COVID-19 has closed burlesque curtains everywhere. When and how can it come back?
Lou Lou la Dutchesse de Riere has had to adapt her iconic spider performance from an auditorium to her living room during the COVID-19 pandemic. SOURCE Lauren Jiles
MONTREAL -- The Wiggle Room owner Jeremy Hechtman knows that reopening Canada’s only exclusive burlesque venue post COVID-19 restrictions can only happen one way.
“You don’t do burlesque half-assed. You use your entire ass,” he said.
The venue, which is a shrine to Montreal’s burlesque history, is an intimate space where burlesque fans can grab a high-end cocktail and watch the likes of Elle Diabloe and Lou Lou la Duchesse de Riere dance, pull audience members on stage, and disrobe as burlesque performers have done for centuries.
It’s currently closed, like all venues, without a clear picture of when it will reopen.
“It just gets a little frustrating to wait until there is any indication at all if we can ever reopen or when we can reopen,” said Hechtman.
If bars like The Wiggle Room reopen and there is a second wave of coronavirus in the fall, the doors will slam shut pretty fast, predicted Hechtman.
The Dutchess de Riere (Lauren Jiles during the day) has performed for the past 14 years, and was performing constantly pre-pandemic in Montreal and internationally.
Diabloe was on stage up to three-times-a-week, and her husband Divine Danny D hosted every Wednesday at The Wiggle Room.
“When they implemented stay-at-home measures, I was supposed to leave the next day to go to Bristol in the UK,” said Jiles. “From there I was supposed to go to Florida and then I was supposed to be in Panama. It’s been really intense.”
Jiles' husband, wrestler Donovan Danhausen, was also on the road constantly, and also put his career on hold as the two figured out how to work through the pandemic.
“I allowed myself a few days to mourn the loss of the work I would be doing, but I’ve tried not to marinade in grief and try to focus my efforts on different aspects of my career,” she said.
Diabloe and her husband started the YouTube Happy Hour video series “Stir Crazy,” a mix of food, cooking, drinking and comedy. They are launching an after-dark curated burlesque show starting June 12.
“It’s not the same as performing live by any stretch, but one must be adaptable I guess,” said Diabloe.
Jiles has done a number of online performances posted on the Quarantine Cabaret site including her iconic and award-winning spider routine. Normally, the act involves aerial straps, and elaborate lighting and music. During the lockdown, however, it required a few alterations.
“It’s normally this big production and I did it in my living room,” she said. “There’s this really nice juxtaposition. It’s this $10,000 costume and you can see my kid’s toys in the background.”
Jiles is a big fan of the cheeky transition from stage to sofa.
“Burlesque shouldn’t take itself so seriously, and there’s something comedic in it,” she said. “It’s been fun because people now have access to my shows, to my performances.”
The Dutchess will perform two more online performances this month.
HOW DOES THE SHOW GO ON?
The Wiggle Room is small and shows typically sell out making physical distancing measures next to impossible. In addition, Hechtman said having people spaced throughout the room would take too much away from the acts.
“It’s a pretty intimate space, and people feed off of each other’s energy and it requires people to be kind of sitting all over each other and for the shows to really work it requires interaction with the audience,” said Hechtman. “We encourage the exchange of bodily fluids in our establishments. In a post-corona world, I guess we’re going to have to figure out a way to adapt.”
Seating people six feet apart, and ensuring performers remain six feet apart backstage is next to impossible at a venue such as The Wiggle Room.
“With a backstage that is a grand total of 18-feet long maybe, we can't even distance," said Diabloe. "We are super-duper on top of each other."
It is the same in most venues, according to Jiles.
“In Manhattan, I remember performing at this very elite club, and my dressing room was a bathroom stall with six other performers,” said Jiles. “We don’t have the luxury of social distancing.”
Though performers like Diabloe and the Dutchess have been able to take their shows online during the lockdown, they know burlesque is a live act that requires an audience.
“It has to be done live,” said Hechtman. “I think that there are a lot of performing arts that are going to take a while to rebound. They’ll suffer in the short term.”
Hechtman said nothing is certain now, though his insurance company’s communication suggests in September, things will be open. He’s not so certain.
Both performers who spoke to CTV noted their reluctance to return to the stage without a vaccine available, but also their concern about what post-pandemic burlesque will look like.
“I’m no spring chicken and my man has diabetes and I have a brand-new nephew, so yeah I am concerned with staying healthy,” said Diabloe. “But I am more nervous how long it will take to get back and what that looks like and what it is going to cost audience members to come to see live shows.”
“I’m raising a five-year-old, and my main job is to make sure that she feels safe and secure and that there’s some sense of normalcy and routine,” said Jiles. “I was joking with my friend that I don’t have the benefit of glamorously losing my mind in a Catherine D'lish robe.”