Seattle performers find a new stage online
Seattle’s night life is slowly reopening with food delivery and to-go cocktails, but music venues and night clubs remain closed – and they're unlikely to see crowds any time soon.
Amid the pandemic, performing artists are taking their stage shows to live streaming.
What Penny Banks misses about her old job is the excitement when she first showed up.
“Walking into the venue and smelling the cigarette smoke outside, and then passing into the bar and it kind of smells like stale liquor,” Banks said. "Oh, just the smell of a bar. I miss that. I missed that so much.”
Banks is a burlesque dancer. She’s been doing it for about eight years with a troupe called The Devil’s Advocates. Before she was a performer, Banks started out as a stage kitten.
“Which is basically someone who comes in and picks up clothing that the burlesque performers have just taken off in between acts,” She said. “Kind of just helps reset the stage, put any props out for the next act. And then of course, do any sort of fun banter.”
Fun banter with an audience in a packed night club. That was back in what Banks calls the olden days, pre-pandemic.
Like almost every performing artist, actress, or musician, Banks and her troupe are without any live audience right now.
“Burlesque is an art form that relies really heavily on audience interaction,” she said.
The Devil’s Advocates used to perform regularly at the Rendezvous in Belltown and Barça Lounge in Capitol Hill. Both are closed for events.
“It's definitely impeded our creative impulses for sure,” she said. "And not being able to get in a room with my creative collaborators has definitely felt like an artistic stunt.”
Of course it’s not only the artistic frustration Banks and so many others are facing now.
“Every single person in the troupe right now is unemployed,” said Banks.
Performance spaces are struggling, too.
The Stoneway Café in Northlake used to bring in up to 60 people for live music and open mic night. Now, co-owner Dustin Cramer said that business is gone and they’re relying solely on food to-go.
“We have had to reduce staff especially initially, because overall business has gone down,” Cramer said.
With every venue in town closed, artists are getting creative on how to stay connected with fans. For The Devil’s Advocates, that means taking their stage show online.
“The last show that we did, it was an hour of just a huge rush because we were like, ‘is this gonna go off right? Does our audience like it?’” Banks said.
For their online show, each member of The Devil’s Advocates films themselves in their own room doing their act. And fans tune in.
“Oh my god. They're responding, they're commenting, we're getting tips. This is amazing,” Banks said. “We got reminded why we do this and that was the important part.”
During the live stream show, Banks has a completely different job than being onstage. To make money, each performer posts their Venmo information so people watching at home can tip them with their phones.
Banks pops into the live stream chat to remind viewers they can support the show.
“It’s an hour and a half of kind of stage managing from home,” she said.
So far, fans seem to have liked what they saw online. Banks said she made five times the amount of money during her video than a typical night onstage.
She said there’s another benefit to live streaming online versus in-person stage shows: accessibility. For the first time in her career, anyone — anywhere — can watch Banks perform.
“I have tons of friends all over the country and suddenly they're able to watch my art,” she said.
Live streaming stage shows has become a new norm for performers and their fans during quarantine.
Eladio Preciado, owner of Julia’s on Broadway in Capitol Hill, said they moved their long running drag show, Le Faux online soon after the lockdown began.
“When the stage show was running full speed, we had about 30 people involved,” Preciado said. “Now we’re down to about three or four performers.”
Le Faux, which used to fill Julia’s three nights a week with over a hundred people, is now free and online for anyone to watch.
Still, Penny Banks said nothing replaces a live crowd. She misses the interaction of a fan physically handing her a dollar after her act — and just being inside the venue itself.
“Freezing my ass off in the hallway before I go on stage and then coming back off stage, and I'm just sweating bullets from being out there,” she said.
The Devil’s Advocates plan to keep live streaming all their shows going forward. Banks said she’s not focused on when nightclubs might reopen again. Instead, she's putting on the best show possible in the meantime.
“No matter what happens we're going to keep making art,” she said. “And however that looks it's going to keep happening.”