Burlesque Gets Brainy

  • Les demimondes looks at the history of prostitution in society. Photo by Kelly Clipperton

“I don’t understand why the job is illegal—there’s just something about that that drives me fucking mental,” said sex worker, activist and performer Alex Tigchelaar.

Her cabaret-style multimedia theatre production, Les demimondes, which debuts March 30, aims to show you why.

“I cannot, for the purposes of supporting myself, use my own body to do that? Sure, I can go and become a construction worker, or a lawyer and I can use my body and my brain to generate income—often, in those cases, fairly unethically—but I cannot use my body to generate my own income? What the fuck is wrong with that picture?”

After being unsatisfied performing what she describes as “pretty traditional burlesque,” Tigchelaar is now combining her frustration with the media’s misrepresentation of sex workers with her own brand of performance activism to bring some truth to the cabaret—for your viewing pleasure—at the Edgy Women Festival.

“I mean yes, putting a bunch of woman of different sizes and gender presentation on stage, that’s [minimally] revolutionary, but let’s get those people telling their stories,” she said.

“Seeing a woman of size or a transexual performing, that’s just one thing, but now that we have the opportunity, let’s go deeper than that. We got on stage taking our clothes off, and then we opened our mouths.”

Tigchelaar takes on the role of Prostitution Herself, a variety of sex workers wrapped up into one archetypal “trickster-type” character who, along with other dancers and actors, recounts stories often untold in everyday media.

“Sex workers speak though [Prostitution Herself], in a way, that is the kernel of truth in this whole thing,” she said.

“Underneath all of those personalities and people is the truth, which is: ‘It’s my body, I have agency over it—not you.’”

Tigchelaar wants people to question their image of sex workers and how cultural mores can alienate those who live outside them.

“What I’ve realized is that people become quite angry when they’re faced with these stories, they’re much happier listening to the stories of women being victimized,” said Tigchelaar.

“That says they’re right by thinking that everyone is a victim within sex work when, in fact, that’s not sex work—that’s trafficking, which is completely fucking different.”

Given the theme of the play, it’s easy to imagine a sombre performance, but Tigchelaar says that’s not what the audience should expect whatsoever. Making people laugh is a top priority for the actors, with past performances often leaving the viewers in hysterics.

The performance encourages the audience to re-evaluate their perception of sex work, to build it beyond a stereotype. Tigchelaar wants us to look at this persistent taboo with keener and more open minds.

“That’s my goal, and I love entertaining people with stories, because as sex workers, we are also entertainers; I have a compulsion to entertain people. I do think that if I entertain people with these ideas, eventually it may loosen their guard.”

Les demimondes / Studio 303 (372 Ste. Catherine St. W.) / March 30, 8:00 p.m. / March 31, 6:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m. / April 1, 4:00 p.m.

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