March 4, 2022

A Ticket to Paradise with The Poetry Brothel

by Felicia Cheney

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Only a handful of tickets remain! Get yours here.

The Poetry Brothel Is an immersive literary cabaret that fuses poetry, activism, vaudeville, burlesque, live music, visual art, magic, mysticism, and private, one-on-one poetry experience.  Tickets are now available for The Poetry Brothel: Fall from Heaven on Saturday, March 12th at The Footlight Theatre in Jamaica Plain.

Joey Phoenix caught up with Shari Caplan (she/hers), A.K.A Betty Boom, the newly chosen Madame for The Boston Poetry Brothel to talk about the history of the Brothel and the upcoming event! 

Joey – Creative Collective: Welcome back! I would love to hear more about this upcoming event and about what it’s like to be producing live theatre again. 

Madam Betty Boom: This our first in person show since the pandemic, which is just amazing. And it is at the Footlight club in Jamaica Plain, which is the country’s oldest community theater. It’s an amazing Victorian space. 

Our theme is called fall from heaven, which is a spin on angels and demons and embracing the shadow side, which is a thing that’s great to do in the winter. 

We’re excited to have 3rian and The Familiars as our live band – which is a smaller version of Brian King’s band What Time Is It, Mr. Fox. We will have some burlesque and some circus to their live songs. So that’s really exciting, because we haven’t done that before. And then, of course, we’ll have a bevy of incredible poets throughout the evening.

Joey – Creative Collective: Amazing. What exactly is a Poetry Brothel? 

Madam Betty Boom:  Such a good question. And one that people ask me all the time. We describe it as an immersive literary cabaret. 

So what does that mean? It’s immersive, because the audience is able to take part in the show. So by getting those private reading experiences with our poets in the mysterious backroom, that’s a way to really be part of the action in a meaningful way. A lot of things are billed as immersive but then it’s really just a photo op, or it’s kind of a walkthrough, and that can be fun. But we like to be immersive in the sense that you’re really included in the work that we’re doing. And we’re making meaningful connections. 

Calling it a Poetry Brothel isn’t just a fun way to get your attention. It’s also a meaningful part of our work. 

Madam Betty Boom

And it’s a cabaret because we have a rotating cast of characters who are dabbling in many creative arts. And so you never quite know what’s going to turn up at the Poetry Brothel That’s part of the fun.

Joey – Creative Collective: Is the term “Brothel” deliberately risque? Talk to me about the duality of that invitation if you feel comfortable doing so. 

Madam Betty Boom: Turn of the century brothels were a jumping off point for the event. Historically, those were spaces where people who couldn’t make money in a lot of other ways, could make money that way, but they could also explore their creative talents. And so there was a salon aspect to that. So the founders of The Poetry Brothel wanted to mirror that. 

The New York chapter was the first chapter and they work with The Red Umbrella Project, raise money for SWer support organizations, include poets and performers that are SWers, and make a verbal statement of support at every single show.

For me it’s really important that what I’m doing as an artist, and also any event I’m putting on is part of a larger conversation and is creating some social good. I think there’s no reason not to have your event also be some sort of benefit for something or address an issue. Art is always political. 

The poets all wear the mask of whore on the night of the event, but some of our cast, crew, and community do perform sex work to make a living. And all of us who are involved are very pro sex work as work, and so by placing sex work at the center of an artistic framework, we can get people rethinking, their comfort level, with that kind of work and help them begin conversations. 

We’re Boston here, and so we have a lot of puritanical vibes that we’re fighting against. That’s why, in my bio, I say that “I’m taking down puritanism and other icky isms that we’ve got going on.” And so if somebody is really far in the zone of whorephobia, and maybe blaming those folks for taking part in the system, this is a great way for us to kind of gently bring them towards our way of thinking. And everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but this is just part of our mission. 

Calling it a Poetry Brothel isn’t just a fun way to get your attention. It’s also a meaningful part of our work. 

We’re collecting donations for MASWAN (Massachusetts Sex Worker Ally Network) at this show and will be inviting sex worker advocacy groups to table and talk about their work at our events.

