Politics & Policy

City of Fear

Celebrities fret as Republicans come to New York.

“I’m scared. I’m f***ing scared out of my pants right now, and if you’re not, wake up.” The actress Rosie Perez was pouring out her heart Saturday night to a crowd of artists, performers, activists, and partygoers gathered at the Chelsea nightclub Crobar. “My heart is broken,” Perez continued. “My heart is broken by this administration. I’m f***ing scared, and I’m mad as hell.”

Perez never explained precisely what she was scared of. She even confused the audience a bit when she said, “I really don’t care who wins the election.” But she said she was deeply concerned with “the issues,” and that concern left her very, very frightened.

She wasn’t alone. “This guy Bush makes Barry Goldwater look like Pollyanna,” said comedian Chevy Chase. “He’s frightening. He’s scaring the crap out of me.”

And the musician Marc Anthony Thompson (also known as “Chocolate Genius”) said the current political situation had jolted him out of complacency and into a new age of activism. “I’ve been sitting on my lazy ass watching Maury Povitch,” Thompson told the crowd. “Then I decided to get my lazy ass out on the f***ing streets.”

Perez, Chase, Thompson, and others had come to Crobar to kick off the Imagine Festival, which is billed by its organizers as an attempt to “use art, not politics or protest, to confront the critical issues facing the nation.” Festival spokesman say they will stage nearly 200 events in New York during the Republican National Convention. Among the celebrities who will participate, according to organizers, are Richard Gere, E.L. Doctorow, Yoko Ono, Margaret Cho, Lou Reed, Gloria Steinem, Marisa Tomei, and others.

Spokesmen for the festival say the works will be featured in the city’s “hippest clubs and performance spaces,” as well as its “most prestigious cultural institutions.” They were particularly pleased recently to announce that the actress Holly Hunter will appear in a reading of playwright Tony Kushner’s “ONLY WE WHO GUARD THE MYSTERY SHALL BE UNHAPPY,” which is billed as a “work in progress in which First Lady Laura Bush grapples with Dostoyevsky and the ghosts of Iraqi children.”

The scene at Crobar was eclectic. There were old hippies with gray ponytails; there were the now-ubiquitous Billionaires for Bush (with their leader, Phil T. Rich); there were young women in black and white majorette outfits, twirling batons; there were young men in 1970-style athletic garb, with short shorts and high socks; and there was man who roamed about the crowd completely naked, wearing only a large backpack. Other people held up signs that said things like, “Donna Rumsfeld–Come out or get out,” or wore t-shirts with sayings like, “MY BUSH ACTUALLY WON THE POPULAR VOTE.”

Also participating in the festival was the Washington lobbying group People for the American Way, whose officials often seem more at home in Capitol Hill hearing rooms than in New York nightclubs. That was particularly apparent Saturday night when the naked man, who turned out to be a performer from the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, appeared on stage shortly before a representative of People for the American Way was to speak. The man had put on some clothes before taking the stage to dance while a colleague recited a poem, but during that recitation, he peeled off his clothes again and, again naked, passed the People for the American Way representative, who appeared somewhat embarrassed to find herself as the next speaker in the festival’s lineup.


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