The Doll House Showcase is set to rock London once again, celebrating its two-year anniversary Dec. 10 at the Angry Goat Public House.
Featuring ten acts including headliners D’eve Archer and Sarah Smith, the show intends to be a celebration of women in music. The show offers a wide appeal to any music lover, with a variety of genres covered, from rock to country to R&B and more.
The driving force behind the Doll House is singer/songwriter Laura Gagnon. Born and raised to be a rockstar, Gagnon has dedicated her entire life to music. It’s been a wild ride so far – international tours, albums, awards, scandals – and Gagnon has no plans on slowing down.
She’s currently working on her third album, and has every intention on expanding the Doll House beyond Southwestern Ontario.
The seeds of ambition were planted at an early age. The daughter of two musicians, Gagnon was enrolled at the Royal Conservatory of Music and began taking vocals lessons to overcome a speech impediment. At the age of 19, she released her debut album entitled “I Am”.
The album release show was a tremendous success.
“My very first album release party was at Club Fusion, which used to be the Salt Lounge,” Gagnon recalled. “I had about 400 people come out for that show which was insane for a first album release.”
With several media outlets on scene to cover the event as well, it seemed like the stars were aligning for Gagnon. To promote her follow up album, Laura G and the Band won a competition to perform at Canadian Music Week.
The performance garnered the right kind of attention, and the band was booked for a tour throughout Ontario.
But as the old saying goes… What goes up, must come down.
In 2011, Gagnon’s online life was hacked.
The hacker – who was never identified – accessed Gagnon’s social media accounts to spew racist slurs, and used her e-mail to send unsavory messages to her corporate contacts. Her music was blacklisted on the radio as a result.
She lost the three jobs she had.
Her phone number was used in advertisements for call girls. Several of her friends and contacts have never spoken to Gagnon since the attack. The unfortunate truth is that these types of cybercrimes against women have become increasingly more common as technology advances, although at the time the police were unable to help, Gagnon and shrugged off the attack as “kids will be kids.”
It was incredibly damaging to her life and her career.
“You’re trying to make a living and they take that away from you,” She said. “So your life is just like a rug… take it from underneath your feet and you slam your face in the cement, and it’s like what the hell do you do?”
It’s a rare occurrence for an artist to find redemption in the aftermath of a scandal. Sometimes people will forgive and forget, but most often they do not.
With her music career on the rocks, Gagnon struggled to overcome a deep depression. Writing music was a means of therapy, and she no longer had that.
During the road to recovery, Gagnon enrolled at Westervelt College in 2012 for Executive Administration. An often overlooked – yet incredibly important – part of the entertainment industry is the necessity to possess a keen eye for business.
To use the old Hollywood saying… you’re only as good as your last film. Show business can be an exceptionally ruthless and cutthroat industry; anyone aspiring for success in it needs to understand the most important thing about it – that money makes the world go round. Obtaining a business diploma was one of the wisest decisions Gagnon could have made at the time.
After joining and touring with The McCartney Years in 2014, Laura Gagnon was back in the music scene. During one night at the Talbot St. Whiskey House, she was offered an opportunity to host an open mic night… and that’s when her business sense kicked in.
If you’re going to do something that’s already being done, you have to do it better. That night at the Whiskey House, the seeds to the Doll House Showcase were planted.
“There’s tons of open mics, why is mine going to be different? Why are they going to come to mine and not everybody else’s?” Gagnon asked herself. “So I decided, why not make an all-female showcase? The music industry is very male dominated and I want to break that.”
Gagnon began hosting the weekly show (then known as the Whiskey Doll House, a play on the venue’s name) as well as doing the sound, photography, marketing, and booking.
Gagnon used inspiration from a tour in Nashville and set up a tip jar to pay the artists. But workload was tiring, and not having the experience as a soundperson made the first show all the more difficult. To compensate, Gagnon tried to book women who were talented enough without a proper sound crew.
“It was really, really hard,” Gagnon recalled. “There were points that I would have mini little panic attacks because it was a lot – a lot – of work.”
