U.K. burlesque performer Anna Fur Laxis, First Runner-Up for Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2011, talks ridiculousness, BHoF legends, knife-throwing, fans with actual anaphylaxis and ninja training.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Your breathtaking act “The Prestige” won you the title of First Runner-Up for Reigning Queen of Burlesque in June 2011 at the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend. I’ve read that it took you at least 18 months of work to properly execute the act and I’d love to know a little more about the details of your extensive preparation, especially the quick change aspect. Had you ever done quick change prior to that act?
Thank you for the breathtaking bit! I’m so glad you liked it. Back in 2006 when I saw the titular film I completely loved it, I found it gloriously evoked what must have been incredible excitement at the performances of the magicians of that period; it’s one of my favourite films. Michael Caine’s description of the three-act concept of a magician’s performance, with ‘The Prestige’ being the climax, particularly lodged in my head. I always said to myself that if I were to seriously apply for BHoF it would have to be with something amazing, I would want to perform something that no one had ever seen before, really to show myself what I could achieve as much as anyone else. A trip to LA’s Magic Castle in 2009 incepted the routine and I jokingly threw out “The Prestige” as a working title to my husband, after he’d stopped laughing at the pompous ridiculousness of it he said he loved it and his enthusiasm for the idea sealed the deal. I knew I had a killer concept but it turned out that I had no idea of the scale of the work that would be required. I had to imagine, develop and build everything myself, with only the help of my wonderful husband.
Prior to this act I’d had zero experience with magic, illusion or quick-change. I can read for England though so I picked up everything I could find on it. I started looking into the mechanics of the quick-change type act but it became clear that they weren’t suitable for the effects I was looking for. When I realized the act was more of a vanish-and-appear the pieces started to fall into place, although the effects are visually similar it’s an important distinction as it creates very different costuming challenges.
I love making costumes but it’s fair to say that this one was my biggest challenge to date and the length of time spent on the routine’s development speaks of the numerous costume pieces that didn’t quite work as required and so had to be re-made, modified and/or abandoned.
Two legends you are particularly inspired by are Holiday O’Hara and Dusty Summers. Would you please share about your admiration for them and in what ways each of them have helped mold you into the performer you are today?
Hands down, THE most incredible thing about attending the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend is meeting the legends of the industry. These amazing men and women are full of inspiration, advice and brilliance and it’s incredibly motivating to spend time in their presence. Hearing Holiday O’Hara speak at the 2008 Legends Panel really did have a profound effect on me. During that weekend’s show, Holiday had performed a striptease for which she had entered the stage with the necessary aid of her mobility walker; the act also featured her utilizing it for comic effect. Speaking of this at the panel, she recalled her mentor’s words, “if you can’t fix it, feature it”. Those words were a revelation to me, and they have informed me both as a performer and in my personal life since.
With Dusty Summers, I’d read her book and been so inspired by her story. I loved that Dusty incorporated magic into her numbers, and when I saw her perform live with doves for the first time, I was blown away. Those doves seriously appear from NOWHERE! When I started to create ‘The Prestige’, I knew I wanted to impress Dusty Summers. Winning the trophy was amazing, but nervously approaching Dusty the next day to ask what she’d thought, and to hear her say that she’d loved the number and had stood up to cheer really made my day!
Let’s talk pre-burlesque background. How/when did you get started? Do you have any formal dance/theater training, etc?
I don’t have any formal dance background (other than a performance as a munchkin in a small production of “The Wizard of Oz” aged 3) – the other dance training I have undertaken as an adult, and since starting to perform Burlesque as a career. I love learning new things and I grab learning opportunities wherever I can.
Other than dance classes, the ‘training’ I’ve found most beneficial from my previous life and careers has been from unexpected areas – Anatomy & Physiology & body positioning studies from my Radiography training has helped with modeling, my Beauty Therapy has helped with stage make up & presentation, and my time as a Legal Secretary has been invaluable in writing my contracts and the huge amount of administration that being a Performer brings.
Initially, I started to perform Burlesque as an extension of the pin-up modeling I’d been doing. I had no clue that I would fall so in love with performing and creating acts and that I would be doing it full time within six months of my first performance!
Aside from burlesque, you’re also an established model. Care to share some career highlights thus far? Any exciting modeling projects in the works?
Modeling and Burlesque work well together and I love both. I love working with creative, retro companies such as Vivien of Holloway and Arcanum Accessories or with incredible Artists like Gary Crozier and Saarai Salmi & Marco Melander. I’m really looking forward to some of the shoots I have lined up, for example with creative wig specialist Archania by D’Licious, and I also have a new project in the pipeline with Gary Crozier. As for highlights? I’m a sucker for being on magazine covers. Five years ago I was a nerdy Yorkshire Housewife – being on magazine covers makes me feel like I‘ve broken the laws of Physics.
