Camp Camp

The end but not the end?

Three years ago in September, queer performers Ray Matthews and Silky Shoemaker started Camp Camp, a monthly queer performance night underneath the moonlit trees of Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse. What started with 30 kids "potlucking" their art grew into a community of at least a hundred, positive, supportive, and engaged, breathing a collective spirit into a sliced and diced acronym of queer community. Each month, the "camp counselors," as they playfully called themselves, would concoct a theme, hoping to unify the monologues and ballads and broody poems. But even with this directed motivation, Camp Camp was an outlet for true performance freedom, a forum for unmitigated, uncensored expression, where sexuality and gender were on the table for discussion but not held down by social construction or dichotomized views.

"I wanted to challenge what people thought was sexy," says Shoemaker, who has been seen without shirt and without pants ... however, not at the same time. At Camp Camp, the body was not off-limits, sex was not hushed, gender did not frighten away. And what sprouted was a centralized, do-it-yourself strength among gay kids who took the word "queer" and internalized it as their mantra: "It's okay to be a freak."

Then, in their e-mail blast announcing the theme for Dec. 4 as "The End," Matthews and Shoemaker said it truly marked the end of Camp Camp, stating that it was "just time" to close down what was taking up way too much of their lives. In calling a halt to an event that was picking up so much steam and notoriety, it was as if the two were seeking to reject the concept of institutionalization and commodification, challenging what it means to be successful in the art world. And yes, they did it on purpose.

The final Camp Camp turned into a nostalgic "best of" night, with queers returning to perform favorite acts they've done throughout the years. There was an acoustic sing-along of "The Knife," poetry from a gay man about coming out to his religious family, and a choreographed breakup song, led by Shoemaker and Matthews (Beyoncé's "To the Left"). There was even a touching musical number by Rebecca Havemeyer that had the crowd sniffing back verklempt giggles. "This was my first family," she said, "and I'll never forget it."

And it felt like that: a family. It was a cold night, as cold as Austin can get, with fire pits scattered along the crowd, twinkling lights, golden outfits, and a sense of connectivity. We're all in this together. We're all shivering, here to say our heartfelt goodbye to this moment in time, to say goodbye to Camp Camp. But then.

"We still have funding until October," said Matthews, "so there will be more Camp Camp. Just not every month."

Wait. So this touching farewell, this opening of our hearts, this dramatic declaration, Shoemaker telling us it "seems radical to allow a thing to die before it becomes institutionalized" ... was it all a sham? There will be more Camp Camp, even if this final theme "killed it off." Ah, but perhaps that's what it really is: another theme, some inspiration, some motivator devised by Silky and Ray to put a conclusion to the transition Camp Camp will see in the coming year.

And boy, did we fall for it. Hook. Line. Sinker.

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Camp Camp, Silky Shoemaker, Ray Matthews, Rebecca Havemeyer, Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse

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