Sequins, scandals and spirits

Many people believe that Victoria is haunted. But who knew that even Monty’s Showroom Pub has a spooky history?

On Nov. 16, 25 audience members gathered in Victoria’s Odd Fellows Hall, transformed into the historic Plaza Hotel for Ghosts of the Plaza, an interactive night of theatre.

The project, funded in part by the Greater Victoria Spirit Committee and Best Bitts Productions, is a research and performance project based on stories of suicide, suspense and the supernatural history of the Plaza, known today as Monty’s Showroom Pub. It is the first play written by Sarah Smith and Sadie Forbes, directed by Wendy Merk.

The project showcases extensive research, collected from library archives and from interviews with those who have first-hand accounts of the Plaza’s eerie past.

Ghosts of the Plaza was inspired by Smith’s nine years of waitressing at Monty’s and her UVic women’s studies background. Smith toured Monty’s basement with the janitor, who shared ghost stories about the working women who lived, worked and died in the building. As talk of Monty’s possible closure circulated last spring and the Plaza aged, Smith felt these stories were an important part of Victoria’s history to be preserved and revealed.

“It’s like the Titanic underwater,” said Smith. “It used to be something, but now no one cares.”

Proceeds from the show benefit Prostitutes Empowerment, Education and Recovery Society (PEERS), a non-profit organization that provides support, resources and programs for past and current sex workers in Victoria.

“I wanted to figure out a way to get money from the city and give it to sex workers,” said Smith.

Each room in Odd Fellows Hall, from the bar to the billiards room, featured a new ghost story: from the murder of a gangster in a 1940s speakeasy brothel to the suicide of a ‘90s glamour stripper — all complete with musical numbers and animated acting. The cast of 11 switched costumes and characters multiple times without a hitch within the span of an hour.

Seemingly unfamiliar with the participatory protocol of interactive theatre, the audience hesitantly moved through the beginning of the story. As more of the tale unfolded, the feelings of unease were quickly put to rest by the accessible, intimate nature of the show.

Put on by Best Bitts Productions, which is partially owned by Victoria burlesque star Rosie Bitts, the show wouldn’t be complete without a little sex appeal, and the audience enjoyed front-row seats to Emily Yarnold’s artistic pole dance performance.

“I’m so not a stripper,” said Yarnold, a UVic Theatre student, after the show, still wearing her six-inch, leather lace-up heeled boots.

“I’m going to start a stripper charm school,” retorted Smith, who learned her moves from watching dancers at Monty’s and from her time as a member of the Cheesecake Burlesque Revue. “I made [Yarnold] into a stripper in two weeks.”

Smith and Forbes are collecting further stories for the project and are hoping to publish a book in the near future.

Ghosts of the Plaza unveils the forgotten and ghostly stories of Victoria’s sex workers, using the past to benefit women of the present.

Ghosts of the Plaza
Odd Fellows Hall (1315 Douglas St.)
Nov. 23–24 @ 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.; Nov. 24 matinee @ 4:30 p.m.
$10

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