Your fans recently voted you number 5 in 21st Century Burlesque’s Burlesque Top 50 for 2011 (a drastic jump from the number 19 spot in 2010). In your opinion, what contributed to the increase in notoriety? Were you surprised to be in the top 5?
I was absolutely thrilled to be voted into the top 50, and to be number 5 was wonderful. I’d obviously been hoping I’d be somewhere in the top 50, but as names were announced and the numbers get smaller you do start to wonder if you’ll be in there.
I think I owe my position at number 5 to the people who saw my BHoF act – either online or on stage in Las Vegas and Leeds. It’s very rewarding to know that people enjoy what I do enough to put me alongside such esteemed Performers, Teachers and Ambassadors of this industry.
You’re also known for knife/axe-throwing, and you won a medal from the International Knife Throwers Hall of Fame recently. We’d love to hear more about that!
Haha!! Yes, I was pretty excited about that medal! Since I met Hollywood Knife Thrower Jack Dagger in Los Angeles in 2008, I’ve come to know some really great members of the International Knife Thrower’s Hall of Fame. It’s a wonderful community and, in many ways similar to the burlesque scene. It’s an international group of enthusiasts, skilled in a discipline they love, loudly spreading the word to anyone who’ll listen. I’d love to go to more events and throwing contests but I’m rarely available, so to get recognition from them was wonderful, and again, very much an honour.
I giggled at a recent Facebook post in which you stated, “I know I’ve been going in this direction for quite some time, but in 2012 I’ve decided to become an actual ninja.” You’ve got some pretty serious training ahead of you this year, no?
Totes. Although in many ways I’m almost there already; I’ve studied the martial art Aikido, I can pretty much quote the whole of Enter the Dragon, I own some REALLY tight black pants and my knife-throwing instructor has offered to teach me how to throw bo shuriken. The way I see it, my main challenge in this quest is to figure out how to be a lot less clumsy in the dark.
In December you had to delay the second act of show because an audience member was actually experiencing anaphylaxis, reportedly right after you left the stage. I’m certainly not making light of anyone’s ailment, but my goodness how incredible is that?! (What happened, anyway?)
I was performing in a run of nightly dinner shows in the Grand Casino in Helsinki, an awesome gig with beautiful performers LouLou D’Vil and Lada Redstar. One night, I noticed that the interval was lasting a lot longer than usual and asked around to find out what was happening. I was told that the show had been halted while medical help was sought for a diner who had eaten something, suffered an allergic reaction and was experiencing anaphylaxis! BOOM! You can’t buy that headline! Thankfully, we later learned that he made a full recovery; you never know what could happen next time though!
What’s next for Anna Fur Laxis?
Sewing! I’m planning two new numbers for this year so I’m currently riding a wave of costuming inspiration. I’m also working with my husband again on the design for a new prop I’ll need for one of them. Ninja Training obviously, I’ll be starting that in earnest. Then there are rehearsals for some overseas shenanigans in the pipeline, can’t give too much away about them yet but if you currently reside in, oh, let’s say… Canada? Australia? Spain? Yorkshire? Then there’s a chance you could bump into me somewhere. Drinking tea? Counting cards? Leaving no trace?
Dallas burlesque instructor and enthusiast Lisa Carmen talks being a ham, the Burlesque Experience®, being “everybody’s cheerleader”, and stripping like you mean it.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Please correct me if I’m wrong, but your personal foray into burlesque started with the creation of the Dallas group Les Femmes Aplomb!, right? Care to share a little more about the development of the group and how it shaped your burlesque future?
Yes, that’s right! I like to say I didn’t find burlesque- burlesque found me! In mid 2009, a friend and I got this ‘crazy hair’ to create a burlesque group and learn burlesque. I invited 7 of my boldest, bravest friends to join us for the adventure. We created characters, routines, worked our butts off, put on a few shows, had a great time and each of us was changed, somehow, by the time we were done. It was transformative.
I want to know about Carmen Diablo the performer. I’ve read that you’ve been performing since age 2 (theater? dance? both?) and you’ve described your style as “fusion,” meaning that you’re not entirely classic or entirely neo. Please tell us about your background and your creative process for developing a new act for yourself.
Family legend has it that at age 2, I was two years too young to start tap and ballet class, but my mom had me meet the teacher and she made a special exception for me after that! I was doing solos on stage by the time I was 4 and my mother was the quintessential ‘stage mom’. I’ve always been a showgirl, or a ham, and frankly, performing was one way I quickly learned how to feel loved at a very young age. I also danced Ballet Folkorico for most of my childhood, as well as acting in many theatre productions. I’ve always loved the stage. Sadly though, once I hit puberty, like many young dancers, I rebelled and resisted, and eventually rejected my dance practice entirely. My dance practice was waiting for me when I returned to it as an adult. A bit different this time around, but it’s felt like coming home.
