Lypsinka Speaks!



W 14th St & 9th Ave, New York, NY 10014

Neighborhood: All Over, Manhattan

John Epperson is Lypsinka, but Lypsinka – the performace artist drag super star whose show, The Boxed Set, has been a smash hit at the Westbeth Theater since this past September, – is not John Epperson, or rather John is a lot of things in addition to being Lypsinka.

John has agreed to keep a diary for Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood over the course of the last two weeks of the The Boxed Set’s run, an intimate look at the man behind the make-up. For more information about the show, click here.

The entries start with the most recent and go backwards in time.

Sunday-Monday, January 28th & 29th

After two shows on Saturday, I was very tired and slept late today, resolving to rest as much as possible. Indeed, I only went out to get some fruit juice and soy milk. Managed to get a few phone calls done while I relaxed.

I walked to the theater. It was a beautiful afternoon and I enjoyed not feeling rushed. There was some concern at the theatre because the short film that Flloyd had made as a sort of “roast” of myself wasn’t transferring from his digital camera to VHS. Finally he got it to work and they held the show for him to get there.

Then, when the show started, I did 2 numbers and stopped the show. The sound was just awful. The substitute sound guy has not been doing a very good job in general, but tonight it was especially bad. And since tonight was the closing, I wanted it to be very good. So — I stopped the show and announced, “The sound isn’t good enough and, of all nights, I owe it to these people to give them a good show. Someone come talk to me backstage.” The audience loved that!

Kevin and the sound guy came back, Kevin made an announcement, and we started over. The sound was better but not as good as it can be. Nevertheless, we got through it.

I needed some time after the show to go upstairs and take off my sweaty costume so I could sit in the cold theater and watch Flloyd’s film comfortably. Flotilla did some stand-up, telling vulgar jokes, while I changed. The film was very embarrassing. I was going to go up and say a few words, but I felt the audience had had enough.

This is Bradford, Lypsinka’s dresser, who makes several appearances in these diaries. Given Lypsinka’s blinding physical charisma, it is necessary for him to wear sunglasses at all times.

I did some stretching and then Chal, Steve, Stanley, Bradford and Floyd and I all piled into Lily’s car to go to Florent for a champagne toast and dinner. Bradford and Stanley and I sat with Lily and Jane and their friends. They generously treated us to a meal. Lily may receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award some day. Mike Nichols says she’s all good. That Emma Thompson is, too.

Russell was there, Florent’s friends, Grady, Kevin, Flotilla, et al. After Lily and Jane and their friends left, some of us hung out for a little while longer. It was an unsentimental closing which was the way I liked it.

By the time we left after 12:30 I was exhausted. Right now, I feel glad that the run is over. It certainly was a good run. The audience demographics were widened, which was one of the most important things to pull off. After a little rest, I’ll be ready for the next assignment. Of course, there’s still Mark Sendroff’s 50th bday party next weekend and then the “Caged!” reading on Feb. 19. And there’s the other read-through tomorrow with David, Bryan and Passion. My plate is not empty.

Fri-Sat. January 26th & 27th

I did something on Friday that I don’t usually allow myself: I went to see a movie in the afternoon. I had good reason. The Screening Room was showing the 1975 Diana Ross fiasco “Mahogany” and it was my first chance to see it on a big screen in 26 years. It didn’t disappoint. Everything about that movie is heavenly! And since a lot of it is set in Chicago during the winter, when the movie was over and I walked out into our cold, urban jungle, I felt like I was still in the movie. So glamorous!

Went to Cotan to grab a bite to eat, then had the show to do. Fun audience. Afterwards I spoke to a group of 22 dramatic students from Vassar. They were all very intelligent and self-composed. Certainly a lot smarter and more mature than I was at that age.

Came home and crashed so I could rest up for the 2 shows on Saturday, something I have not had to do since September. Saturday afternoon I did my usual Chinese vegetarian lunch, a few games of Pac-Man, acupuncture and then the shows. Donald C. and Michael E. were at the first show, as well as my cousin Jim McKellar and his companion from Boston. Flloyd was also hanging around, filming the show. We gave Flloyd a hard time for the shocking things he said in front of imperturbable Blaine Trump the other night.

Sam Harris was at the second show and he came back along with Alan Cumming and Alan’s boyfriend Nick. It was Alan’s birthday.

