April 17: To more fully answer the question of whether or not theaters can present nudity or "semi-nudity" without running afoul of code enforcement, here's a blog about the successful staging of Naked Boys Singing at Theatre on the Square and Phoenix Theatre.
"I'm so glad I didn't get arrested tonight," Katie Angel half-joked over the noise of the DJ at Kat's Pub, the Camby bar where she'd just finished performing the night of April 11 with her burlesque troupe, Angel Burlesque.
It was like any other Angel Burlesque show — if on a smaller-scale than some of its big fundraising extravaganzas — except for a couple attendees. The Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement was on the scene to determine if Angel Burlesque's act can be defined as adult entertainment.
It's not an idle question: If it's determined to be adult entertainment, then it can only be performed on a "regular" basis in adult entertainment businesses, such as strip clubs or adult bookstores, which are carefully regulated and required by law to be located more than 500 feet from any residences.
And such a definition could have a chilling effect on the fledging local burlesque scene by knocking troupes off of just about all the stages and venues where they have performed over the past decade — almost none of which are defined as adult entertainment businesses. Or it might not. Such is the vagueness and flexibility of the code and the laxness and inconsistency of its enforcement.
In any case, the can of worms has been opened. The answer, relayed Monday by the city to NUVO: Yes, Angel Burlesque can be defined as an adult act because it meets the requirement for "semi-nudity," which the code defines as "a state of dress in which clothing covers no more than the genitals, pubic region and areola of the female breast, as well as portions of the body covered by supporting straps or devices."
At issue is a letter the bar's landlord received in late March from the city (as a neighborhood in Decatur Township, Camby is under the administrative authority of Indianapolis). It cites Kat's Pub for two violations. One pertains to a window sign posted without the required permit. The other is the reason we're writing this story.
It cites the landlord for violating Section 732-216 of the city code: "The establishment of an adult entertainment business shall be prohibited if the business is located within 500 feet of a dwelling district."
The letter to the landlord spells out the penalties: If Kat's Pub were to present adult entertainment within 500 feet of anyone's home on a "regular" basis — note that the term "regular" isn't specifically defined — it would be subject to both administrative fees of $215 per scheduled visit by the city, and then lawsuits with fines up to $2,500 per violation, plus court costs.
But there are at least six burlesque troupes in town, you might say, and they've been performing across the city for roughly a decade, since the first neo-burlesque troupe, Bottoms Up Burlesque, hit the scene. Angel Burlesque says it has performed in nine venues since its founding in 2011. How have they gotten away with it?
It's time for more fun with code enforcement. Here's how not to get away with a burlesque show:
1) Do a show in a part of the community that might be hostile — or rather, might be home to a single hostile person who will notify the city.
As Adam Baker, the Director of Communications for the Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement puts it, "code enforcement is strictly a reactive agency," and will only address a violation if "people tell us. That's the way code enforcement is designed." And so, as Baker reports, the department was alerted to the performance only when someone in a Camby neighborhood sent a letter to the department complaining about an ad for the performance she received in a Money Mailer. Baker emphasizes that the department "is not a Gestapo," roaming the city looking for infringements. But it must respond to all complaints — and then assess the legitimacy of those complaints based on the letter of the code.
Angel says her troupe has drawn attention because of its ambition to reach new audiences. "We're really trying to push into the mainstream," she says. "We're trying to reach a wider market beyond supportive family and friends."
2) Show a pretty lady in a state of semi-nudity in your advertisements.
Code enforcement issued its citation to the landlord of Kat's Pub weeks before Angel Burlesque's performance took place, based upon the titillating nature of the bar's advertisement for the show. While the department says that "by definition, burlesque does not mean adult entertainment," the confluence of burlesque and a less than fully clothed woman on a poster was enough evidence for the city to make its decision.
However, that was a preliminary decision, according to the department, which, according to Baker, says it "tries to get everyone on the same page" in any situation, seeing if "there's room to be worked" or if "there's a variance that can be applied for." When NUVO spoke to Baker last week, he noted that the bar "wasn't in violation right now"; the business had been assessed for two violations pertaining to the show but had until April 11 to abate said violations.