Due to club and bar closures and restrictions throughout L.A., livelihoods dependent on getting people to “go out” have been struggling to survive (and yes, that also includes publications that cover these industries, like this one). Stage performers of all kinds are dealing with some of the biggest financial fallout, but there’s something else, too. Fears about what lies ahead not only for our own lives, but for the world in general -not to mention stress over the upcoming election and current racial reckoning- make it hard to get turned on by anything these days, both in the figurative and literal sense, on both sides. Coronavirus is taking more than just lives. Creativity has been curtailed, interactions have been cut off, and excitement has collectively dimmed, no doubt about it. And for those who love nightlife, the arts, entertainment and sensory/sensual revelry, there are additional layers of loss.
As entertainers seek to experiment with safer ways to do what they do, the internet has become a saving grace. And few artforms have adapted as well as burlesque, striptease and cabaret. Offering privacy for the viewer, safety for the performer and a open platform to showcase thematic presentations, dancers and strippers in L.A. have found lusty new life on the web that goes beyond social media and proves more interesting than the easy go-to of porn, piquing the imagination and incorporating a vaudevillian mix of music, costumes and human connection. Presenting provocative entertainment on their own terms, earning money for themselves and important causes that matter to them as well, these strong women are creating a sexy spectacle online that just might break you of out of your corona funk. Here are the best of L.A.’s cybersex-powered burlesque shows, strip presentations and cabarets.
When shelter in place orders took effect, burlesque performer Michelle L’amour says she and her husband lost all of their production gigs “in a matter of minutes.” The idea for their online variety show, Quarantine Cabaret, was hatched on March 16th and they had 2 episodes out by March 20th. “Luckily, we had people who said yes to us and took a chance on this show, as there wasn’t already a precedent for online variety content,” says L’amour, who hosts from her living room, presenting three acts from all over the world with varying talents (burlesque, drag, magic, musicians) and the grande finale featuring one of her own acclaimed acts. It’s free, with tipping encouraged and a portion raised going to charity as well.
“We were shocked that it actually worked,” she shares about the show, which is available for binging on demand. “Over the course of 18 episodes, we were able to pay over 60 performers from all over the world and were able to work with some dream talent, like the band, IAMX in episode 12 and dancers from the Lido in Paris in episode 15. We’ve also been able to work with great L.A. talent.”
L’amour also has a pay-to-watch project called Uncen$ored, which she describes as “beyond burlesque,” pushing the boundaries of nudity and art, and inspired by the censorship she’s encountered over the years. She was disabled and shadow banned on Instagram and banned from You Tube just before the coronavirus hit and was surprised and frustrated that her powerful and sex-positive output was silenced with no explanation. “I just thought if you put up a video that was deemed ‘inappropriate’ that they would just take it down, not take you out,” she says. “It is very frustrating to have a major platform for self promotion completely unavailable to me.”
Though she didn’t get a reason for the ban, she thinks it was due to a video she posted called “Pleasure is Power'”- a black and white tribute to Andy Warhol’s “Blow Job” piece and Hedy Lamaar’s turn in Ecstasy that shows nothing but her face experiencing pleasure with no sound. “I was, and still am, completely sick of playing it safe,” L’amour says of her current work ethos. “Can a woman not visibly enjoy her sensuality and sexuality? Why are we being forced to divorce ourselves from the very thing that makes us divine?”
L’amour is currently working on a one woman virtual show called Deadly, re-imagining the Seven Deadly Sins, premiering in October. She seems happy working within the virtual world right now, too. “This has changed me at a core level,” she admits of the pandemic. “Live entertainment, adult or not, is such an important part of culture. You move to places like L.A. and N.Y.C. to be a part of the ‘scene.’ To feel the energy, to be inspired, and experience nightlife. But now, it doesn’t matter where you live as long as you have a computer and wifi.”
“I’m a digital girl,” she continues. “I’ve performed on stages all over the world and now I’m performing in the palm of your hand, or in your lap. It’s a new kind of lap dance.”
More info and tickets for Uncen$ored, Deadly and Quarantine Cabaret at michellelamour.com.
Dirty Day Shift Revival
Had coronavirus not spread, legendary Hollywood bikini bar Jumbo’s Clown Room would have surely done something, well, jumbo-sized to celebrate its 50th birthday a few months ago. Instead, the infamous drinking and dancer space remained shuttered due to Covid-19. By that time, there was at least a place for the bar’s fans to celebrate- online. Started as a gathering for locked out dancers and quarantined clientele largely consisting of regulars and friends, the weekly virtual stripclub known as the Dirty Day Shift Revival aims to capture the cheer and cheesecake of what were the bar’s popular Sunday afternoon shifts. Each episode features a different theme and includes a series of stripper challenges that can include food, party games, and random household objects.