Bradford, Chal and Steve were all nice enough to keep me company while I ate a sandwich after the show. There was like a cloud behind my eyes I was so tired. Jumped in a cab after 12:30, came home and dropped out. Tomorrow night: the closing. Can we compete with the Super Bowl? Just kidding!

Tuesday-Thursday, January 23-25

Tuesday and Wednesday were really horrible. Helen Lawson days. I can’t go into it here: too unpleasant. Thank God for the pool at the gym so I could knock myself out.

On Wednesday I had to cancel my singing lesson, which I hated to do, but I was able to keep my meeting at Bob Avian and Peter Pileski’s apartment with David Drake, Stanley and an actress named Passion. We worked on “Legends!” a bit, preparing for the read-through next Tuesday.

Today (Thursday) was a better day, although my sleep is not as good as I would like it to be. It was also quite a beautiful day for January in the city. Had an interview with a writer from The Boston Globe. Turns out she wanted to talk about “drag theater” in general, and not just about me. However, she did say the article I wrote for The New York Times was part of her impetus.

Bryan Batt called me to talk about the “Legends!” reading. Hope I can see him in “Seussical.”

Phyllis Newman and Adolph Green were at the show tonight and they loved it. It was wonderful to meet him. He seemed in good form.

Blaine and Robert Trump were also there with Billy Norwich. Hadn’t seen him in a long time.

Johnny Meyer, one of Judy Garland’s best friends in the 60s was there with a friend. Chris Olivier from Houston was there and I had a nice visit with him. We’re at the home stretch here with the show. Well, it’s been a good run. Very exciting time for me. I will miss my camaraderie with Louis and Bradford and all the other people at the theater.

Monday, January 22

Yesterday was an Anne Welles day: fresh snow on the ground. Nevertheless, this Anne Welles stayed inside The Martha Washington Hotel for Women all day. Didn’t go out once. The highlight of the day was watching Elizabeth Taylor (crash and burn; or totally manipulate the situation) on the Golden Globes. Well, if we can’t have Suzanne Somers singing a Gershwin medley, we can have our Liz. All afternoon today was spent on boring business stuff. All afternoon! Russell wanted me to go to his show tonight so I did. Had dinner afterwards with him and Ken Page and David Drake. Ken is moving back to LA. This week’s Advertising Age chose the PETA ad I’m in as the Image of the Week. Nice. Didn’t get my swimming done yesterday or today and didn’t do my vocalizing today. Have tomorrow off — so far.

Saturday, January 20th

Mike Nichols behind the camera.

Slept till noon! My gosh! Frantic phone calls had to be made. Had a message on my voice mail when I woke up from Mike Nichols, saying he wanted to come to the show and bring Tom Stoppard and Sinead Cusack. I made sure they were going to get in. Ate breakfast, putzed around, ate some lunch, then took the subway to the theater.

The theater was packed with a fun audience. All went smoothly until the sound guy played the wrong tape for post-show. Wouldn’t you know?

Marcello and Gioia Guidi, looking as stylish as ever, and as friendly as ever, were there with the Italian ambassador and his Polish wife. They all came back. Michael Leeds was also there and he was very complimentary.

MIke N. had said he would not come back with his friends, but go to the restaurant with them and then send the car back. When I left the theatre the car wasn’t there, so I wasn’t sure if I should go to Bar Pitti to meet them. Nevertheless, I did, assuming there was a mix-up. I walked to Bar Pitti. There had been a mix-up: Mike forgot to tell the driver. (Just as Grady forgot to give me my wallet and ring before he left the theatre! Probably because he and I were so flummoxed that the sound guy made the incredible mistake at the end of the show.)

So, Stoppard and S. Cusack were at the restaurant, along with Nicholas Hytner and Bob Crowley. They seem to be partners. Crowley was very friendly and chatty. Hytner a bit stand-off-ish, but, then, we weren’t sitting next to one another. Stoppard was sitting next to me and I guess I held my own with him. Certainly he could out-word or out-vocabulary me in a second. But he was very easy to talk to.

I asked Cusack about her father’s acting career in movies (Cyril Cusack) which launched her on a story about how TV’s weren’t allowed in the house when she was growing up.

Mike talked again (this was his second time to see the show, and our second dinner together) about Judy at Carnegie Hall being the greatest theatrical experience he ever had as a spectator. So thrilling! I told him some of my woes and he said something like, “Good work only happens in defiance of management.”

