Photo by Pierre Crosby

meet the performers of house of yes, brooklyn's iconic sex-positive nightclub

"I feel like I can be my most authentic, eccentric, queer self, and feel beautiful and celebrated for it."

by Nicole DeMarco; photos by Pierre Crosby
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28 June 2019, 10:11am

Photo by Pierre Crosby

Stepping into House of Yes is like entering an exciting new world. One filled with feathery, costumed performers, aerialists dangling from the high ceiling, scantily dressed caged dancers, and transformative themed sets. It's a magical adult playground, where sexual freedom is encouraged and "enthusiastic consent" is required. Since it was founded in 2007, by Anya Sapozhnikova and Kae Burke, House of Yes has evolved from an underground circus theatre to one of Brooklyn's most iconic nightclubs. On Time Out's list of the 50 Best things to do in the world, letting your freak flag fly at the Bushwick spot was number two. And yes, there is a nude hot tub on the roof.

"House of Yes is so special because it is liminal -- it isn’t defined by any strict boundaries of what it is or isn’t. It's not a gay club, but it’s not a straight club. It's both underground and mainstream, both theatre venue and nightclub," performer Peter Mercury says. "It cultivates an energy of controlled chaos that makes all kinds of magic possible."

i-D spoke to some of the club's resident drag queens, aerial performers and clowns, photographed by Pierre Crosby, to find out what makes House of Yes so special.

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Photo by Pierre Crosby.

Sarah Jane Washington

What do you do at HOY?
I am a go-go dancer and style influencer. I’ve worked the ins and outs of the company over the years and loved it.

How did you come to call it home?
In July 2016, I moved to the neighbourhood from Manhattan. I decided to check out HOY with my new roommates. I showed up wearing my 'regular' Sarah Jane look, which is not regular at all. A brown haired girl came up to me and said "Omg, you’re so cool! Do you want to come to a rooftop hot tub and drink champagne with us?" Naturally, I went, later to find out it was Anya and she hired me on the spot to sing as Jessica Rabbit the very next day.

What makes the club so special?
If there was a nuclear attack or the world was officially ending, HOY would be my first point of contact because I know my family would be there with open arms and have the capability to shine through it. That’s what makes it so much more than a job. It’s our church, our house!

In what ways does it provide a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community?
The most recent movement actually took place outside of our neighbourhood, in Tennessee. We spearheaded and fought hard to lead the first ever Pride Parade at Bonnaroo Music Festival! It was emotional and energetically more difficult being in a city where LGBTQ people aren’t embraced as easily and don’t have as big of a representation.

What's the best part of being a performer at HOY?
Getting to basically climb and spin on a giant jungle gym, while wearing heels, sparkles and giant hair! What more could you ask for?

Describe a special moment at HOY that speaks to what the space means to you.
One of the most heartwarming moments was when House of Yes taught a program for 6th graders at Evergreen Middle School -- guiding kids on how to write and compose a story, and later making it come to life on stage! When I saw the faces of the children as their stories were performed by real circus performers, it was priceless. We are more than just people throwing insane parties. We are ambassadors and beacons of opportunity for our community.

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Photo by Pierre Crosby.
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Photo by Pierre Crosby.

Peter Mercury

What do you do at HOY?
I am a resident aerialist and dancer.

How did you come to call it home?
When I first moved to the city, I would come to House of Yes to see shows and I was immediately obsessed. My first time performing was when Kae saw me rehearsing a gender-bending aerial act to Kesha’s Praying and asked if I would perform it in Dirty Circus. I really became part of the family when I won the first round of the monthly Hot Mess Amateur Drag Competition and was asked to join the cast of the Glitter Unicorn Sparkle Spectacular to perform at Electric Forest Music Festival 2018.

What makes the club so special?
House of Yes is so special because it is liminal -- it isn’t defined by any strict boundaries of what it is or isn’t. It is not a gay club, but it’s not a straight club. It is both underground and mainstream, both theatre venue and nightclub. It’s a spot for Bushwick locals and for international travellers. House of Yes cultivates an energy of controlled chaos that makes all kinds of magic possible.