“This isn’t a new thing and I don’t see it going away,” says show curator Scarlett Kapella about presenting Jumbo’s virtually. “Sex workers have been using online platforms long before Covid-19. WebCam babes and OnlyFans performers should get all the respect in the world for how much work and energy goes into creating content and maintaining an online audience. “
In some ways dancers like Kapella seem newly inspired by adapting their shows to new platforms, seeing them as opportunities. She started the Shift “to showcase our talent and provide income while we each navigate the labyrinth of unreliable assistance programs available to furloughed workers,” she explains. “After some initial trepidation, my performers and I have been enhancing our ability to fix audio/video problems, edit episodes, develop advertising and write segments to keep the show interesting and fun– all media skills we can carry forward and hopefully prosper from. My main goal right now is to provide a place that allows out of work dancers to perform.”
Dirty Day Shift has thrived due in part to fans who moved out of LA and are reconnecting with the legendary venue and new fans discovering the girls there. “With people out of work and dealing with all sorts of shit fighting against an incredibly corrupt system, folks just need a place that allows them to relax and enjoy themselves for a couple hours,” she adds. “My guests and I are happy to provide that, tips are always appreciated but not the main reason this show was created, and fundraising is largely discreet based on the choices of individual performers.”
With no sign in sight for the Clown Room’s re-opening, Dirty Day Shift Revival offers a showcase for the (s)punky gals this L.A. institution is known for. “The show has kept me sane, happy and connected with my best dancer friends and customers, near and far and has given me a creative outlet during this otherwise depressing time,” says longtime Jumbo’s dancer Lola Pop. “Scarlett constantly inspires me with her humor, creativity, hotness and general bad-assery. I love seeing her vision come to life and contributing behind the scenes as well as taking it off in front of the camera.”
Even when things go back to “normal” Kapella hopes to keep DDSR going, too. “My favorite customers tend to be the age that’s most susceptible to Covid-19 -i.e., old pervs- so I would want to keep the webcasts going for them if they’re still uncomfortable with public events,” she explains. “Even though for me it’s hard to replicate the feeling I get from dancing for a packed house or live audience.”
The Cyber Clown Girls Show
Jumbo’s sultry circus has led to more than one woman-created web experience. The Cyber Clown Girls Show also features dancers from the bar (and other clubs) who are struggling to make ends meet during the shutdown. “We make decisions as a team, we take turns curating and sharing responsibilities, and we basically function as a collective,” shares dancer/performance artist/Clown Girl Coco Ono, who explains that tips and admission revenue are split equally between the dancers with a significant portion donated to charity. “We realized that we could make an impact on our community by using our new platform to spread awareness and raise money for organizations benefiting Black Lives Matter, as well as communities affected by the pandemic and organizations fighting for injustices.”
With independent contractors hit hardest due to coronavirus and the majority of artists and performers falling into this category, the show’s goal was to help them and contribute to important causes. They have collectively donated over $6,000 to organizations ranging from BLM to Gender Justice L.A., Reform L.A. Jails to L.A. Food Bank over the past few weeks, and have promoted this fact proudly via bus bench ads all around the city.
“It has also empowered us in ways we never would have imagined. Before the shutdown, we were dancers and artists. Now, we are also producers, directors, managers, scenic designers, cinematographers, and so much more,” Ono enthuses. “We have complete control over our performances, our creative ideas, our music choices, our attire, our money, our presentation, and our safety. “
Ono wants the show to keep going no matter what happens with the pandemic as it has attracted a wider audience. “Also because it allows us to be creative and think outside the box with our acts in ways that we could never do on stage at a club “in real life,” she adds. “In the Cyber Clown Girl universe, we can get weird and integrate performance art with striptease and really put our message out into the world. It’s also safe. Online, we don’t have to negotiate our proximity to customers who may be infected with Covid-19, we don’t have to worry about unwanted groping or physical harassment, and we can kick out anyone who is being disrespectful without having to find a bouncer. This show is proof that strippers are amazing, capable, compassionate, resourceful, badass human beings. We are proud of what we have accomplished and excited to keep evolving.”
The popular variety show called Babylon Cabaret relies on live music, so when it was adapted to the web, its creators had to think outside the box. As they soon discovered, lag time from streaming platforms made it impossible to perform together online. They didn’t want to lose the magic of multiple artists performing together creating live music and burlesque, so they created a hybrid in-person/online show.
