Picks: A tribute to Tammy

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March 28, 2011
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
// The Loring Theater throws a 50th wedding anniversary party for Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker //

It’s hard to think about Tammy Faye Bakker without snickering at least a little bit. There’s the caked-on makeup. The tattooed eyebrows. The mawkish televangelism and puppet ministries. The juicy scandals and the teary, mascara-streaking confessionals.

But Minnesota’s great queen of camp — Tammy Faye LaValley was born in International Falls and attended North Central Bible College in Elliot Park (now called North Central University) — had her noble qualities, too. She was an early and radical advocate for the acceptance of gays in the Evangelical church. She featured people who had AIDS on her popular television show, The PTL Club, in the early 1980s, when the disease was still branding sufferers as untouchables. By the time she died, in 2007, from colon cancer, Tammy Faye had earned a worshipful place in the GLBT canon, memorialized in countless drag shows and well-received documentaries.

The fairy-tale ascent to fame, the epic fall from grace, and the exoneration at the end: Tammy Faye was a living, breathing vaudeville character, right down to the garish costumes and the singing career.  

So when new Loring Theater heads Paul Anderton and Steve Barberio learned of her connection to their playhouse — Tammy Faye married her soon-to-be-felonious sweetheart Jim Bakker in the building’s basement, on April 1, 1961, when the building was owned by the Evangelical Association  — it was like a gift from the drama gods.

“When we heard that they got married here, we said, ‘We should celebrate,’” said Barberio.

As members of a group called the Directors, Barberio and Anderton had just taken creative control of the stagnating Music Box Theater. Last December, they changed its name back to its historic moniker, the Loring Theater, and set out to return the venue to its vaudeville, variety show roots.

Now they had the perfect event for season one of their revivalist campaign: a 50th wedding anniversary party for the Bakkers, packed to the gills with kitsch and slated for April Fool’s Day.  On April 1, the Loring presents “Where Tammy Tied the Knot,” an extravagant ode to the Madonna of makeup.

“It ties in beautifully with what we’re doing reviving the Loring Theater,” said Anderton. “It’s this heritage angle. That’s really the story, and it’s a romantic one.”

The night is part tongue-in-cheek, part scholarly homage. The Directors plan to screen “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” a documentary about Tammy’s life narrated by drag icon RuPaul Charles. A brief symposium will follow, with speakers from the academic and gay communities discussing Tammy Faye’s role as cultural icon. Then, a 1960s wedding-themed dance party happens in the theater’s lobby and on stage.

Period dress is encouraged — guests can get a 20 percent discount at Via’s Vintage if they mention Tammy’s name — and Barberio said plans are in the works to provide fake eyelash applications to both men and women revelers. He also hopes to have costumed characters (ushers, bridesmaids) helping with the festivities. Wanda Wisdom, the drag alter ego of Lavender Magazine contributor Brad Traynor, will preside over a bouquet toss from the theater’s balcony.

But for all the kitsch, both Barberio and Anderton are approaching the night with sweet, earnest compassion.

“I didn’t realize how committed she was to gay rights and to building awareness about AIDS,” Barberio said. “This is not a skewering.”

“Where Tammy Tied the Knot”
Full package, including documentary screening and symposium: $25
Wedding party only: $15
For full schedule, visit loringtheater.com