Temp Post

T.L. Cowan in conversation with Laura Boo and Jordan Arseneault 

Banner Poster for Passoverboard! Cabaret - Saturday/Samedi 18 April 2020, 8pm 20H EST With CHRYSTAL SLIPPERS! MICH COTA! host: Peaches LePox, Douche LeDouche, Paulette Paillettes, 2boys.tv, SONIA, Anaconda LaSabrosa! Zoomerific online coronabaret of drag and music for surviving the plague: les recettes iront 50/50 aux artistes et au SéroSyndicat pour les personne VIH+  Background image: Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell in Overboard (1987).
Banner Poster for Passoverboard! Cabaret – Saturday/Samedi 18 April 2020, 8pm 20H EST With CHRYSTAL SLIPPERS! MICH COTA! host: Peaches LePox, Douche LeDouche, Paulette Paillettes, 2boys.tv, SONIA, Anaconda LaSabrosa! Zoomerific online coronabaret of drag and music for surviving the plague: les recettes iront 50/50 aux artistes et au SéroSyndicat pour les personne VIH+  Background image: Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell in Overboard (1987).

“I’m gonna turn this into a cabaret where I live,” because I came out of this punk house world where, when there’s no venues and people don’t let you be who you want to be and what you’re doing has no value and you can’t work, you can’t make money off of it, you just do it in your house for whoever will show.” And that’s what Faux Pas was. For 3 years it was a monthly cabaret that was run out of an apartment on Mont-Royal Avenue

– Laura Boo 


Introduction by T.L. Cowan

The following is an except from T.L. Cowan’s Introduction to the Passoverboard! Cabaret. To read the Introduction in its entirely, go here.

Because I am interested in what I have been thinking about for many years now as “transmedial drag”– or the method of moving materials, performances, ideas, bodies, feelings from one media, one body, to another, I was paying attention to what worked and what didn’t work in these online live shows. The one performer, one stream method that is easy to do on Facebook and Instagram at this point felt like the most successful experiment in online live performance — one girl with a guitar (or two, if you count the Indigo Girls), one living room, one camera and one live audience, with the capacity to comment but not share the screen (the virtual stage platform – focal point and communication zone) with the performer. In terms of the online live cabarets I had attended, I appreciated the effort and intention of what people were going for: keeping connections with friends, collaborators and comrades near and far; keeping art practices moving; raising funds to support our communities and to pay artists whose paying gigs had been canceled for the foreseeable future. But I was both Zoomed out and found most of the multi-artist live events I went to pretty strained. It seemed like folks were struggling to make the video conference platform work for something more than a professional meeting or a boozy (or not) hangout with loved ones. And people were extremely freaked out and lonely. I have no desire to criticize any show I’ve seen online. Let’s trust that everyone putting on an online cabaret is doing their best and trying to make things a little nicer for themselves and everyone else.

It was less than a month into the self-isolation, stay-at-home COVID19 pandemic protocols had been in place in most of Canada when I saw the Facebook event invitation to “Passoverboard! A live-Zoom coronabaret of music + drag” hosted, curated and produced by Peaches LePoz (aka Peaches LePox, aka Jordan Arseneault) and Douch La Douche (aka Laura Boo). Both artists are hard-working cabaret legends in Montreal, having co-organized many cabaret over the years. When the pandemic protocols were put in place, Jordan had been visiting family near St. John, New Brunswick and that’s where he remained; Laura was in Montreal. The two had been in regular queeny contact throughout the first stay-at-home month and together they hatched a plan to host a Zoom cabaret, featuring performer friends based in  Montréal, Beirut and New Brunswick. The event, held on Saturday April 18, 2020 was a revelation to me. I had already ‘attended’ many ‘live’ shows on Facebook and Instagram, and a few online “Zoom” cabarets hosted by queers in various parts of the world.

Enter PASSOVERBOARD!

Text from Passoverboard! Facebook event page.

 

Text from Passoverboard! Facebook event page.

FaceBook Invite Description:

Does quarantine have you feeling like you’ve fallen off your luxury yacht and are forced to live in poverty with your sexy carpenter husband in a Stockholm syndrome comedy of manners? Same! Peaches LePoz (SéroSyndicat co-founder + Marxiste drag artiste) hosts a seditious Seder where sequestered queens will show us all how to survive TEN whole PLAGUES!

L’isolement antisocial vous met-il dans un état de manque de fabulosité, telle une certaine Goldie Hawn dans la comédie de mœurs OVERBOARD! (Gary Marshall, 1987) ? Nous autres aussi ! Venant au secours des naufrages économiques de cette peste, l’artiste néo-Marxiste toujours contagieuse, Peaches LePoz du SéroSyndicat anime un bal masqué de montréalaises qui se mettent à guérir les dix plaies de votre ennui covidien.

*The recipient of the funds raised, Résilience Montréal, was housed at the Native Women’s Shelter of Montréal, which was obliged to shutter their location due to a CoVID19 outbreak. The funds raised ($500) went to their street outreach work.


I’ve started to caIl the Zoom/online cabaret, “Cabaret pandémie sans frontières,” although the “Cabaret Sans Frontières” name is already taken by a humanitarian cabaret in France.  I’ve added “pandémie” to make it specific to this time. Pandemic Cabaret is a life-saving, thriving measure for trans- feminist and queer (TFQ) performers and audiences: a way of gathering and being able to feel the familiar fucked-up messy glitz of a queer cabaret as a form of collective self-soothing and connection in a pandemic. It’s cabaret as medicine, medical care, mutual aid, harm reduction, and you might even get to cruise. It’s also a form of fantasy cabaret because of the ways that online gathering allows artists and audiences from all over to be in the same show across timezones and without the frequent impossibilities of travel including racist and xenophobic border and visa barriers and expensive travel and accommodation. While in the past several decades it has become increasingly difficult for cabaret artists to perform beyond their local scenes, the pandemic has strangely made it possible for artists to perform and to share a stage/platform from seemingly anywhere. Cabaret has always been a predominantly translocal phenomenon with each locale having unique characteristics, but the general vibe and method of the satirical variety show format remains fairly constant across locales. So, “Cabaret pandémie sans frontières.”  Artists for whom, in non-pandemic times, it would be difficult or impossible to travel to Montreal to be part of a cabaret, can now get in on the Montréal cabaret action, and this gets paid forward around the world. While the Internet itself imposes many barriers, borders and travel funds are no longer obstacles for artists who want to be in the same show in the same way as everyone else, nor to curating your favourite performers from all over the place.

Passoverboard! was a Zoom cabaret that combined spectacularly hilarious, beautiful and touching live hosting and live performance, along with a handful of pre-recorded performances and/or existing performance videos. In addition to the improvised emcee genius of Peaches LePox (Jordan Arseneault) and the hosting and tech wizardry of Douche La Douche (Laura Boo), this show featured the DJ magic of Sasha Van Bon Bon, whose music, at-home light show and off-the-hook performance at the beginning, during intermissions and for the end-of-show dance party, helped to bring the house down (bring all our houses down!) for dozens of rapt cabaret spectators, from her living room in Montréal.

In the (awesomely long) conversation that follows, I talk with Laura and Jordan about their vast, shared cabaret experience, why Passoverboard! turned out so great, the aesthetics and politics of cabaret in your living room’ (pandemic and pre-pandemic), and the improvisatory technical and performance chops required for both.

Please enjoy the conversation that follows. Approx 1-5 hour read :0

To read the full introductory essay, go here.


Interview Scene: May 6, 2020, evening. Location: Zoom

T.L. Cowan, arriving from Toronto as her alter-ego Tammy Pamalovovich, the Aging Supermodel, interviews Laura Boo (Montreal) serving Grande Dame Avatar and Jordan Arseneault (NB) serving Peaches LePox.

