You know how the world’s an inferno of terror from global warming and testosterone rain? Well, Ellie Covan’s Dixon Place is fighting fire with fire. I don’t mean roaring evil fire. More like gentle licking flames. And really, that (and some jokes) might be all you need to combat the hellish fires of misogyny and homophobia that continue to burn here in NYC at the hottest time of the year.
The HOT! Festival, the world’s first exclusively LGBTQ arts festival, kicks off its 25th go-round July 5. Running through August 13, this legendary celebration of queer culture brings together works from theater, dance, music, literature, film, visual art and every-thing in between. Covan, the founder of Dixon Place, launched the first HOT! Festival when there was nothing like it out there. “I had to,” Covan says with her characteristic modesty. “It didn’t exist!”
It was back in 1985 that Covan founded Dixon Place when, as she says, she was “12,” as a salon in her Paris apartment. It soon moved to her NYC living room and quickly established itself as ground zero for fledgling literati (A.M. Homes, Mary Gaitskill and Eileen Myles come to mind) and future theatrical luminaries, such as Lisa Kron, Reno and Marga Gomez. Name a hot Broadway director, and chances are, they cut their teeth on provocative work at Dixon Place. From Rebecca Taichman (currently represented by the lesbian themed “Indecent” at the Vineyard Theater) to Leigh Silverman, who helmed Lisa Kron’s “Well” on Broadway, which began as a Dixon commission. The latest incarnation of Dixon Place is a state-of-the-art facility in the now impossibly hip and trendy Lower East Side of Manhattan.
This summer, as humorless packs of Kardashian clones rove the trendy streets in matching yoga pants, you can escape through the doors of 161A Christie Street and enter an oasis of happiness. Watch others indulge their own creativity, hatch tadpoles of hilarity from their creative depths, participate in the flow between audience and performers and experience how flying without a net ignites all kinds of ideas. One hundred performers will debut work this summer, because this is where it all began, and this is where it continues to push the limits of what art can do.
Lisa Kron, founding member of the Five Lesbian Brothers and recipient of two Tony Awards, thrived within Dixon Place’s nurturing incubator for new work. “I’d book a night at Dixon, and then I’d know I had to write something and get my work done,” Kron says. “I’d make an outline of things I wanted to talk about and just wing it. Dixon Place was one of the most important and consistent components of my early work.”
Marga Gomez remembers her first Dixon Place engagement in 2000—a benefit, where she met a “lovely lady” whose name she never got, and had her “one and only bathroom sex.” “Fifteen years later I was hanging out with Ellie and mentioned an idea I had for a solo comedy about bathroom sex and deceased lesbian movie characters. Ellie said, ‘Write it and Dixon Place will commission it.’” The show, “Pound,” premiered in HOT! 2015, and Gomez is still touring it a year later. “I love playing Dixon and hanging at their bar looking for babes,” she says.
Comedian Kate Clinton puts her appreciation for Dixon Place suc-cinctly: “I have loved performing there. I’m only sorry that I kept my clothes on.”
Why in 2016 do we still need a LGBTQ festival? “Every once in a while I wondered about whether to continue producing it,” Covan says. “We’re queer all year as it is.” Given the cultural strides we’ve made, she wondered, “Am I compartmentalizing the artists all over again? Am I reinforcing the unconscious default assumption of straight white men? But when I ask the artists and audiences if I should keep going, the answer is always an overwhelming yes.”
Peggy Shaw, of the legendary duo Split Britches, has made a home at Dixon Place for years. Her gender-busting masterpiece, “Menopausal Gentlemen” was a Dixon Place commission, and her award-winning “To My Chagrin” was presented there as well. Herself a New York City fixture, Shaw says, “NYC would be nothing without Dixon Place.”
—Laurie Weeks is a writer and performer based in New York City. Her fiction and essays have been published throughout the United Kingdom and the United States, including in Semiotext(e)’s “The New Fuck You: Adventures in Lesbian Reading” and most recently, Dave Eggers’s “The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008.” She was also a screenwriter on “Boys Don’t Cry.”
Weeks has taught at the New School and in 1996 was awarded a fic-tion fellowship by the New York Foundation for the Arts. She holds a Master of Arts in Performance Studies from New York University.
Photo credits: Catherine Opie; David Rodgers; Ian Douglas