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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I AM YOUR QUEEN: Martha T. Lipton (the failed actress)

Posted By on Tue, Jun 16, 2015 at 2:00 PM


Welcome to I AM YOUR QUEEN, a Pride month series about strange little boys who grew up to be fabulous, powerful women.

While peers such as Meryl Streep, Patricia Clarkson, and even Gates McFadden have gone onto successful careers, Martha T. Lipton (the failed actress) remains mired somewhere toward the the lower tiers of stardom. The recently divorced Fresno native isn't hard up for work, however, and occasionally finds time out of her busy schedule to instruct the proletariat in the arts of towel-folding. She graciously spoke to SF Weekly about her work.

click to enlarge MARTHA T. LIPTON
  • Martha T. Lipton
What name(s) do you perform under?

Martha T. Lipton is the name I use when I perform in drag. I also perform out of drag as Evan Johnson.

Where do you perform?

Martha comes out 1-2 times a month at CLUB SOME THING (Fridays) at The Stud. I also host a monthly show at Piano Fight (as Martha) called "So You Think You Can Lap Dance". Other places I've performed in drag: Oasis, The DeYoung Museum, SOMArts, YBCA, New Conservatory Theatre Center, Midnight Sun, Moby Dick, and The Powerhouse.

Out of drag, I have a one-man show called Pansy I made as an artist-in-residence at New Conservatory that explores intergenerational differences between gay men using Peter Pan mythology and a '90s club kid setting. Shameless plug: I'll be performing Pansy in SF during Pride on June 26 and then I'm taking my show on the road. 

How long have you done drag?

When I was 7 years old I used to dress as "Fashion Bear," whose personality was basically comprised of, you'll never guess, being both a fashionista and a bear. I used to sashay down the hallway/runway while my cousin Keri played photographer, complete with a fake mustache. Years later, in 2007, Martha T.Lipton was invented for an improv comedy night I made (with my friend Jamie Van Camp) called The Hello Show up in the Foothills. Two years later I moved to San Francisco and started performing at drag shows as Martha because my boyfriend at the time dared me to!

click to enlarge MARTHA T. LIPTON
  • Martha T. Lipton
Does Martha have a back story?

Martha's anthem is Sally Bowles' torch song, "Maybe This Time" (from Cabaret). She's incredibly delusional about both her reputation and her skill level (as a performer). I think she believes that she's on par with very bohemian women like Uta Hagen, Martha Graham or Twyla Tharp. But she's from Fresno. She's an underdog. She sets herself up for failure in that she attempts impossible things. She tries hard. Martha gets away with a lot. She's sorta like a "has been" who never really was. In spite of her shortcomings, her optimism is what shines through most, I think.

I enjoy taking the theme of a particular drag show very seriously. I will do the most on-the-nose, obvious thing and then I make it a Martha number by adding an excessive amount of cardboard props, some dated musical references and when it's "go time!" I focus on just performing the thing with total earnestness. Martha is very Strangers With Candy-meets-Waiting for Guffman. She's the high school drama coach and she's drunk at the staff party. Actually, my reference point, which I usually ask myself, is "How would Martha do this number on a cruise ship?"

Do you have a theater/performance background?

Yes definitely. I started out in community theatre when I was a kid. I began writing my own plays and horror movies when I was 12. One of these was Attack of the Bubble Man which I shot on Hi-8 video. I had a cable TV show in Middle School called Entertainment El Dorado and by high school, I was obsessed with Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, and Edward Albee. In college I starred in Equus and won a Best Actor award. I studied Devised Theatre for a year at Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre in 2005 and worked as a professional clown in India (of all places) for three months in 2007. Now I work professionally as an actor, director, teacher, and sometimes playwright.

click to enlarge MARTHA T. LIPTON
  • Martha T. Lipton
Is realness important to you? Genderfuck? Something else?

Honestly, I'm just a fan of old-school showmanship. I think being generous on stage and giving your act completely to the audience is number one. Glamamore inspires me so much. She is such is capital-P Performer. She makes it look so easy! Being a good listener onstage, the ability to think quickly on your feet and adapt your act to fit what's happening, that is so so key.

When you were starting out, what was the biggest hurdle?

My makeup! My hair! I started out not knowing anything about these things. I used to show up with a tube of lipstick and smear it on my cheeks and wear these humongous old lady glasses. I came from improv comedy, so I didn't think I needed to look pretty. (You don't, really). Over the years, I have, however, made my choices more specific, my makeup and my hair are much more polished now. If my goal is to look like a middle-aged failed actress, I want to look like the best middle-aged failed actress I can!

What do you love most about drag?

I love how close knit the SF drag community is. I love the variety of drag I see in San Francisco. I love how game SF drag audiences are ... how much the crowd loves drama, spectacle and precision but also the kooky, crazy, messy stuff. It's a wide spectrum of performance styles and personalities. There's something for everybody!

Have you had any trouble with Facebook's "real" names policy?

No thankfully. In true Martha style, I started a "fan page" for her back in 2010 and thankfully that's never been interrupted by that stupid policy.

What's your day job?

I teach theatre to young people at Marin Preparatory Academy, New Conservatory and through SF Rec and Parks Cultural Arts Division. I also bartend at The Stud and Swirl on Castro. So basically I have five jobs. I'm a hustler.

Does your mother know?

Yes and she's given me her hand-me-downs. Actually, my mom loves my drag character. She's even been pulled up onstage a few times!

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.


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