Passoverboard! Zoom screenshot with three people in grid formation by T.L. Cowan. with (clockwise) Jordan Arseneault (in gazebo drag), T.L. Cowan (in low key drag)  and Laura Boo (in high drag). May 6, 2020. 
Passoverboard! Zoom screenshot with three people in grid formation by T.L. Cowan. with (clockwise) Jordan Arseneault (in gazebo drag), T.L. Cowan (in low key drag)  and Laura Boo (in high drag). May 6, 2020. Visual Description of T.L. Cowan: T.L. is in low key drag as Tammy Pamalovovic, Aging Supermodel: Wearing a tawny wig, lots of blush on her cheeks, some vintage black eyeglasses and nearly-neutral eye makeup. She is wearing old blue coveralls with a vintage gold and black chunky necklace as well as a FF (Future Feminist) button and a “Feminism Works” patch on her coverall pockets. Both are black and white. Visual Descriptions of Laura Boo and Jordan Arseneault to follow below.

 


Part I: First Things First, The Looks

Laura Boo and Jordan Arseneault organized Passoverboard! “a Zoomerific coronabaret of drag and music for surviving the plague,” held on Saturday, April 18, 2020. Featuring Anaconda LaSabrosa, Sami Basbous, Crystal Slippers, Pauline Paillettes, 2boyz.tv, SONIA, Uma Gahd and legendary DJ Sasha von Bon Bon.

Laura and Jordan have been making cabaret together since Cabaret Faux Pas, a living-room cabaret held in Laura’s Montreal apartment living room from 2008 to 2012. They have also collaborated on STALLE, an annual performance showcase for Radical Queer Semaine (RIP), POMPe (Laura’s bygone monthly party), and the Marriage of Handy & Boo (2019).

T.L. Cowan/Tammy Pamalovich (Aging Supermodel): I was blown overboard by Passoverboard! and wanted to find out HOW DID THEY DO IT? Thank you for meeting with me here in Zoomland to discuss. Before we start, Laura, I just have to say, I really love what you’ve brought to our meeting today and thank you very much.

LB: Being in full face for shows, or just at home, is what I really love to do. As a performer, I work mostly in the vein of drag queen/comedian/disgusting burlesque artist. I’m really a last-minute kind of queen. I mostly work in the queer underground, and try to avoid anything too serious.

 


JA: You know, I’ve been using Peaches LePox during the plague and my dad… the reason I don’t have the antlers today is that – Boo I just need to say your lips are everything, I do think you take those seriously – you take this face very seriously. Flawless! My dad, thinking that he was being helpful, which he really is, picked up all of my “sloth excrement” and dismantled my antler-wig from Passoverboard! He’s a knot-maker, and he meticulously… you know, my mom chose her butch really well, he went around and wrapped all of the extension chords into these perfect figure-8 bows. Boo, you understand the pleasure of seeing a techie do that. You know, while you’re sleeping.

LB: That’s because I’m the bitch that always cleans up when you saunter off.

JA: I am proud to say that some of my happiest moments in life, really, have been with Boo in a hatchback filled with gear, and that those moments are sometimes more pleasurable than the shows themselves. In Passoverboard! we managed to summon the off-stage and aftershow banter that was really as close to the real-life pleasure of an IRL cabaret as I could have imagined, and I think that the way that these – like just hanging on Zoom for its own sake brings out the Jean-Paul Sartre in me, I get a bit “l’enfer c’est les autres” – but after things have been viewed and experienced together, that is the thing that I live for the most.

I think I would describe my practice as ephemeral: it resists documentation both due to slothfully-adopted technology, but also because initially Boo and I both started our cabaret work before the social media panopticon turned the selfie into the primary form of documentation. I perform in a way that I want people to laugh with me, and then feel my pain, and then I want them to leave my work [somehow transformed] – whether it’s drag or cello or cracked stand-up or… I think back to one of the earliest collaborations we did for that Will Munroe benefit where you, Boo, did that gorgeous (Tom Waits) make-up number you perform into a vanity mirror, and I did this piece called Fear Drag that I’ve then done dozens of times since that marries drag with social practice. A big overlap between my and Boo’s practice… is that mere burlesque isn’t fun enough. Like, Boo doing a burlesque number for a Men show in  opening for JD Samson at Théâtre Fairmount with dark curly back hair pasted onto her back that you only see as she sexily strips down to her corset, when she coyly turns her back to the audience in classic burlesque form, her big reveal is not pasties or a prop, but–what shall we call it?–a back merkin!

LB: Yeah!

JA: Fucking with context is the purpose of my performance I think.

TLC: Fucking with context…

JA: Yeah.

TLC: I need to deal with an internet situation in my house… Someone else is using the internet… Get off the internet!

JA: [Jordan describes friend’s millennial tenant going on a rent strike until our Mike changed the building’s shared Wi-Fi password and then got the May rent right way.

LB: retorts “I love that!” and that she would use Wi-Fi connection against her overloads as well.]

LB: [to JA] Can you get some light going on, girl, cause I can’t see how pretty you are!

JA: I was like, who needs lighting for a transcription.

LB: This is actually what most of mine and Jordan’s relationship is like, me just sitting here waiting for Jordan to finish his cigarette, find his light, and get his shit together.

JA: [Withering laughter]

Part II: Living Room Cabaret – Cabaret Domestique – Or is that a “Salon”?

“I’m gonna turn this into a cabaret where I live.

– Laura Boo

LB: I think the visuality of this interview itself is also very typical of what is happening right now because we’re figuring out how to work things out – cuz I’ve never used Zoom on my telephone, I’ve only ever done it on my computer, and so I couldn’t get the orientation right – so at a certain point I realized, “there is no fix for this” and we will just have to work with how it is. It’s not perfect but it’s going to function. And that is what everyone I know is doing… people are in a time where they’re trying anything and everything… sometimes it’s a mess and sometimes it works out. I have to admit that Passoverboard! was amazing for me because cabaret for me started in the early 2000s with doing shows in people’s apartments and punk houses, and their workshops and ateliers and not really in legit venues, and it was about trying to turn your living room into a stage: people using lamps and trying to make the light directional with tinfoil and a hanger. People, not having a PA system, so running your sound through a VCR to get it to amplify. So, whatever you had you would just make it work, and if things went terrifyingly wrong, it wasn’t a very big deal because you never really promised anyone that you knew what you were doing anyway.

JA: For the sodomite demimonde, CoVID19 has been an interesting opportunity for what my people call clothed Zoom – because Zoom was a long-time haunt in which one might display certain newly acquired undergarments, and meet new friends like Rosemont8.5 or Parkdale4Now. I want to come back to that first article that you did about Cabaret Faux Pas. Because it captured a moment that was really quite formative… someone had taken a photo of me from above wearing a puff bomber Versace knockoff jacket, gold sequined shorts, and my favorite wedges which I wore to shreds…

LB: [nods knowingly; takes moment to grieve the fave wedges]

JA: I know, we both miss those wedges very much. Wedges that fit, right! I remember that shortly after that there was a New Year’s party circa 2011, and I told my friend who was soon to be shortlisted for a Sobey Award, like, “You’ve really got to check out Cabaret Faux Pas, it’s really incredible, it’s like, some of the best art going on right now,” (gravelly guffaw)… and the night he… You rely on the Muse of Improvisation but if you wear her out, she will go on strike. And I tried to dress as BOTTOM in  “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Santigold lip-sync and turn into a donkey and it was just like… a certain Sobey-nominated artist looked at his watch and asked, “So, when does the métro close?” because my performance was not cohesive enough for him to understand it as art. It wasn’t one of my finer moments, and I think there is something true to cabaret as the genre of:  NOT OUR FINER MOMENTS.

LB: Well, you know what, it actually was one of your finer moments, because, I remember that outfit because later that night the cops came, which they would increasingly do using the pretext of noise complaints,  and they came up the fire escape and they came in my kitchen, and then they were in my living room before I gave them permission to enter, and I kicked them out of my apartment, saying that they did not have permission to enter, and then I got into a screaming match with the police on the back roof, and I was getting myself into a bit of trouble, and then Jordan, with the gold booty shorts on, and no shirt on, and glitter all over, just walked into the kitchen, grabbed a banana, looked at a friend and was like “watch this” and just came out, peeled and ate the banana and negotiated me out of being arrested. And this was when our friendship was within its first few months… because we became friends over Faux Pas… I will always remember this because you just came out and just, in beautiful translator French, kept me from having a criminal record, which is really nice. Thank you.

