At the beginning of May, Reyna Von Vett's burlesque company (which won a Best Of award for Best Burlesque Comeback this year under the umbrella Black Box Burlesque before changing its name to BurlyCute) took up residency at the Crossroads Theatre, a stage located in the heart of Five Points.
"We had good momentum at Bender's," where BurlyCute was putting on stage shows prior to moving to the Crossroads, Von Vett says. "It has a full bar. But we wanted to be in a theater space."
The Crossroads allowed Von Vett to incorporate more of the old-time songs she loves into her performances; at Bender's, they could play songs with recordings, but there was no piano for songs without any available recordings.
Plus, the Crossroads space has an actual stage, so one of Von Vett's burlesque girls who dances en pointe was able to return with her special talents to BurlyCute.
It seemed like a match made in heaven -- until the problems with the liquor license surfaced.
"The huge challenge that's presented itself for anyone is this liquor license problem," Von Vett confirms. "We found out -- as did the city, I believe -- a week before we were to open BurlyCute that the liquor license wasn't going to go through. (Councilmember) Carla Madison tried to talk to excises and licensing to find out where the delay was, and it turned out they hadn't filed it yet."
The city's Theatres & Arenas chief marketing officer, Erik Dyce, says the license is "still being reviewed by the authorities, and we are anxiously awaiting the successful granting of that license." Dyce believes the transfer of ownership of the Crossroads from Kurt Lewis to the city is what's causing the hang-up. "It's a very complex set of issues involving the timing of the transfer and, yes, when the license expired and how many days before a license expires, and when, and a new entity can apply," he explains. "So we're working very closely with both state and city officials to make sure that we do it right."
Meanwhile, Von Vett set up a deal with Cervantes, across the street, whereby BurlyCute attendees could run over to grab a drink prior to the show and at intermission. But a burlesque show without alcohol readily available isn't exactly a recipe for success.
Now, Von Vett's producing a BurlyCute show, Moulin Rouge, at the Crossroads on Wednesday, plus Reefer Mania -- a surreal (and hilarious) revue of old songs about marijuana, singing and dancing pot brownies and cockroaches, burlesque numbers and more -- on Thursday, Friday and Saturday each week through July 3.
But thus far, turnout has been disappointing.
"There have just been so many frustrating starts and stops for everybody, but for our company, we only have grassroots support and press as it comes out," Von Vett notes. "We don't have the luxury of saying whoops, let's get that press again, because everything we're doing is on a local level support. We don't have a big huge marketing budget. They've given us access to these billboards at the Denver Center. We've been up on the complex sign, and that tells me that Denver's theater supports what we're doing, and they think it is theatrical and worthy of inclusion in the DCPA stuff. The billboard runs, if we were buying them, is like $18,000. But when you're not BB King at Red Rocks, that doesn't sell a ticket necessarily. You put Reefer Mania up on the screen and it doesn't sell tickets; people don't know what it is yet. People are seeing it and it does help them find the brand, and I'm hopeful people will connect the dots."
"We are delighted that Reyna is a fabulous tenant of the Crossroads Theatre," Dyce adds. "We have advertised her shows heavily on the assets available to the city. And I would submit the amount of advertising that her shows have received are far and away more than we may have otherwise given, due to the time of the year. So she's gotten a lot of time, and we obviously think she is a terrific artist and welcome her shows to our venue."
Despite the advertising granted by the city, Von Vett's been having other problems with plugging her show, as well: The city had planned a big marketing campaign to make the public aware that the Crossroads Theatre is open and offering up live entertainment. "Their plan was to watch the space with this whole marketing idea of 'Live at the Crossroads,' diverse programming in the venue," says Von Vett. "That push was supposed to be in March or April. So when we booked our time, we were ready to go with a viable product that was unique that everybody thought might work."
