by Mark Van Streefkerk
When the pandemic brought live performance to a halt last year, the Seattle burlesque community watched as one by one, some of the most beloved nightlife institutions shuttered their doors temporarily or for good. Unable to take the stage at their regular venues — like The Rendezvous, Re-bar, Barça Lounge, or R Place — Mx. Pucks A’Plenty (they/them and YAS QUEEN) and troupe The Devil’s Advocates moved performances online. Now a year into the pandemic, Pucks and The Devils are part of a new cooperative by and for the burlesque and cabaret community and have a new season of shows on the horizon.
The Seattle Burlesque and Cabaret Co-op will be established at a space on Market Street in Ballard formerly known as Copious Love. Founders of the co-op include Pucks’ production company Puckduction, The Devils, Fat Bottom Productions, and the Artisan Guild.
It’s Seattle’s “first space that is operated by burlesque performers for burlesque performers,” Pucks said. “We’ve applied for fiscal sponsorship so we can operate as a nonprofit. We’ve been doing all of this work for the last 30 days. It’s been kind of a whirlwind.”
The new space is optimized for virtual shows and hopefully socially distant live shows in the future. For now, the co-op will focus on virtual productions — both prerecorded and livestreamed — and provide performers a space for rehearsal or recording.
A graduate of Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque, Pucks has been performing across the country and in Canada for the last three and a half years, including last year’s Virtual Burlesque Hall of Fame, the Disabilitease Festival and many more. YAS QUEEN is currently Mx. Congeniality of the 2019 Savannah Burlesque Festival. Pucks said their burlesque is “very political. I am Black, queer, nonbinary, and fat, and there’s just not a lot of performers out there that look like me. There’s a few of us but not a lot. Everytime I get on stage, I’m being very defiant, even if I am doing very fancy, classic burlesque acts — I do a lot of those too — it’s a political statement every time.”
After a year of troubleshooting virtual performances, Pucks knows what recording for an online show entails. In March and April of last year, burlesque, drag, and other live performers flocked to platforms like Instagram and Facebook live to air their shows, but those avenues aren’t ideal, Pucks said. For starters, it’s not easy to monetize performances on those platforms, and there’s also the issue of music rights. Both Instagram and Facebook live have cut performers’ feeds if they use copyrighted music. Those two platforms are also skewed against bodies that are BIPOC, queer, fat, or disabled. Effie DuBois, one of The Devils, added, “We’ve had a really hard time, not only transitioning to online but being accepted online. Not by our fans but by social media algorithms. Everything gets taken down.”
To be successful at virtual performance, YAS QUEEN and The Devils had a crash course of sorts in the technical aspects of video editing and streaming. Pucks worked around music copyright issues by partnering with local musicians like General Mojo’s. The three shows Pucks did with the band last year was one example of collaborating with local artists, increasing everyone’s exposure at a time when many were losing income.
“I’m a full-time burlesque performer and producer. I had no other choice but to figure out a way to continue producing virtual content — it’s what keeps the roof over my head. I have a child with special needs. I had to provide. You get really creative,” Pucks said.
Last year, YAS QUEEN produced around seven online shows and produced or co-produced two virtual festivals. Pucks and The Devils have also found a better streaming solution through Crowdcast.
This year, Puckduction and The Artisan Guild in association with the Theater Off Jackson, will co-produce At Your Core on April 30, a tribute to the Cottage Core phenomena of pandemic-inspired house-bound lifestyle. Puckduction will also produce Queer Prom Seattle on June 12. What the Funk?! an all-BIPOC burlesque festival (and the only all-BIPOC burlesque festival in the Pacific Northwest) will run August 19–21, produced by Puckducion and The Stay Up Late Show.
The Devil’s Advocates are seven performers and graduates of Cornish College of the Arts, officially formed in 2016. The ensemble brings together elements of performance art, theater, dance, burlesque, and drag. Last year’s social and political unrest and protests for Black lives galvanized The Devils to uplift BIPOC performers at every opportunity. “We are a queer group and we have the power to hire people,” DuBois explained. “In this pandemic, we need to make sure that we are hiring the right people who need it the most. We decided to give priority to all BIPOC performers, and we actually paid them more.”
When it comes to unwinding at the end of the day, DuBois encourages people to look to their own communities for entertainment. “Live shows are still happening,” she affirmed. “Before you sit down to your next Netflix movie, maybe think, ‘Hey, is there something going on tonight?’ I guarantee you’ll have more fun tuning into a live show with performers from your community and supporting them than you would just watching another episode of Grey’s Anatomy.”
Featured Image: Mx. Pucks A’Plenty is a burlesque performer, producer, stage manager, themcee, and Mx. Congeniality of the 2019 Savannah Burlesque Festival, to name a few of their titles. (Photo: Osa Wylde)
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