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Eva D'Luscious Oral History Interview, January 3, 2020

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LAURIE KURUTZ: Today is January 3rd, 2020, my name is Laurie Kurutz. Would you please introduce yourself, say your pronouns if you care to, and tell us what you do.

EVA D'LUSCIOUS: I am Eva D'Luscious, I go by she/her and I am a Burlesque performer, producer, emcee, and teacher.

LK: Great, just to give you a hard one right off the top, what is Burlesque?

ED: My short answer is that it is theatrical stripping that pays a lot less. That's my short answer. The long answer of Burlesque is that we can take all sorts of art forms and bring it into the stage: theatre, dance, costuming, acting and present kind of whatever we want to present. It's one of the reasons 00:01:00I love Burlesque I don't think it has as many boundaries as many other forms of performance and dance performance and so it's kind of wide-open for your own interpretation of the story you want to tell. I think most often in our current culture right now the story is usually around sensuality and sexuality but I don't think that's the only way that Burlesque can be performed.

LK: Who chooses all those elements that you just named?

ED: I just think the performer draws from what inspires them their life experience or what they've seen other people bringing. That's again why I love Burlesque. I have grown up dancing and you know some theatre and things like that. I can bring all of that and I can choose the music that I want to perform to and the story I want to tell. Sometimes you're influenced by a theme of a 00:02:00show, you have to fall into a certain theme of a production, but most of the time the performers have a lot of freedom to do it.

LK: And how do you describe the kind of Burlesque you do?

ED: So me personally, it's more along the sensual side of Burlesque It's a feminist practice to me, in that I feel still in this day and age, women showing themselves enjoying their sensuality, not necessarily being naked, but enjoying your own sensuality, even for your own purposes and pleasure, is still revolutionary. It's still a thing that is pushed down a lot. I feel like there is so much shame put on sexuality in general and a lot on women, that it's really important for us to be able to go out and share that and inspire other 00:03:00people to be comfortable with their sexuality.

I think it's really important to be balanced and comfortable in your sexuality and not shameful around it. That's where I feel like a lot of things that are not good in our world, like rape culture and women having a harder time being paid for equal work. All of those kinds of things. I think a lot of it evolves- revolves around sex and the more we can present it in a joyful, celebratory way that normalizes it and makes it fun and beautiful the...what it is, it is our creative spark in the world. That's how we continue to exist in the world. The more we can do that, the more we can balance the energy and make it a fun thing, so that's what my Burlesque is about personally.

LK: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

ED: I was born in South Lake Tahoe, California and I grew up there and in 00:04:00Nevada. That's where I graduated from high school kind of right around Lake Tahoe. And then I moved to Los Angeles and eventually started migrating my way North.

LK: What did you do in your formative years that led you to performance?

ED: I think I was always a performer, if the family stories told are true. I started dance when I was three years old. The costumes behind you on the wall maybe will give you a little clearer... are my first dance costumes, that my mom saved. Yup, very cute. I did that all throughout growing up in high school. I was cheerleader and on dance team and I continued dancing into college. College level dance courses, which were hard and a little bit intimidating. Then I took a break for awhile. I came back and started doing other forms of dance so that 00:05:00was all like tap, jazz, ballet. When I got to high school, The Fly Girls were really popular In Living Color. It was a TV show in the nineties, late eighties, early nineties. So that's kind of where the hip hop dance that people do started. But it wasn't a thing that was taught when I was growing up. It was really from-the-streets kind of a thing, so we did our best to emulate. Then I went and I've studied belly dance and samba, some African dance, lots of forms. I just love dancing. I really do I love dancing and I love sharing it with people, so we would put on talent shows at home all the time.

LK: You mentioned college, where did you go to college?

ED: I went to Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.

LK: And so then what brought you to Oregon?


ED: We were living in Northern California, my husband and two children. In a sweet, sweet town, Sebastopol, which is lovely and it's expensive and it's small. I grew up in a small town and we wanted a little bit more, but not overwhelming, neither of us wanted. We'd lived in San Francisco, my husband and I, that's where we met. We didn't wanna move back to San Francisco or another area like that, it was just too busy. We had both recently been to Portland for fun and we really, really enjoyed it. When we started taking a look at just how much more affordable things are, the quality of the schooling that is available to my children is incredible. My husband loves being close to the mountains and we're still sort of close to the ocean. The Burlesque scene, honestly, was part of it for me.

