When you think of filmmaker and artist John Waters – the man who’s been called the Sultan of Sleaze, the Baron of Bad Taste, the Pope of Trash – perhaps the last thing to come into your head would be summer camp.
And that’s where the Prince of Puke would shock you yet again. Welcome, dear readers, to Camp John Waters.
The outlandish visionary we have to blame for Pink Flamingos, Serial Mom, Cry Baby, and a little juggernaut you may have heard of called Hairspray, is welcoming visitors into his warped mind in a summer camp setting. And in this neck of the woods, the guests are just as outrageous as the activities.
Taking place over a weekend in Connecticut, guests are invited to “relive your filthy childhood while participating alongside other trashy campers” in dance parties, costume contests and film marathons, while taking in a one-man-show from Waters himself.
Sounds like good clean fun? Well, just wait a minute, as John Waters explains what to expect – “Summer camp in America, the first thing that comes to mind would be Friday the 13th. There’s been a lot of horror movies that take place in them. I don’t know that summer camps have always been thought to be that innocent.”
He continues, “The whole John Waters Camp experience is kind of parodying what it really was like to go to camp – I mean, they have arts and crafts lessons where they make hate bracelets. They bring up a flag every morning, but it’s a giant bra. When I went to camp, the most humiliating thing I remember, they had a bowel movement chart, where every day the camper had to go check that you had had a bowel movement. We have one of them! It’s pretty great. We have t-shirts that say ‘Jonestown with a happy ending!'”
After taking a break in 2020 due to Covid, 2021 will be the fourth time fans come from all over the world to gathered together for Camp. Oh, and lucky folk who’ve attended all four iterations will be graduating this year, and they’ll be awarded a ‘Diploma of Filth’.
John Waters’ fans may seem outlandish, but it all comes from a place of joy – people are here to have a good time, not to judge. As Waters describes, “It’s all ages, it’s straight and gay and trans and everything. People get along wonderfully. It’s amazing. I mean, people got married there!
“These people asked if I would marry them because I’m an ordained minister. And I said, ‘Well, no, I can’t do that… okay, if you’re at the end of the line at the book signing and you got the licence, I’ll do it.’ So they did! But they brought their parents, they were in bride’s dresses, they threw rice, they had maids and grooms of honour, all that kind of stuff, but they actually did get married there!”
Readers with a nervous disposition may look away now, as those of you who know the infamous scene in Pink Flamingos where the actor Divine has a light snack can guess what happens next. “One year, a lovely woman said to me ‘Can I do what I’ve always wanted to do here, can I eat dog shit in front of you?'” Waters laughs, “I was taken aback! And she had a little sample in a very scientific little kit. And she took it out and ate it in front of everybody and got a round of applause. Camp is kind of a great experience, I’ll tell you that much!”
“Campers stay in touch all year and meet up. Like when I do my regular spoken word shows in different cities, there’s always a contingent from the camp. So it is a cult in the very best sense of the word, nothing negative.”
So how psychedelic is it for the auteur to see the contents of his filthy mind spilled into one area of natural beauty? Because these fans aren’t messing around. “They come for the weekend and some of them live as my characters,” Waters chuckles. “We have a costume contest that is really astounding. Even Ricki Lake (star of the original Hairspray) said ‘this shocks me!’ because they come as the most obscure details from one of my movie. Really obscure cutaway shots in the movie or something.
“You know, they come up with their own activities. The first year somebody slipped under the doors the little kidnap note ‘I’ll get you, pussyface’ from Serial Mom. That was under every door when people went to sleep!”
Serial Mom herself, Kathleen Turner, will be there in the flesh alongside other Waters’ movie legends Patricia Hearst and Mink Stole, as camp counsellors to judge some top secret contests which we couldn’t possibly spill just yet. But if it’s anything like last time…
“One of the days, Ricki Lake and I judged the Twist Contest,” Waters laughs, “but it turned into a battle at the end – a big girl and a gay guy and they were twisting. And then they started taking off their clothes, and it ended up both were totally nude. Nude. But it’s all good natured! Everybody gets along.”
“These people are beyond fans,” added Waters. “Really I just thank them so much for appreciating it that much and being such good ambassadors for all my films all around the world.”
US-based fans can get their grubby mitts on tickets here.
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