On Wednesday, December 16th I produced my first “philosophical burlesque” event: the Violette Underground. The idea was to explore the idea of bringing together feminist performance art and the philosophical salon, following the poet Horace’s definition of the aims of poetry, “either to please or to educate” in the tradition of the French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries. For these “philosophical burlesque” events, my aim was to educate through the use of pleasure.
Location and Mood
The location for this first event was Woodwork, a long, narrow cocktail bar located in the McLeod Building, a 100-year-old historical building in downtown Edmonton. The tall windows facing the street were covered over with butcher’s paper, and the tables with tea lights. The music was jazz, big band swing and Charleston. Men in black tie, women in vintage fur and everything that glitters. Performances, silly bets and games of chance through the night, craft cocktails and fortune telling by candlelight.
The performances were the main instigation for the event. I was thinking about different ways to have a show. I enjoy a night of entertainment, but I enjoy seeing a variety of entertainment. Also, I don’t want to be sitting in silence all night: I want to talk to the people I came with; enjoy great cocktails; meet new friends; dance; enjoy unexpected moments of surprise and delight. This event was an experiment to see what a night like this might look like.
Breaking down the fourth wall
I purposefully avoided creating a stage, meaning that a performance could take place in any area of the room: on the far-side of the long bar, close to the cozy tables in the corner, in the open space near the woodpile at the back. The audience was so close to the performers that you could feel their breath on your cheek. No strict division between “audience” and “performer”: instead, every person present was an integral piece of the night’s flow, energy and entertainment. There were no introductions or calling for the audience to hush: instead, every 20 minutes or so, a performance would simply begin. The idea was to create a flow to the night that entangled all the events of the evening together, so that the conversations, fortune telling, laughter and performances would be enmeshed, colouring, influencing and adding to the audience’s experience of each individual element.
The event was such a delight that I’ve decided to host a Violette Underground every few months. To find out more visit violettecoquette.com/violette-underground