While the city enjoyed its first real taste of spring just in time for the Easter long weekend, winter’s chill set in over Vancouver’s independent gay party scene.
On April 6, the Dogwood Monarchist Society (DMS) learned that its weekly Wednesday Dollhouse drag revue at Celebrities had been pulled in favour of a dubstep night. That same day, organizers of the Sunday Apocalypstick party at The Cobalt announced the end of their run, with six more shows culminating in a final blowout over the May long weekend.
Then, like dominos, two more events shut down. The Junction cut off the Tuesday Rhinestone Stiletto drag show, and a tweet from the organizers of the monthly, sex-positive Spit party unceremoniously declared their March 31 dance to have been their last.
It was a lot to take in, and the sheer volume of gay closures was concerning to many. For once, however, the twin demons of declining attendance and bureaucratic redtape that has plagued past gay spaces and parties wasn’t necessarily to blame. The cause of the flameouts seemed to stem from the organizers themselves. They were burnt out.
Rhinestone Stiletto’s organizers didn’t respond to calls by press time, but DMS Empress XLI Coco says the demands of a weekly schedule made it hard to produce consistent, high-calibre performances. She’s optimistic about a new agreement reached with Celebrities to retool Dollhouse into a monthly Thursday event.
“It’s simply that it takes a lot of effort to do a show on a weekly basis,” echoes Apocalypstick co-founder Dave Deveau. “The Cobalt is 100-percent supportive of what we do, so it had nothing to do with them. Folding the show was a decision we made.”
Deveau, who launched Apocalypstick as an adjunct to the popular (now defunct) monthly Queer Bash parties, with his fiancé Cameron Mackenzie and Sad Mag creative director Brandon Gaukel, says three-and-a-half years of organizing and promoting events took a toll on the trio’s personal lives. After Gaukel moved to Toronto last fall, the workload increased dramatically for Deveau and Mackenzie, to the point where they simply couldn’t continue at the same pace.
“I have six grant applications on my desk,” says Deveau, who, along with Mackenzie also runs the local Zee Zee Theatre company. “We need to refocus and move on to the next phase of our lives. I’m proud of what we accomplished. That said, a lot of people are sad or angry that we pulled the plug, but it’s like on an airplane when they tell you to put on your breathing mask before helping the person next to you . . . Mama needs to put her mask on.”
Quinn Peters and Michael Kushnir, founders of Spit, mirror Deveau’s sentiments. “For two-and-a-half years, we put a lot of our own energy into creating not just a monthly party, but a community event,” Peters says. “We also tried to make it accessible, with reasonable ticket prices.”
But, according to Kushnir, when they raised ticket prices by $2 to cover their costs, they had to field many complaints. “People think that independent party promoters are raking in the cash,” he says. “Let me tell you, we’re not.”
Unlike Dollhouse and Apocalypstick, which benefited from Celebrities’ and The Cobalt’s liquor licences and bars, the Spit parties, most of which took place at the ANZA Club, had to be completely stocked for each event. “We would bring our own bar, manage the volunteers and staff and theme as well as book the performers and promote the party,” Peters says.
In addition, the ANZA Club’s recent renovations had Peters and Kushnir scouring the city for an alternate venue, which they found at W2, in Gastown’s Woodward’s complex. “We became even more popular at W2,” Peters says, “but that also brought with it other issues when we moved back to ANZA.” A recent capacity violation at a different ANZA party made the pair reevaluate their own position.
As it stands, The Cobalt’s monthly Hustla homo hip-hop party will continue on the second Saturday of the month, and Deveau promises a full slate of Pride Week events at The Cobalt. For their part, Peters and Kushnir are working on another Iron Bar party at Open Studios and a last-gasp Spit at ANZA Club, also during Pride. But after that, the boys are pulling out.
“[Putting on parties] is a young person’s game,” Peters says. “When I was younger I would go to these great gay parties on the East Side, like Bent and Odd Ball, and when they closed, that’s what pushed me into creating Spit. There are a lot of young people with the drive and talent to put on a community event. It’s their time.”
Deveau agrees. He was also inspired by the demise of Bent and Odd Ball to launch his parties. (In fact, Deveau and fellow Queer Bash founder Gaukel met at an Odd Ball.) “In a sense, it’s almost exciting,” Deveau says. “Maybe, like it did with us, the shutting down of Apocalypstick and Spit will create an immediacy and an urgency for the next wave to create their own East Side parties.”
Deveau points to the upcoming Thursday Chocolate Milk night at Shine (launching April 26) as an example of new parties and venues. Meanwhile, DJ Taffi Louis has also stretched the boundaries of the East Side gaybourhood by setting up his latest Roboteria night at the Waldorf Hotel with Portland, Oregon’s BlowPony queer dance troupe (April 27). And despite Peters’ reluctance to resume throwing parties, he is in preliminary talks to revive the Sunday night Cobalt slot left open by Apocalypstick.
Like his Spit colleagues, Deveau challenges the “next generation” to play its part. In a recent Facebook post about all the event closures, he asks, “Who’s picking up that gayass torch?”