San Diego International Fringe Festival is heading into its final weekend. This year there is only one B.Y.O.V. or Bring Your Own Venue and that is at the Les Girls Theater.
Whenever I mention of Les Girls Theater, I am always surprised by how many people react with either moral outrage or snickering comments.
"Well, thanks to our efforts and not letting ourselves feel embarrassed or demeaned by the titters, we kept pursuing our mission, which was to speak out about what we think is societal injustice," said Kata Pierce-Morgan. "And so, yeah, we got the titters."
Pierce-Morgan is the owner of Les Girls Theater and she is here to shatter some stereotypes. For one, she’s proud of the fact that she and her late husband James W. Morgan actively fought against police corruption, abuses of power, and censorship from the platform of a strip club.
"That was a time of 'Hair' and 'Oh! Calcutta!' and they were big, big deals up to the Supreme Court," Pierce-Morgan said. "We also had to go to court, and like 'Hair' and 'Oh! Calcutta!,' we won. The judge actually came and saw the show, and he said, well, it may not be what I consider this or that, but it's legal."
The show was "Let It All Hang Out" and Morgan wrote the play for the opening of Les Girls Theater in 1970 in order to challenge restrictions on nudity.
"(James Morgan) came out to the audience and said, 'We're going to get raided, okay? But if you want to be part of living theater history, stay where you are,'" Pierce-Morgan recalled. "And that's how it began."
And Pierce-Morgan has continued the activism of her late husband and combined it with her artistic passions. So once again she has created a play for the B.Y.O.V. (Bring Your Own Venue) at Fringe.
"What's so exciting about our venue is it's historic. It's at the legendary Les Girls Theater," Pierce-Morgan said proudly. "And what I like about our show, 'Censored Heart,' or any of the programs that we do through Golden Corpse Productions is we are not silent bystanders."
But Pierce-Morgan felt like a silent bystander when she arrived in San Diego in 1970 at the age of 23.
"I came from UCLA, applied to dance (at Les Girls) for one month, and like any dancer in those days, I was hauled off to jail," Pierce-Morgan said. "No charges were pressed. But it was a very interesting experience for someone who was raised Catholic."
And that was the beginning of her relationship with Les Girls and James Morgan, whom she eventually married. Now she has transformed Les Girls from being just a venue for adult entertainment to being a place for adventuresome theater goers.
"I'm mixing these audiences," she said. "And what was present at that time was the high heel footprint, the stripper energy, all that past. You could hear them clunk, clunk, clunk, walking across the stage. And for me, this is now the residence for Golden Corpse Productions. And yet we also have an adult show for five hours a day, only five days a week for a total of 25 hours."
Now the strippers have to contend with a six-foot torture pillar prop from "Censored Heart" tucked away on stage just a few feet from the dance pole.
"And on it were these rats, these amputated hands, these worms, all dangling from this torture pillar, which is relevant to our Asylum Act. And they're up there dancing and looking over and going, 'holy moly, is that a rat?'" Pierce-Morgan said. "So it's really fun to incorporate the two together. I'm enjoying it."
In the interest of full disclosure, I gave Pierce-Morgan that torture pillar. It was from my Hellraiser haunt and she said she was looking for something to symbolize a repressive society.
"I really wanted to portray what was happening to the Beatniks, in their incarceration, in their repression by a society that was judging them," Pierce-Morgan said.
Beatniks, torture pillars, societal repression? Pierce-Morgan smiled and said, "It's complicated. It's such a fantastical show. I get so excited talking about it. If you like jazz, you'll like this show. If you like poetry, you'll love it. If you like murder and mystery, you'll love it."
And that’s exactly the kind of show Fringe embraces and Pierce-Morgan returns the love.
"This is from the intro to act four of the show," Pierce-Morgan said reading from the script of the play. "'It's a hung jury, with resigned cynicism fringe artists still find beauty in maggots as they wiggle motifs of line and shade through society's dirt and decay. Where there is art, there is hope.' That's fringe for you."
That’s also the new energy Pierce-Morgan brings to the the legendary Les Girls Theater this Friday and Saturday for the closing weekend of San Diego Fringe.
See the video below for a preview of "Censored Heart."