Where I lived in Sebastopol, for a while I was the Burlesque scene. I started 00:07:00the shows that were Cabaret De Caliente because right when we moved up, the one person who was doing shows happened to be moving. I performed in what turned out to be her very last show. It was the very first day we moved to town. I did book the show well- well, before then. So I did the show and it turned out that was her last show. She moved down to Oakland. I was there and it's about a two-hour drive and people don't realize how far that is. So after a while I just I gathered some friends and we started our own production.

Fortunately, I still do shows at that location at Hot Mock in Sebastopol. I'll go down next month and do our Zeppelin show. And, then somebody else came in and has started doing shows at North Bay Cabaret. It was great collaborative experience; we all worked really well together. It was nice, we still work together. But I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to be in a place where I could learn more, where I could grow more, where I wasn't the top person in town. It 00:08:00definitely was that [here in Portland] and it was definitely humbling to first arrive but now it's good.

LK: So just backing up a little bit, what year and how did you get started in Burlesque?

ED: So I started in 2010, this December will be my tenth year of performing Burlesque. I had seen Burlesque for a little while before I started performing. One of my friends had brought the Velvet Hammer up from LA a couple of times. I feel really lucky to have been able to see them, in the heyday, when they were all still a troupe. Of course, many of them are still performing and are wonderful, but it was really special to be able to see that. Hubba Hubba Revue was starting to happen in San Francisco.

There were a few things that were going on and then Baby Doe had started Tease-O-Rama. She also leads a troupe called The Devil-Ettes, which is a 00:09:00synchronized '60s Go-Go dance troupe and my roommate was part of them. I just kind of got pulled in a little bit more. Actually, the first time I went to BHoF [Burlesque Hall of Fame] was with The Devil-Ettes. Not as a performer, just as a friend. Just the more I saw of it, the more I loved it. I loved how creative the people were. I loved how much fun the women were having. I loved their costumes and their fabulous attitude.

So, after I was done nursing my second son, I decided I was going to take classes and so I commuted down to San Francisco to take classes. A series of classes with Bombshell Betty, my very first class ever was done through Tease-O-Rama and it was with Satan's Angel.

LK: Explain who that is?

ED: Satan's Angel is a Burlesque legend. She is one of the women who performed really when Burlesque was a feasible job that you could do. So, in the '50s, 00:10:00'60s,'70s. Before that but she performed primarily in the '60s and she is just what you think Satan's Angel would be. She's a lovely, lovely, sweet, caring person who absolutely took care of her friends and taught me things that, still to this day, no one has ever showed me. So just to have that as my first experience was incredible. And she's a spitfire. She didn't take shit from anyone. She lived her life on her terms and very inspiring. She was Queer in a time when that was physically dangerous on the regular...I know it still is for many people... but she was vocal and upfront about it. So I really admire her, just not for her as a performer, but as a person. So that was pretty incredible.


LK: That's amazing. And so moving from there how did you develop your career from then?

ED: When I first started, I really wanted to have a troupe with other women, since I'd come up dancing always in groups and dance companies and things like that. I love that I love that connection of having a performance group around me. So that was my initial impetus. I was like, I'm gonna go do this and I'm going to create a troupe and I did have a little troupe for a while. We were called The Verses of Seduction and our whole idea was to take folktales and fairytales and kind of turn them on their head. So we did. We did a few performances in San Francisco and it was really great. Then people started moving and separating and like you do, things like that happen. I was in Sebastopol by that time and it was just getting really difficult to go down to Oakland or San Francisco and meet with them.


That's when I launched Cabaret de Caliente. That happened and that was a monthly show for a while, which was a lot. It was wonderful. It was challenging because when you're doing a monthly show you're always working on at least two shows: the one that you have coming up and the one that's following because they just they come in such quick succession. I did that. I continued performing in Oakland and San Francisco when I could and taking classes and growing. I just I think I've just grown to love it so much that I didn't want to leave.

