Shut up and Dance

Jo ann-9-big

Okay, those aren’t the actual words she said, but there’s no other way to interpret an interruption mid-performance by the words: “Ok, sweetie, you’ve said enough. Can you sing a song or do another little dance?”

It was like a slap in the face. What did I say that was offensive enough to prompt censorship? Not much, really.

I wasn’t scheduled to perform that night at Swift Current’s Chautauqua Theatre Festival, but the organizers asked if I’d open for the headliner. I’d performed my show, “Stories of Love and Passion,” two previous nights without incident after almost being cancelled due to the Saskatchewan Government’s recent ban on striptease. Opening was supposed to be the easy part.

With 15-20 minutes to fill, I chose to perform a sexy and silly non-striptease in pasties and g-string (wearing pasties and g-string is acceptable; it’s not ok to strip down to them). I hoped it would illustrate the ridiculousness of the law, then I’d do five minutes of improvised comedy and end with a love song. Three minutes into the comedy, after questioning the Saskatchewan Government’s ban on striptease, 
I was stopped.

After being censored, I decided to leave the stage. I couldn’t do another dance if I wanted to — Saskatchewan had effectively outlawed them. Plus, I wasn’t willing to stay where they wanted to sexualize me within their own parameters but wouldn’t listen to my words.

So now I’m living the aftermath of performing in a province taking giant steps back regarding women’s agency over their own bodies, and having my words censored by a person in a position of power.

The President of the Board of the Lyric Theatre and I were interviewed by CBC. From what I understand, her reasons behind censoring me were because she didn’t like my sarcastic tone and that I was making people uncomfortable; in her words “not the audience” but other people…she had sponsors to think about.

Was my comedic questioning so powerful as to cost the Lyric Theatre their sponsorships? Is the state of Canadian theatres in such dire straits they’re required to kowtow to sponsorships?

At what point is it acceptable to censor art?

I made my comments to an adult audience while opening for a show that features clowns HAVING SEX!! (Sizzle and Spark in the Sama Kutra — catch them at the Victoria Fringe.)

My heart is sore. I’m an artist, and my greatest desire is to connect through my art, to open you up to something new and meaningful, to titillate you, to make you uncomfortable (but not too uncomfortable) and, most importantly, to entertain.

With restrictions placed on both my body and my words, my job becomes almost impossible. If this is acceptable in one province, how much longer until it’s permissible in others?

Women need agency over their bodies for SO many reasons — my artful, fun, and sexy striptease is the least of them. As Canadians who pride ourselves on having an open, free, democratic, and tolerant society, we need to be able to poke fun at our government, to question them, to call them out without fear of reprisal.

Being censored onstage in a small town Saskatchewan may seem like a little thing, but it says much about our country.

Words by Rosie Bitts

Photo by Jo-Ann Way of Nuttycake Photography

Published in analogue magazine’s August-September 2015 issue