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'Welcome to Provincetown' podcast follows a mix of characters in the seaside town


Even by beach getaway standards, Provincetown, Mass., is pretty special. For decades, it's been a draw for gay tourists who go there to enjoy the queer-friendly nightlife, beaches and, yes, cabaret-style drag shows.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) I'm never going to dance again. Guilty feet have got no rhythm.

CORLEY: A new podcast tells the story of P-Town and the people who call it home. It's called "Welcome To Provincetown." And in it we follow the host, Mitra Kaboli, as she navigates her first summer in P-Town. We wanted to learn more about it, so we reached out to Mitra. And when we spoke, she began by explaining what drew her to P-Town in the first place.

MITRA KABOLI: Provincetown is a really, really interesting place. You know, it's at the very, very tip of Cape Cod. Like, it's basically kind of in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It feels really isolated. The year-round population is something around 3,000, and in the summer, the population just explodes to, like, 60,000 people. And for many generations, there have been, like, all kinds of people have flocked there - like, queer people, of course, but, like, artists, writers, just so many interesting people. And when you walk down the street, it's just so lively, you know, and people want to perform for you. It's full of really interesting characters, and it's honestly just a really fun, interesting and dynamic place.

CORLEY: Well, throughout the series, you introduce us to many people who reside in P-Town, both visitors and longtime residents. And one of the characters we meet is a drag queen named Qya Cristal. And here she is, getting dressed for a performance.


QYA CRISTAL: So I have on a - this is my, like, smoother body shaper that I always put on over my surgical shaper because the surgical shaper lasts. It's built to last, and it's very expensive. But it gives me that - the ooh-ah-ah sensation. Oh, not mad about that.

CORLEY: You know, that was an education for me, the body shaper. I was learning. So tell us a little bit more about Qya. What made you want to include her in the series?

KABOLI: Well, I had heard about Qya before I came to Provincetown. People had been telling me that she was like, the "it" girl of the summer. I was like, what does that mean? But, you know, she's been living in Provincetown, I think, at that point, like nine years or something. And I think last summer, the summer that I was there, was really, like, her summer. You know, she was performing everywhere. And it was kind of - it felt like it was kind of like her make-or-break summer a little bit. And she is just, like, so wonderful on tape. I have a lot of tape of her. I didn't get so many, like, sit-down, quiet interviews with her. I was always just, like, chasing her around from gig to gig, which ended up being really interesting and dynamic.

CORLEY: Well, the backdrop for the series is your personal story of coming into your queer identity. Was it difficult to become part of the story or to put yourself out there in that way?

KABOLI: It's definitely difficult to put myself out there. You know, I'm embarrassed even just thinking about it sometimes (laughter). But it was something that kind of naturally developed as we were putting the show together. And, you know, we didn't go into this with the idea that I would be telling the story of my summer. But, you know, my experience was just so integral. Like, everything - it was my first summer there. I didn't really have anything to compare it to. So my experience was just really integral to the story and the relationships that I had with people. The way that I interact with people was kind of present in all of the interviews and the relationships that we had. So it kind of was a little bit of a natural segue as to like, who am I? I'm having this first summer. And for listeners who've never been to Provincetown or kind of like in my shoes with my first summer, like, it's almost their first summer also.

CORLEY: Well, even though you refer to P-Town as a mecca, it's not always paradise. And there are also issues of race and class that come up. Provincetown is largely white and male, and it's become much more expensive to live there or visit. So how did that shape this story and your experience profiling these people?

KABOLI: You know, most of the people that we interviewed in the show are, you know, just like the working people of the town. There are so many wealthy people in Provincetown. And the way that kind of affects - or the way that affected the show, more or less, is kind of the struggles that people are having, you know, with the increasing precarity of, like, not being able to find a place to live. And in those ways, it kind of - you can see those tensions that this place is becoming harder to live in, a place that requires so much labor and workers to have this summer experience. But if the people who work there don't have anywhere to live, then, you know, that becomes a problem and can be unsustainable. And it's - the show isn't really on its nose about that. But, you know, it touches on these themes because things like that affect everyone who lives there.

CORLEY: At the beginning of the podcast, you say that you hope to unlock the secrets of growing old and gay without the expectations and norms of a straight life. So what did you mean by that? And did you find it?

KABOLI: A little bit, I found it. I mean, what I think I was trying to say is when kind of embarking into leading a queer life, like, you can kind - it just feels like there are no rules. Like, you can make up this life as you want. For most of my 20s, I was like, I guess I shall get married and have children. And now that I've kind of shifted away from that, it's like, what would a life look like that is unconventional in some ways? If I'm not prioritizing having children or getting married in my life, like, what does that free up? What does that mean for my development as a person, and what does that mean for my future? Obviously, I don't have all those answers, but being in Provincetown and just seeing how so many different people are living their lives kind of untethered from conventional norms, it was really beautiful and eye-opening. And, you know, you have to listen to see how I come to the end of it, but...

CORLEY: Don't want to give everything away.

KABOLI: Yes. You must listen to "Welcome To Provincetown." It's out now (laughter).

CORLEY: Thank you so much. That was Mitra Kaboli, an audio documentarian. Her podcast, "Welcome To Provincetown," is out now. Mitra, thanks so much for sharing your story with us.

KABOLI: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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