As a community of artists, we will also be taking part in actions to support the initiatives of these organizations and to do our part to advocate for sex workers outside of the show as well. We’re always looking for feedback on how to do better by the sex work community, so I welcome folks to reach out to me at to share their thoughts.

Joey – Creative Collective – So if I’m hearing you correctly, part of the reason the brothel exists as a safe space to have low stakes conversations like this. And so offering a space where an avatar or a stage name can exist to protect the identities of people involved, is an important outlet. 

I’d love to hear more about the responsibility of what it means to hold space for these conversations in a way that’s both fun and accessible. 

I think people’s expectation might be, you know, a little more salacious than what the experience is, which is not to say the experience is not sexy, but it is very good poetry, grounded in community. And it’s very loving. And it’s very weird.

Shari Caplan

Madam Betty Boom: I’ve gotten to be a performer with the Brothel for more than 5 years now. And when you do one on one, poetry readings with people or a few people at a time, people are so much more comfortable than when they’re sitting in a big crowd. And they always ask you questions. So there’s always meaningful conversation. 

And it’s not always about the brothel side of things. But it is really a great time to connect with people. And so there’s that kind of quieter, private moment. And then you go back to the main room, and there’s music and there’s drinks, and there’s a fun show happening. So I think there’s kind of a natural way for people to get to dip into those different modes of interaction and ask questions they’re not always comfortable asking. 

Joey – Creative Collective: So you took over the role as Madam recently. But your character, Betty Boom has been around for a while and is quite a delight. I would love to hear about this stage persona, and what Betty Boom stands for especially now in your new role. 

Madam Betty Boom: So Betty Boom is actually my second character. I did my first Poetry Brothel as this kind of French ingenue character. And I quickly realized that the way to really make this work is when people are coming in, you have to engage with the audience right away to help them feel comfortable. And that way, you know, they’ll feel like they can approach you for reading and they’re just, they feel immersed that way.

So, Betty Boom came out of me wanting someone who was going to be really outgoing, really good at networking, and then also just looking at my poetry and thinking, what fits with my work? My work has a lot of examining of American culture and the hyper sexualized femininity within that. So, Betty boom is like a little bit of a satire. But also I’ve really grown to love her. And so I think she’s become more human. 

And I think now that I’m the Madam, and I’m holding the container more, she becomes less cartoonish and in a way has got her Presidential pants suit on. She’s ready to get to business but is also still super fun. 

Photo by Lily Cole Photography

Joey – Creative Collective: What are some of the things about the Brothel that people wouldn’t necessarily know? 

Madam Betty Boom: I feel like people don’t know anything until they come, they really don’t understand it. And that’s actually part of the fun is diving into the mystery. I think people’s expectation might be, you know, a little more salacious than what the experience is, which is not to say the experience is not sexy, but it is very good poetry, grounded in community. And it’s very loving. And it’s very weird. I would say you’re going to feel something and so it’s not just going to be just a sexy time. 

Joey – Creative Collective: What has been one of your favorite moments in your five-ish years with the brothel?

Madam Betty Boom: I think performing when I was pregnant is definitely a highlight. I was in my second trimester. So it was “Betty Boom, now comes complete with baby boom.” And it was so cool to do this thing that’s really sex positive and still celebrate my sexuality, even while being so visibly a mother. And I felt really comfortable. I mean nobody touched my belly, which is something that can happen just on the street. 

So it felt really special to like, celebrate with the poetry brothel community, that rite of passage. 

And then I went for the first time to the New York City Poetry Festival, which features an outdoor Poetry Brothel on Governors Island with people from all over the country. During my reading, a butterfly landed in my hand. I had just done a virtual show a month beforehand which was a benefit for Butterfly, the Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network, so it felt like that was a real sign, a little thank you from the butterfly. So definitely some magic there.

Joey – Creative Collective: Where can people find out more about The Poetry Brothel and buy tickets to the upcoming event? 

Madam Betty Boom: The Brothel’s website is and you can pick up tickets to Fall from Heaven on Eventbrite – but we’ve only got about 25 left, so if folks want to come, they’d better grab their tickets to Paradise now! 

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