Melissa McGill hasn’t forgotten her first foray into the Diva’s Den.
The year was 1999, theshow was in its second year, and McGill was in a
sexually repressed relationship. That night changed her life.
“It was such a pivotal moment,” she recalls. “I know that sounds
funny,” that a $15 strip show could change your life, but it’s true. “I
just hadn’t seen anything like that. It was such an eye-opener.”
The Diva’s Den is not just any strip show. Now entering its sixth year,
it’s a by-lesbians-for-lesbians-produced-by-lesbians event. And it has
The show’s creator, Rebecca Shields, still remembers its first year,
when the manager at the Penthouse Nightclub (where the show takes
place) only expected about 50 women to show up; he was more than a
little surprised to find 450 women lined up around the block waiting to
Six years later, the show hasn’t lost any of its appeal. In fact, it’s
a must for Vancouver’s lesbian community, Shields says.
It’s the only women’s space in the city “that allows women to get
dirty,” she explains. “It’s an empowering place.”
McGill agrees. That’s why she offered to help run the show four years
ago, when it was in danger of disappearing due to Shields’ many other
responsibilities. They’ve been working together ever since.
They’re a good fit, they tell me, because they share the same “kink
Kink value? “Um, we both respect the art of female erotic performance,”
Shields replies, blushing ever so slightly.
In other words, they both like getting naked and watching other
lesbians get naked, too. “Is there any lesbian in Vancouver who hasn’t
seen my tits?” Shields laughs.
But does the show still turn her on? “Oh, yeah,” she says, succumbing
to a full-blown blush. McGill laughs and quickly launches into an
account of a scene in last year’s show, where Shields got tied to a
chaise lounge while a hot, naked performer writhed on top of her.
“That was a highlight,” Shields chimes in, grinning.
It’s so amazing to see that expression of lesbian sex and sexuality on
stage, says McGill.
This event demonstrates publicly that sex is part of lesbian culture,
too, Shields says. Every year, the air gets thick with sexuality. “It’s
such a cool thing.”
Both organizers say they try to include a wide array of sexual
preferences and expressions in every show. “Really, the only criteria
is you have to get naked,” they say.
There are the humour pieces, like the time one of the 30 Helens walked
on stage, shimmied up to the pole to do a trick, then suddenly smacked
right into it and knocked herself out and had to be dragged off stage.
The whole act took about 30 seconds, McGill says, but it was fantastic.
Then there are the sensual scenes, the on-stage piercing scenes, the SM
scenes and the audience participation scenes, to name a few. “Over the
years, we’ve titillated, we’ve amused, we’ve challenged I sound like
Madonna,” Shields laughs.
The whole experience is very liberating, they say-despite some
feminists’ claims that the show objectifies women. It’s a celebration,
not an objectification, says McGill.
It’s about empowering and liberating lesbian sexuality, Shields agrees.
It’s about doing “what we want, where we want, with whom we want.”
Besides, adds McGill, the performers are all members of the community
who choose to perform for other members of the community. They don’t
even have to wax anything or work out at the gym. They just get to be
who they are.
And audience members get to be who they are, too. They’re even free to
bang on tables and hoot and holler, which they usually do. It’s a very
participatory show, Shields says proudly, pointing, for example, to the
annual audience-strip-a-thon. Last year, there was even a butt dance
hole for audience members to wiggle their stuff in.
As for this year, Shields and McGill won’t reveal what special little
touches they may have up their sleeves (or taped to their naked bodies,
as the case may be). One clue: Shields says she’ll probably get naked
again because she always does. And McGill says she’s already working on
her big group number.
* Diva’s Den 2003 will take place at the Penthouse Nightclub, 1019
Seymour St, Sun May 18. Tickets $13 at Little Sister’s, $15 at the door.