JA: You’re welcome. Because I also think of this as my Huguette Hefner moment because I was wearing someone else’s satin-lapelled smoking jacket. Boo has also held me though my drag-dissociative identity dénouement from having numerous drag names, whittling down to Peaches LePage, now LePoz, and I’m actually using AI now to choose my drag name from month to month.

TLC: Oh, you are?

JA: We were practicing this earlier. What is it, Boo? “A Æ X-12”

 

Jordan Arseneault as Peaches LePox for PASSOVERBOARD! online cabaret, April 18 2020. Courtesy of the artist
Jordan Arseneault as Peaches LePox for PASSOVERBOARD! online cabaret, April 18 2020. Courtesy of the artist
Visual description:

Peaches LePox is a tall white queer/queen standing in a gazebo, lit with gazebo lights. She is wearing a headpiece/crown/coiffure/tiara assembled from antlers with a roll of toilet paper on each side of the antlers held in place by beige panty-hose. She is standing regally, arms holding open a train that drapes behind her, made from a beige blanket. Peaches is wearing an empire-waisted gown made from a beige-brown work shirt, a brown-and white patterned blanket and a wrapped and elegantly-knotted shiny silvery white bedspread.


LB: Oh yeah, Grimes and Elon Musk’s new child, don’t even start, I can’t even.

The thing about Passoverboard! and what’s happening now and things going back into people’s homes, has both of us feeling so sentimental. Faux Pas was this interesting thing where I feel like we’d both been doing our own things in different circles – you know, I grew up in Montréal but I’d been on the West Coast, and I came back to Montréal and found this apartment where I was like, “I’m gonna turn this into a cabaret where I live,” because I came out of this punk house kind of world where, when there’s no venues and people don’t let you be who you want to be and what you’re doing has no value and you can’t work, you can’t make money off of it, you just do it in your house for whoever will show. And that’s what Faux Pas was. For 3 years it was a monthly cabaret that was run out of an apartment on Mont-Royal Avenue, and when that ended and POMPe began, and we started to perform much more with Glam Gam (a Montréal-based radical burlesque troupe) and then up came the House of Laureen. When we started working primarily in venues and bars, it changed a little bit. Whether in the village – where we weren’t recognized as doing drag – or in the hipster venues where bookers would ask, “Oh, are you a musician?”

JA: “Are you a dancer?”!!!

LB: “Are you a dancer, do you write?” And you’d be like: I kind of do all of those things. I make a mess, I do what whatever I want. For a long time when people asked me what my art was, I would say, “I do stupid things to make my friends laugh.” It made no sense, and we kind of went to this place where we started to do this thing in bars, which brings you this sense of professionalism and distances you from the people you’re performing for, in a way. And now, with, Passoverboard! what was so interesting about it was that we’re performing in our houses again. There’s that intimacy of being at home. And after it was over, it was just everybody taking off their make-up and hanging out and having their tea or their drink and just chilling in their bedrooms and their living rooms. Which is what all those cabaret house parties were like back in the day.

TLC: Yeah.

JA: I was thinking that, and obviously, TL, I love your interview style, as you know, because you are such a naturally active listener and you’re also a performer… (and you probably experienced this before) where people who do cabaret might just enjoy talking to you just a little bit too much.

TL: [loaded with uncertain irony] I don’t think that’s true…

JA: [guffaws]

LB: [laughs]

TL: What I think is: I loved your cab so much,  it was so much fun. I’ve been to some other online COVID cabarets, and shall I just say, not so much fun.

JA: [cringes]

TLC: I think about you two collaborating with Jordan being quarantined in St. John, New Brunswick and Laura being quarantined in Montréal, and you two being able to host something synchronously, is this expanded technological work. I think this is so fabulous in terms of the long history of the domestic cabaret and the salon, as a long history of this being where queers host shows because this is where we are relatively safe, it’s what we can afford, and our friends already know how to get there. We can host it on Saturday night and we don’t have to convince some club to let us use their space. Islandia [Carina Guzmán] writes about the Meras Efímeras dyke shows and parties in Mexico City, which were motivated, in part, by the desire to party on a Saturday night. Their important temporal and theoretical intervention is that lesbians deserve to be hungover on Sunday just like everybody else.

LB: My god, it’s so true.

21MIN mark: … 

TLC: Right? And this is why we do host things in our houses and any space that’s available. And you think about like Zoom as a platform and the trans-platform politics and cross-platform politics and opportunism that cabaret has always taken: we’ve always been like this is a platform, this living room space is a platform, the Zoom space is platform, this mouldy basement gallery is a platform, this outdoor stage in the middle of the fuckin’ woods, that’s a platform. I think that cab artists, perhaps more than anyone are prepared to move the show into this space, because it’s already a network, you know, cabaret is already a network, each performer brings 10 people, so you can keep it small, while not too small, and people are also used to a kind of domestic art – as you say, like hosting things in your home. What ends up happening is that you get all these queens and other performers who use the space as their prep zone, so they’re not crossing the threshold to get into the cab, to get onto the sidewalk, to get into the club. So, it’s kind of this arrested space but is a space, a heightened space of drag, where the rehearsal happens, the dancing in the bedroom, rehearsing the FACE, and all of those things, and I think it’s so fabulous. I want to keep being a cab performer and talk more. The way that you talk about it Boo is so amazing, the way people run sound through their VCR… is that cab artists are totally used to the tech not working… like every grassroots cabaret you’ve ever been to… there’s some drag queen, or some dancer who’s trying to plug their cell phone into the house sound and it’s really not working. I don’t have the right adaptor or will never get the music! Either somebody hacks a fix for it or something or they just dance with the music or do the piece just with coming out of their cell phone. So, the glitches in Zoom don’t seem like that big of a deal because we are used to things not working.

LB: I think that is about the thing being more of an experience and less of a finished piece.

TLC: Yeah!

LB: Cabaret for me, and the reason that I think people LOVE cabaret is that you’re not going to see a comprehensive rehearsed show. It’s not like a ballet, where from the moment the lights go up to when the lights go down it’s a finished piece, I think those things have their place, and I love them, and I love when artists get to the point where they get to do their show at a great theatre, and they get to do a full-length piece and that’s wonderful. But what I like about cabaret is – especially when it’s these kinds of small, underground things — is that the separation between you and the audience is as close to non-existent as possible, especially when it’s in your house and literally people are at your feet. It’s the kind of thing where you make it up as you go along, and if something doesn’t go as planned, and very often they don’t, well,  no one’s making a living off of it. So, you plan this shit in your spare time, you finish a shift working wherever you are, and you run home and you throw something together and for me it was so much about creating a community of exchange – like where there are “artists” and there are “audience members” – because the people sitting in the audience could be the people onstage next month …

TLC: Exactly. 


LB: … and it’s a community of just people who were exchanging all the time, so if the sound doesn’t work, forget about it and we’ll figure it out or everyone will sing the lyrics and you’ll dance to them singing. I remember this perf at Faux Pas years ago where someone was doing a live perf that involved live cutting; they were cutting someone’s chest and they just must have been nervous – they were trying to just cut a triangle just wanting it to be very much on the (performer’s skin) surface, and they accidentally slipped and cut the person quite deep so the wound opened up and it was down to muscle – and it was very, very frightening and the person had to go to the hospital. And it was this kind of thing where “uh, we obviously have to stop right now!” and everyone just needed to go outside and talk about what happened…

JA: “Is there a performance PhD in the house?”

LB: … and that was it. That was what the show was that month. Next month people came back and the person got stitched and it was okay.

JA: And the scar was very aesthetic.