The wet snow had finally started during dinner. I walked to the train station and took the subway home **

Friday, January 19th

Started the day in tears as I watched the party scene in “All I Desire.” Seeing Richard Long and Barbara Stanwyck made the tears fly to my eyes. And it’s a happy scene! Why does this happen to me when I see happy scenes in movies? Is it a longing for the past, for an idealism? when Debbie Reynolds starts dancing in the “He’s My Friend” number in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” forget it; I’m a puddle. Same with Betty Hutton singing “I Got The Sun In The Morning” in “Annie Get Your Gun.” And there are so many others.

Rainy day again. It’s a good thing. Washes away the old snow to get ready for the new they say is coming. A Bush sign?

Went to Cotan on 3rd St. for the fried oysters and chicken don. Read the paper and some more pages of “Jane Eyre.”

Had a confusing meeting at Westbeth. My life is still in limbo — and I HATE that. I’m turning down other jobs; taking the gamble.

The audience was like so many other Friday nights — quiet. My cousins The Caffreys were there from Baton Rouge, also a man from Great Performances (Jack Venza?) and a fan, Robert Hogg, from Miami. He came back wanting an autograph.

Chal and Steve and I went to The Cowgirl Hall of Fame for dinner and I walked home. Late-night conversations with Kevin and Russell followed.

Thursday, January 18th

Was inside all day making phone calls, getting phone calls, etc.

Walked to the theatre in the rain. Not unpleasant. The show was fun tonight. Good audience. Thierry Mugler was there, but didn’t come back. Isaac Mizrahi, Lar Lubovitch, Mark Morris and John Higgenbotham, one of Mark’s dancers, did come back. I hadn’t seen Mark in a long time and he’s always fun. Lar seemed more serious. Would be fun to chat with him probably. They had a great time and it was a pleasure to see all of them and have a brief visit. They all seemed to enjoy the show and Lar said he had even seen me many years ago at The Pyramid Club!

Thurmond Smithgall was there with a couple of friends and Thurmond brought me the brochure from the upcoming Salzburg Music Festival. It is filled with Francois Nars’ photographs including the dazzling picture of myself.

Joey Carman and Bob Sandla were also there. Joey and I have known one another for over 20 years. Hard to believe.

Bradford is such a funny guy. He’s having a ball with the plastic cooked chicken that we keep hiding from one another.

Took the subway home and called Mart before eating dinner. Watched some of my favorite Barbara Stanwyck movie, Douglas Sirk’s “All I Desire.” I still haven’t converted Tom Beller to Sirkianism.

Thinking about taking a trip to LA, Palm Springs and Vegas at the end of February. Wallace says I can stay with him in LA.

Wednesday, January 17th

Had a lunch meeting with Andy Cohen of USA Networks at The Palm, which was covered in caricatures of celebrities a la Sardi’s, but funkier. It seemed to go well.

The weather was pleasant so I walked through Times Square which was actually enjoyable. The tourists really must not be in town this month, and all the theatre-goers were inside since it was after 2.

Went to the Virgin Megastore and poked around then to Blowout Video across the street. Blowout is having a 30% off sale on widescreen movies so I got “Lisa and The Devil” with Elke Sommer and “The Devil’s Own” with Joan Fontaine. Went to the new video arcade on 42nd St. and actually got to play Pac-Man there for the first time. Costs 25 cents more than the games in Chinatown, but they’re a lot faster.

Walked home via 8th Avenue and bumped into Flotilla at the corner of 28th St. She needed a script of “Legends!” so I brought her back here and loaned her mine.

Took a lovely nap, did my sit-ups and butt exercises, vocalizing, then went to see Chal’s band The Chelsea Mountain Boys at Downtime nearby on 30th St. There were lots of people I knew there. The band was fun. I’m proud of Chal. I couldn’t stay the whole time. Had to go to the gym to do my swim. Said hello to that guy again!

Ate dinner very late. Now one of my favorite Elvis movies is on — “Loving You” with Lizabeth Scott.

Lorna Luft called Kevin! She wants to be in CAGED!

Tuesday, January 16th

I had another good singing lesson today. I am able to hit notes and make sounds I have never made before. It’s time to think about getting this out to the public. I need to make a recording — a simple recording with me accompanying myself.