In what ways does it provide a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community?
For me, what I like most about House of Yes is that it isn’t a “gay club”. I find that traditional gay clubs all too often become some of the least diverse or accepting places, as they fill up with muscly cis white gay men and don’t leave much room for the genderqueer, the questioning, the femme, and the fabulousness that is created by having all sorts of people in one environment. At House of Yes, I feel like I can be my most authentic, eccentric queer self and feel beautiful and celebrated for it.

What's the best part of being a performer at HOY?
The best part of being a performer at House of Yes is that I get to be a part of the magical ritual that is a night out for hundreds of people every weekend. I believe going to a party to drink and dance and enjoy yourself is a sacred rite, a bacchanalian quest that party-goers embark on to escape from reality, heighten their experience, and make their wishes come true. And as a performer, I get to be a sorcerer of spectacle -- enchanting the audience with visions of the wild, the glamorous, and the seemingly-impossible, while raising their vibrations as I dance to the beat.

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Photo by Pierre Crosby.

Blaine Petrovia

What do you do at HOY?
Some go-go dance, some aerial moments, but I also love to call myself the resident pole dancer. And the unofficial backstage troll. If it’s a Friday night and we have 15 performers, but their friends wanna hang out... I’m the one that yells “If you do not work here, get the fuck out!” That’s actually my favourite role here.

How did you come to call it home?
My first gig was the first House of Love party. As I walked past the insane line that wrapped around the block, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. On the main theatre dance floor, a single red spotlight beamed into the centre of the room and a sea of people were crawling over each other to see what was happening. It was Anya naked in a bathtub, covered in red rose petals, along with two other friends kissing and pouring water on each other. From that moment on I was obsessed with House of Yes and didn’t want to leave.

What makes the club so special?
It’s everything! From the actual physical venue to the people who bring it to life. The patrons. The staff. The energy that lives within these walls and spills out onto the streets every weekend. The variety shows! Live entertainment! Ugh. Sorry, I get overwhelmed with how much I love this place. What was the question again?

What's the best part of being a performer at HOY?
The freedom for creativity. And the nurturing. And the encouragement. The camaraderie. Everyone is rooting for each other. Like, I wanna see you level up. Fuck it! I wanna see us all level up!

Describe a special moment at HOY that speaks to what the space means to you.
Two years ago, in the midst of our insane Christmas Spectacular run, we all stayed for the party after our show. It was the House of Vogue, vogue ball. We must have all needed a big release because everyone on the cast got down -- handstands, headstands, twerking in splits, vogueing of course. Beyond fun.

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Photo by Pierre Crosby.
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Photo by Pierre Crosby.

Madame Vivien V

What do you do at HOY?
I’m the resident door queen and host to our table clients. I also perform, emcee, go-go dance, and produce the monthly drag competition, Hot Mess, on the first Wednesday of every month.

How did you come to call it home?
I discovered House of Yes in its second incarnation during Bushwick Open Studios 2012. I had just moved to the neighbourhood and the name of the space was appealing enough for me to check it out. I walked in on a bizarre variety show hosted by Kae, which later turned into to the most insane party. I fell in love then and began working at the club.

What makes the club so special?
The people! We are a group that has embraced the power of positive reinforcement, and with that we encourage each other to thrive. We respect everyone as human beings and welcome people to be who they are, which fosters opportunities for mind-opening experiences.

In what ways does it provide a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community?
Any kind of discrimination is not tolerated. It’s a place built by freaks and freaks look out for other freaks!

Describe a special moment at HOY that speaks to what the space means to you.
I was walking through the dance floor during a weekend party, when this tall young man stopped me and asked for a photo. He told me his name, took a selfie, then looked me and said he was a refugee from North Korea. He explained that he escaped so he could be here, so he could be gay and he was so happy to have a place to express himself. I started to tear up, he started to cry, and we held each other on the dance floor for a minute. It’s moments like this that reaffirm the importance of what we do. We share love.

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Photo by Pierre Crosby.
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Photo by Pierre Crosby.

Adam Dishian / "Pineapple"

What do you do at HOY?
Producer, project manager, clown, in-house magical garbage fairy princess.

How did you come to call it home?
After a quick miserable stint in advertising, I started as a work study volunteer and then moved on to PA. From there, I started clowning for the parties and supporting the variety shows. Now I’m special events producer and project manager. I like to say I’m their “started from the mailroom case".

