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Burlesque Performers Quit Bucktown Venue Over Lack Of Pay

By Alisa Hauser | August 7, 2017 12:01pm | Updated on August 8, 2017 12:08pm
 Gorilla Tango Burlesque performers in
Gorilla Tango Burlesque performers in "A Nude Hope"
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Performers (File Photo); Theater (DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser)

BUCKTOWN —  A troupe performing sexy spoofs on "Star Wars" and "Game of Thrones"  have left a Bucktown theater citing a lack of pay —  but the owner of the venue alleges that the group initially was OK with possibly not getting paid.

First reported by PerformInk, the en masse walkout of the 30 actresses has resulted in the plug being pulled on all the Gorilla Tango Burlesque shows at the 10-year-old Gorilla Tango Theater.

The burlesque shows started in October 2010 and are the longest-running performances at the storefront theater at 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave. The theater has also featured a sold-out cat circus and helped the "Bye Bye Liver" Chicago drinking game show to get its start.

Dan Abbate, who co-owns Gorilla Tango Theater with his wife, Kelly Williams, said Monday that the Gorilla Tango Burlesque troupe parted ways with the performance spot effective Aug. 1, and all burlesque shows have been canceled and removed from the venue's website.

"It's too bad it all went down the way that it did. If everyone had waited for the calculation to be done, it would have been about [the amount of money] what everyone had wanted," said Abbate, who lives in Florida.

Abbate said at "the height of everything" when the burlesque shows at the 79-seat storefront venue were more popular, the eight dancers on stage per show were making $25 plus tips, or about $40 per show.

Over the last year or so when he said attendance waned, Abbate calculated that the dancers earned $15 per show plus tips, bringing home $20 to $25 per show.

"No matter how much we tried to do well and get everyone to move in the same direction, we took the brunt of reality. If a show doesn't make money, we can't pay people what they want to get paid," Abbate said.

During July, Abbate said he changed the way that the performers would be paid.

Instead of getting 25 percent of all gross profits from ticket sales to split among the eight performers per show, Abbate said it was decided that money made from all shows put on by the theater — not just those by Gorilla Tango Burlesque — would be pooled and then divvied up at the end of the month after operational and overhead costs were covered.

Sam Haines, an operations manager, disputed Abbate's claim that Haines said the performers liked the new payment model.

"I never alleged to Dan Abbate that the burlesque performers were OK with the new payment model. I only ever told him that I communicated it to their lead producer, who would then communicate it to the rest of her team. It seemed to go over well at the initial talk; I think that anyone would be excited at first, because getting promised a percentage of pay from the entire venue seems like it could potentially be larger than their original pay," Haines said. 

Haines said that his pay was also switched to the same new revenue-dependent model. 

"At the end of July, the reality set in that we have no real pay security, and I decided to walk as well," Haines added.

A Gorilla Tango Burlesque lead dancer who has organized the dancers for the last two years declined to comment.

Abbate said 300 ticket holders who had bought tickets for three shows last weekend ("A Nude Hope," "Game of Thongs" and "Stranger Thongs") as well as other shows through October, were refunded as a result of the walkout and canceled shows.

The theater celebrated its 10-year anniversary in January. Abbate bought the building that houses Gorilla Tango in 2006, county records show.

While PerformInk reported that Abbate plans to renovate the theater and bring the burlesque shows back, on Monday he said that he would like to pull out of the theater business all together.

The building that houses the theater went up for rent in late June, and Abbate and Williams are trying to find a tenant.

"At the end of day, despite everything, we were at very low volumes making a little bit of money month to month. If I can find someone who wants a venue there, I'll upgrade it, or I can put in a restaurant. I'd love to see the burlesque come back, but I'm not the one to do it," Abbate said.