Philadelphia’s unseasonably warm weather this week forced an ice skating drag show about climate change to cancel its opening night.
“It was too hot for us to do our climate change show in the middle of February,” said John Jarboe, founding artistic director of the Bearded Ladies Cabaret. “There’s a lot of irony in that.”
The show, “Beards on Ice: Edging,” and its kid-friendly version will go on this Friday and Saturday at the Independence Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest in Old City, as well as next week. The company behind it is famous for its creative, queer performances, from a gender-fluid homage to Fred Rogers to a truck with eyelashes that offered mobile, socially-distanced shows.
It’s Bearded Ladies’ first performance on ice, and it’s meant to raise awareness and inspire collective action against climate change.
“It’s so impossible, the issue of climate change and climate anxiety right now — almost as impossible as drag queens learning how to ice skate,” Jarboe said. “So if we can get these drag queens to ice skate, maybe, just maybe, we can solve the climate crisis.”
The show is a camp comedy, including a live band, music by the likes of Lady Gaga and The Beatles, and an original script by Jarboe and MK Tuomanen. Characters include the last polar bear, the last penguin, fossil fuels, and nonbinary parental guardian nature.
The evening shows, called “Beards on Ice: Edging,” are geared toward a more mature audience. A kid-friendly “Family Skate” show on Saturday mornings will feature the same messages about climate change, but with less innuendo.
“The idea of being on the edge of your skates, on the edge of doom, on the edge of apocalypse, like moving towards some sort of explosive catastrophe,” Jarboe laughed. “I’m singing Gaga’s ‘Edge of Glory’ as one of the first songs in the piece.”
The Bearded Ladies were forced to cancel opening night Thursday, as the temperature in Philly hit 62 degrees — 17 degrees above normal.
“If it’s too hot outside, the top of the ice becomes kind of slushy,” Jarboe said. “That mixed with the rain that happened in the afternoon made it dangerous for us to skate.”
It takes a special attribution analysis for scientists to say how much more likely or more intense climate change made a particular weather event, like a hurricane or heat wave. But on average, Philly’s winters have gotten around 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer since 1970 — a trend happening across the U.S.
Jarboe grew up in Michigan, where she said “they give you hockey skates and a hunting license when you’re out of the womb, immediately,” but other performers have less experience on ice. The cast includes local “drag superstars” Bren Thomas, Messapotamia Lefae, MK Tuomanen, Veronica Chapman-Smith, and singing skater Michael Solonoski.
Audience members can get on the ice themselves after each performance.
“The audience can get together and all skate together symbolically as a kind of symbolic gesture for collective resistance,” Jarboe said. “It’s really our communal actions that make a difference.”
Organizations working on climate justice, including Penn Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania, and We Are the Seeds, will also table at the performances, so audience members can learn how to get involved.
The Bearded Ladies often use spectacular performance as a “Trojan horse” to talk about deeper social issues, Jarboe said, and climate change is no different.
“Hopefully this will at least create a space where … the feelings that we feel alone, we can feel them together,” she said.
The “Beards on Ice: Edging” shows are Friday, Feb. 17, Thursday, Feb. 23, and Friday, Feb. 24 at 8:30 p.m. Kid-friendly versions are Saturdays Feb. 18 and Feb. 25 at 10 a.m.
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