Santa Claus, looking like a disheveled drunk rousted at last call, hoists a bottle of Southern Comfort to his lips. He's flanked by a pair of naughty nymphs wearing skimpy outfits better suited for South Beach than the North Pole. On the catwalk in front of Santa two brunettes clad in red-and-black lingerie, fishnet stockings, and feather boas give spectators a good view of their sugarplums while Santa belts out a bastardized version of a holiday chestnut. "Silver bells," he slurs. "My beard smells. Can someone give me a ride back to the workhouse?"
Le Cirque Rouge's holiday burlesque show last Wednesday at First Avenue—which also featured the "greatest 3-D silhouette striptease artist in the world" and sets by a handful of local rock bands—was provocatively billed as a "Christmas benefit for kids with fucked-up parents." The proceeds were slated to be donated to local charities Tubman Family Alliance and People Serving People.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the burlesque show. The organizer of the event, Le Cirque Rouge founder Amy Buchanan, failed to notify the charities about the fundraising gala. When the nonprofit groups got wind of the promotion early last week, they weren't exactly touched by her charitable impulse.
In fact, Buchanan received a series of irate phone calls from Tubman Family Alliance threatening to sue Le Cirque Rouge. When Buchanan then contacted People Serving People, the response was only slightly less hostile—the organization made clear it did not want to be associated with the event in any way.
Both charities were troubled by the unauthorized use of their names in promotional material, as well as the profanity in the marketing.
"This is not the appropriate way to represent a fundraiser for us," says Jim Minor, president of People Serving People, one of the state's largest homeless shelters. "We're not trying to dictate their world, but we're trying to make sure that the people who live here are represented with dignity."
Tubman Family Alliance expresses similar concerns. "As a nonprofit, we have our reputation to uphold," says Randy Schubring, director of communications for the group, which provides services to victims of domestic abuse. "Whatever the nature of the event, because we had not been working with the organizer we could not let them use our name."
Organizer Buchanan expressed surprise that she wasn't welcomed with open arms by the charities. "I guess I didn't know you had to contact people that you want to give money to and ask if it's okay," she says. "I guess the name is just too offensive for people. I thought it was catchy."
Sonia Grover, who books First Avenue, says the only other time she's encountered a similar problem was with the beneficiaries of the club's "Rock for Pussy" show, which raised money for local cat shelters.
In the end, Le Cirque Rogue collected an estimated $1,000 for charity, according to Buchanan. She intends to donate it anonymously to a shelter for battered women in north Minneapolis. But the blowback hasn't chastened her—she expects to host another "benefit for kids with fucked-up parents" next holiday season.
"Everyone I talked to loves the name," she says, still stung by the rebuke from the nonprofit groups. "I just think that those people are dumb-asses."
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