Monday, March 2, 2015

Montreal Burlesque Festival

Club Soda
Train travel makes me think of the romantic (and deadly) scenes in Hitchcock's North by North West. Suspense and mystery aside it's a great way to travel.
I've traveled Europe, Egypt and the UK by train and Canada's economy cabins were comparable, comfortable plus with wifi access for no extra charge.
I made the trip from Toronto to Montreal on ViaRail, leaving from the historic Union Station on Bay and Front st and settling into the kind of chair you can only dream of when flying economy class.

I was traveling in Fall when the leaves are turning and once I was free of Toronto's suburbs there was an abundance of red, yellow, orange and gold in the trees that lined the tracks. (Though here there's a lot of green)
My housemates, The Great Gadso and Agatha Frisky were putting me up at Gadso's narrow apartment in Little Italy, three rooms off a hall, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom.
The bathroom had a window that overlooked the kitchen and Agatha warned me that at some point it had lost its pane of glass, the term intimate never seemed so appropriate.

It was the same mattress I'd borrowed to sleep on for the first few weeks of moving into our house on East Dundas and I wasn't relishing waking up with bones poking floor once the mattress deflated overnight!
I took over the kitchen, wedging a blow up mattress between the fridge, wood stove, water heater and back door.

I arrived the same afternoon of the show making my way from Bonaventure station through the underground mall looking for the Metro.

One of Montreal's underground malls

The Festival venue was Club Soda, a massive theatre on St Laurent Boulevard. I dropped my bag downstairs and quickly and efficiently (and some might say rudely) claimed a space in front of the mirrors that had enough room for both Agatha and I.

I headed back upstairs and waited to do my tech. Scarlett, the organiser and headliner of the show was busy applying crystals to a martini glass in one corner of the stage.

Backstage was filling with performers, feathers, make up and clouds of hairspray.
Agatha was perched on a chair donning lashes and fixing her make up, her hair was up in rollers while I was sporting pin curls under my scarf. Glamour takes work. yep.

Backstage with Agatha
Our fellow room residents were from Montreal and would switch from French to English with speed and fluency.
Backstage is a funny place, you have to respect your fellow artists space, costumes, needs... There are unspoken rules such as not playing your song track on repeat (use head phones)  leaving the room to stretch or change if you're going to disrupt your bedfellows, ensuring your heels aren't digging into someone's very expensive fish tail or knocking a precariously placed bottle of glitter off the counter.
Don't invite friends backstage, if you have forgotten hairspray or pins, tit tape or scissors, ask don't take, if you're taking photos, check for consent, then nudity- the latter is easy to forget when you're caught up in the moment, I've been guilty of posting photos and having performers politely but firmly request the shots be deleted.
If you're covering the event as a photographer, again... ask.
On this night there was a Montreal local running around backstage, cornering performers as they came off stage 'interviewing' them and playing a game of his own invention, Get Spankd.
Agatha had just come off stage, wearing tiny pasties and a merkin when this guy came into our change room and insisted that we "play a game" happily ignorant that both I and one of the other performers were about to go upstairs to perform and that the other performer was having a costume issue. We didn't play the game.

Agatha performing at Club Soda

Backstage runs the gamut of emotion, anxiety, stage fright for some, elation and joyous reunion for others.
I met Donna Denise backstage at the 2013 NYBF Golden Pasties where while stretching I almost put a foot into her eye shadow palette.
We were excited to see each other again! Donna's a gorgeous Texan and used to be a bodybuilder which left her with amazing control over her pecs and can twitch her muscles to get her tassels spinning like propellers.
We all lined up behind the backdrop for the curtain call, the emcee was announcing us in French so I tried to remember my high school french... In the end I just ran on when I saw him look at me. After a loooong curtain call and speech the bows turned into dancing on the spot which  turned into an onstage dance party because bowing's so passe.

