Finally available online this month, Thank you for supporting the arts– a 2018 documentary about legendary Portland stripper and artist Viva Las Vegas – has resonated with audiences since its debut four years ago in a loosely defined screening of the cast and crew.
“Clinton Street [Theater] was filled with weeping strippers, âsays Viva, aka Liv Osthus. “It was so meaningful to me because they felt seen through the story of the single mother and the story of the parents, carrying all of that weight and still showing up and thinking your job is good.”
With a title carrying the tagline of Viva on stage, the film has argued for 20 years that striptease is an art. He interviews everyone from his parents to his exes to Gus Van Sant and bares a Renaissance woman from Portland who wrote memoirs, sings punk and medieval French music, and conquered cancer. breast to occur until the forties. We caught up with Viva to discuss Lutheranism, pandemic strip-tease avoidance, and her singular love for Mary’s Club.
WW: Your entire career has been about vulnerability and connecting with audiences, so how has being the subject of a documentary impacted you?
Long live Las Vegas: I’ve been approached a number of times over the years by reality shows, or whatever, but you can sense right off the bat that they don’t want to tell a true story. So I really appreciated that [directors Carolann Stoney and W. Alexander Jones] had no premeditated history.
I read that you say you are “culturally Lutheran”. What does it mean?
I was raised in the house of a Lutheran pastor, and while I cannot espouse all the doctrine, anything you consider stereotypical Lutheran is what I grew up on: pans, forgiveness, Christmas hymnsâ¦ also, a very strong need to be a social worker, to take care of each other. I am really a product of this religion, of this environment.
Do you remember the first time you said âthank you for supporting the artsâ on stage?
It was definitely at Magic Gardens that first or two months of dancing. This line is from PBS, which grew up in the Midwest in the ’90s and watches it all the time. So that was just a way of dealing with feeling uncomfortable about exchanging money, like why are they tipping me? “Oh, this is to support the arts, for public broadcasting.” It made me feel more comfortable.
Are you still so interested in convincing people that striptease is art?
It gets tiring to have these discussions over and over again, but I think people are now more open-minded than they’ve ever been. In the 1990s, postmodernism reigned supreme. I felt a lot more like fighting for the art of flesh and blood in an atmosphere that I felt distorted with sincerity and sentiment.
Oh damn, yes! It’s a scene from my book. I have been invited to give a talk at [Portland State]âA course in philosophy on aesthetics, quite old-fashioned. There was a brotherhood guy, baseball cap, real loud, “Oh, fuck no, that’s not art.” And I was like, “I’m working after this conference, get off.” And so he went down to Magic Gardens and had a drink and looked at what I was doing and thought, “This is absolutely, unequivocally, art.” It was therefore a significant event. But I will never convince my father. I will never convince my brother. A lot of the dancers I work with probably say to themselves, “Viva is crazy, it’s not art, it’s business.” I do this “mercenary”. To each his own.
Did you do remote or virtual striptease during the pandemic?
Nope. I even waited for the masks to come off because I love to stand and talk.
At the end of the movie, you are excited to strip down for the foreseeable future. But that was four years ago. What is the temperature today?
If you had asked me two months ago, I would have been more in conflict. But go back even for a quarter or two [at Maryâs Club], I love. I love seeing these women in the locker room, sharing stories. I’m probably more jazzy than 10 years ago. Would I like something more to materialize in the form of a cash flow? Yes. But to commune with my people in this space is just very special. If Mary’s didn’t exist, I wouldn’t go to another strip club. They supported me through cancer and single motherhood. I don’t know where I could find this.