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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Burlesque community mourns abrupt closing of Uptown Underground
by Jake Wittich
2018-09-19

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The speakeasy-style cabaret bar Uptown Underground was evicted Sept. 10, abruptly leaving performers to find a new home for their shows.

The venue, a staple in Chicago's cabaret and burlesque communities, owed more than $100,000 in unpaid rent and back pay to landlord Thaddeus Wong, leaving him no choice but to order an eviction, he told Block Club.

Jenn Kincaid, owner of Uptown Underground, notified its performers of the eviction in an email on Sept. 11, apologizing for the abrupt closure.

"Yesterday, I was served with papers from building ownership to close Uptown Underground, effective immediately. While that was happening, the locks on the doors were changed," she said. "I have spent today pleading with the landlord to reconsider, but it is done. And so, our doors are closed. I am gutted."

Kincaid is working with the building's management to make time for people to collect personal items from the venue, and refunds and deposits are being worked out, according to the email.

Neither Kincaid nor Wong responded to Windy City Times' requests for comment.

Uptown Underground's sudden closure leaves its performers scrambling to find new spaces for their shows and its staff unexpectedly out of work.

Brittany Meyer, producer of "Strip Joker," a body-positive comedy show that was held monthly at Uptown Underground, said they and other performers will struggle to find a venue as accommodating to burlesque shows as Kincaid's was.

"Uptown Underground was truly the only burlesque performance space in Chicago," Meyer told WCT. "Everything about that place was perfect for burlesque, from its regal stage, velvet curtains, multiple dressing rooms, full bar and security—[Kincaid] thought out every detail to make it safe and of quality."

Meyer said they are working on finding a new venue for "Strip Joker," but the show will have to evolve in order to accommodate its new space.

Jacob Green, a drag and cabaret performer known as Muffy Fishbasket, said he started performing at Uptown Underground when it opened in 2015. He said he watched the club grow from performing before crowds of three people to later receiving standing ovations after sold-out shows.

Green said he is mourning the loss of a performance space that fostered artistic growth for performers and strengthened city's burlesque scene.

"Uptown Underground was home," Green said. "That space and [Kincaid] helped me develop my cabaret persona and evolve as an artist. This was the only space dedicated specifically to burlesque, vaudeville and other things, and it was very accessible to the community. This is a big loss for our community."

In light of Uptown Underground's abrupt closing, members of Chicago's theater community have started organizing to find new homes for the bar's performances and jobs for its staff. Among them is now-New York resident Tamale Sepp, who created a Google form, in which people can submit leads on new jobs and venues. Its results will then be sent to all performers and employees on Kincaid's email list.

Jill Valentine, executive director of Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., said the performance art theater is taking resumes of people who lost jobs and booking shows in need of a venue due Uptown Underground's closure.

"When any theater in Chicago closes, it's sad for the whole community," Valentine said. "Not only were shows canceled immediately, but people lost jobs that day. Uptown Underground was a beautiful home, and I feel for Jenn Kincaid so much, so if we can help in any way, we'd like to."

The Block Club article is at ttps://blockclubchicago.org/2018/09/12/uptown-underground-evicted-after-months-of-unpaid-rent-landlord-says/ .


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