From Club Soda Agatha, Becky and I walked up St Laurent past crowds standing in line outside st Laurent's clubs, smoking, drinking. It was bloody cold and over our pretty dresses we packed on goose down, padded winter jackets.

Montreal's Wiggle Room

We were heading to the Wiggle Room, a tiny bar with a stage at one end, piano set up to one side, microphones on the stage, plush couches and tiny round tables set out on a wooden floor.
We were seated at the front booth, the piano was in full swing and the microphones were being judiciously abused by tipsy patrons.
A Perth dancer, Angelique st Jorre was working the bar and she plied us with shots and cocktails which meant it wasn't long before Becky and I decided we could sing. And dance. And sing until the Piano man gave up. And even then, we sang one last song...

Happily they said they'd have us back, so long as we didn't sing.

A group of 17 year olds from Toronto invaded the dance floor at this point and Agatha got up to teach an impromptu gogo class before the 17 year olds were kicked out and we headed down stairs to a deli to eat sweet potato fries and poutine before cabbing home.

The next day we took the Metro to meet Becky. Gadso took us to a local market which was full of gastronomic delights and fresh produce.

Pumpkin stalls!!

The market had two sections, an outdoor area that stocked fresh produce, nuts and flowers. Pumpkin stalls were decked out with Halloween decorations including a rubber spider that launched at Bec (Care of Agatha). Inside the market hall there were bakeries and butcher and chocolate shops

Becky checking out the macarons

We visited the old quarter of the city, full of stately buildings atop cobble stone paved hills. Gadso left to teach people to soar through the air, Becky left us to get ready for the evening and Agatha and I went shopping for snow boots before catching a train back to Little Italy.

It was bloody cold already and when we made it into the Metro, there are these strange 'bi- parting leaf doors' which between the outside pressure and the trains create wind tunnels that chill you to the core as you strain to push them open.
We grabbed a meal and then headed to Club Soda for the third night of the Festival. Becky had performed on the Thursday evening so we were all the audience standing up behind the sound guys. We were also blocking the stairway and pissing off the bar staff so Agatha and I moved downstairs and found a spot in the stalls, still standing but no longer in the way.
There would have been at least 500 people packing out the theatre so we didn't mind standing although we wondered why we weren't being paid... or offered a complimentary ticket.

The standard was mixed. Lucy Loveless was incredible, a drag queen on trapeze, beautiful lines, amazing movement, great costuming. A group of burlesque dancers from upstate New York in cheap mass produced costumes, lacked synchronicity, style, depth or intent. They were definitely having a ball on stage and more power to them- but as someone who believes that Festivals are showcases I felt like it wasn't the right venue for them to be performing at.

We went back to the Wiggle Room for the after party, I cut short my drinking so there was no singing this time. Agatha, Gadso and I walked home to Little Italy. Even with a woolen hat, wool hood and my jacket hood up I couldn't get warm and I gladly re inflated the mattress, pulled out the sleeping bag and wedged myself into the kitchen for another night.

The final morning Gadso took Agatha and I to Le Plateau where we emerged with a bag of bread from St-Viateur Bagel, the longest running bagel bakery in Montreal.
We went vintage shopping but reluctantly passed on not one but three beautiful princess coats, Agatha found an amazing Lilli Ann jacket on St Laurent while I couldn't quite justify purchasing a red wool princess coat... But it will forever haunt my dreams. Forever. (No it won't, I found a gorgeous black princess for $10 in Toronto. WIN.)

Agatha finds a cat in Little Italy
And we find a cat cafe in the city!
We all came back the way we arrived, I left on the train, Agatha, Gadso and Becky by bus. I arrived home first and was greeted by our resident depressed, overweight cat who was sitting on the stairs. She gave me a glare but cheered up when I fed her. I then realised she'd peed outside of her litter tray.

Cat 1. Me 0 
(I have been informed the cat is now less of a depressed fat cat and more of a purring lithe normal (angry) cat)
The End.

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