There's been a little bit of chatter in our small corner of the internet recently about a proposed exclusivity deal for performers working at Proud venues. For a while we all rolled our collective eyes at the idea, knowing, as we do, that such an idea is completely unworkable, and would lead to everyone being worse off - not least the venue that attempted to instigate it. It didn't take long for the powers that be to realise how massively misjudged this move was, and to apologise and take it all back. It was a few days of entertaining drama in a community that adores entertaining drama.
Obviously, part of being employed is being able to react with ridicule when an employer makes a wrong move. When someone does something that can be seen as insulting, it's perfectly acceptable to be insulted, and to tell them where to get off. It's part of the dance that every freelancer occasionally does with their boss.
But some of the comments left by members of the burlesque and cabaret world left a very bad taste in my mouth. Seems to me that people were very quick to jump on the bandwagon, and in doing so, they didn't just insult the people who had made a bad business decision - they also insulted the venue, the staff, the shows and the performers. And, since I'm one of those performers, and so are a bunch of my friends, This stung a little.
People who either (a) hid behind anonimity or (b) should know better used the opportunity to say some very unpleasant and abusive things about myself and my colleagues.
And here's the thing - if we're going to take Alex Proud to task for an ill-judged statement, then I think it's time we applied the same rules to some of our own.
I'm not going to stoop to playground-level barbs, or waste time countering the tweets and posts of those who were transparently more motivated by finance or sour grapes than opinion, but what I will do is tell you this: I work, semi regularly, at Proud Cabaret, and here's what it's like...
At about 6pm I have a bath. Cleanse, exfoliate & moisturise. Freshly laundered shirt, tie tied, suit on, shoes polished. By 7.30 I'm on the train, suitcase by my feet and cane in hand.
Walking across London Bridge as the sun starts to go down, in the opposite direction to almost everyone else. They're going home, I'm going to work. That feels nice.
I've always liked the act of walking into a venue that I'm performing in. It's one of the ways the difference of my job makes itself known most stylishly. Thank god I'm not a stand up - they don't often get to play places like this. The high class dazzle of the Cafe De Paris, the gaudy decadence of Jojo's, the sticky-floored perfection of the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club - I adore them all, and then there's Proud.
Past Ronnie on the door, down the dark staircase lit only by brass candlesticks (where I once pushed passed Geri Halliwell without realising who she was), turn left at the coat check girl, and there it is, dark, wide, smoky and red, like the kind of secret speakeasy that shoud inhabited by people from Vettriano paintings. It's really pretty gorgeous. I cross over to the bar, where the barmaid shouts a happy "Ricarrrrdo!" at me, before sliding me a diet coke.
I take the coke with me, past the kitchen and down the corridor to the dressing room. Well, we call it a dressing room - it's the fat end of the back corridor. It could be better, but there's just about enough space for everyone's stuff, and frankly, most London venues don't have anything bigger.
And there's Coco Dubois fretting over her hair in the mirror, all wide-eyed and manic. Talking like a speed-freak and occasionally actually meowing. Young, glamorous and absurdly talented, she's the glue that holds the show together. In this venue, she's one of the best hosts I've ever seen, and she's got a voice that can knock you on your ass. We're all saying hello, lots of hugs and kisses. Betsy Rose, dressed as she absolutely, positively, always is, in perfect 1930's vintage orginals. Soon she's be onstage, dressed in military uniform, somehow making the act of saluting the hottest thing you've ever seen.
Maybe tonight we've got Kiki Kaboom knocking 'em bandy with her legendary chav burlesque, or Banbury Cross and Beau Rocks - nobody does straight up hot showgirl better than these two, or Missy Fatale dragging flames over her body while raising the heat in the audience too.
A loud, completely naked ball of energy bounces round the back left corner of the corridor, ahh yes, Miss Abi Collins - every circus needs a clown, and later she'll be getting roars of laughter in one of her many alter-egos.
Dan the stage kitten has just arrived, straight from working his day job at the London Dungeon to here, where his role is to retrieve various items of underwear so casually discarded by the performers. Oh, and he gets my cigar boxes too. And Taz is sorting out everyone's music, cues and running orders. Taz runs the show, and he runs it very well. Because of him, working here is smooth, reliable and grown-up. I remember the first time I met him, within 10 minutes we had both told each other of our plans for the zombie apolcalypse, and thus knew we'd get along fine. (Mental note - come Z-day, you could do worse that Proud as a place to hole up...basement...good food stocks..)
And then we're off and running. Coco is telling that audience that she's messing with them, I'm throwing hats and canes around, Abi's climbing over poor unsuspecting audience members and tassels are being twirled. The place is hot and dark, and the hidden haze machines make every spotlight a smoky, evocative hot beam of cabaret. And sure, sometimes there's a table of shrill hen partiers, and sometimes there's a gang of men who look like rejects from the early stages of The Apprentice, but those things are true of pretty much every burlesque club in town. And Proud has Ronnie, so it's never a problem.
During one of the intervals I'll hang out by the kitchen door and talk wrestling with the chef, or go upstairs with some of the girls while they smoke and we sort out their love lives. Then I'll vanish downstairs where there is a space big enough for me to warm up for my second spot.
I'm usually gone before the show ends so I can catch the early train home, but as I walk across by the bar on my way out, I'll probably slow to a stop and watch Coco belt out her Queen number, which always brings the house down - she hits that last big note as Taz flicks on the string of lightbulbs around the top edge of the stage and it looks for a moment about as showbiz as anything can look. I might stay a little longer to watch Banbury bring the audience to a boil and then cool them down by covering herself (and some of them) with champagne. Then I'm off, up the stairs, and out into the night and home.
Here's my point with all this - when someone does something ill-judged, then sure, take the piss. But Proud is, just like every other venue, made up of floor staff, kitchen staff, bar staff, performers and technicians who work really hard to create what is - by any standards - a great burlesque show in a gorgeous venue.
I work pretty much every cabaret and burlesque venue in London - and those that I don't work, I'd like to - and that's where my loyalty lies - with cabaret. With the cabaret family. And I don't like it when some members of my cabaret family use something like this to start insulting the talent that happens to work at a specific venue. That's unpleasant and rude, and it's not indicative of the support that makes this circuit such a pleasure to be a part of.
So chill. The boss did a silly thing, and then took it back. The performers, and the venue, and the staff are all pretty damn great though.
Talking of the pleasure of sharing a bill with great performers - the June 14th Mat Ricardo's London Varieties is a rare chance to see two of the most respected, talented and entertaining figures from the world of magic. Noel Britten is a veteran comedy speciality act - hilarious, off-the-wall, and brilliant, and Richard McDougall is a past world champion of close-up magic, one of Derren Brown's co-writers, and an equistite slight of hand artist.
We're also very pleased to announce that the amazing Lords Of Strut will be travelling all the way from Ireland to play The Varieties, complete with their spandex unitards. Add to that a very special guest, lots of new material from yours truly and some gorgeous rare archive variety footage, and you better get yourself a ticket!
Want more info? Check out the video at the top of the page on the far right side and enjoy!