Then I had the opportunity to start teaching, well before I thought I would have, honestly. But I got into a local pole studio to see if they might sponsor us because it felt like we had similar audiences. I was hoping maybe they would bring performers to the stage and that sort of thing. As I was in there, they asked me if I'd be interested in teaching. I said well it's been a couple of 00:13:00years. I know more than anybody who is just starting and I do have dance experience. It wasn't like brand new for me, so I tried it and I loved it. There have been times when performance has gotten challenging for various reasons but the teaching is always wonderful. It's such a joy and a treat to be able to open the door for other women and men. I've taught men too. But just to bring them into this world and a place where they are just so happy expressing themselves is... you can't beat it.

LK: And so other things you do outside of performing Burlesque, you talked about the teaching. Anything else? Event planning? You talked about producing, could you say more on that?

ED: I produce shows so not as often as I once did which is nice actually, it's a 00:14:00better balance for me. Every Valentine's Day-ish, sometimes it's the week before or the week of, I produce A Whole Lot of Love which is a Led Zeppelin-themed Burlesque show. We're coming up on our eighth year of doing that in Sebastopol. We will be our fourth year in Portland I think. We're actually gonna do a show in Oakland as well. It's going to be all the same weekend, so yeah, a little but crazy but we're taking advantage of Valentine's Day.

LK: Can you talk a little about how that's organized and all the skills involved in doing that, sounds amazing.

ED: Yeah!

LK: Is it the same performers?

ED: No.

LK: Okay.

ED: Some of the shows have the same performers, but not all of them, It's a lot of organizing and people management. Before I started performing Burlesque, years ago, I worked in public relations and organized a lot of events, organized 00:15:00people, organized budgets. So I feel like many of those skills have transferred and made it a little bit easier for me to start in producing. There's still a learning curve for sure. But you know managing all of the ticket sales, managing all of the aspects of promotion, like learning the social media, that has happened.

When I first started performing, I would bring a CD with my information on it. And then it was like oh bring it on your phone. And now it's like email me a file or upload it to a drive. It's, you know, it's different. Facebook was just starting. There just weren't a lot of the things that there are now and so I've learned a lot of those skills. I've done everything in a show. Sometimes in one show, I have taken the tickets, I've done the door sales, been the emcee and 00:16:00introduced the performers, stage kittened -picking up all the clothing and things like that-- on top of performing and just managing the whole everything of it.

Then I've always tried to get video and photo at our shows. I think it's really important. So I have them pretty much going all the way back to the very beginning of our shows. That's wonderful to have that record and to be able to use it for promotion. We always share that with the performers so that they have that as well. I learned to edit videos, so I didn't have to rely on anybody else to do that. I've learned to edit music so I can do all that. So Burlesque is a lot of bootstrapping and do it yourself.

LK: Yeah

ED: Yeah

LK: It's the entrepreneurial spirit

ED: Absolutely, working 80 hours for yourself, so you don't have to work 40 for someone else, is that what people say?

LK: Right, yes.

LK: You talked about your teaching. What's the name of your studio called?


ED: I call it Showgirl Temple.

LK: And why is that?

ED: I wanted a place that would encompass all the aspects of Burlesque. I feel like show girls are a really sparkling fun, welcoming version of what you like to see on stage. You know often when you see them out they're smiling, they're having fun and they're inviting people to participate in that fun with them. It's not just look at me. It's like let's have a good time together. So I wanted to capture that. To be honest, there's a little bit of avoidance of censorship there [with the title] with social media. Certain words are flagged and are hard to use. "Burlesque" is actually flagged often and will reduce the visibility of your posts and being able to get information out there. I've actually tried not use Burlesque in many things that I do as part of the name of it. So Showgirl Temple.


Then the Temple aspect of it because of the personal development and the teaching part of it that goes with it. So it's not just performance. It's like let's come in and learn about ourselves and so we can figure out how we want to present ourselves to the world. I do that with reverence and it goes back to what I was talking about in my performance style about how I feel like really it's important to convey how beautiful and lovely sexuality is. For me it's kind of bringing that all in.

LK: Is that the body magic?

ED: yes! yes!

LK: ...that I read about on your website?

ED: Yes the body magic, yes! But it's real! I had a really fun conversation with a student recently and she was talking about how I don't set out and say we're going to work on your body magic and have it be a really organized thing, but it 00:19:00happens when you're doing it. When you're feeling it, I think anybody who has danced, even a little, when you dance and you move around, you move your energy. You stir things up, and you release things, and you can dance through things when you're upset.

