Arts & Entertainment
2 min

ON STAGE: ‘Tits, asses & balls to the wall’

The politics of love for sale

QUELLE SCANDELLE. Sasha Van Bon Bon, writer and star of Les Demimondes, is the only woman alive who can discuss Dadaism and decriminalizing prostitution while having an orgy. Credit: (R Kelly Clipperton)

“We were in the middle of an accidental orgy and Otto [Erotic] said, ‘We should do a show with prostitution as the theme,'” Sasha Van Bon Bon explains. “The idea immediately intrigued me, as I’m so aware of the cultural pariah status/fascination of sex workers.

“I’m perpetually annoyed at how people get away with making films and songs and photographs and on and on about them. But sex workers themselves can’t do their job in a safe and respected manner.”

Les Demimondes is the fourth multidisciplinary cabaret the Scandelles have produced since 2001. Van Bon Bon is host, writer and codirector (with Kitty Neptune) of the sold-out Pride Week show, which remounts Thu, Nov 10 and 11 at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre.

Those who saw the original will remember a brainy and hilarious lineup based on famous people and art: The Cliks delivered a rewrite of Sting’s whiny “Roxanne” and visual artists Trixie and Beever transformed Buddies’ antechamber into a Happy Hooker-inspired whorehouse parlour. Also returning are Otto Erotic, Cooter Nipplestein, Venus Lakes, Flare, Deb “Dirk” Pearce, The Professor, Fifi and Chad Logan. There are additions this time around: a send-up of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss and a Monty Python-esque animated short by Christopher Noel.

Because their roots are in burlesque, the Scandelles naturally feature dance in their work, though, as Van Bon Bon puts it, “Wiggling around on stage in themed costumes making blinky blink faces is not the most compelling way to do it.” As trained dancers who know their art history, the Scandelles are at their finest when in critical dialogue with sex-focussed works. In this vein, Neptune and modern dance troupe Project Sugar will tackle Hollywood’s prostitutes.

All great artists have a manifesto, and the Scandelles are no exception – well, the exception being theirs is in the form of surrealist porn at intermission. The Partistes: If You’re Not Part Of The Party, You’re Part Of The Problem was shot by documentary filmmaker Aerlyn Weissman. “The idea was for us to make our own porn,” says Van Bon Bon, “to actively be part of the critique. The film is raw and silly, just like us sometimes.”

The Scandelles have more in common with surrealism and Dada than one might expect. “At the risk of sounding hilariously collegiate,” quips Van Bon Bon, “we are consciously antibourgeois and antitotalitarian. Like Duchamp, we nick existing work and make it our own. In Les Demimondes we steal from artists who, for the most part, have profited from sex worker cachet. It was simply a smart, sexy and engaging way to push the decriminalization agenda, to make people rethink their ideas. Dada did this to art, too: made it look at itself and its hypocrisies.

“To me, the rebirth of Dada is inevitable in our current political climate. It’s time to stir shit up again — tits, asses and balls to the wall.”

Those who visit Montrealer Seska Lee’s Virtual Peepshow at 8:30pm might experience some self-examination. The sexy sex worker and activist will be in the theatre, concealed “à la Wizard Of Oz” at her monitor, while audience members log on from elsewhere. “I love playing with that boundary of privacy people have with Internet sex,” Van Bon Bon says. “I mean, really, how do you know the person you’re jerking off to isn’t right next door?”

Despite the success of Les Demimondes (they’re touring in the new year), Van Bon Bon isn’t holding out for a decriminalized Canada. “It doesn’t matter how many brilliant, willing and happy sex workers you trot out in front of our lawmakers, they will never acquiesce…. Why they choose to draw the line on the bodies of consenting adults is beyond me.” But a gal can dream. And Van Bon Bon’s dream is this: “I want to live in a world where people are free to sell their bodies in a directly sexual manner. This doesn’t seem idealistic to me, given all the other ways we buy and sell sex, merely fair.”