Friday, October 30, 2015

Sex, Burlesque, & Scandal

Earlier this week a scathing Facebook post about the St. Louis burlesque club Seven Zero Eight caught my attention.



























I brought up the topic on my own wall, and found many of my friends had strong opinions about co-owner Elliot Winter. My inbox filled with private, off the record messages accusing Winter of everything from being a bully to a rapist. One message, however, was from his bar manager April Glasscock, who is also a friend of mine.

Club detractors were urging people to leave one-star reviews, Jeez Loueez's post had been shared fifty times, and the staff was in crisis mode. Glasscock assured me that the club hadn't bounced any checks on her watch, and asked if I'd remove my post. I told her that wouldn't help at this point, and said if the accusations were false the best thing she could do was address them head-on. I offered to report the club's side of the story, and was invited to interview Winter himself that evening.

While I had an open mind, my bias going into this it was with Seven Zero Eight. Too many times I've seen forces in this city try to destroy anything that dares to rise above mediocrity -- currently happening with the whisper campaign against The Monocle, for example --and I'd read rave revues about Seven Zero Eight, an establishment that looked to infuse the languishing Laclede's Landing- where the 1880s meet the 1980s - with interesting new life.

In the hours between the conversation with Glasscock and my arrival, information continued to pour in from dozens of sources which painted Winter as a feared, despised, and brilliant promoter. 


"Elliot Winter is the most controversial figure in the burlesque scene."

Backstory

Before burlesque, Winter was heavily involved in the BDSM scene, where he produced 18 and up fetish events and wrote two self-published books under the pseudonym Kaos Eight, which one detractor said "tap danced on the dom/abusive asshole line."  

His quick pivot to burlesque took the community by surprise, most notably his involvement with Jim Callahan's scandal-plagued and now defunct Jumpin Jupiter club, and according to my sources he was never seen as a legitimate member of the burlesque world. Many seasoned performers resisted working with him, so he resorted to recruiting and training new, young talent.

"He hires twenty-year-old aspiring models and burns through them, some from places like Texas and Oklahoma. There's always a fresh crop so it happens over and over again and it's so frustrating to see" says Kendra Holliday, co-founder of Sex Positive St. Louis. "He's like a sociopath. No moral compass. No compassion."

There were also complaints about the contracts these performers were forced to sign, which included strict non-compete clauses and specified that their stage names were the property of the club.

"Nobody in St. Louis has contracts like that" said one anonymous performer.

Adding to tensions was his reputation for being domineering and difficult.

"Elliot Winter is the most controversial figure in the burlesque scene" began one of many who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. "He's someone who causes a battle at every single level."

One example of such a battle was with his feud with Holliday, which she says resulted in him posting this false and defamatory attack:


THE DIRTY ARMY: Nik This worthless excuse for a human being is Kendra Holliday a.k.a. “The Beautiful Kind” she is a sex blogger and claimed sex positive activist based in Saint Louis Missouri. Now first of all how someone who looks like her gets to be a face for sex positivity I am not sure because frankly she’s a two bagger but that is just the start. She is currently at risk of losing her daughter which she claims to be because of her sex positive message and blog but in fact its because she works as an escort and brings the “clients” back to her home when her daughter is there. Now every chance she gets she is on her twitter, facebook, or some other site whining about everyone is against her and BEGGING people for money to pay her legal fund to try and save her from losing her daughter. Needless to say she deserves to loose custody but god forbid she get a JOB and pay the lawyer herself.  On top of this she advertises herself as a sex therapist and has no degree or anything of the sort. The fcked up thing is she’s not positive. In fact while she fcks paying clients in front of her ten year old daughter, consorts with known felons and sex offenders she attacks anyone who is against her. Half of the filth she spews isn’t positive but in fact negative propogating her whole bullshit agenda onto anyone stupid enough to listen until they know better. Please for the love of god man set it straight!
You have to be sex positive when its your job, it wouldn’t make sense otherwise.- nik
Holliday said she met Winter in 2009, when he invited her out for coffee to discuss collaborating.

"He basically said 'I want to use your name to publicize myself.'" Holliday recalls. She said she gently turned him down, and he then went to war with her.