LB: It’s true.

JA: One of the things you touched on was… it’s also about live outfit adjustments [TL and LB laugh in appreciation, having watched the Peaches’ transformations throughout the night]

LB: I’m loving it

Part III: Gossip is Life; on being Earnest

JA: One of the things I’m finding really interesting is the point you (TL) made earlier about being presented or in touch with the performance of “genuine emotion.” I already have barely tolerable joke-Tourette’s. And right now, I’m watching people make jokes that fail so totally, and I am guilty of this too. I know that I joke about things sometimes that come from a dark place, and at the same time, I don’t know what people will find funny about themselves, and I’m not in the room and able to read people in a happy way and then talk to people after; I don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives as much as before, because LB and I are almost pathologically deprived of sweet, life-giving gossip right now.

LB: there is NOTHING HAPPENING! [all sigh]

JA: Recently, a mutual acquaintance did something disparaging and disparaging things were said to them in a public arena and I had to call LB immediately.

LB: It sustained me for DAYS.

JA: I never want people to walk away from one of our shows thinking, “Oh god, how about the pathos?” Womp womp. So pathos in the streets but bathos in the sheets is my aesthetic, because everything about what I seek to do onstage is to make a funny nightmare. Like, a terrible death joke is my happy place. Like LB’s as-yet-unsilkscreened merch series “Halloween is Every Day for Us” – there’s still time, Boo – I think that I feel most powerful when I can make my audience laugh, and as Bea Arthur says, “that’s when you have them by the balls,” and then you CRUSH THEIR BALLS.

LB: yup

TLC: Cabaret is a hybrid tradition that started as artistic experimentation and satirical performance around the same as burlesque and drag traditions and they came together over the course of the 20th century. They come together in some of the most magnificent ways (ever) in Montréal and in particular, some of the shows that you two run. My taste runs to the satirical and the experimental: what art can do? what jokes can do? what’s funny? what’s not funny? I think of Boo, when you say, it’s not about the finished practice, it’s an experiment: WHAT THE FUCK IS GONNA HAPPEN? Cuz you never know, right? It’s improvised to a point. Everyone knows what they are maybe going to bring to the stage, but you don’t know how people are going to react, nor what the performers are going to come up with the day of. The audience is the laboratory. You’re testing people’s capacity for attention span and bandwidth. LB, were you running the tech, pumping people’s videos and stuff for the show? Because that is a Zoom prodigy, a Zoom virtuoso.

LB: That’s cuz I work on Zoom during the daytime, right? That is one joy of having progressed into an office worker.

Laura Boo Sipping Tea. Zoom still by T.L. Cowan May 6, 2020.
Laura Boo Sipping Tea. Zoom still by T.L. Cowan May 6, 2020.

JA: I have to defend you there, Boo, because you are everyone’s favourite techie of the artists I know because you are the opposite of the techie jock. Zoom Cabaret is a mid-point between DIY porn and office work, and this is our oeuvre.

I mean I just think of this cabaret that we did – this is a beautiful story – in May 2018 we did a cabaret called FUND TRANS POWER because our friend Atif S. got burgled by an internet date. And we did this benefit at 10 Pine West where Two-Spirit artist Mich Cota (who was unable to be in Passoverboard!) was like, “Yeah I’m just gonna get into my underwear and crawl up a stepladder and sing over my voice on this backing track that sounds like it’s not working… deliberately.” A track that they had intentionally made to sound like it was piped through a malfunctioning sound system. Laura, you rolled with those punches because you love that sense of active engagement with beauty and you get it (experimentation).

We met because in undergrad my art history collective had been given access to a gallery in the Belgo Building and Laura, in a durational performance dedicated to her father, I think, to her experience from childhood, attempted to break a beer bottle against the completely unadorned hardwood floor of this gallery – which is probably now a start-up – surrounded by (I think) her weight in broken beer bottles?

LB: It was the number of beer bottles… I was in art school at the time. It was the number of bottles broken and it represented something; I could look up the term paper about it.

JA: I’m thinking of my friend Mikiki who does a piece called NSA with their own weight in cabbages because it’s about making sauerkraut and the affect of the abject. In a similar way, I think there was a volumetric, Felix Gonzales-Torres wrapped-candy style pile of broken beer bottles, but after that,  Laura went to grad school in BC and I didn’t actually make friends with you for another 5-6 years, and it was fun when we realized that.

I think that the magic of working with somebody who has been on both sides of the stage isn’t something you get in every venue. And we all live in terror of the lingo and the rushedness and the dudeness of a non queer-run, non-crusty venue. So, Boo, yes, I shout out to you and that you teched every aspect of that cabaret while also performing, and showing your ass.

Part IV: GHOSTS of CABARETS PASSED (pass the hat)

LB: This is I think something that is a defining aspect of how – I still think of myself so much as an artist, but unlike so many people that I know and love, I don’t have a professional career as an artist. Even though you pass the hat and you get a little something for a show, I never worked for legit venues and never really had that career. I just made it up as I went along. Even when you make stuff that nobody [in the professional art world] cares about, you still want people to see it. You’re like, you know what, if no one is asking me to do shows, I’m gonna do my own shows with the weirdos that I’m into, and you start to build a crew of people and you start to say, well “I’m just gonna make my own shows,” and you end up learning to do everything. It started with organizing shows, and you learn to do your own shows and you learn to do your  own posters, and next thing you know, people are calling you a promoter. And you’re doing dance parties and you’re watching other people DJ. And next thing I knew, I became a DJ for over a decade.

We started doing performances that were clownish, weird things, drag, and comedy. And all of a sudden, I was watching people do burlesque and I felt really inspired and I was feeling like I saw no one or very few people with my body type and I wanted to do burlesque that expressed how I’ve always felt like the world has always told me that my body was disgusting. So, I started to do burlesque that involved taking off my clothes but being disgusting at the same time. But no one wants to see that at a real burlesque event, so you just do it in some weird warehouse. You start teching your own shows, because you want your friends to perform. That show you talk about for Tranie Tronic, I wasn’t on stage at all, I only teched that show. I love sometimes just being the tech: people wanna do performance art and they’re sick of working with – like, FUCK macho bullshit forever – they’re tired of dealing with assholes when you’re trying to make something that means something to you. And they look at it and think it’s garbage, so they treat you like garbage, so you just do your own fucking tech.

42MIN MARK

LB: You know? [Laughs] I think that’s the thing. Jordan, you wear so many hats as well.

JA: [contemplative mumble] [adjusts coiffure of FULL toilet paper rolls under a heather jersey drawstring hoodie]

LB: I find you’re an incredible collaborator because you and I have really overlapping values but really complementary skills sets. And so, it means that things work out… really well. I feel like you really always have your pulse on. You’re the most incredible curator: you always have your pulse on the most amazing shit.

TLC: That is so true! JA knows what everyone is doing and making. It’s a superpower.

LB: And then I come in as the Capricorn and I make it work.

JA: Some counterexamples [of LB being a tech person or DJ] come to mind that are really important to me to remember because I do relish Laura as a performer as well: To Daniel Barrow’s credit, in spite of attending my least impressive Cab Faux Pas, he later performed one of his overhead-projector gel live-animations for a Radical Queer Semaine benefit in a church basement where Laura – and this is kinship with you, TL – Laura’s persona for a duet or duo that Laura and Johnny Forever (Nawracaj) have had for years that adopts a hyper-heteronormative mid-century characterization which always devolves into absolutely bestial – absolutely savage pent-uplesbian-referencing attack-sex.

LB: That was a food fight, that one. That was the housewives descending into like, a sexy food fight.

JA: To “Give me the Food” by one of those punk cover bands.

LB: Yes! Oh god yes. That was a good tune.

JA: That really encapsulated our artistry (for me)… because I don’t remember what I did that night because I was so busy – we made more money that night than we ever did at any benefit ever – because we got this art crowd thanks to Daniel’s generous FREE performance. I will never forget that church because I would later attend AA meetings in that exact church basement where RQS made such a mess that we were banned from ever renting it again.