Sometimes when I'm really upset and I'm having a hard time I just come in the studio and I dance and that's my therapy. So that is the body magic. It is moving that energy and bringing it in and having people who hold that, sometimes it's just me. But I have other high priestesses who also teach in the Showgirl Temple and we hold a really loving space for people to explore that.

I feel like a lot of people can be performers and everyone can dance. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of judgment in the broader world and so we're kind of shamed if we're not looking a certain way, or moving a certain way, or you know that sort of a thing. So we hold a really safe space for people to 00:20:00explore that and just having people cheering for you while you're figuring it out and doing things is incredible.

LK: You mentioned that you moved to Portland partially because of the Burlesque community. So what is that like in Portland? The community?

ED: It's interesting. It's much larger than where I was before. Even when I was performing a lot in Oakland and San Francisco, I was still geographically distant and so it kind of kept me on the sidelines of some stuff. I had thought it would be much more of a collaborative sharing and working together of things. That could just be my personal desire on it and some of it is, absolutely. I think it has taken me a while to find the people who I collaborate well with, 00:21:00probably as in with any space and any place where it's larger and there are some folks who... I... we just don't work the same way and don't share the same ideals. It was a little bit of a rough learning, honestly for me. It was unexpected and kind of heartbreaking in some ways, even though that might be the reality of things everywhere. It just wasn't the reality that I had had with Burlesque. Since it was just me for awhile, I kind of got to create the community. Then when Jake, who still has North Bay Cabaret, came into it, I called him and asked him if he wanted to just sit down and talk. I openly shared with him everything that I had learned and I said I want us to be able to collaborate and support each other and uplift each other. I don't want to compete with you and he was like absolutely that's how I work too. So it was great. We had this, we started to grow this community. If there were people that 00:22:00were not supportive or were difficult or rude and anything like that, they just sort of got pushed out because neither of us wanted to work with that and we didn't want to support that. So coming into a larger space, yeah, it's interesting. It's been a learning process but I think there's room for everyone to find their niche, you know, their group of people that they want to work with. So that's lovely because I'm sure people feel that way about me too. They don't jive with how I work.

LK: Speaking of how you work, what's your process for creating a new piece of Burlesque for yourself?

ED: The process, once I decide on an idea, is usually the same. So once I get to an idea, I will usually go through breaking down what costume pieces are, which 00:23:00is ...can be sketching or trying different things on. At this point, I have a good amount of stuff to pull from and so sometimes I just pull things out of my closet and create a new act with it.

Then I will break down my music, which involves listening to it a whole lot. Then I start to break it down into kind of musical sections, maybe like a chorus, a verse, a bridge, that sort of thing. Then I'll break down the counts in that. Most of the music that we work with is eight count music and so I'll just break down... there's five eight counts in this section. Sometimes the choreography comes really quickly and really easily and it just comes when I'm listening to the music. Sometimes I have to sit in my studio for a while and keep poking at it. I try to video myself always, so that I can see what I look like. Fortunately, I have these nice mirrors in my studio so I get a little bit 00:24:00more immediate feedback.

Then sometimes I'll just work on sections here and there and just set it aside and come back to it. You know sometimes it happens really quickly and then other times it's just a really long process of coming up with things. The ideas come from a lot of places. That's, I don't know, just inspiration. It just happens sometimes. Sometimes it's a costume or a picture and I think oh I wanna do something like that. Sometimes it's a piece of music. Sometimes it's actually an idea that I'm good with. Sometimes it's a theme that's been suggested. Yeah, it's kind of wild where the ideas come from.

LK: There's a lot of talk about cultural appropriation. What's your working definition of that and what are the things you consider when creating a new routine?

ED: To me, I take my cue from people who have felt like they- like their 00:25:00cultures have been appropriated. So what I offer is what I have been taught by them. I look at it as something that comes from another culture that I do not have a personal connection through my heritage or upbringing to. Especially cultures that have been colonialized or subjugated. Then taking from that and presenting that as, you know, something from myself. One of the best ways I've heard it described is you need to consider if it's your story to tell. I like that description. I think it makes a lot of sense.

