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  • Writer's pictureBettina May

Lost Spirits Memories

It's been three weeks since my steady gig at Lost Spirits Distillery ended. I am grateful that we had a month to say goodbye to our showbiz home, and I took the opportunity to bring my camera in and shoot the part that most people didn't get to see, the backstage area that I spent so much of my life in over the past three years.

I got to share a cute little dressing room right beside the Plaza stage with Ginger Watson and Cervena Fox. Ginger and I shared a rack to hang all our costumes, the first gig I've had in 20 years of burlesque where I got to keep my costumes at work. It was so nice just coming in with a purse everyday after all the schlepping of big bags to every gig over the years. Aaron and James made us cute shelves, and André painted the room with some cans of green paint I had left over from doing my photo studio one year. Ginger brought in the little leopard print rug, which really tied the room together. My faux pheasant headdress survived so much longer (it's over 10 years old now, same synthetic feathers) not having to be dismantled for travel every day.

We decorated the walls with show mementos, and I brought in vintage frames to put up our 8x10s. We'd often have cast and crew pop in. Sometimes we'd adorn André in showgirl finery, help fix up hair, and one time I used our emergency sewing kit to stitch an audience member back into her dress when the zipper broke. Never trust an invisible zipper!

When we first moved into the Viper Pit, as our dressing room was called in honour of Ginger's snake charmer act, we'd use this door that went straight out into the experience to get to Town Square before the other stages housed burlesque. So many tourists would rattle the doors every day trying to get in that we had to reinforce the latch with a big 2x4. Once the Plaza stage came in beside us, only Ginger would use it for her Banana act, so I decorated the door with postcards of vintage burlesque performers from BHOF, and whoever was backstage would become a peepshow for her act: very tame of course, because those modesty mandates came in swiftly. I loved sitting inside hearing the crowd go wild for our performers, just a thin bit of plywood between us.

I spent a lot of time over at the Atrium Stage. It was the first stage people stopped at as they came in, and originally it was just me doing my An Occasional Man song, with Alex in the cocktail cart next to me. That's actually how I worked the bit into the song where I take a sip of the cocktails he made. Eventually they made cocktails named after all the burlesque gals, and I'm happy to say mine sold out all the time because I was pretty good about selling it onstage. At some point they took our names off the bottles but I kept mine in the act, and miraculously that same bottle survived the rest of the show. I had many Occasional Men helping me in that act, some of them only occasionally men when I plopped my sailor hats on them to collect my fragile coconut bra (never broke once through the run of the show, though I always kept a couple spares in the dressing room just in case), and pass me my drink. In the final days of the show it was often Reggie and Dan in the hats, though André would often try to make it over to help collect my ting-a-lings when he wasn't busy running a thousand other parts of the show. I'll miss seeing what the boys named themselves that day, who had the most demerits, and the other little things in that backstage. I loved having my own mic setting on the board, and seeing the shed skin from one of Sabrina's lovely snakes. We all loved peeking out the little window of the door to see what was happening onstage, and I'll miss the backstage acts we did to other performers music. It was such a good team of people, all supporting each other.

I don't think I'll ever get to spend so much time in such a beautiful workplace again. There was so much attention to detail there, but also as anyone who saw it with the bright lights on knows, they knew how to do just enough to create the magic, and I really appreciated the DIY nature of Lost Spirits. Why paint a wall when good lighting does the work? I truly got lost in there every day for the first month of working there. Once the mood lighting came on and the ambient soundtrack played, I was truly transported to a rainy futuristic 1930s Chinatown, like being on a Blade Runner set with no gunfights, my slice of heaven. In the early days when we'd sometimes pull 8 hour shifts, I'd just sit in the Dorian Grey room, watching customers have the best day, help people find the next show, or sit with Sabrina and her beautiful snakes. The visual display filled my cup, and for that I'm truly grateful.

It was a joy to bring joy to so many people who came through our doors, and to bring real burlesque to a mainstream audience. Even when we couldn't go down to pasties anymore, and our G-strings had to be over opaque tights and fishnets, I think it still blew a few minds. Check that lady in the center pic above. She's loving it.

Some days were so busy they went by in a blur, and it's only now with time to sit and reflect that I can truly appreciate all I've experienced. I'm so glad I got to experience it, but I'm not sad it's over. I'm happy I got to be there for the whole run of the show, and I'm excited to take what I learned there and use it in perhaps some unexpected ways moving forward. You can see all the photos I took in the full gallery here. Now it's my turn to get lost for a bit.

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