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San Diego Fringe Top Pick: ‘An Even Sweeter Pang’

Les Girls provides perfect venue for Lady Grew’s mix of rap, pole dancing and activism

SD Fringe Top Pick: ‘An Even Sweeter Pang’

San Diego International Fringe wraps up this weekend but there is one show debuting Friday night at Les Girls and it features Irish singer, dancer and sex worker Kate McGrew, aka Lady Grew.

This year will mark McGrew's fourth San Diego Fringe appearance and I have had the pleasure of attending all her other shows. She is a tiny dynamo onstage mixing dance, rap, clowning and activism into a wildly entertaining evening. Her show is also quite appropriate for the stage at Les Girls where the late James Morgan and his wife, Kata Pierce-Morgan, have been mixing activism and entertainment for decades.

By Reporter Beth Accomando

San Diego International Fringe wraps up this weekend but there is one show debuting Friday night at Les Girls and it features Irish singer, dancer and sex worker Kate McGrew.

McGrew explained: "I’m always singing and rapping and clowning about sex work and female body autonomy and body autonomy in general. This year I’m bringing the show back in honor of Jim Morgan. You know as an activist for sex worker rights and for body autonomy and free expression I exist in a long lineage of activists doing this work. And Jim fought and battled creatively and bravely to open Les Girls as a first nude club and he and his beautiful, smart, brave wife, Kata, whose show is before mine, continue, Kata continues to do this, to fight against police corruption and for sex worker rights and for freedom of expression and body autonomy."

But when you mention Les Girls, many people snicker and make jokes about it being a strip club and wonder about the kind of clientele it attracts. Owner Morgan recently died leaving the business to his wife Pierce-Morgan.

"So people are expecting to see the dancers, the strippers, the hoochie-coochie but it's not that at all because Les Girls is more than the show," Pierce-Morgan explained. "I mean, we've held a big political footprint in San Diego and that's all reflected in what we're doing on the stage. We can't get away from it. The building is exactly as it was 50 years ago and when my husband first founded it. So Les Girls came about in a very unexpected way and it's still here."

You can find both serious dance and the expected strip shows at Les Girls these days.

Pierce-Morgan is staging her own Fringe show at Les Girls as well. It's called "Heaven or Hell 2: Journey of Memorie" and it is about the seven stages of grief and Pierce-Morgan dealing with the death of her husband. One reason she invited McGrew back to Les Girls for Fringe was because the show "Sweet Pang" that she performed in 2014 held a lot of memories of her husband.

"I adore Kate," Pierce-Morgan said. "I adore that she's courageous, she's brave. Kate has brought something that when she first came in 2014 and performed 'Sweet Pang' my husband and I welcomed her into our home. And so there's a lot of nostalgia for me and I invited Kate to come back and do 'Sweet Pang' in memory of him. And so I'm so excited to have her here. It's such a beautiful show that she's going to do. Kate is courageous in that she takes on the fight for the sex workers, and here in San Diego, we're a military town. We are so conservative. I can remember when they would arrest dancers just for a look on their face — just for looking sultry — I have all the police records."

Photo by Beth Accomando

Kate McGrew, aka Lady Grew, at Les Girls where she will be performing "An Even Sweeter Pang" as part of San Diego International Fringe Festival.

McGrew identifies herself as a sex worker and advocates for sex workers' rights. She was excited to be in San Diego just as she heard news about Mexico City decriminalizing the sex industry.

"This is a fantastic move," McGrew said. "It’s really kind of the baseline infrastructure that sex workers across the globe ask for in order for us to have what we need to be able to work as safely and as happily and with as much dignity as possible. So it’s very challenging when the industry is criminalized and stigmatized for people to even be able to ask for support if they need it and to have better legal options. That’s what we ask for really, respect. Respect is a huge, huge thing.

"I am touching on some really serious issues, but I find that if we can talk about it in a way that makes people laugh, or they can relax into a song, or get up and dance it kind of relaxes people’s minds where they might otherwise have had barriers and they might be more flexible in their thinking and let some of the messaging in for more consideration. This is why I do this. It’s activism to me and it’s singing and dancing. It’s the joy of what, if none of us had to make money, what we would all be doing is just singing, dancing, eating and enjoying each other," McGrew said.

With her show, which includes frank discussions about sex as well as pole dancing and stripping, McGrew enjoys the freedom Fringe allows artists.

"What’s great about Fringe is that it’s the Fringe," McGrew said. "It’s really a space where people can throw something and see what sticks. You know it’s much more experimental. People are in that mindset to see stuff where people are trying something out and where people are really pushing the boundaries and encouraging people to think in different ways. So it’s fantastic and especially some place like Les Girls. So come on in."

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Aired: June 14, 2019 | Transcript

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