LB: OMG we are banned from so many church basements in Montréal! It is out of control. We’re banned from the Portuguese church on Rachel because the night-watchman caught people having gay sex in the bathroom.

JA: Oh, is that why it was? I thought it was all the uncollected beer bottles. I’m just trying to get us excommunicated. I’m trying to see how many churches you need to get banned from before you get a letter from the Pope.

TLC: Maybe a few more [churches].

[Non-subtly steering conversation at the 46 minute mark.] Hey listen, I want to ask you a couple of direct questions. Maybe I’ll do the thing they do at academic conferences where I give a few questions and you can decide which and how you want to answer.

  1. Your history as collaborators: How does Zoom cabaret differ from embodied visceral connection of church basement, for example? How does it build on a rapport that you’ve  built, and a second sense about each other.  Or perhaps trust is even a better word than rapport? Yeah, trust.
  2. What about cabaret economies and benefit shows? Want to talk about how many cabarets are benefits or fundraisers, how and why?
  3. If people wanted to host a successful online cabaret, do you have any tips?
  4. The idea of Cabaret sans Frontières. Cabaret is such a local enterprise and art and performance form. Most people are not making a living from this, but if they do it’s on a circuit, and often within the same city. What does it mean to bring artists in “from away” to a Zoom cabaret, when you don’t have to pay for their travel costs? Does online cabaret make it a less local experience? Are we going pay artists to do a cabaret on zoom? What does it mean when these live forms become not local. If you were gonna do another one, would you draw from your networks in other places, for example? [This is way more than one question. JA puts on sunglasses. LB seems to be sitting very still.]

 

TL Cowan (As Aging Supermodel Tammy Pamalovovic) asking Jordan Arseneault and Laura Boo approximately 1000 questions at once. Jordan puts on sunglasses. Laura is sitting very still. Zoom still by T.L. Cowan
TL Cowan (As Aging Supermodel Tammy Pamalovovic) asking Jordan Arseneault and Laura Boo approximately 1000 questions at once. Jordan puts on sunglasses. Laura is sitting very still. Zoom still by T.L. Cowan
 

LB: OMG there’s so many good ones there.

TLC: I know. I’m sorry. This is the interview segment of the interview.

LB: The economics, the listicle, and the first one was what?

TL: Your collabs and the rapport and the trust. One of the things I noticed is the context of your working together in Passoverboard – is that you trusted each other and you could work off of each other, in spite of not being in the same room, and ever in spite of glitches. Also, tbh, the other cabarets I was talking about earlier weren’t bad – they were just doing a different kind of experimentation (in a different mode of response to the affects of COViD19): exploring, making selves vulnerable in a way they hadn’t done before, focussing on sincere connection in a time of isolation. Yours was much more the kind of satirical and kind of vulgar (in the best possible way) and kind of cavalier. And at the same time everyone who was there was taking it really seriously by just really bringing it.

JA: I’ll answer by means of an anecdote, then hand it over to you, Boo. You can imagine me and Boo – 2 hours before the show realizing that SONIA’s video is 11-min long. In this video, SONIA comes out as GNC. While making guacamole. It felt long. At the time we (mistakenly) worried that our audience would fall into a Zoom video k-hole. But there we would never have been the slightest, I mean not in the intergalactic sense, concern if someone come to us and said “I’m going to give myself avocado hand while coming out as gender non-conforming” in a live performance. We would have been like, “Great! I think you’ll be the closer!” You know? When we saw this video, this is when we came up with the line-up, thanks to Laura’s Excel skills, and my having a better idea of what people had thrown into the hat. Once we had the pre-recorded material, we decided to go back and forth between live and pre-recorded acts. Laura and I share a reaction … we just find it absolutely soporific to watch a show in the cabaret mode that is completely pre-recorded. I think of it on the same level as those meditation apps that have Eva Green reading the dictionary to you. I can’t! But this was early in the pandemic when we didn’t even know what people’s attention spans were. But our audience didn’t fall into a k-hole.

TLC: I guess we’re still really learning what audiences can handle in online cabaret, and I suppose it changes day by day. Also, people are starting to develop a sense of what to expect from an online cabaret–for better or for worse. And people are figuring out the economies of online cabaret – who they are paying, what they are paying for and why. There’s more urgency than ever now to pay artists because of all the gigs drying up, and there’s so much need for fundraisers to support community efforts.

JA: Yeah. I think that somewhat encapsulates all three of those (questions). Also,  everyone did get paid. In that it was a half-and-half split Which is also (kind of) a model of ours that I love, going back to the POMPe era, where at least 3 of the 11 monthlies a year were benefits. AT LEAST.

TLC: Yeah.

JA: But you would still pay the DJ and would still pay anyone who needed to be paid. And I love that model, I love that hybrid model. Because it’s no longer respectful to expect everyone to not be paid, but for sure, giving people the option to give their portion back into the hat is beautiful too.

LB: Organizing with Jordan, while Jordan’s in NB and I’m here, and we can’t see each other and we’re doing something where we’d gone to a few cabarets or drag shows or whatever that other people had done, but this was really new. It was really interesting to organize.  Here’s the funny thing: we were organizing it within the first month of the CoVID19 lock-down. It was the first month of THIS: and Jordan called and said, “I wanna do this thing,” and I said, “Okay…”

Pre-COVID, a lot of people who were doing this stuff in their extra time, and now for some people all they have is extra time. It’s  this weird, dysphoric world. We’ve always lived within walking distance of each other. And we would see each other and have tea all the time. We haven’t seen each other in so long.

We organized everything in a Google sheet while simultaneously on Facetime. And then, when we did the cabaret, we were also communicating through text message. It was such a weird format because you can only see what is in the boundaries of THIS [gestures to frame] everything else,  the chaos of my life, of this room that I’ve been in for, you know, 60 days straight, you can’t see any of it… I’m also in the void. Right now,  I’m talking to my cell phone, that I have duct-taped to a mic stand.

It’s weird to try to do a performance. In Passoverboard! I was doing live drag comedy, and you can’t hear anybody’s responses. People are in the chat and they’re responding in the chat, but while you’re also performing and trying to remember your lines, you’re not necessarily looking at the chat. And you have no sense of what’s going on. Jordan and I couldn’t look at each other – you know, I can look at Jordan… it’s simultaneously like the panopticon, like we can always see each other in the Zoom, “where’s this person, where’s that person, what are they doing, are they ready?” But you’re also simultaneously texting someone on your cell phone but using your computer camera. It was really wild and different and it felt like being able to connect with Jordan behind the scenes while simultaneously being in different provinces was very weird.

Also, I think that knowing Jordan really well, and trusting that if something went wrong, Jordan would fill the space, Jordan would make it work. I think that Jordan knew also, that if there were — and there were — moments when things went wrong, it would be fully fine. At least right now, I feel that a lot of people are trying to figure out how to continue making art, and for a lot of people, how to continue their career, when everything that they loved about it is gone.

JA: [tries in vain to interject]

LB: All these people making videos, i.e. people asking themselves, “What do I already have in my house? What tech do I have that I can work with?” People doing pre-recorded videos or the live stuff, people who have pro-Zoom accounts because they have a day job or whatever. People are cobbling it together, and I think people are figuring it out.

JA : Well, on that note, Boo, I think my favorite part of the cabaret was when I was accidentally unmuted and was speaking over Paulette Paillette’s video, but because I actually love her, all that people heard was, “It sounds great! Nothing to report!” which is of course, it was almost saccharine in that I thought, “how in the world…” you think of all the terrible, unrepeatable, cancel-Jordanable things I could have accidentally said and instead it was  an oblique compliment.

TLC: Yeah… [active listening]

LB: [yelp laughs] It’s true. Honestly, I’m feeling kind of grateful for people. Especially for the stuff that was happening in the first few days, where people… in the first 10 days of COVID, when people were going into isolation… I think some people went into self-isolation in waves.  Some went in earlier than others, and sort of that first phase, I felt like everyone I knew was receiving approximately 5 alerts an hour about people going live on IG. This seems to have been people’s response in their own first wave, whenever that came for them.