The Interview 

I arrived to the club at six and found Glasscock and Winter at the bar. The cavernous venue, which I remember back when it was Jake's Steaks - complete with the Santa Fe upholstery, was now polished and modern, and I was warmly greeted.  

I'd seen photos of the 32-year old Winter, but found him to be far more attractive in person. He was affable and I enjoyed conversing with him over drinks. Humanizing him further, Glasscock spoke of how she knew Winter since kindergarten

He began by addressing the accusation that he's a bully.

"They're all saying I'm a bully, but if you're attacked without warrant and you defend yourself, does that make you a bully?"

Winter said it's he and his performers who are being bullied, claiming two of his stars, Sophie and Phoenix, have been bombarded with messages demanding they quit.

Regarding the bounced checks, Winter said the first two weeks were chaotic and two checks did bounce, but one was made good and he's dealing with a booking agent on the other.

I brought up the contracts. "People say these girls basically sign their life away."

"Our contracts have changed recently" Winter began, "The original contract said if you were fired for being unprofessional, not showing up, there was a six-month non-compete. We create concepts, which we don't want stolen, and provide the costumes and create and maintain fan pages for the stage names, which we promote and stay with us. Theatre and dance troupes do the same thing.I want people to be accountable. I perform even if I'm sick or injured, and I expect my performers to do the same thing."

Regarding his detractors, Winter said they feel he hasn't paid his dues. "Mimi Le Uke is one who said she's sick of me and she'll do whatever she can to bring me down. It's all because I don't kneel to the House of Mimi. She left a one-star [review], left another one using a different profile. Her boyfriend left one..."

Winter says Mimi is still angry about a time when he threw a competing show and outsold her 5 to 1.

Lola van Ella has also posted about Winter, but he said she unfairly lumps him in with former Jumpin Jupiter owner Jim Callahan when claiming he owes people "hundreds of thousands of dollars." He was not an owner of Jumpin Jupiter, and is not responsible for their debts.

Mimi Le Uke declined to comment for this story and Lola van Ella didn't respond to my request for comment.

"Meghan Meow is one who's been trashing us, but one week ago she wanted to come back" Winter said.

I asked about the claim he hires amateurs, and he responded that everyone is an amateur at one point, but said all of his performers came with dance experience.

"Two women have protective orders against you. Do you want to discuss those incidents?" I asked. 

"What's the easiest way to discredit a male?" Winter began. "It [the filing of a protective order] takes no legal precedent. You don't have to prove anything, but once it's been filed you've been branded."

Winter described one relationship where the woman had a fetish for being beat, and she fell in love with a man who'd given her a black eye. When she wanted the man to stay a weekend in their shared home and Winter refused, she filed the PO to get him out of her hair, and nothing more came of it as far as actual charges. 

He said the other PO was filed by a woman he dated who tried to steal $15k of his equipment. 

I asked him about the claim he's a sociopath. 

" I cry. I stress. I freak out. If I didn't have emotions I wouldn't care so much" Winter began. "I've had no more than six hours sleep in the last 48 hours dealing with all the fake Yelp reviews."

We took a break to tour the facility, which is impressive. In addition to the theatre with its top-notch light and sound system, he showed me sections in development for additional concepts.

A young woman with a hula hoop practiced on stage while Winter spoke with me, and then he politely excused himself to attend to her while I finished my Manhattan with a few friends.

The following day I sent him a message asking for his side of the story regarding Kendra Holliday.


"I don't even remember dealing with her, I told you it's been so long since I was a part of that community, I really would rather not even involve the Fetish side since I'm not a part of that anymore, hardly was when I was, and I don't want that affiliated with the club because outsiders will immediately take it as some weird fetish club."

Hardly remembering her didn't seem plausible in light of his apparent post about her, and then Brennan Elizabeth Peters responded with her own story complete with screen shots.

LIVE from Los Angeles 


Brennan Elizabeth Peters now lives in Los Angeles but organized the 2011 SlutWalk St. Louis.
"My experience with Elliot was about four years ago, so I'm not entirely certain how useful it would be to you. I organized the first SlutWalk St. Louis, and the issue was more that he took huge issue with Kendra Holiday's involvement, and things got pretty crazy train from there."



