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Provincetown: Go for the Mask Compliance, Stay for a Show

The town’s director of health, Morgan Clark, said she was trying to walk the fine line of keeping everyone safe while protecting both their physical and mental well-being. In Provincetown, artistic expression is part of that.

“My favorite kind of movie,” she said, “is where people sing or dance against all odds.”

That’s pretty much what’s happening at Pilgrim House — singing and joking, anyway. The drag artist Russ King, a.k.a. Miss Richfield 1981, ordinarily would be selling out the hotel’s 180 indoor seats. Instead he’s onstage in its pebble-paved parking lot, where the capacity is 56, with social distancing.

Given a cast and crew of four, that means just 52 audience members in a space that David Nelson Burbank, Pilgrim House’s entertainment manager, aptly described as “homey.”

In the course of a normal year, King does more than 100 shows, 60 of them in Provincetown, from Memorial Day to mid-September. This summer, he said, barring any cancellations because of weather or closures because of the pandemic, he will do only 36.

Hard as it is to build audience cohesion when people are seated at a distance from one another and from him, he is grateful to be there.

“I’m really blessed to be employed,” he said.

Over at what Varla drolly calls “the Crown & Anchor Poolside Emergency Theater,” about 80 spectators are permitted at each performance. Most take their masks off once they’re in their seats, to have a drink or a snack, though in my experience on two consecutive nights, there was much less than the state-mandated six feet between audience members in different parties.

Gold and Roberson do solo nights at the Crown, but “The Judy & Varla Show” is their joint enterprise. For that, their microphone stands are placed to keep them two yards apart — and because there is singing, they must be at least 25 feet from the front row. It’s not an ideal way to work: too far from the audience, in too much darkness, to see many faces properly, and without walls for the laughter to bounce off.

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