TLC: Oh yeah… [more active listening]

LB: Just people going live, playing the guitar, talking. It was an extreme outpouring of art, and often it was just people making individual things. And then it started … those individual performances started to glob together into group shows. And how people are reaching a phase of this process where people are trying to figure out the alternative economics to it. And I think that American performers are in a different situation than a lot of Canadian performers because of the different gov’t responses. There are a lot of artists that I know who’ve been able to get CERB in Canada, which meant that they’re not as financially destitute as some of my friends in US cities who really had to figure out really quickly how to make money in alternative ways. Suddenly, people realize, “I’ve gotta turn my comedy into a really financially viable IG account, I need to become a YouTube sensation; I need to start a blog or podcast.” Even though the market is already full. Basically people are borrowing tactics from existing online stars, and they’re trying to make their art work for them now, financially and personally.  This is especially hard for artists whose work was so much about being in person, about being in front of people and hearing them and seeing their responses to your work. There’s a reason I’m not a painter. You know?

JA: [laughs] Except when it comes to the MOST IMPORTANT CANVAS [gestures to Boo’s face].

LB: A lot of people, if they were lucky enough to squeak by completely on their art, suddenly the rug has been pulled completely out from under them. If they were cobbling it together between a bunch of different side gigs – you know, waiting tables, or working an office gig, or maybe they were also going to school or doing sex work. All of that has crumbled. Working in bars and doing shows and in-person sex work has crumbled, and all their gigs are canceled. So, I think that people really started rushing to figure out, “How can we economically survive?” “What tools do we have to be able to do this?” I think it’s been really interesting to try and figure it out: PayPal tipping has become huge. But the really interesting thing is that I have not seen a single drag or cabaret or burlesque show that hasn’t allowed people to attend for free.

TL: Yes.

LB: Which has been really interesting because PWYC really came up from a punk and radical and really DIY radical anti-capitalist world, but now I think that COVID and the collapse of the economy has made people see money in a totally different way. I haven’t even seen a show – even the ones that have BIG names –  I haven’t seen a single one where they didn’t receive a Zoom link for free. You know, “We suggest you PayPal us this amount, but here’s the Zoom link (anyway).”

TL: Yep.

JA: I’m really interested in trying to figure out how to make this (toilet paper coiffure) look better. [adjusts toilet paper hoodie arrangement]. But I know that as a cabaret artist or as an experimental artist you have an innate understanding that if you ever do anything really good, that it would be automatically co-opted and monetized and/or it would be absorbed into capitalist “celebrity.” I never would have imagined that the part of cabaret would go mainstream would be the PWYC part.  I’m really bad at predicting societal trends, as you can tell, but if you had asked me, “If there was a pandemic that prevented us from performing live, what aspect of cabaret would really catch on?” I could have said a number of things that you could really predict me saying, like, “I think jokes about our exes will be viral,” or whatever, but nooooo: and as often is the case, when you’re lucky in a PWYC situation, we made exactly [the suggested] $8 a head due to some people being really generous and everybody just really wanting in. And that happens a lot.

TL: Then it’s kind of “sliding scale”

LB: I’ve always done PWYC models in real life, and although they have been difficult to navigate, by and large, if people showed up, people got paid. There’s never been a show where I had PWYC where I haven’t been able to pay my artists as long as there was a crowd. And if the crowd shows up, you’ll always have something to pay people. That doesn’t mean that everyone paid [cover charge]. Somehow it really always worked out.

If I’m onstage, would I prefer to have a half-full bar where everyone paid, or a jam-packed audience where some of the people just blew right past the doorgirl?  I would prefer to have the jam-packed room.

Part V: “Cabaret pandémie sans frontières” 

Poster for Passoverboard! Cabaret - Saturday/Samedi 18 April 2020, 8pm EST Description: PASSOVERBOARD! sam.sat.18avril2020.20H.EST Zoomified coronabaret for @resilencemontreal by @sérosyndicat - Suivez/Follow SéroSyndicat/BloodUnion ou trouvez “Passoverboard” event on FB. Hosted by/animé par @peacheslepoz  Background image: Goldie Hawn in Overboard (1987). Hawn is posed on the stairs of a ship, wearing a glamorous captain’s jacket - white with gold tassels on shoulders and collar. She is holding a cigarette with an elegant, elongated cigarette holder. 
Poster for Passoverboard! Cabaret – Saturday/Samedi 18 April 2020, 8pm EST

 

Visual Description:

PASSOVERBOARD! sam.sat.18avril2020.20H.EST Zoomified coronabaret for @resilencemontreal by @sérosyndicat – Suivez/Follow SéroSyndicat/BloodUnion ou trouvez “Passoverboard” event on FB. Hosted by/animé par @peacheslepoz  Background image: Goldie Hawn in Overboard (1987). Hawn is posed on the stairs of a ship, wearing a glamorous captain’s jacket – white with gold tassels on shoulders and collar. She is holding a cigarette with an elegant, elongated cigarette holder.


JA: Laura and I will even pay someone to not even have to hear the words “guest list.” Few things to relish under corona, but the obliteration of guest-list and the deglamorization of the out-of-town artist – e.g. the House of Gahd was able to book a queen from SF which was great and you enjoyed them for what it was, but that wasn’t the main selling point anymore. ANYONE CAN HAVE AN OUTTA TOWN ARTIST, BITCH! Like my friend Sami performing from Beirut doing this sung poem in an onanistic dream-state: that could just have easily have been a major celebrity. I know of critiques going on about how corona hasn’t been the great leveler but rather, it’s in fact the great revealer. And who doesn’t love the out-of-towners? We love to bring in outta town artists!  Laura would love to bring in her friends from New York, or friends like Nicky Click, and anytime anyone was coming through town, it was great.

LB: And now they don’t have to cross the border. And that’s a big thing; there was always the big worry. There’s a whole school of people who do the BIG NAME SHOWS, and I love those shows, you know, the big name shows, especially now there’s a bit of a circuit of the RuPaul queens, who kind of run the circuit and that’s a whole thing. Those people have agents, they get shit done so they’re getting across the border cuz they’re on a 100-city tour.

TL: Right so they have a SSN and a visa.

LB: It’s another thing to book someone from NY or Philly and you know, they’re on tour, but not really. You think that they’d just drive across the border and they’re there. But you don’t know if they’re gonna get across the border to come and do your show. And even if they are coming up to perform just for your show, they’ll get like $100CAD and an understanding that they’ll also get a sort of mini-vacation where they stay at your house and you take them out in Montreal. This kind of performance contract falls under a whole system of laws where they could be turned away. There’s this funny thing where now, you can just invite them and they can show up with out any of the border drama or even the staying at your house drama. There are odd silver linings to this.

JA: Silver-lined toilet paper!

LB: Yeah! Everyone is just as close as everyone else, whether Sami performs from Beirut, or Jordan performs from NB, or we have five artists who are all within a 10-block radius, it’s all the same. The same thing with our audience. Like our friend Eren attended that show from London (UK) — he stayed up to the middle of the night – he moved to London last year and he misses Montréal – so he’s like, “This is great! I can attend a show with all of my friends again.” There’s been so much said about how COVID has revealed that accessibility was never that hard.  We always had the ability to make shows accessible to people who could not leave their houses for whatever reasons. We had the ability to do these things, we just never did. We had the ability to invite the world to our shows, we just never did. And I think that is really interesting to me. Like Jordan said, it hasn’t been the leveler, but it has been the revealer. And I’m in that camp of people who think, “I don’t want the world to go back to normal.” I want the pandemic to be over, but I don’t want to go back to exactly what we had before. I wanna leave my fucking house, but… If I could stay in my house for two years, but I could get the prize of capitalism collapsing, I will fucking do it.