“Working with El Cid we created a limited seating (only 10 tables each 7 feet apart) outdoor patio show that is also live streamed,” explains Miss Spent Youth, Babylon’s visionary. “This helps out El Cid by bringing in patrons for dinner, because we want to make sure we have a venue to come back to after all this, while allowing our livestream viewers to get the full live music multi-performer experience from home. “
The last few shows -such as August’s “Bedroom Babylon”- have been at home/streamed only but they’ve managed to capture the energy and live vibe of the show. Miss Youth admits that it’s been hard not being able to perform in-front of an actual IRL audience, but she’s adjusted. “My brand of burlesque is very audience focused. In the last show before lockdown I had audience members helping to pull off my gloves and sat in someone’s lap to do a stocking peel,” she recalls. “Trying to duplicate that from a computer screen is a challenge.”
From performing almost every week, with multiple residencies around Los Angeles to no shows for the last 4 months, the performer also teaches burlesque and had to stop all her classes, leading to two income streams disappearing overnight. She says her fans helped a lot, buying merchandise to help support her and the show, which led her to start an Only Fans page. “I’ve seen a lot of performers join Only Fans and it does help supplement the lost income but it’s not quite as gratifying as performing in front of a live audience,” she says. “I’ve also done some online burlesque classes for people who want to get their burlesque on at home.”
Like other shows covered here, giving back via donations to causes is important at B.C. and many guest dancers opt to donate all their tips. Tipping is done digitally through Venmo or Paypal, and for some shows they even get tips into the next day. “At first it seemed like online audiences weren’t too hot on tipping but that has changed as everyone has gotten used to online shows,” Youth shares. “It helps to have an active chat window going to keep people engaged.”
Engagement for these kinds of shows is key and taking advantage of surroundings instead of trying to duplicate a stage show is working for many. Youth sets up multiple cameras so the stage manager can switch between the two, and she’s started working with some performers on filming and editing burlesque videos that utilize different camera angles and effects.
“I don’t think this will replace in-person shows permanently but I do think it’s a whole new branch of Burlesque,” Youth says of the current situation. “I can’t wait to get back to the energy and immediacy of performing for a room packed with 100 people you can hear cheering and see their expressions of delight and surprise, but for the moment this has become a creative outlet for us to express our sensuality and entertain our audience. “
More info on Miss Spent Youth’s shows and classes at LosAngelesBurlesque.com
Lola Boutée Presents
TRiPTease Burlesque marked its 11-year anniversary at the Santa Monica bar TRiP recently, and then everything got shut down. “It was a very difficult time for everyone, so myself and my dear friend, Shira, also known as the Pinup bartender from TRiP, decided we wanted to keep spirits up,” explains Lola Boutée, the group’s leader. They launched Virtual TRiPTease, an informal weekly Wednesday virtual variety happy hour on Zoom featuring live music, comedy, burlesque and more on April 1st as a free event, and like the other shows here, asked for virtual tipping during the performances. Each week has a different audience theme and a different signature drink recipe, so viewers are encouraged to make it immersive, adding drink and dress up to the fun.
There’s also an interactive bi-weekly Sunday morning brunch series, called Lola’s Brunch Battle with top burlesque soloists, boylesque all-stars, variety artists, and comedians. Two teams battle it out to be crowned Brunch Champion and the audience decides which team wins by sending in virtual tips live for their favorite team. 10% of Proceeds are donated each show to the winning teams chosen non-profit organization.
“I had never considered a time where events wouldn’t be happening [and] I had never been unemployed before,” Boutée reveals. “I really wanted to continue to provide a space for performers to showcase their art and have a voice. Our online productions have been able to do that and through our patrons’ generosity, help support our artists as well. All of our shows are pay what you can.”
Like other show producers here, Boutée thinks web-driven striptease and burlesque is here to stay. “I feel like when events are allowed to resume, we’ll be seeing a combination of live performance and streaming services,” she says. “Online is definitely a new challenge though. What if your internet goes out, or people have a poor connection? If people have a hard time figuring out how to login, they might just give up and not come back. There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes [with] all new media platforms, and creating new art specifically targeted to online performances. It’s a lot of work, but at least we can continue to create art and share our passions virtually as long as amazing people continue to support. “
Tickets and info at virtualtriptease.eventbrite.com
Also check out other female burlesque promoters and strip shows doing more virtual presentations via You Tube and Instagram including Lucha VaVoom, Peepshow Menagerie, Bootleg Bombshells and The Damn Devillez.