By: Clara Lefton/TRT Reporter—
PROVINCETOWN, Mass.—The 36th annual Carnival in Provincetown, Mass. was held in Cape Cod August 16-22, 2014, attracting over 90,000 people for the weeklong LGBT community celebration. This year’s theme, “Comic Book Capers,” was chosen and brought to life through a variety of costumes, dancers and Grand Marshall Caroline Rhea. Past themes have included “Around the Word in 7 Days,” “Under the Big Top” and “Wild West.”
“I thought it was outstanding. The crowd was very mixed and friendly, and the concept of the comic superheroes was great,” said Provincetown resident Shawn Nightingale, who has attended Carnival for the past 30 years. “Everybody really stepped up to the plate.”
Themes weren’t always a part of the Carnival tradition, nor were the floats, banners or costumes. The celebration was once shunned by the locals, a Cape Cod-based artist community, but has blossomed into a major attraction every year. A large part of the transformation was due to the creation of the Provincetown Business Guild (PBG) which supports local LGBT tourism. [pullquote]A large part of the transformation was due to the creation of the Provincetown Business Guild (PBG) which supports local LGBT tourism.[/pullquote]
“Historically we’re at the end of land here. This was actually the first artist colony established in the United States. It started with artists and writers in a beautiful and picturesque place that lends itself to creativity and diversity, that meshed into an LGBT mecca and the PBG pushed that forward,” said PBG Board Vice President Cathy Nagorski. “Although with politics progressing, people have been saying that now you can sort of be gay in any major city, and that [Provincetown] is losing its ‘gayness.’”
Despite potential fear of eroding tourists down the line, the festival has become a multi-day themed extravaganza including a Costume Ball, Richie Rich Vendor Fair and a parade that attracts over 80 entries annually. Among all the events, Nagorski described the parade as the most spectacular sight.
“It’s just on such a huge scale. I describe the parade as a cross between a Pride parade, Mardi Gras and a Halloween parade. Even people who aren’t in the parade get dressed up and are walking through the streets,” said Nagorski. “People spend weeks and months planning [their costumes] and the floats.” [pullquote]“It’s just on such a huge scale. I describe the parade as a cross between a Pride parade, Mardi Gras and a Halloween parade. Even people who aren’t in the parade get dressed up and are walking through the streets,” said Nagorski. “People spend weeks and months planning [their costumes] and the floats.”[/pullquote]
Floats and sponsors are generally composed of local businesses that use the events as a great way to bolster their store’s success and the town’s economy. Provincetown’s MoonMaxx Productions, for example, provided dancers for floats and both lights and sound for Caroline Rhea’s stand-up comedy act. Meanwhile, local inns and hotels expect a sellout crowd for the family-friendly Carnival. Among tourists, celebrity sightings over the years have included local summer residents like film director John Waters and author Michael Cunningham. Aside from comedian Rhea, this year’s event attracted six-time Emmy Award winner Bruce Vilanch, who participated in drag as his alter ego Sabrina while in a pedicab with comedian Khris Francis during the parade, among other events.
“It pulls you right through the heart of the town. When you start you’re in the narrowing Commercial Street and people are there on their camp chairs barbecuing and waving,” explained Vilanch, a former Carnival Grand Marshall. “Then you get into the heart of town and the crowds are thick with people in costumes and plastered frat boys. Then you’re in the west end and it’s more residents and people who have houses. So it starts and ends very civilized and the middle of town it’s crazy.”
Every year at the end of the parade the following year’s theme is announced. The selection is made via a process of voting and suggestions the PBG collects, a process which PBG Board Director Steve Katsurinis described as, “engaging people and sparking creativity, so when you’re choosing a theme it gives people the ability to create their own identity and sense of fun.”
To learn more about Provincetown and next year’s event, which will be “Candy Land” themed, visit www.ptown.org.