When it comes to strip clubs, Montreal is by no means lacking. On streets like St. Catherine, it can be a tad overwhelming to contend with the never-ending stream of sexual imagery that always seems to be informed by the (straight, white, and deeply entrenched) male gaze. But in a diverse city with a prominent sex industry, there are certainly alternatives.
One notable exception to the sexual status quo is the burlesque troupe Glam Gam Productions, whose latest effort, the Little Beau Peep Show, is being performed this weekend only.
Glam Gam was founded in 2009, the joint creation of Montrealer Julie Paquet and Newfoundland émigrés Michael J. McCarthy and Sarah Murphy. As McCarthy explained in an interview with The Daily, Glam Gam’s overall aims – besides titillation – involve redefining the often rigid limitations placed on mainstream expressions of sexuality. With the choices and strengths of the troupe’s performers – people who embody a wide variety of non-traditional orientations, gender identities, body types, and various fetishes – Glam Gam aims, in McCarthy’s words, “to re-define what’s considered sexy.”
Their productions combine fun, frivolous theatricality with subversive, overtly sexual performance. One of their previous shows was a “burlesque murder mystery” loosely based on the movie Clue, in which “Sherlock Homo” attempted to find a killer whose identity changed each night of the performance. Another, a Christmas cabaret put together in 24 hours, solicited participation from any amateur performers who wanted to be involved. The Christmas show re-imagined Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol as a heartwarming tale about a protagonist named Ebenezer Splooge, visited in the night by a ghost clad in leather, and, a Grinch with a strategically placed hole in his green body suit, along with other colorful characters.
McCarthy said the group works best when their shows re-interpret existing narratives or ideologies. For this reason, many of their shows are seasonal or holiday-based. Fairy tales and nursery rhymes, the subjects of this latest show, are good points of departure for many reasons because of their rich aesthetic properties, their wide cast of flamboyant characters, and the complete accessibility of stories so many of us knew as children. “Everybody loves kids’ movies,” McCarthy said. “We like to take things people are familiar with, that they know and love, and make them dirty and funny.” Their distinct aesthetic properties and characters make fairy tales excellent material for scrutiny, satire, and sexualization in the hands of Glam Gam’s many talented performers
McCarthy’s queer subversion in reclaiming holiday and fairytale tropes is a common tactic used by many queer artists in various fields. By using these pop culture references, queer film and theatre allow representation of people who are often denied access to mainstream heteronormative culture. Little Beau Peep is a perfect example of such.
Besides queer reclamation, McCarthy said, the group realized they were dealing with a wealth of material, as children’s fairy tales are also “really quite fucked up.” Citing scenes of self-mutilation by Cinderella’s stepsisters in the original Brothers Grimm version of the story, he discussed the disturbing and often grotesque origins of many of the stories aimed at children. Even when sanitized for modern audiences by the likes of Disney, fairy tales often include problematic elements of representation – especially related to gender roles and implied sexual norms.
Inclusivity, McCarthy reiterated, is the troupe’s ultimate goal. While many events of this type are traditionally aimed at a very specific audience, Glam Gam hopes to provide something for everyone. The Little Beau Peep Show includes a live band, elaborate costumes, a barbershop quartet (naturally rechristened “a sex shop quartet”), and even puppets. “We try to up the bar each time,” McCarthy said. The show’s audience should expect to see the troupe “pulling out all the stops.”