It’s rare that you will find an artist who is also a patron of the arts, but it’s like finding a rare jewel, too… they have to glitter a little harder because there are so few of them. Such is the case with business owner, burlesque performer, spoken word artist and mother, Corrine Lea. The first time I met Corrine I wasn’t wearing pants. That’s not anything unusual, since it was at our former burlesque studio Dollhouse Studios in the midst of a post-cabaret party. I later saw her perform under the moniker Shameless Lee, and little did I know that I as witnessing a driving force in the East Vancouver culture and business scene.
Corinne has since gone on to open Scout Boutique, to helping save the Rio Theatre from the wrecking ball, and helping to restore it, making it one of Vancouver’s few movie theatres and art houses. She fought a fierce battle with the BCLC when she was granted a liquor license, only to be later told by them that she could then no longer show movies. Debbie fought Goliath and won, showing that persistence and being vocal CAN make a difference, and won a battle for the Vancouver art scene. Entrepreneur and artist in equal measure, she continues to support the arts, and to make her own. Ladies and gentlemen: Shameless Lee!
Little Miss Risk: You have been involved in the live performance scene in Vancouver for awhile now, both under your own name and alter-ego Shameless Lee. Has there ever been any difficulty in reconciling the two, or has one influenced the other and mutually fed both business and art for you? Which came first the artist or the entrepreneur?
Corinne Lea: I have always been both artist and entrepreneur but I was aware of my entrepreneur side at a young age. I started my first business selling gum in elementary school! I still remember the smell of the grape Hubba bubba gum packs in my locker and the tin I used to keep my gum money in.
But I never wanted to go to business school. I wanted to be an artist so I went to Emily Carr and as soon as I graduated I started renting out studio space to other artists. Starting up business’s has always just seemed really natural to me. After that I designed/sold tshirts and created an artist studio collective Flux Studios, then a friend and I created Havana restaurant/ gallery on commercial drive. So I always combined art with my entrepreneurial ideas. For me art and culture is the inspiration, business is just how you get it done.
I came to burlesque later in life. Didn’t start till I was in my early 30s after I’d had a baby. Discovering my inner bombshell Shameless Lee really saved me. Like many young mothers I had a hard time reconciling the woman I was before I became a mother and I didn’t feel good about my new body. I felt very shut down and my sass levels were dangerously low!
Crystal Precious and Sweet Soul burlesque showed me the way! I feel shameless is my inner shit disturber. She knows how to harness the power of sexuality and she doesn’t have patience for the dull side of life.
Yet my business side is extremely focused and tenacious. I will soldier on beyond what most people can handle. It can get kind of gruelling sometimes but I just won’t stop. I was a tree planter back in the day so I know how to tough it out! I think I need Shameless to balance me out. Shameless demands fun. She will not be put up on a shelf hidden away. I have to give her stage time or she’ll just start causing trouble. I love both sides… Corinne gets shit done and Shameless makes life fun : )
Little Miss Risk: You waged an incredibly long and expensive battle with the BCLC with getting them to change the licensing liquor laws for The Rio Theatre. While no doubt exhausting, it must have been well worth it. As a venue and business owner, what further reforms would you like to see to help grow businesses in BC like yours?
Corinne Lea: I learned a lot during the process fighting to change the bc liquor laws. The most insightful was that I learned the bureaucrats in charge of the LCLB don’t understand the connection between liquor sales and arts and culture. And yet their limiting licensing decisions directly affect the entertainment industry and have a huge negative impact on our creative culture. I feel the bureaucrats are actually not even qualified to be making these decisions. Because they don’t have any education in the arts, they really don’t care how their decisions impact our industry and culture. I would like to see someone qualified who really understands the connection between business and culture working directly with the lawmakers.
Little Miss Risk: You have travelled to a large number of film festivals to bring the very best in independent cinema back to The Rio and to Vancouver. What are some of the major influences that you’ve seen in how it’s presented, and what would you like to bring to Vancouver?
Corinne Lea: I’ve been very inspired by the fantastic fest at the Alamo draft house in Texas. Tim League does a great job of making filmgoing fun! Sometimes I think artists make the mistake of creating a very pretentious environment which can be very alienating. I really want to create an edgy horror, action, sci-fi fantasy genre film festival at the Rio Theatre that can bring some of that enthusiasm and fun that I’ve seen at other festivals. I think people want to have a more inclusive fun environment to watch movies. Why so serious? There is definitely a side to Vancouver that takes itself way too seriously. That’s why there’s a bunch of us artists and promoters trying to bring on the fun!
Little Miss Risk: As an entrepreneur who has been involved in the art scene in Vancouver and who has contributed both onstage and off, what are some things you feel artistically that you feel would help enhance the business and economy of Vancouver’s nightlife and art scene?
Corinne Lea: I think the underground arts scene in Vancouver is very interesting and it just needs a supportive environment to allow it to flourish. With the high cost of living in Vancouver it does create a reality that is difficult for artists to afford to live here. If we lose our artists we lose our culture. So I think more money needs to get in the hands of artists. We shouldn’t treat art like some frivolous fun that is not important or not essential. Arts and culture is essential to live a quality life. An artist need to get paid! So they can continue to create and perform to enhance all of our lives.
Little Miss Risk: Burlesque, spoken word, visual art and more… you are more multifaceted than well-cut diamond. What and who are some of your major artistic influences?
Corinne Lea: Back in my art school days I was very inspired by a photographer named Cindy Sherman. She staged elaborate photos of herself in scenes from B movies. I also really liked Jenny Holtzer who staged large scale installations in New York Times Square. I’m very inspired by filmmakers, Tarantino is definitely one of my favorites among others. Jamie DeWolf is one of my favorite spoken word artists. He has an incredible talent to cut open his heart and expose his vulnerability and darkness on stage while captivating huge crowds with his words. I really love it all. Poetry, music, dance, art, film… I can’t choose one over the other that’s why I am so happy I have a venue like the Rio where we can do it all!
Little Miss Risk: What message would you like to give other artists and entrepreneurs who encounter obstacles in pursuing their aspirations?
Corinne Lea: Where there’s a will there’s a way! If you want something bad enough you will find a way to make it happen. Collaborate with others who have skills that compliment your talents. You don’t need to know how to do everything yourself! Don’t listen to others who tell you that you can’t do something. I actually take it as a personal challenge whenever someone tells me I can’t do something it makes me want to do it more. You can’t just be a dreamer, you must also be a doer! You must be practical and logical and work very hard to make your wildest dreams come true.
You can find Corinne running around at the Rio Theatre on East Broadway, giving you ‘an experience you can’t download’, and find out what is happening there at the RioTheatre.ca
Little Miss Risk