First, some background. There is only one agency in Manitoba that books exotic dancers, both male and female. It’s located in The White House, an elaborately decorated building downtown on Portage Avenue. The office of founder Rick Irving is atop a flight of marble stairs.
Inside, a visitor is met by a barking dog who appears to have the run of the place.
"Don’t pet him," the secretary advises. "He bites."
Turns out, the dog’s name is Napoleon and he has a cushion directly to the right of his owner, Irving, who for the last 27 years has managed Superb Entertainment Inc., which, among other endeavors, controls the exotic dancing industry in Manitoba. Superb is the distribution centre for all but a handful of dancers working in the province; recruiting, hiring, booking and overseeing.
Every Thursday, Irving schedules some 100 female dancers into appearances at approximately 25 bars across town and outside Winnipeg. Only three bars regularly host male dancers.
Most dancers walk in off the street to apply. There is no audition. They sign a form that, among other stipulations, forbids them from engaging in sexual relations with customers.
If Irving approves, the young dancer could be appearing at "Fresh Meat Mondays" (as it is commonly referred to by loyal patrons) at the Marion in just days. Or they could be on a bus to Thunder Bay for a one- or two-week gig that has served as a rite of passage for many in Irving’s stable over the years.
In all interviews, Irving also asks prospective dancers if they have any boyfriend or father "issues." Translation: "I’ve have had upset fathers and boyfriends come banging on office doors. I don’t want any problems," Irving explains.
When it comes to the recruitment process, however, Irving believes he has one advantage.
"Me being a gay guy," he says. "I’m not trying to take advantage of them. I’m not trying to hit on them."
Quite the opposite. Irving is often accused by his long-time partner, Mitch Fillion, of being a "Mother Hen."
But to understand that dynamic, you have to first know about Gladys.
Updated on Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 6:30 PM CDT: Corrects spelling of Chelsea; minor edits.
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