I think it's really important to be really aware of it and thoughtful of it. I want to be in a more equitable world where people feel like their voices are heard and valued, not just heard but valued, and appreciated and respected and 00:26:00acted upon. So I feel like performance is definitely a place where I can reinforce that teaching, absolutely.

We have a long conversation when I'm teaching about staying away from social or cultural appropriation. I encourage my students to look on social media and to learn. I give them some resources for doing that. I tell them you don't need to agree with it to understand that it is present and you are jeopardizing yourself if you do those things. I will leave that choice to you. I don't want to tell other people necessarily how to live their lives, but I do try to set them up for the best success. I've definitely seen people not be as thoughtful as they could be and get nailed for it, sometimes justifiably so really.

LK: You just mentioned inclusion. What's your experience with diversity in Burlesque in Portland? What have you seen? What would you like to see? How do 00:27:00you try to practice diversity?

ED: So in Portland, I do feel like there's a good amount of inclusion of communities who are present and work to make themselves more visible. I feel like there's a lot of LGBTQ inclusion. I mean Portland's not really a racially diverse city unfortunately. I mean it is so more than where I was living before, so there's that. But I feel like that level of inclusion of performers of color is still something that is being worked on quite a bit. Unfortunately, it takes those communities putting themselves out there and being really vocal about it.

For myself, I try to support that more. I try always to consider that in my 00:28:00booking decisions, to make sure I have a balanced show, where I can hire even male performers. I like to do that, there aren't so many male performers, where I can hire even male performers as well. Performers of multiple ages. I'm coming up on year forty-six myself and I'm a mom. That's not always represented. I don't think people always think of that as diversity, but it is. Body sizes and types. I think lots of people are beautiful and audiences appreciate seeing people that represent different communities. They might be that community and that might be the only place they ever see that on stage, so I think that's a really wonderful opportunity that we have and could be done more.

I decided recently to start sponsoring a Queer POC show called Mélange, so I'm 00:29:00giving them a sponsorship amount every month for their show. I'm gonna do my damnedest to get there. Sometimes it's really hard to get out to all of the things and also helping promote them. I'm not asking for anything in return. I think that was really important to me is I didn't want it to feel like I needed anything from them and I wasn't trying to control it. I just wanted to support them in doing it, so I'm just being in the background. I've told them, whatever you need let me know and I'll help you in any way I can.

LK: People outside of Burlesque: when you tell them that you do Burlesque, what comments do you get?

ED: Most people are like "oh that's neat what is that?" Some people have actually been to shows and they understand and they're supportive. I think a lot of people think Burlesque is the movie, which it's not. I love the movie, it's 00:30:00got a lot of beautiful dancing and costumes but I would consider that more like sexy cabaret or heels or something like that. I usually have to explain a little bit to people what it is. I do usually wait to say something about it until I know somebody decently. Particularly, other parents. I just wanna make sure they know who I am because I feel like a lot of people equate Burlesque with stripping and they have judgements about stripping.

I mean to me Burlesque is a throwback of current stripping and no one should be judged for doing it because everybody's working and making money and they're valid careers in my mind. But I wanna be able to get along with the parents of my children's friends. Things like that, that's important. I don't always say... 00:31:00I don't bring it up necessarily when I'm at work either. You know there's some things where it just feels like it should be kept out of...I've not had anyone to my face say anything derogatory about it. I have had troll comments online about things but I don't know them, they don't know me, I don't care about them.

LK: So you've already talked a little bit about how Burlesque empowers people, anything more you wanna say about that?

ED: About the empowerment aspect of it?

LK: Yes.

ED: I don't know if there's more to elaborate on. Just that I love it. That it's there. That it's what we were talking about earlier. It's really accessible and open. I think there are a lot of opportunities for people to step into Burlesque from lots of different places, from many different backgrounds so I really appreciate that. I feel like the audiences are very supportive and loving. It 00:32:00really does give people a forum to share themselves in a way that we don't often get to and get to be appreciated for sharing ourselves.

LK: When people say that Burlesque can be a force for social change, this a piece of it?