The marketing push didn't happen in March, or in April. "So we pushed back our opening," she continues. "And finally when we went ahead and said, 'Now,' they said to push it back. And we said we can't anymore." Which is when she set up the deal with Cervantes for providing burlesque attendees with alcohol.
"So they are basically in pause mode, and we're in forward mode, because we don't have the ability to pause," Von Vett says. "And I spoke to them, and they did admit that they did not do their big launch like they were going to because of the license, and I understand that, but it would have been great for us if they'd gone ahead and worked on branding the venue. Our timing is unfortunate because we're in there before they're ready to launch this thing. There would be this momentum behind it, but it just worked out that even though they took over in January and it's June, we're a little too early still.
"The cool thing is that there's a unifying thing in the Reefer show, because in Denver pot kind of transcends all kinds of boundaries," she adds. "We're pulling in a lot of interest from a lot of diverse groups, which is kind of the point of the Crossroads. And in Denver, pot kind of does that, but they're doing what they do for all their tenants. They're going to be doing more, but they're not doing it yet. So we're kind of outside the umbrella we were hoping to be under."
There was another problem with the Reefer Mania show in particular. Von Vett used her marketing budget to create posters and fliers for the show. "We were told that if we got the posters and the fliers that the city would distribute them," she explains. "So we did that; they had them four or five weeks and didn't get them up. Maybe they didn't realize that was our entire promotional marketing budget. In retrospect, I should have kept half and made sure it got done. We got the posters back a week before we opened and started running all over wherever we could, and because they're so awesome and funny, stoners are either stealing them or businesses are worried about being connected with this pot thing and taking them down. Even though the nature of the show is inane, campy, Saturday Night Live fun. I'm so not interested in leading a charge for or against something. If it catches on, it could run forever, because it's fun. But it might not."
(Personal bias: I have seen the show, and I laughed myself sore. It's hysterically funny for both pot-smokers and those who are merely bemused by the proliferation of medical marijuana in Denver. Where else will you see dancing cockroaches strip down to pasties?)
"I was aware that we were given some posters that we agreed to hand out with our Crossroads Theatre posters, when that was going to occur," Dyce remarks. "We subsequently did not hand out any Crossroads Theatre posters, because we had nothing to talk about at that time. So it was absolutely an oversight that we didn't give her timely notification that we would not be distributing any, and we were not aware that that was her only method of distribution."
Whatever the reason, Reefer Mania's opening weekend was nowhere near as large as you'd expect in this city packed with dispensaries. "We've gotten tons of support, but I don't know how much longer we can keep going," Von Vett laments. "After we saw our opening weekend go, I sent an e-mail saying if we can't find more people to get to this location, we'll finish off the run of Reefer Mania and our last BurlyCute. But if we can't get this figured out by July 3, we're going to have to figure something else out. If they're going to hold off on their push for the venue until the liquor license comes, we're going to have to hold off. There's only so long you can lead the charge without the cavalry, and that's just being realistic businesspeople. We have a great show, great product, fun and unique energy, but if they're not going to get the liquor license, we'd be stupid to keep going. We've got a lot of press going and people writing about it, and I'd hate to disappear. But I can't, as the fearless leader of this insane thing, ask girls to do burlesque numbers for just a person or two. That's just weird."
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"I'm not aware of her show schedule," Dyce comments. "We certainly hope that she continues to enjoy the Crossroads Theatre as a home for her productions. The Crossroads Theatre is a fabulous asset to Denver, and we hope that it has great success with a variety of entertainment."
Von Vett is currently working on what she calls "Version 2.0" of Reefer Mania. "Ultimately, we're looking for our own place that we can control and run and make it what we want," she says. "But until we find some benefactors who believe in what we're doing, or win the lottery, we're stuck.
"It could still work out well," she continues. "But there's a huge hiccup in a new brand, new product, new space.
"Probably by the time we're done with the run, it'll be a pretty smoking, cranking place," she adds. "These shows have always been under somebody else's umbrella, so until we get our own space, we're always going to have to deal with the challenges."