By Melinda Munson
Skagway has a new business in town which involves peepholes, tassels, singing and stripping – gold rush style.
Madame Cooper’s Peepshow Parlor, located on 7th and Broadway, offers a four-minute burlesque show, described as a “tasteful striptease you can bring your granny to.”
Peep patrons are welcomed into a plush waiting room, where they wait for the sound of a kazoo. Once they hear the signal, they step to a wall, pick their peepholes, and watch the performer or performers inside unveil the experience. (The Peepshow Parlor offers a handicap accessible station.)
Peepshow owners Cooper and Ian Hays had been living in Nashville, where they ran a burlesque show and were working on a reality TV program. COVID-19 forced them to relocate to Cooper’s native state of Oregon. Then, forest fires sent them to Ian’s hometown of Juneau.
“I want to take you to my favorite town,” Ian told Cooper, and they made a visit to Skagway.
They arrived in The Garden City in the fall of 2020, just as the town was shutting down in response to its first COVID-19 case. For Cooper, it was magical.
“I have always been obsessed with Gold Rush era stuff. I’ve gone by Madam Cooper for years and years,” Cooper said. She’d incorporated the gold rush into her brand.
Copper wanted to stay in the town that understood corsets.
“I was exhausted, I was tired of running. And I asked him [Ian] if maybe we could just stay here for the winter. And he looked at me like I had three heads, because I don’t like the cold,” Cooper said.
The singer/dancer eventually got hired at the Red Onion and Ian started teaching karate to adults and children at the recreation center.
When the 2022 tourist season looked like it was going to rebound, Cooper got to thinking.
“There’s a million cruise ship guests that are supposed to come through here this year. And I’m not going to entertain any of them? That seems weird,” she said.
She proposed the idea of the peep show to her husband. They rented a building and put together the space in under a month. Her band member, Juan Castaneda-Gonzales, helped her husband construct the peephole set.
“This has really been a labor of love and community effort. I was shocked. Skipper and Niles, who have Bites on Broadway, heard I was up to something and they just poured things at me … they gave me, oh my gosh, just so many things, furniture, chairs, that kind of stuff … And Reba Hylton from Skagway Brew Co. brought me a big bucket of velvet … my mother-in-law sent me these flowers up from Juneau … it was a big effort,” Cooper said.
The madame describes the act as “rated PG-13,” although she has performed for a 10-year-old girl and believes parents are the best judge. The performance ends with the entertainer(s) in underwear with tassels covering the nipples. Viewers will have seen more skin on a beach in Hawaii, with a lot less pizazz.
“Every person that has commented really enjoyed it … Something is good because I’m seeing a lot of joy in people’s eyes,” Cooper said.
Cooper describes burlesque as a “feminine sport” and said it emphasizes “body positivity” and “empowerment.”
Peeps average $20, tips are accepted. Night shows often offer a reduced rate for locals. The parlor is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday, 7 to 10 p.m. Hootin’ and hollerin’ is encouraged.