ED: I think that's real, I really do. I mean that's like going back to just why I perform really. It was one of the first... I don't write a lot, but when I do, it's really thoughtful things. That was one of the first things I wrote about, was why do I strip? Why am I taking off my clothes in front of other people? That sounds kind of crazy, you know, and especially if you call yourself a feminist, there are many feminists who think you're doing it solely for the male gaze or that sort of a thing. My response to that is, well first of all, I'm not but if I am why is that a problem? That's my choice and that's the beauty of 00:33:00it-- it's my choice to do it and that's why it is a feminist act. I'm choosing everything about how I present myself and what I do on stage and how I control it.

The fact that we can have more voices heard and seen and shared. I've seen some really heart- wrenching Burlesque performances about people really throwing it down on stage about mental health issues, body issues, physical disability. Struggles that they've come through with addiction and sexual abuse and things like that. It's not all fun and games. There's some real stuff that happens on the stage, that's incredibly powerful and the joy and the fun and all of that is really important too. It's rare to go out in to spaces and find people so willing to share themselves and the audience so willing to appreciate that and 00:34:00you get this wonderful feedback. I don't think it just stays there, it absolutely walks away with people and it impacts them.

I have students who have maybe taken one class and they never get on the stage and perform. But the confidence that they have built up being in class and having people appreciate them and loving them for sharing themselves and being with other women loving each other absolutely goes out the door with them. And it changes things for them. I've seen people absolutely start to take control of their regular day-to-day life once they have come into a Burlesque class. I think absolutely it can be. And I hope people don't think oh that just because things are fun and light that they're not important. Like light is important we need that in our world, too. Change doesn't always have to be painful. It can be beautiful and sublime.

LK: What are some challenges facing Burlesque today?


ED: Challenges, well...there's always I think a money challenge. Really, I mean we want to present beautiful gorgeous things on stage and that takes resources. We don't always have a 200-person house that are each paying $40 a ticket to come in. Sometimes you're performing in a bar for 20 people and maybe they pay five dollars, and they're probably tipping because they're awesome people, they're supportive. But, you know, so that's a challenge always. Most of us are doing this on the side, so time is always a challenge of being able to fit in whatever you've got going on in your life day job: parenting, caretaking, maybe work multiple jobs, just all of those kind of things. I think those are ongoing challenges people have. There's a lot of entertainment options for people including not even leaving the house, so there's always that, of like trying to 00:36:00get people just in the door to the shows.

I think sometimes we're destructive with each other honestly. I think callout culture has gotten big in the world overall. I certainly can understand why and the necessity for it in many cases. I've also seen it just really tear people apart in ways that make me sad. I really do appreciate if you have something that you could say and you're willing to expand that energy to go to somebody and tell them that what they did to hurt you or was causing an issue I think that's really incredible and it's a gift to give to someone. They don't always appreciate it, but it's a beautiful thing to do. I don't know that social media is the place to do it. I feel like those are private conversations to have with 00:37:00people. I've seen that somebody says something that somebody did upset them and I think there's a time and place for it. If it's really a safety issue and somebody could be harmed by you not speaking up, I personally feel like it's important to speak up.

I've done that and I took flack for it. I had people who didn't agree with me for whatever reasons and then didn't wanna work with me and that sort of thing, but ultimately I decided knowing what I know, if I didn't say something and other people got hurt it, would be on me. I had to be responsible for that. The integrity of that was much more important to me than being able to do a particular show. So I've seen some of those things happen, so that's hard and sad to see. I don't know, what are other challenges? I feel like that's the biggest challenge really but we create it for ourselves unfortunately.

LK: Final question, what do you wish the general public would understand about Burlesque?


ED: Would understand about Burlesque? Well, I'd like them to know how difficult it is. Just gathering the resources and presenting things onstage. I'd like them to appreciate that and when they see a higher ticket price or something like that that it doesn't prevent them from coming out and appreciating a show.

I think I would- I'd like the trolls to know that even if it's not for them, it's not for them, and they don't need to say anything about it. They can just stay out of it.

Honestly, I don't appreciate people judging other people about how they're living their lives and telling other people what they should and shouldn't do generally. Obviously, please don't kill people and those kinds of things, but I think we all understand that's pretty basic. But on top of the rest of it, if you're not hurting anyone else, really I think you should be left to do what you wanna do. For so many of us Burlesque is a real joy spot, so I think I would 00:39:00like people who enjoy and support it to come out and support it more. If it's not your thing, just stay away and be quiet about it.

LK: Great, thank you so much.