Peters sent fifteen screenshots, including the one below where Winters writes that he and his group wouldn't participate in SlutWalk because of Kendra Holliday's involvement. 




Running A Business 


In follow up exchanges Winter expressed outrage that people who have never been to Seven Zero Eight are leaving reviews. 

"Regardless of how you write things man you've got to touch on the fact that they are encouraging people to leave false reviews. That not only are they bullying us and our employees but they are posting negative reviews from multiple accounts and encouraging people to leave false reviews. They talk so much about bad business practices....that's bad business no matter how you slice it. I just found 2 reviews on Yelp and more negative reviews all from people who have never seen our show or been to our venue. They need to be exposed for what they are which is nothing but people trying to discredit a business for their own personal gain."

The staff, management and owners of Seven Zero Eight feel like the business should be allowed to operate without harassment. For them, the business is more than one of the owners and his past dealings. They're trying to create something new and special, which they feel will be good for the city.

Glasscock even asked me to extend an offer of dinner, drinks and a show to Mimi, Jeez Loueez, and the other main detractors, in an effort to bury the hatchet. 


Winter's many enemies don't agree that their issues should be compartmentalized. For them, he's a predator who needs to be exposed, and his chickens are coming home to roost. 

**UPDATE**

The following is from an unpaid musician:

Hi Chris, David Wraith pointed me to your interview with Elliot Winter.  I am a musician that was booked to play 708 on September 26.  (Sax player for Robbie and the Rockin' Fools)  We were promised a guarantee of $500, which he paid via check.  And guess what?  Check bounced.  When our piano player (who handles the business end of the band) called him to let him know and give him the benefit of the doubt to pay up, he said "come on down, I'll pay you in cash".  So she did, and low and behold he just so happened to not have any cash.  Then, he said something about how there was a mistake at the bank, tried to lay blame on our booking agent (even though the check came from him) and many other thin excuses that absolved him of direct responsibility.  We have since hand-delivered him a letter stating his check bounced, since according to MO law he has 10 days to make good (now passed) once notified in writing, or it becomes a class C felony.  Since the time scale is up, we have gotten the circuit attorney's form for bad checks, which hopefully will encourage him to pay us for our 4 hours of live entertainment, which the patrons did seem to enjoy.  In any case, we have talked to other musicians that have played since, and anyone who was paid in check got bounced.  The only people who have been paid were those who demanded cash the night of.  Hope this helps with your research.
Thanks,
Amy Scherer
Tenor Sax Player

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Not Ready to Make Nice


It's not Rehab's first time at the rodeo, and on Jim Weckmann's final night many jokes were made about his well-known inability to keep his thoughts to himself. But if you thought the drama of the past week--which included a lot of caterwauling, pearl clutching, emotional drunk posts, and even threats of violence over his explosive exit interview-- would lead Victoria Rose and Akasha Royale to timidly walk on eggshells, you'd be mistaken. Last night was a show by and for grown folks with thick skin.
Photo courtesy of Anthony Oliver 

Akasha set the tone with her opening monologue, which included a not so veiled swipe at the chief instigator of the past week's angry mob, and followed that up by having some fun at my expense.

"We have an author with us tonight...and I hear he doesn't write for Vital Voice anymore."

Just John owner John Oberkramer --who'd posted his disapproval of the interview one evening and replaced it with a status reaffirming his fondness for Weckmann the following morning-- was in the house and in good spirits.

"Just John is our sister bar" Rose said. "Whenever Jim would fire Kyle, which he did a dozen or so times, I'd tell him to just go down to Just John for a while until he cools off. He won't find you there!"

The legendary Kitty Litter was a big hit, but the highlight of the evening was when an unbowed Victoria Rose brought down the house with "Not Ready to Make Nice," which she dedicated to Weckmann.

Many notables were in attendance, including St. Louis Post-Dispatch music critic Kevin C. Johnson.

