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

2 comments:

  1. I had a friend contact me if I perhaps knew him because I was a burlesque fan. He had been coming on a local radio show she listened to and was acting inappropriately toward his performers and was just generally unsettling and she was right to be unsettled because of his long history. This guy's reputation is merely catching up with him and from what I know he hasn't changed for the better at all. I welcome good entertainment and artistry in St. Louis. I however cannot support an abuser and someone who cons performers. I feel badly for anyone who has joined this new venture with him and while I will not personally leave one star review I will most certainly tell people what kind of person they are supporting with their money if they mention the new burlesque club to me.

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  2. I love how he puts words in my mouth. Oh Elliot, I had no idea you lived inside my mouth. How do you fit in there with your glorified ego?

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