I walked a few blocks through the park on the way to the lesson. The ice and snow are trying to melt. There are moments, even in the bleakness of January, when New York is beautiful, just as Jenifer Lewis and I agree that happiness comes in fleeting moments.

Made a few food stops on the Upper West Side and stood in the check-out line right behind Lauren Bacall. If she had acknowledged me I would have reintroduced myself and told her that I have met her at the one party I attended at Roddy McDowall’s house in 1995. Nevertheless, I was content to take in the whole situation: the solicitousness of the manager; the “Ah, yes,” when the cashier gave her the check to sign; the clothes; the physicality; the little ladies gawking and whispering nearby; the car waiting out front.

Went swimming and worked up the nerve to speak to a guy I’ve seen at the gym several times before.

Monday, January 15th

Lazy, sleepy, foggy day. A holiday. Martin Luther King Day. Made phone calls. Spoke to Scott Wittman and Mart Crowley in LA. Watched the rest of the Judy E! True Hollywood Story. Of course, it was somewhat sensationalized, but there was lots of footage I had never seen before and I can never get enough Judy.

Read more of “Jane Eyre.” I must say Bertha is fully revealed much sooner than I expected. I guess “Jane Eyre” is the mother of the Gothic romance. Why did I think the character’s name would be spelled “Berthe?”

Peter Schlesinger and Eric Boman had a small dinner party for Don Bachardy at their large apartment on W. 20th St in the Flatiron District. They had also invited a nice couple — Jane and Robert Rosenblum. Rosenbloom? Peter and Eric made a delicious meal: pasta, turkey pie and baked pears. Don is in town for a reading and a book-signing that happened tonight before dinner at A Different Light, and was, apparently, poorly promoted.

Sunday, January 14th

This is a shadow.

Scott Peeper came over to cut my hair. I mentioned “Queer As Folk” and he went OFF — as well he should. The New York Times let the show have it today as well. I wonder if people are embarrassed that they bought into the hype?

Kevin and I went to see Mark Dendy’s piece at The Joyce. Can’t remember the name of it; it’s a long title. We saw an early version of it at SummerStage about a year and half ago. I think I preferred that one; it was more of an event. Still, it was sexy and wonderful.

Watched the end of the new “Gatsby” on A & E. Fitzgerald’s words, story and vision are so moving. I was touched even though it smelled of TV movie. The E! True Hollywood Story of “The Last Days of Judy Garland” is on now. Another version of the waste of the American dream.

J—- was at the Dendy evening. I didn’t get a chance to say hello. When I got home the porter had a Xmas gift from him for me. Hmm.

Also saw Flotilla on the other side of the theater. Jaime Bishton, Perry Souchuk were there. I’ve never been introduced to Bobby Pierce, but if I had known that was him when I was chatting with Mark before the show, I would have introduced myself. He did the costumes. Nice job. He’s changed his hair color so I didn’t recognize him.

Saturday, January 13th

Made my weekly Saturday trip to Chinatown for a vegetarian Chinese lunch. On the way to the video arcade after lunch I bumped into Zora who was squiring around a group from Atlanta. Played one game of Pac-Man. The acupuncturist on Mott Street did some energy work on my foot that was so painful, but, as he said, “No pain, no gain.” Beats having a needle full of cortisone stuck in it, I guess.

I walked to the theater from Chinatown and the sky was totally clear and the Empire State Building was a beautiful pink. Dazzling!

The show was sold out and loads of fun. Michael Kors came back afterwards as well as Deborah Eisenberg and Wally Shawn, Edward Hibbert, Gym DeMao and his friend John, and Deanie Albert and Anna Spellman, old friends from American Ballet Theatre. Kevin got Wally interested in doing CAGED! next month.

I’m going to miss doing the show. It’s so much fun! Especially right now. Hopefully it won’t be long until I’m doing it again.

Chal and Steve and I went to Moustache to eat and then I went alone to Bradford’s Studio 42 party on the Lower East Side. I didn’t stay long because the cigarette smoke was thick. Subwayed home. SNL is on. Can’t figure out if it’s a new show or not.

Friday, January 12th

Slept late today, later than usual. 11:30. About an hour more than usual. Felt like Barbara Stanwyck in “The Night Walker.” “I can’t wake uuuuup!!”