During the height of the controversy there was talk of canceling the event altogether --which left me scrambling to try to mitigate some of the blowback-- but by midweek it seemed cooler heads in the community had prevailed. Angry, hyperbolic comments began to be outnumbered by thoughtful opinions like that of Mark Moore, owner of Takemorepics Photography:

"Everyone and I mean everyone in that article is damn near a gay household name now. Good, bad or indifferent, it's art. Art is meant to evoke feelings and discussions, If it doesn't, it's not a good piece."

There were also humorous rebuttals to angry commenters, including this response by Nicholas Edward:

"Oh honey no. It looks like what you need is a hug and a community college pamphlet."

Both the turbulent week and Jim's eventful years at Rehab drew to a close last night, and did so on Weckmann's terms.









Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Florida Court Turns Tables on Dustin Mitchell


Andoetainment's own (yeah, I claim him) Dustin Mitchell made headlines last year when a St. Louis court granted him an injunction against Boca Raton-based Michael Hansen, CEO of a multilevel marketing company called DubLi. 

Mitchell claimed to have been the former vice president of North American Sales Development of DubLi (during a year in which he also worked at at St. Louis TGIFriday's and claimed to run for political office in Arizona), and argued in court that Hanson owed him $12,000 and had threatened him, causing him to fear for his safety. Inexplicably, the St. Louis court ordered Hansen to remain at least 1,500 meters from Mitchell (not difficult, since Hansen lived 1,173 miles away) and ordered Hansen to not make any contact by phone, internet or e-mail. Mitchell also requested the reimbursement of legal and medical expenses. 

DubLi's Eric Nelson responded: 

“Mr. Mitchell claims to have served as a senior member of DubLi’s leadership team. He has filed a restraining order against DubLi CEO Michael Hansen, claiming that Mr. Hansen is ‘stalking’ him. He has, on several occasions, attempted to contact several DubLi employees with stories about our position as a public company. He has claimed that the company owes him $12,000. These claims are utterly and demonstrably false.

“Contrary to his public posts, Mr. Mitchell has never been a member of DubLi’s corporate staff, much less a member of its management team. Mr. Hansen has never met Mr. Mitchell and has never made any threats against him. While Mr. Mitchell did register to join DubLi, he never made his required payment and has yet to provide documentation or verification of such payment. His online representation of holding a DubLi corporate title as well as his hosting of a variety of social media pages using the company’s corporate names are all in violation of DubLi’s terms and conditions, and constitute a misuse of our corporate trademarks.

“DubLi will not tolerate Mr. Mitchell’s false statements and attempts at extortion, and intends to vigorously pursue all available legal avenues in order to restrain Mr. Mitchell from further damaging our company and credibility.

“There is no shortage of publicly available information about Mr. Mitchell’s behavior and activity concerning other companies. We are taking legal action to protect ourselves and the network marketing industry at large from this individual.”

Mitchell's response to their claims he'd never worked for DubLi and had never even met Hansen: "They're just trying to get leverage."

This summer a Florida court ruled in favor of Hansen, finding that the company had no affiliation with Mitchell, didn't defraud him, and owed him nothing. The court also ordered him to remove any posts to the contrary. 

DubLi and the court may not have been amused, but I always enjoy Mitchell's antics. 



Perspective


Yesterday was lively. Many in the St. Louis bar scene are still livid about my exit interview with former Rehab owner Jim Weckmann-- particularly the part where he said he didn't like a certain drag queen because she always has something hateful to say (her name is no secret, nor is her proclivity for negative posts. I'm just tired of seeing and hearing the name right now).

I've noticed the people most upset tend to be under thirty, while those who don't understand what the fuss is about skew older. I'll give more thought to that in the coming days, but my initial theory is older gays are simply more thick-skinned and used to sparring. Back when there was no place to be yourself other than a gay bar, people often found themselves in the same stagnant ponds week in and week out, and those ponds were filled with cutting wit and cattiness. It took a lot to rattle people.

As someone who's so taken by the drama and theatre of St. Louis that I wrote a book about it, the current turmoil is certainly interesting, and despite my low opinion of the negative queen, I can't help but be somewhat impressed with how she managed to make a sprawling piece critical of so many -- even the magazine that published it, all about her.  I'm not being facetious. She's an entertainer, and as such it's entirely appropriate to take command of the stage. Kudos.