[1 hour 12min MARK]

TL: [sexy voice] Yeahhhhh!

JA: And that’s from an accountant.

LB: So… True!

TLC: For approximately a decade I’ve been trying to write a book about trans- feminist and queer cabaret is a translocal phenomenon. Cabs look the same, same format, varies very little from place to place even though every place has its own scene and style. One of the things that limits the genre to location – quite recent limitations to mobility that have been imposed on cabaret artists and organizers/curators  – is online social media. Since Facebook and other public online events listings, it’s been even more difficult for artists to cross the border, since border guards just do a google search and can often figure out that you had a plan to perform for a night at the Sala Rossa or wherever.  So artists get turned away because they are thought to have an intention to work. But then it’s very rare (and hardly worth the effort)  for a cabaret artist to get a work permit  to make $100 or even a thousand dollars for a single show. LB, your point about the cross-border cabaret is really poignant in terms of what mobility means in this moment of almost no mobility.

JA: There’s the sense of accessibility in terms of border controls, but also thinking back to the (2015 Hemispheric Institute’s) Encuentro and the Sala Rossa. I think about that, I mean I was party to it, I bought into the hipster addiction to certain second-floor venues as temples.

LB: I got married at Sala Rossa.

JA: I hosted!

LB: It’s true!

JA: This really interesting theologian talks sometimes about how whenever he sees a group of people persistently do something immoral, he always knows that it is for religious reasons. That we will persistently do something that is not good because there is a religiosity to it.

TL: Faith.

JA: And I think there is a religiosity to the sense that certain venues have a soul.

TL: Absolutely. So even though a venue was inaccessible to disabled people who don’t use stairs (there is no elevator), we just kept making shows in these inaccessible spaces. There are no stairs in Zoom. There are other barriers to access, like access to reliable internet and devices with video and audio, which not everyone has; and the zoom platform and business of the lights and audio can also be disabling. But yes, this past four months I think changes our way of ablest nostalgia for the soul of venues. It’s often thought that hipster queers couldn’t host a cool show in a corporate space that is wheelchair accessible. And look, now we are doing it on a corporate platform that doesn’t have even a slice or shimmer of soul except what you bring to it. We are using the same space that the court system is using to hold criminal trials. So yes, what a great point, JA.

JA: And that, as we know, that this (notion) has really exclusive and exclusionary drawbacks. I’m fascinated by how the Zoom is yanking back start times.  I unfortunately missed our friend Earl Dax’s Fagabond Salon this past weekend just because life happened. And it’s really hard to treat those Zoom event notifications – like Laura was saying –  with the importance with which we would treat an event reminder for a live performance. Because it’s assumed that it’s a 2D digital ephemeral thing, you either miss or it’s recorded or who cares. And yet this sense that we could also reach out to the elderly lol “the elderly” – I’m elderly according to my nephews, and a teenager according to my niece because I don’t own a car or have children. And so, I think, you know, I love the idea that if this is a way to shift the start time back from 10PM to even 9PM, we could get so many more people  who just can’t stay up late for so many REALLY VALID REASONS. In a Montréal winter I always want people to get home before the metro closes, in the best of worlds, but you often don’t care because you can’t perform to an empty room. That’s also really (appealing) to me because Earl has the same totally omnivorous curation that Boo exemplifies in Cabaret Faux Pas. You know there’s someone playing the banjo alone in upstate NY, and then there’s Penny Arcade, and someone making analogue dance music in their apartment using kitchen appliances. And that really reaches to me. And all I was able to Zoom into was the aftershow chat, because I have a longstanding unrequited crush on the tech guy.

TL: [laughs] Yes, FOMO and regret have not gone away. They’ve gone Global. I remember we thought we’d try to keep this conversation to an hour so we wouldn’t have to shorten it and so that the transcriber (thank you JA) wouldn’t have to type their fingers to the bone. So, we’re way over an hour. But I want to see what else is on your minds! I am terrible at time.

LB: There are so many little things about how these online formats are different, both as a creator and as a spectator. One experience that was really amazing to me was that when we created the FB event for this and we put it out and I was going to do my invites, it was this amazing experience, I was like, OMG I can invite every friend from around the world whom I’ve always wanted to but who’ve never been able to come. It doesn’t matter! I can invite my friends from TO, and NY and Minneapolis, and Portland and Vancouver and London and everywhere. I was so excited when I would see them say yes. That was an amazing experience, and it made me feel that’s something that’s really going to motivate me in the world after this – it’s gonna change the ways I would do shows in the future. I think that is a really important thing for me and then, as a spectator, there’s a thing that’s happening where everyone is going through this absolutely horrifying experience in different way, and personally there’s lots of ways in which I have a ton of privilege: you know, I have an apartment to live and we’re doing okay and I live with two other people. But the thing is that for me it just feels like every day is

THE SAME in its incredible monotony.

TL: Hmmmm.

LB: And it’s so funny to me, JA saying things happened and I missed a show, and it’s so true because I simultaneously feel like I’m living in this absurd void where it doesn’t matter if I go to work or if I work out or if I eat or if I don’t eat or if I sleep all day or if I…do whatever.  I’m having a really hard time finding meaning. My mental health is something that I’ve always been open about, as somebody who identifies as “crazy”: there have been some moments about this that have been frightening and difficult. And so, when there are these shows, it’s this amazing thing where… I actually… There was one show that I attended on one screen, and then I attended a Zoom cocktail party on another screen, and I was just going back and forth muting the different things, like if I saw a performer I liked, I turned the sound on the YouTube live, and watch that performance and then I popped back into the Zoom party with friends, like I was “party hopping” which felt really weird and great, but simultaneously, I hadn’t had a shower in three days and was in my pajamas. And then went to bed feeling, “woe is me.”

And then other days, I’ll be excited about a show all day, then when it comes to be showtime, I’m like “I can’t do this, I can’t sit in front of my screen any more… today. I’m going to take a 35-min shower and then go to bed.” It’s this weird thing, and as for the time, it’s not just that things are moving earlier, I found that they’re moving days. There’s this really interesting collective out of Toronto called CLOWNS KILL EMPIRES, and they did a show that I was excited about for a week and they did a show on a MONDAY, because, now, “Friday? Saturday?” who gives a SHIT. A Monday is the same as a Saturday, “So, let’s just do this show on a Monday!” I looked forward to it, and then Monday happened – I’m actually still working – so I worked my full work day and felt exhausted and despondent –  and I logged into the show and I logged into it when it was a DJ set and I was like, “I can’t handle this” and I was so excited about it and I turned it off, and the next day I felt really sad! So it’s kind of this funny thing where I feel like, you know, if you’re onstage (in a cabaret), and you saw people coming and going, if I saw people stand up and leave, I would be thrown off ONSTAGE, but now… even for Passoverboard!, there were moments when we had 99 people and when we had 40 people, and I’m pretty sure that over the course of the night, people came and went and came and went and all we really see is that each participant is a number on the screen. It’s a very very odd experience where I just really feel like people are desperate to create meaning and connection and distraction. I was just really excited to do this (interview) just to have a chance to put makeup on my face.

TL: Me too.

LB: People are going through weird and desperate times and I find that I think that we’re not seeing the finished thing yet.  I think people are figuring out what this is like. And I think that some part of what people are making now is gonna be what cabaret is like… cabaret, drag, all this kind of underground performance art scene, I think it’s gonna change the way we do things after.

Screen shot of Instagram story posted by zoom cabaret attendee Rusty Jameson (another well-known MTL cabaret performer) catching Douche LeDouche mid performance. Douche LeDouche would intermittently step in to co-host the cabaret with Peaches, calling in from his pandemic isolation on his luxury yacht in the Caribbean (generously supplied by virtual zoom background).
Screen shot of Instagram story posted by zoom cabaret attendee Rusty Jameson (another well-known MTL cabaret performer) catching Douche LeDouche mid performance. Douche LeDouche would intermittently step in to co-host the cabaret with Peaches, calling in from his pandemic isolation on his luxury yacht in the Caribbean (generously supplied by virtual zoom background).

