A new documentary short pulls back the glittery curtain on Brooklyn’s House of Yes, where wild club nights are marked by aerial dancers and circus performers on stilts.
In a new episode of "Inspire the Night," a YouTube series produced by Red Bull Music, the club’s powerhouse founders Kae Burke and Anya Sapozhnikova discuss the creation of their vibrant inclusive space while battling internal demons of their own.
"A lot of people think that House of Yes is just a crazy nightclub, but it’s so much more than that," Sapozhnikova says in the episode. "The nightclub part is like a side effect of this radical notion of self-expression. It’s this endless feedback loop of people being positive, being free and just being completely them."
Burke and Sapozhnikova are known for creating a rare venue in the city where partygoers can be authentic without hesitation. They ask it be referred to as a "safer space." The venue — with a lineup of drag and burlesque and LGBTQ-friendly events — even has a consent policy clearly outlined for its patrons. "Only enthusiastic, verbal yes means yes. No means no. The absence of an enthusiastic yes means no," the club’s website reads.
"The series wants to show that nightlife isn’t just excess, it’s actually a sanctuary for people who maybe feel like they can’t be their true selves during the day and so night is a place they can put on their wings or glitter and shine as bright as they want," says Will Abrahamson, the episode’s creative director.
"Inspire the Night" features comment by "RuPaul’s Drag Race" season 8 star Thorgy Thor; it tells the coming-out story of House of Yes performer Kevin Charles; and it details the rise of the 4-year-old Bushwick club. But, most importantly, it exposes Sapozhnikova’s struggle with bipolar disorder and the impact it’s had on her creative platform.
"You can’t tell the story of the House of Yes founders without saying that they met in high school or that Anya suffers from bipolar," Abrahamson says. "Anya has taken tons of ownership of her own struggle and selflessly made herself an open book to give strength to others in the community who are suffering."
Shortly after opening House of Yes in 2015, Sapozhnikova was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, categorized by periods of hypomanic episodes, or extreme highs and lows.
"There were some moments where I had zero faith in myself to be able to actually pull it off," Sapozhnikova says in the doc of her experience creating House of Yes before being diagnosed. "I would have these periods where I was on a roll and focused and making amazing stuff and not stopping but the littlest thing would not just upset me, but I’d be devastated … When you’re in your deepest, darkest point you lose all perspective of everything. You feel like you’re out to sea and there’s nothing around you."
Sapozhnikova sought professional advice after her House of Yes team approached her with concern.
"I remember talking to Anya and saying this is no different than a physical illness in the way that it does take care. You are not able to do it yourself," the venue’s co-founder Burke says. "There was a lot of caretaking and nurturing and patients. You really just have to be present."
The support system they’ve created together is artistically represented in the documentary, where video shoots designed by artist Sam Cannon overlay their audio.
"This story was about creating a lot of nonvisual spaces, a lot of mental spaces," Cannon says. "I generally build out a lot of those nonphysical worlds in my work, so I was brought on to tell that part of the story."
Burke and Sapozhnikova express their bond through House of Yes-approved seemingly empty spaces, defined by colors, fog and water. The abstract visuals show the pair swimming, dancing and consoling each other while they reflect on their journey.
"I thought about how this was a space that yes, could be very physically demanding and beautiful, but there are also dark forces creeping through," Cannon says. "Usually when I work in this way with people it’s a lot of conversations between myself and the subjects. Anya and Kae were just immediately like, ‘this is what we’re doing,’ no hesitation, no questions. I immediately understood, they were on their own level of connection."
Since receiving her diagnosis, Sapozhnikova has also detailed her personal struggles and manic periods, like working and living in her bathroom, on Facebook and held open forum events at House of Yes where guests can discuss mental health.
“A community like ours is about challenging each other, elevating each other, and celebrating each other. Because that’s what we do. And it extends outside the walls of the venue," she says.
"Inspire the Night" seasons 1 through 3 are currently available for streaming.