Thursday February 21, 2013

NORTH BENNINGTON -- Photographer Evie Lovett of Putney exhibits a unique and highly personal portrait of drag queens in rural Vermont in "Backstage at the Rainbow Cattle Co.," opening with a reception at Vermont Arts Exchange’s Mill Gallery on Saturday, Feb. 23, from 5 to 7 p.m. This exhibition is on view through May 18.

The opening reception includes a fun photo booth -- dress up, make up and have your portrait taken -- and affordable prints on the spot by Colin Moore Photography, with proceeds to benefit Vermont Arts Exchange. A Basement Music Series performance by cabaret and burlesque troupe Gypsy Layne follows at 8 p.m., doors open at 7. (Tickets $18 in advance/$22 at the door.) Food and libations are available for sale from Thyme Tables Catering.

Gypsy Layne Cabaret & Company, the Berkshires’ first homegrown cabaret and burlesque troupe, channels a speakeasy-like vibe on Saturday, Feb. 23 -- transforming Vermont Arts Exchange’s Basement Music Series stage into a steamy showcase of cheeky charm, daring dancing and sultry surprises. The performance begins at 8 p.m.; doors open at 7.

This curvaceous crew of girls and boys straight out of your wildest dreams take you on a breathless journey filled with hot moves, sassy songs, titillating poetry and more glamour than you can shake a pastie at.

This performance follows the opening reception for "Backstage at the Rainbow Cattle Co.


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," a unique and highly personal portrait of drag queens in rural Vermont by photographer Evie Lovett of Putney. The Feb.23 reception at VAE’s Mill Gallery is from 5 to 7 p.m.; the exhibition is on view through May 18.

Food and libations are available for sale from Thyme Tables Catering. Dinner and snack options include a chicken or vegetarian enchilada with a side salad, or cheese and fruit plate. Please call 802-447-3896 to place orders

In "Backstage at the Rainbow Cattle Co.," Lovett gives us a rare glimpse into the spectacle of drag. In 2002, she began documenting backstage preparations for monthly shows at the now defunct Rainbow Cattle Company, a gay bar in the rural southeastern Vermont town of Dummerston.

"I was mesmerized by the lengthy and meticulous process of transformation -- layers of pantyhose pulled on, waists cinched, breasts created, eyeliner drawn, false eyelashes, wigs, jewels, nails," Lovett recalls, "I zeroed in on the moment -- was there a moment? -- when the switch was flipped from man to woman."

She adds, "But it wasn’t all about photographing. All month I looked forward to the time I spent backstage. I loved being there, being part of it. I felt like I was hanging out with my girlfriends while we dressed for the prom. I was sucked into the world of banter and camaraderie in that smoky basement room."

Lovett’s large format, black-&-white photographs of "the Ladies," as she calls them -- grocery store workers to nuclear power plant operators -- reveal the power of personal transformation. In 2010, Lovett and Greg Sharrow, co-director and director of education of the Vermont Folklike Center, gave voice to that power through interviews of the five main members of the troupe -- Mama, Kitty, Candi, Sophia and Mercedes -- by then performing as the Ladies of the Rainbow Lounge.

This exhibition of large photographs and audio, organized by the Vermont Folklife Center, is traveling to all 14 counties of Vermont thanks to a grant from the Samara Fund of the Vermont Community Foundation and in collaboration with RU12? and Outright Vermont. It has also been shown in galleries in Boston, New York, Cape Cod and even Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Join Lovett and Sharrow at VAE on Wednesday, April 3, for a conversation about this project and "the Ladies" on Wednesday, April 3, at 7 p.m.

The exhibition, performance and discussion include mature content and may not be appropriate for viewers younger than 18.

The Mill Gallery, located at VAE’s Sage Street Mill, is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by appointment. Tickets to Gypsy Layne’s performance are $18 through Brown Paper Tickets, the first and only fair-trade ticketing company, at brownpapertickets.com or vtartxchange.org/bms.php, or by calling (toll free) 800-838-3006 -- a small processing fee will be charged. Tickets are $22 at the door on the day of show on a first-come, first-served basis.

Vermont Arts Exchange is a fully handicapped-accessible facility. For more information about Vermont Arts Exchange, this exhibition, the 2013 Basement Music Series season and more, contact VAE at 802-442-5549 or visit vtartxchange.org.