and is he also supportive? How was it growing up as a boy who knows he is different?

My dad is amazing. So open and easy going and accepting. Here’s the thing. My father had a lousy father, and my father decided early on that he was never going to be that detached, angry, disinterested and cynical father to his kids. And he didn’t. I am gay.  My sister is lesbian. My brother is heterosexual. Quite the spectrum, no? And it was all okay to my dad, and we did our best to make him proud being ourselves. Being our BEST selves. So within my family, there was little conflict as to what was right, what was normal. Those issues came up in school as I was growing up and social norms are pitted against you by classmates and school students who were mostly strangers to each other, with fears, prejudices and vague biases that most of them could not even understand or rationalize.

Do you live in Provincetown full time? Where are you from? Are you in Ptown in the wintertime?

Richard and I spend five months in Provincetown, where we stage 60 plus shows a summer, and we spend our winters in Sarasota, Florida.  I do some off season shows as the bookings arise, but I am not driven to book the full winter. I love the balance in our lives and I love being home, being in the garden and quiet time after being so public all summer. I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida so I am a Floridian at heart. I also work off season, both as a beach groomer, driving a Massey Ferguson tractor, and I regularly do restaurant/server work which I enjoy.

How has Ptown changed since you’ve started the show?

One of the biggest changes or trends are the “theme weeks”  in Ptown. A mixed blessing most would agree. There is Family Week, and Dyke Week, and Circuit Boy Week, and Bear Week, and Single Women of Color Week, and Pet Week….and on and on. I recognize that most everyone likes to spend time around like/kind, and the concentration of the theme weeks makes that more energized, but Provincetown is supposed to be a place were everyone is welcome any time and the theme weeks seem to making people feel excluded during those times. I have heard people say things like: “it looks like we picked the wrong week to come to Ptown.” That should never be the case. The themes just tend to throw the balance off. Not that it is likely to change. Just my opinion.

What’s your favorite place to travel to besides Ptown?

I am not a big traveler. I do not have a strong wanderlust. Being cancerian, the crab, I am happy in my shell. At home. Quiet. I do not have to be recognized or fabulous every weekend, and Richard and I can be perfectly content on the deck or in the garden involved in a little bit of nothin’ much. I love Vermont, we visit friends there most every Fall. I have been to Italy, Romania, Mexico and a number of the United States. After our last trip to Europe, I came back feeling like I would enjoy seeing more of America. In particular, some of the National Parks. I would enjoy seeing the Redwood Forrest.  There is a certain humble acceptance to admitting how small you are in this big world.  But never stop living large!

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