A saving grace came to Gagnon during her birthday when she met Jason Richards of Nitelife Entertainment.
Intrigued by the Doll House idea, Richards wanted to become a sponsor. As Nitelife took over for sound, Gagnon and Richard collaborated to transform the show from being an open mic idea to a more business-oriented brand.
To accommodate the show’s growing popularity, Gagnon switched the venue to Tabu Nightclub and the show became known simply as The Doll House Showcase.
The show offered audiences three 45-minute acts. No genre was off limit and prior show experience was not necessary… given that the performers had the talent.
With an impressive roster of local talent, Gagnon raised the stakes as she planned the anniversary show to celebrate the first year of the Doll House Showcase. She increased the number of performers and extended the show time.
While the show was no cover on a regular night, the anniversary show charged $10 cover with proceeds going to the Maples for Vimy charity. Several corporations and artists provided prize giveaways. The stage was set, and Gagnon was ready for a night to remember.
What’s in a name?
However, she ended up facing online criticism concerning the show’s name, Doll House, objectifying women and that the cover fee was going towards the charity instead of the artists.
The initial complaint led to many others speaking up as well. As it would turn out, several others (including past Doll House performers) disliked the shows name and considered it degrading. Concerns over payment opened a can of worms, most agreeing that the artists should be getting paid if there’s a cover fee.
The discussion got people wondering if the Doll House organizers were profiting while expecting the artists to perform for tips. It seemed as though Gagnon was once again in the midst of a scandal.
The backlash directed towards Gagnon and the Doll House was stressful, but it gave her an opportunity to learn from the incident.
She read every post, every complaint, and every suggestion for improvement. One by one, Laura Gagnon has tackled the concerns to satisfy her target audience. The show changed from a weekly event to a monthly event and brought in new talent. Sara Campbell took over Nitelife Entertainment, so the show now has a female sound person as well.
For the artists
The cover fee for the two year anniversary show on December 10th will be going towards the artists, while Anova will have a 50/50 charity draw. However, one thing Gagnon was reluctant to alter was the name.
Inspired by a controversial 1879 play entitled “A Doll’s House”, Gagnon compromised by adding the subtitle “Celebrating Canadian Women in Music” to the name.
“What that play is all about is actually women empowerment, about leaving the home and going out into the working world for the very first time,” Gagnon stated. “That’s what the Doll House Showcase is all about… women empowerment, building a career and helping each other climb the ladder of success.”
It’s been a yearlong process to improve the Doll House, but two very notable incidents have happened in the world since the one year anniversary show. On November 8 2016, Donald Trump became President of the United States. The result was the worldwide Women’s March protest on January 8, 2017.
The second notable incident directly affected women in show business. The allegations against Harvey Weinstein reminded the world of an ugly truth about the entertainment industry.
It’s possible that the Doll House Showcase has gained new significance that it didn’t have last year.
It’s being run by two business women, there’s no sleazy promoter threatening their careers for the “casting couch”. The show is being driven by female talent alone.
Women at work
“What the Doll House Showcase this year is about are the women who are actually doing it,” Gagnon said. “Who have created their own business, they’ve created their own network, and they’re out there touring throughout Europe, the States, Canada, Asia and they’ve done it.”
But even having enormous talents doesn’t always get women respect. Janis Joplin was famously named the “ugliest man on campus” while attending university. Shirley Manson of Garbage has been spit on and had beer cans thrown at her on stage. Leah Fay of July Talk was yelled at to expose herself during a song.
Gagnon herself has been on the receiving end of a sexist industry.
“I was actually told that I needed to lose a lot of weight because I wasn’t thin enough to actually make it in the industry,” She remembered. “I basically just said screw it. Don’t care. That’s just my attitude.
“If you want something bad enough, it doesn’t matter.”
Meanwhile, Gagnon’s work on the show earned her a nomination at the 2017 Jack Richardson London Music Awards. The world is changing, and the entertainment industry is changing with it. The stage is set for December 10, and the Doll House Showcase is ready to celebrate its two-year anniversary with a bang loud enough to be heard throughout London and beyond.