TLC: Wow, yes. Speculative cabaret futures!

JA: I’m fascinated by how we’ve had the technological potential to do this for years, like doing Zoom or Skype performances but nobody besides techies wanted to ever really explore that as an artform because it always felt lesser, like some kind of cold consolation prize.  The way that live video always harkened back to unedited video and its influence on art aesthetics, but it was so cold and intellectual because it was always equated with surveillance. But now, we’re at this point where we’re SO at peace with the panopticon. I’m at peace with the fact that there are spies who may transcribe this very interview at the same time that I’m doing it, and it will just feed this giant gaping mouth of AI, and who knows what will happen, maybe this coiffure will appear in Jeremy Scott’s next collection for Moschino. But all of those nerdy 90s and early 2000s concepts like “VR is the future” and “the cyber as collective subconscious” – those were SO BORING until we witnessed it poison an entire electoral process. I feel like all of those namby-pamby intellectual nerd-out ideas were just so old and so cold and no one was into it. And now it’s about bringing the crust, the unpredictable, and the organic into this pixelated universe. That has got to be my number one plea for anyone doing live online performance is to PLEASE keep it half live. Keep it half alive. Cabaret is in ICU. Cabaret is on a giant Zoom ventilator.

LB: [types ZOOM VENTILATOR into chat window]

JA: I don’t care how good you’ve become at iMovie in confinement on just as much coffee as I need to finish a sentence. I need it to be live, and that is the reason, that is why I will log in, and that was the FOMO of missing Fagabond, is that Earl is a cabaret cousin of ours. And I KNEW that at least half of his artists would do live, no matter what happened to Hawaiian Wi-Fi, there was gonna be live shit and that’s what I stay awake for.

TLC: . Linda Evangelista will only get out of bed for $10,000.00. You’ll only stay out of bed for live cabaret.

JA: Let’s stop the recording.

LB: [Reminds us that stopping the recording may prevent it from being saved.]

TL : Back to this cabaret on a Zoom ventilator idea. And then I promise we’ll stop! I’m thinking about it as a survival moment. The folks who are putting these shows on are the folks who are have always been running the tech and the curators who are putting this on are bringing this LIFE FORCE. Then attending your cabaret PASSOVERBOARD!, it mostly just came from this feeling of OMG, even just getting from TO to MTL  in normal the trains-are-running-5-times-a-day times, it is often too hard to get to the other place for one night, even if you really want to. But yes, is this the life force of cabaret or is it the life of FOMO times GLOBAL — GLOZOFOMO? I think we have to theorize some more so it doesn’t sound glib.

LB: I think for me underground parties have always been a lifeline. I dunno… this sounds really EARNEST I supposed. [to JA: I know, don’t even start with me!], I’ve said things like REVOLUTION IS ON THE DANCEFLOOR, that kind of thing. I feel like so much of finding my queer self, finding some kind of world, even if just for a moment, that could create a bubble space outside of capitalism or outside of macho bullshit, or outside of heteronormativity… I find that that is what I always look for cabaret, and dance, and particularly, Club Kid style dance parties, where it wasn’t just about cruising and fucking, although it was about that as well, it was about creating yourself. We can show up. In a way, putting this makeup on has become over the years closer and closer to the person I am outside of this. And I think that that was a healing process that’s happened over the last 20 years of queer dancefloors and queer cabarets and drag and burlesque and I like the idea that a lot of people were trying to move their artwork both because that was their profession and they need to make money, but also because if they’re not making those worlds for themselves, they actually have NO WHERE TO LIVE. THEY REALLY DON’T. The idea of just having to have to just be your fucking Muggle self all goddamn day while people are dying around you… I feel like the first few days of the pandemic when I was working from home, I was morose and then one day I woke up and instead of working in my pajamas and I got dressed in my business lady drag, and I put on my full face of makeup that I usually put on for the office and I put on high heels and I went to work in my bedroom looking like I WOULD HAVE LOOKED going to the office. And it really helped pull me out of what I was feeling and I feel like that’s what people are doing with these online shows.

TL: yeah, yeah.

Jordan Arseneault, contemplating. Zoom still by T.L. Cowan. 
Jordan Arseneault, contemplating. Zoom still by T.L. Cowan.

 

 

JA: And I get to put my mom’s makeup on and have my dad see it in a way that I didn’t WANT to be an anecdote about healing childhood trauma because it was so obviously an opportunity for it to be one. And then it kind of became one, and at the same time I was a sloth, and inside I was like, “I’ll never forgive you for telling me that was weird when I was 11!” and my dad, who likes animal humour was like, “Ho, huh ha.” [sigh-chuckles]

TL: This is so golden, you two! I’m so excited for this to get into the world and for this conversation to happen and just really thankful for your show and because you’re both so intellectual and naturally reflexive about your practice. Together, you’ve just created the theory of pandemic cabaret.


Jordan Arseneault is a demi-Acadian of HIV-positive extraction working in Montréal, if you can call it working. In his never-evolving drag persona, Peaches LePoz, Jordan uses live voice, cello, neuro-divergent lipsync, tragedy, and farce to address issues of social injustice, HIV, addiction, depravity, and deprivation. One of his many mottos: “If you can’t love yourself, do performance art!” He works as a translator (from le français), social practitioner (Fear Drag and, with Toronto’s Mikiki, Disclosure Cookbook, and in 2020, RéactHIVIH), and artsy beggar. On bad days, Jordan reminds himself that he was once invited to speak on a panel at the MoMa (Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village), and has performed at La Mama Galleria (CellCOUNT by VisualAIDS) and Joe’s Pub (Weimar Cabaret by Earl{“type”:”block”,”srcClientIds”:[“ee07d73a-d0ad-4464-ac90-342c694d2f7f”],”srcRootClientId”:””} Dax), in NYC. He accepts cookies: paypal.me/jordanarsen IG: @peacheslepoz

Laura Boo MacDonald is a triple-degreed Montréal-born queer femme who cut her teeth and cheeks organizing Vancouver’s Queeruption and legendary BENT parties. A maven of the cabaret scene, Boo’s artistry is a capacious wheel-house of DJ (Like the Wolf), burlesque surrealist (Douche LeDouche), and drag collaborator extraordinaire. Her house was home to the beloved Cabaret Faux Pas before going public (with Glam Gam alum Julie Paquette), and as a hostess/organizer, Boo has ruled venues big (her monthly party POMPe has guest curated at the Festival Trans-Amériques) and small (literally her living room). She is also co-creator and co-host of the anti-capitalist, queer-femme  financial blog and podcast “Bottom Lines, Top Dollars by Ladies Who Crunch”  https://ladieswhocrunch.club/about-us/ You’ll usually find her worshipping her cat, Bruce, or helping out in the non-profit sector (Queer Tech, Project 10, Pervers/cité, the list would outrun the bio word limit tbh…). IG: @dropdeadlauraboo

T.L. Cowan is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media (UTSC) and the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. T.L. is  currently completing a book entitled Transmedial Drag and Other Cross-Platform Cabaret Methods. T.L.’s recent academic writing can be found in Women & PerformanceAmerican Quarterly, First Monday, and Liminalities.T.L. is also a co-author of the Feminist Data Manifest-No. T.L. is also co-director (with Jas Rault) of the Cabaret Commons and the Digital Research Ethics Collaboratory (DREC.org).

As an artist T.L. got her start in the booming feminist and queer spoken word scene of Vancouver in the late 1990s and since then has been making work that draws from cabaret, drag, agit-prop theatre, stand-up comedy, video and sound art, installation and intervention. These performances reflect an ongoing quasi-pseudo-autobiographical meditation on feminine composites, class mobility, sexuality and style. Her most recent and frequent alter-egos are Mrs. Trixie Cane (professional spokes-lady, almost famous for I Disown You Right Back and other public service announcements) and Tammy Pamalovovich, Aging Supermodel.