PHOTOS: A burlesque co-op forms in Seattle as dancers step out of lockdown
After more than a year without live, in-door audiences, arts venues around Seattle continue to struggle because of the pandemic. But one group of burlesque performers have teamed up to create a new co-op and performance space.
During the pandemic, Penny Banks got good at making dance videos. They had to. It was March 13, 2020, when Banks and their burlesque troupe, the Devil's Advocates, booked their last live show.
“Which was at Barça, which is now no longer even in existence, and it was just not going to happen,” Banks said.
Banks thought the Devil's Advocates, and audiences, would be in lockdown for two weeks. But that two weeks, stuck at home, came and went.
“We need to perform,” Banks said. "It's a necessity for all of us.”
So Banks and the Advocates did what everyone else had to do: They got on Zoom.
“We have been hustling shows,” says Scarlett Folds, another member of the Devil's Advocates.
Folds says the performers started filming themselves in their separate apartments, and putting out a new show every month for fans streaming at home.
“We're doing hair, we're doing makeup, we have to figure out a concept,” Folds says. "What is the costume? Where are we going to be able to film this?”
Where to film was tricky. These weren’t just office zoom meetings. We’re talking bumping burlesque shows with artists dancing for digital tips. So the home office wasn’t always the best vibe.
And as Penny Banks says: “There is nothing like a screaming audience cheering for you to take off your clothes.”
For a long time dancing for a screaming audience felt impossible. But earlier this year people started getting vaccinated and some places slowly started re-opening. The Devil’s Advocates started wondering if it was time to get onstage again.
Then in March, someone came to Scarlett Folds with an idea.
“‘There is this space. It is wonderful. It is awesome. It would be awful if it went to anyone else except artists and I think we should do something about it,’” Folds recalls.
The person with that idea was Mx Pucks A'Plenty.
"I am the They / Them / Yas Queen of Burlesque. Also known as the Michelle Obama of Burlesque.”
Mx. Pucks A’Plenty runs a production company in Seattle and has done burlesque for about four years.
“I am one of the few Black, queer, non-binary, fat, disabled burlesque performers working in the area right now,” Mx. Pucks says.
Mx. Pucks first heard about burlesque 11 years ago, watching a Netflix documentary. They'd just had a son and said they were experiencing postpartum depression. They say it took years to work up the courage to try burlesque. But now they've performed internationally — their son thinks it's pretty cool.
“Because of all the costumes, he thinks that I'm a superhero,” Mx. Pucks says.
Through their production work, Mx. Pucks knew of a venue with a stage in Ballard coming up on its lease. So the Devil’s Advocates teamed up with three other troupes to form the Seattle Burlesque and Cabaret Co-Op. Mx. Pucks says to their knowledge it's the first venue owned by a burlesque co-op in Seattle.
The space is down in a basement, with a small bar and a wall of tables facing the stage. Scarlett Folds says she thinks the co-op will paint the space in deep purples and oranges.
“Seventies — that funk, that disco, that color,” Folds says. "The kind of music that really makes you want a groove and it's raunchy, right?”
But the space isn’t just for shows. The co-op says it’s critical the new venue serves the community and amplifies all voices in burlesque and cabaret.
“I hesitate to use the word safe space because only the most marginalized can decide if a space is safe,” they said. "But we're definitely gonna provide a space that has zero tolerance for B.S.”
Penny Banks says even with a new physical space, the troupe will keep doing some things they learned over the pandemic. Like making more of their specialty dance videos for faraway fans.
“It's so important to me that even if we're doing in person shows that we're continuing to do online things where people who can't leave their houses can still watch us,” Banks said.
The Seattle Burlesque and Cabaret Co-op hopes to open up to small groups this summer.