When Pattaya first shut down at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Alisa Phanthusak Kunpalin thought that the iconic Tiffany’s Show she heads would be closed for at most three months.
Sixteen months later, the stage lights remain dark, the seats empty and the feathered headdresses dusty. Alisa, Tiffany’s managing director, now fears it will be that way for some time.
“I thought the government could control it,” Alisa said of the coronavirus’ spread. “But unfortunately, there are no signs of recovery.”
The Tiffany’s Show, which had run continuously for 46 years until Pattaya shut down in March 2020. In between the three waves, the Beach Road theater reopened briefly and only on weekends and holidays, but it wasn’t enough to sustain the Tiffany cast of dancers, crew and administrative employees.
“We were responsible for a huge slice of tourism income that poured from our sweats and tears,” one of the Tiffany transgender dancers, “Nong Kuk-Kik”, wrote on her Facebook page this week. “But now we face an indescribable situation with our income and daily lives.”
To be fair, all of Pattaya’s entertainment sector has been wiped out by the three waves of business closures. The transgender cabarets are not unique.
Thousands of women once worked as bar hostesses or go-go dancers on Walking Street, Soi LK Metro and the side streets in between. Hundreds of men did likewise in the city’s gay bars. Transgender women, with far fewer employment options, toiled in dingy Soi 6 brothels with only the youngest, tallest and fairest “ladyboys” lifting themselves out of the sex industry to join the famed Tiffany’s and Alcazar choruses.
But now the glamourous costumes and pancake makeup are just a memory for these once-celebrated entertainers. Kuk-Kik said most of her cohorts have returned to rural provinces to do menial jobs or have scrounged to find common jobs in Pattaya.
Alisa said the Tiffany Show initially set up a fund to pay its many employees at least part of their former salaries. But the crisis has lasted longer than anyone could have imagined, she said.
Alisa said there is now nothing she can do to help the performers. Like everyone else in Pattaya, the Tiffany’s Show has to wait until the government gets the crisis under control, vaccinates everyone against Covid-19 and reopens Pattaya to foreign tourists.
When that will happen is anyone’s guess.