Literature 9-10-2006

Letters from a Writer: This Just In: Girls Still Live!

Jean Sramek hopes for political incorrectness from Patrons of the Arts.

Jean Sramek

A month ago, Duluth’s political Powers That Be allowed the historic NorShor Theatre to be transformed into the NorShor Experience, a multi-use entertainment venue. I say “multi-use entertainment venue” in the same charitable way that silent sports types say “multi-use recreational trail” when they’re gritting their teeth and talking about a hiking/biking/ski trail that has been opened, against their collective will, to the Hounds of Hell, aka snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. As the target-heart-rate crowd must share the trail with the ATV enthusiasts, so must the NorShor Theatre’s fans share the beloved building with its current occupants and their patrons: men who like to stuff dollar bills into gyrating G-strings. You can read what I think about it here for the lazy, I’ll summarize: the NorShor is a titty bar, and it’s not the end of the world. But right now, it’s inconvenient.

If I ever give motivational seminars on how to be a writer, Tip Number 2 (Tip Number 1: “be married to someone with a real job that provides health insurance”) will be “Avoid writing theatrical scripts which include the name of the venue in the title of the play,” e.g. Phantom of the NorShor. Because one never knows when one’s historic, dilapidated downtown movie theater is going to be turned into a strip club. For Colder By The Lake to do Phantom of the NorShor without the NorShor is like making a gin and tonic, but whoops, I guess we’re out of gin.

Ironically, the following conversation occurred dozens of times in the months leading up to its premier:

Patron of the Arts: So what’s Colder’s next show?

Us: Phantom of the NorShor.

POTA:That’s so great! Wonderful! I can’t wait!

Us: Thanks.

POTA: So, where are you doing it?

As natural as it was for us to do a show about the NorShor, at the NorShor, people were surprised we would actually do it there because, frankly, the place is a dump. A moldy, grimy, the-actors-all-got-sick dump. I contracted a respiratory virus, mysterious in nature and which hung on for three solid weeks, while rehearsing at the NorShor, and I assure you I didn’t catch it from being around strippers. The NorShor might actually be haunted. For the record, thousands of women have already taken their clothes off in front of men at the NorShor—since there are no dressing rooms in the building, performers have no choice but to do costume changes in the back hallway. I wonder what the LIVE GIRLS are going to do about that, since even strippers need dressing rooms so they can get into the clothes they’re going to get out of later. But that’s not my problem.

My problem is whether we can reprise Phantom of the NorShor at the NorShor Experience. I personally have no problem doing a show in a strip club, nor negotiating rent or terms with the purveyor of LIVE GIRLS. I negotiated rent and terms with the disorganized, the incompetent, the sleazy and the sociopathic; how bad can a pornographer be? My worry is that Patrons Of The Arts will avoid—nay, boycott—Phantom of the NorShor because of the LIVE GIRLS. There is nothing worse than empty seats in a theater, and I worry that the stigma of strippers will keep our audiences away.

I am not worried about doing a show in a place that might have semen on the floor. In fact, if there’s semen on the floor, at least the management will have to clean the place regularly. Or at all. And when they do, they’ll clean up the semen that was left on the floor from when the NorShor showed Café Flesh back in 1983. But will people even enter the NorShor if it has LIVE GIRLS germs on it? Will they realize that they entered the NorShor when it had loser germs, drug germs, lack-of-business-acumen germs, cigarette germs, and worse? People are funny; Patrons Of The Arts are no exception, and getting inside their minds will be my undoing. All manner of crime and grime have transpired at the NorShor in the preceding decades. But if a woman has undressed here, for money, will decent people shun our show?

Maybe no one will care. If we get some John Ashcroft-approved draperies for the LIVE GIRLS signs, maybe no one will even notice. Maybe they’ll look down at the clean, semen-free floor and say, Hey, my feet aren’t sticking. This place is clean. Really clean. I like clean floors. Apparently the current tenants have cleaned the floors and are therefore morally superior to people who do not clean floors. My love for clean floors supersedes my hatred for LIVE GIRLS. I must now find my checkbook and give copious amounts of money to the first available nonprofit arts organization. Maybe when they see that the purveyors of exotic dancing have actually fixed the restroom sinks and stocked the stalls with toilet paper, they’ll go nuts and buy a season pass to the NorShor Experience purely on principle.

Say what you will about the LIVE GIRLS entrepreneurs. Apparently these guys know what they’re doing, and there’s a market for it. What remains to be seen is whether our Patrons Of The Arts will stretch their definition of “the arts” far enough to give Phantom of the NorShor a great big hug, regardless of where we mount it. When we do the show again, the house will be full—one way or the other. And maybe someone will have built us some dressing rooms.