Therefore, the day was short. Phoning, phoning, phoning. And still didn’t get it all done. Had to sit down and eat lunch so I can have energy for the show. Margaret Rutherford was doing the twist in “Murder at the Gallop.” Put in my new tape of “Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe And Find True Happiness?” Only had time to see the first few minutes as I finished my meal. Also plan to watch “The Unholy Wife” which I taped yesterday.

It was the magic hour when I walked to the theater. Beautiful sky. The village was pleasant. Everything north of that was an obstacle course of arrogant yuppies pushing baby carriages, walking their dogs that take up the sidewalk with leashes, and the construction brought on by The New Economy. What New Economy? It sure has passed me by!

The sky was so beautiful I went down to the river near Westbeth and looked at the river and the twinkling lights and the hideous buildings being built in New Jersey. Who will fill them?

The audience for the show was not as fun as the last 2 perfs. Friday night. But still responsive. James Knopf was there. A friend of Bradford’s, Michael, a rugby player from Vassar was in the front row, so I tormented him. Bradford put my dance belt in the microwave to dry it and it melted into a puddle of black plastic ooze. Oh, brother.

Thursday, January 11th

There was a frustrating, strained, confusing phone call with LA today. I’m afraid I raised my voice. My therapist has warned me about showing anger when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. I’m afraid I don’t control it as well as I would like. The call gave me what I like to call a Helen Lawson Headache. And as it turns out, no one is offended. At American Ballet Theatre people used to have horrible screaming matches, and then an hour later the argument was forgotten. Maybe it’s normal??

I returned the videotapes of “Querelle” (couldn’t watch it; vaguely remember being bored with it when it came out), “Heavy Traffic” (loved it; took me way back). Bought a videotape of Curtis Harrington’s “Games” which made me very happy.

The audience for the show was great. The show was loads of fun to do tonight. Paddy Crofton and his mom were there; they invited me to South Africa. “If you don’t mind the odd bomb,” Paddy said.

Zora Rasmussen was there with Lisa Passero, Cassandra “Mrs. Greenthumbs” Danz and her husband Walter. Also Peter Schlesinger and Eric Boman. Eric and I talked about the idea I want to do with Isabella.

We talk about “Valley of the Dolls” so much in the dressing room and Bradford has never seen it. So I brought him back here and showed it to him. The cycle continues: I had to sit Russ Clower down the same way over 15 years ago and show it to him.

Bradford tells me that D. M., the leather-worker, said he wouldn’t hold it against him for working with me. Wonder what that means? Apparently he expected me to keep the costume that was made for the Advocate shoot 8 years ago. I don’t remember it being offered. In fact I remember being told I couldn’t keep it. I also remember that we had to cut a hole in the back of it so I could get into it.

Wednesday, January 10th, 2001

There has been some reluctance on my part to have any of my diary entries published because I believe I say too much and am perceived wrongly. I have been in psychotherapy on and off for 10 years and have learned that it is okay to express my feelings. But when certain feelings are expressed I find that I am perceived as “negative,” whereas I may think of presenting myself as a whole person. I have learned that it is okay to tell someone I’m angry, but when I do tell them, they don’t want to hear it. And although I am still deeply confused sometimes when I am having an argument with someone, I have learned that confrontation is not a bad thing. Nevertheless, when I initiate a confrontation I am perceived as “the bad guy.” I don’t think of myself as negative or downbeat. I see myself as a practical, whole person with a slight tendency towards melancholy that I believe I keep in check.

I mention all of this, because today was a very frustrating day around the “lip-synching question.” I am having a great success right now doing my first all-lip-synching show in New York in 7 years and I am enjoying myself immensely. But what I foresaw has happened: once again, there are people in power in the entertainment business who have the ability to give me a job in another medium but they don’t see how this particular theatrical event can translate into, for instance, television. And I’m not sure that I don’t agree with them. I don’t even want to pursue this avenue, but there are others who do, so the can of worms is opened, and it is painful.

On the positive side (and I CAN be positive) I had a great singing lesson yesterday. My teacher is amazed at the progress I have made in the past few weeks and so am I. Of course, I’ve been singing since I was in high school. And playing the piano and composing and acting and writing. I know I have all these abilities but the rest of the world doesn’t know because I have made my name with the incredible gimmick of lip-synching. People will be so surprised when I have the showcase to present my other talents.


Our thoughts on John Epperson’s talents as a stage actor can be viewed here.

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