What makes the club so special?
This place is my playground that intersects so many major parts of my life. It’s the space where I can explore any and all parts of my creativity with no boundaries, and it’s where I am becoming the professional homosexual of my dreams.

In what ways does it provide a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community?
They can sniff out anyone that has put themselves out there in any way. Whether it be a costume, a dance move or just feeling free enough to dance unapologetically, we will celebrate you, protect you and push you do it again.

What's the best part of being a performer at HOY?
The community. I would be nothing without these people. They will be front and centre cheering you on and then the next moment, teasing you for a wonky lash and a busted beat, but that is true love.

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Photo by Pierre Crosby.

Queen Ravenden

What do you do at HOY?
I am an artist in residence. You can catch me doing everything from aerial, stilt walking, dancing, to just being all-round fabulous.

How did you come to call it home?
The first time I walked into HOY was to see the production Dirty Panties in May 2017. I remember turning to my friend and saying “I’m going to perform here.” What an honour to have manifested that goal, and now I couldn’t imagine my life without being a part of the HOY community.

What makes the club so special?
I am left speechless by the array of emotions that I feel when I walk into House of Yes. Breathless. Joyous. Full of awe. I can't explain it. You just have to go there and experience it for yourself.

In what ways does it provide a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community?
HOY is a safe space, where everyone is free to be whoever and whatever they want without discrimination. Our fabulous staff is trained in demonstrating how to give “enthusiastic consent” in respect to others boundaries and our amazing security team is ready to help anyone in need.

Describe a special moment at HOY that speaks to what the space means to you.
Flashback to 2017 -- it was my first time doing aerial at HOY and I was beyond nervous. The theme was Wizard of Oz and I was Dorothy with Toto, the red shoes and all. My heart was pounding as I entered the main room, and the crowd was already roaring! Strapped up into my harness, I was hoisted to the ceiling in the tornado. I was spinning and flipping with tons of confetti raining down. The crowd exploded in applause and my life was never the same again.

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Photo by Pierre Crosby.
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Photo by Pierre Crosby.

Allegra Meshuggah

What do you do at HOY?
Character performer, go-go dancer and costume director.

How did you come to call it home?
I like to say that I ended up at House of Yes by chance. I moved to NYC right after its current iteration opened and I needed a community right when they most needed people to join theirs. I felt instantly connected to the group of performers that I found there and this magical house that Kae and Anya built.

In what ways does it provide a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community?
By giving them an outlet and a voice within the house. The majority of the people you see on our stages are queer identifying. We are the ones telling the stories and creating the art. Having space to tell queer stories is invaluable when performing for an audience that comes from all over, whether that's as simple as a drag queen go-go dancer or as dense as a deeply emotional political burlesque piece.

What's the best part of being a performer at HOY?
The opportunity to express all of the facets of myself as a performer from day to day. On Friday I could be dressed as a clown running a matchmaking table, and the next night I could be swinging through the air as a moon goddess. It's definitely never boring.

Describe a special moment at HOY that speaks to what the space means to you.
It was just a random night, myself and five other people were go-go dancing and our shift was winding down. All of us looked at each other from across the club and collectively understood that this dance set wasn’t going to end until we were so tired and sweaty we'd have to hobble down from the stage. We danced just for the love of dance, the love of dancing together, and the love of being together in that space. HOY really is magic like that.

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Photo by Pierre Crosby.

Eric Schmalenberger

What do you do at HOY?
House of Yes is the home base for my shows Blunderland and Extra, which each happen twice a month and I tour them as well. I am an occasional go-go dancer, actor, clown, MC. I've been Santa in the Christmas show more than a few times too...

How did you come to call it home?
I started at HOY over a decade ago, when we were very much an underground space. I got cast in Kae's show called Circus of Circus and it’s been my artistic home ever since.

In what ways does it provide a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community?
As a creator, I always feel backed up by the space to be as wild and outlandish as I want to be. For our queer audience, I think we do our best to provide a space where they can also feel free to express themselves.

What's the best part of being a performer at HOY?
Every week I'm getting to meet some of the most incredible performers from all over the world and work with them and be this strange clown that ties everything together. The amount of inspiration in all that is crazy! I love it! I never meant to run away with the circus, but I'm super glad the circus had other plans.