Back to Jim Weckmann. What's been missing in all the hysteria around the interview is context. Jim is someone who is well-known for always expressing an opinion about something (and sometimes walking it back a bit), and is also known for being completely okay with friends disagreeing with him. The fact such an outspoken man was so full of pent-up thoughts was something I found surprising and amusing. The fact that he had strong opinions, however, should have come as a surprise to nobody in St. Louis.

Another bit of context is that the queen in question has also been on the roster of a local media organization and has always felt free to express her opinions, particularly when heckling Vital Voice over Facebook, or giving static to people she doesn't like while working the door at the bar.

Mikey, the city's serial domestic abuser whose own mother has a protective order against him, has championed the cause of keeping the controversy going, which is the saddest part of all this. Despite the fact Mikey stole from Weckmann while an employee, Jim seemed to feel like a father-figure to him and was often angered at me for writing about the abuse of his mother and boyfriends.

In time we all learn that not all of our investments bear fruit, sometimes our loyalty doesn't pay off, and you also learn the hard way that people will kick you when you're down (or when they perceive you're down).

Surprisingly Colin Murphy, who I've had a strained relationship with for several years, called people out for their duplicity in promoting my book one minute and calling for my head the next.



In addition to Murphy's comment, many friends came to my defense including Desmond Johnson, the man the city believed was dead for three years.



Thanks to all who've checked in on me, I'm completely fine other than feeling sincere regret for not either editing Weckmann's interview way back, holding it until after he was safely in the country, or both. I knew it would be explosive, but didn't realize it would drive people to the point of threatening to hurt him. Jim is a good man and a loyal friend -- qualities hard to find.

But for me personally, I've weathered storms so much bigger than this in San Francisco, and for me this was nothing more than making sure I wasn't a liability for my friends at Vital Voice. I've got a book to promote, an audible to record, and other goals to pursue.

Thanks for reading.





Sunday, October 4, 2015

Gassy Creates Facebook Group, Reads Everyone

Well, Ol' Gassy, our exiled hothead, is at it again.

He started a Facebook group claiming to support law enforcement and is now going off on everyone for not sending him money-- money desperately needed to buy more blue ribbons.


Some didn't even know how they became members to begin with, and Sean Patrick was not having any of it. 


I requested to be added and weighed in as well. 






I'll update you if he or anyone else responds. 

**UPDATE**

WMCTV posted a blurb about "Jack Pristen" placing ribbons all over his neighborhood. There was no mention of raising funds.

It seems he abandoned his legal name after following Price to Memphis. 

**UPDATE**

After about four hours I was expelled from the group. Fun while it lasted.

**UPDATE** 

He has a gofundme, and I decided to be a good sport and donate. 



Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Pope's Side Ho


I don't know why the Vatican went to such great lengths to bypass the culture wars only to muddy their message by diving right into them, but I'm not upset about it. I lived through the Bush years, when Monica Goodling worked to purge the government of LGBT employees, GOP mastermind Karl Rove won elections by demonizing our community, having sex with someone of the same gender in your own home could get you arrested in many states, and Paramount gave "Dr" Laura a television show despite her claim that most gay men were pedophiles. This is nothing.

There's still a religion & politics issue that sticks in my craw, though, even though it's been eleven years.

In 2004, after the GOP pushed anti-LGBT constitutional amendments all over the country, the United Church of Christ produced a commercial telling queer people that we were welcome at their church, and no major network would agree to run it out of fear of offending the Bush Administration. 

To this day that infuriates me, and to this day I believe heads should roll for that decision. It’s during times of hardship that you know who your friends are, and at the end of 2004 not even the network that brought us Will & Grace was standing with us.

We've come such a long way in only a decade (Thanks Obama!). And on the religion issue, America's gone from banning gay friendly church ads to thinking it's scandalous that the pope had a secret meeting with an anti-gay clerk.

Attention-hungry Davis boasts about being validated, but the pope was willing to meet publicly with thieves and murderers, but felt he had to hide his meeting with her. She's as validated as a side hoe.