Describe a special moment at HOY that speaks to what the space means to you.
For my 30th birthday, we had a huge party and Kae made a performance piece that was an abstracted interpretation of my conception and birth. It was hysterical. I stood there in the dark and laughed so hard champagne came out of my nose. Champagne coming out of your nose while watching friends perform an aerial ballet of the moment your father’s sperm made contact with your mother’s egg... that’s what House of Yes feels like on a good night!

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Photo by Pierre Crosby.
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Photo by Pierre Crosby.

Pixel Witch

What do you do at HOY?
I am a stage manager, show producer, dancer, and aerial drag queen!

How did you first come to call it home?
I moved to New York City in 2013, with the dream of becoming a full time performance artist. As an effeminate gay man living in a mostly heteronormative world, unless I pretended to be masculine and/or straight all the time, the dancing and acting roles out there were limited for me. Being masculine or straight is not the story I wanted to tell, and it did not push a narrative that I felt was important for people to hear because they hear it all the time. That is why and when I decided to get into circus and drag.

A woman named Seanna Sharpe, known for illegally performing aerial hammock on the Williamsburg Bridge in 2011, came to teach weekly aerial classes at my college. She offered me a position in her intensive program in NYC and I trained with her for the next two years. I was given the opportunity to perform with House of Yes at this burner festival called Gratitude: Migration, and it was there that Anya and Kae offered me the role of Snow Queen in a production of the House of Yes Christmas Spectacular. For the first time I felt like my brand of queer art was being given the platform I was searching for.

What makes the club so special?
It is a dream factory, where the dreams of anyone unique or different can come to life! It is a home for the rebel, dreamer, artist, and freak.

In what ways does it provide a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community?
For one, we protect the space from bigots. Drag queens are the face of House of Yes and can be found working both inside and outside of the club almost every night. When a person tries to get into House of Yes, we make it clear that we are a queer-friendly experience by putting the queens front and centre. If you have a problem with queerness, you see that, and you don't come in. Secondly, all of our security guards are either allies or LGBTQ+. Thirdly, we are home to some of the best queer events Brooklyn has to offer.

Describe a special moment at HOY that speaks to what the space means to you.
It is every time our resident champion pole dancer, Blaine Petrovia, twerks his booty on anything he can stand on, that makes this place special. It is every time Kae strips completely naked and dances on the bar during business hours. It is every time I am told that my makeup is terrible and that I need to wear eyelashes by the people I love. It is the rehearsals for musicals about ketamine, sex workers or marijuana, that makes this place special. House of Yes cannot be defined by just one special moment.

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Photo by Pierre Crosby.

Larissa McCoy

What do you do at HOY?
I wear many hats. I do anything and everything from disco glamour bar mitzvah server to decor assistant, speakeasy Madame to space dolphin cage dancer. I'm most passionate about our immersive installations. I conceptualise, build, cast, and make wonderful little worlds for people to actively engage in.

What makes the club so special?
It is a safe place for weirdos to come express themselves and I fully include myself in that group. People come to House of Yes for an experience and we all try every day to push the idea of what new and interesting experiences we can share with them.

In what ways does it provide a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community?
It’s a safe space for everyone to be themselves or whatever version of themselves they feel like taking out that day. I am most proud of our consent program! With the help of Jacqui Rabkin, we set it into motion. Now we don’t have a ticket sold that doesn’t have our consent policy clearly stated and we have consenticorns who are trained to de-escalate situations and step in if anything seems off.

What's the best part of being a performer at HOY?
Definitely the amazing magical people I have met. These people are my family... my weird, clowny, crazy talented family.

Describe a special moment at HOY that speaks to what the space means to you.
My favourite nights are when the staff, security and everyone ends up on the dance floor for the final song together, with the last of the revellers just dancing and hugging. It’s those times that remind me that we’ve built a community of joy. That we are all together in spite of the hardships of the day, using our bodies to celebrate being alive together, like so many generations before us.

This article originally appeared on i-D US.

Tagged:
Brooklyn
New York
DRAG
Performance Art
nightclub
sex-positive
LGBTQ Community
house of yes