You’re the creator and instructor of the Burlesque Experience®, a burlesque series located at Dallas PinUp which is totally different from its contemporaries. You’ve described it as having more of an emphasis on personal growth and expression rather than a hardcore burlesque technique intensive. What else can you tell us about the journey of a Burlesque Experience® student?
I’m a life coach and personal growth champion, first and foremost. My daughter teasingly calls me “everybody’s cheerleader.” It’s what I do and who I am. For me, burlesque became a vehicle for my personal growth and empowerment. It was so important and exciting and inspiring, and served as such a catalyst for me, that I knew others would find it to offer the same benefits, whether or not they wanted a future in burlesque. Women come to the Burlesque Experience® for a variety of reasons, and more often than not, they get WAY more than they’d anticipated. They show up desiring their moment in the spotlight, but scared and full of insecurities. They move through those feelings through weeks of planning, work, rehearsing and learning, and then they “bust out” in front of a huge, loving and supportive live audience, in a gorgeous theatre setting, red carpet and all. It changes them. I’m also continually blown away at the support system they provide for one another, and the genuine love and affection that develops within the group. I think every woman deserves her moment in the spotlight and I love supporting that process.
The winter session of the Burlesque Experience® just started this month, right? Could you dish a little about your new batch of students and their progress thus far?
Yes! We are having SO much fun. I have ten women journeying with me and preparing for their “BUST-OUT”, which will be held at Quixotic World, just a few doors from Dallas PinUp, on Friday, February 24th. They’re nervous as hell, and they’re doing it anyway! It’s such a profound joy for me to watch the transformation. We get together weekly to dance, learn, laugh, tell the truth together… it’s seriously one of my life’s deepest pleasures. This particular group is blowing me away with their passion. I asked them the night of our first session “Are you ready for a new obsession?” They have all caught ‘the burlesque bug’! It’s like a flu- it gets inside you and spreads quickly, infecting everything else!
I’ve asked a few other burlesque instructor friends about this, and I’m curious to know – when teaching burlesque (especially act development, choreography, etc.), do you find that the process makes it more difficult to create new acts for yourself since you’re essentially always immersed in it? Or do you find that seeing others being inspired is what inspires you to create even more?
That’s an interesting question! As I work closely with most Burlesque Experience® students on their solo acts, I feel involved with the creative process and output of about 10-12 acts per show, even though I’ll only get on stage to dance once during that show! The energetic demand of coaching, teaching, producing and marketing each Bust-Out, while being present and available to the women for support and encouragement is intense! It’s like planning your big fat sparkly wedding every three months! Luckily I have a lot of support and help, from artists like Vivienne Vermuth, Violet O’Hara, and a load of graduates who love to stay involved in a bunch of different ways. I love it so much, and the satisfaction I get is immeasurable, but yeah, I’ve learned to keep my calendar clear for the days immediately following a show… I am so emotionally, mentally and physically spent by then! And then I get ready for the next one…
I’m curious about your project SacredSexyU®, and I’m sure our readers would like to know more as well.
SacredSexyU® is the umbrella under which the Burlesque Experience® and several other components of my work fall. I am completely and utterly in love with my work and committed to supporting women to live their most bodacious, wildly blissful, powerful, spirited lives, to heal the gap between sexuality and spirituality, masculine and feminine, to heal self-esteem, to annihilate self-loathing and to abolish shame! I think life is supposed to be a sexy, fun adventure, and I believe in joy and pleasure as a spiritual path. I have a number of retreats, workshops, coaching groups and one-on-one coaching clients that I do this with, or through. It’s an incredible honor and joy to do what I do every day. Not a day goes by that I don’t think “lucky me!”
In January you were the featured speaker at the DFW Burlesque Industry Meet and Greet. What were some of your discussion topics? What was the most memorable part of the evening?
When I speak publicly about The Burlesque Experience®, it’s impossible for me to contain my enthusiasm. I glow and overflow. It’s one of my favorite topics, and yeah, I gush! I’m really grateful to Jerry Fedora for the invitation to share my passion for this work with the Dallas burlesque community. What’s most memorable to me about that night, and every time I attend Jerry’s events, is to see everyone come together as a community. I’m a huge believer in supporting others, and I’d love to see that nurturing and supportive energy continue to grow in the Dallas burlesque community. I think the blossoming mainstream popularity of burlesque is so exciting and cool, and that there’s enough room for everyone to do what they love on this beautiful landscape of possibility. Let’s consider it an honor that our art is inspiring so many others, and let’s support the passion we’ve ignited. Imagine if no one ever wrote another song, because John Lennon wrote so well … there’s always room for more creative expression, and now more than ever, the world needs people who have come alive. If burlesque makes you come alive, DO IT. Support your local scene. Get up there and strip like you mean it.
What’s next for Lisa Carmen?
More, more, more! More adventures, more speaking, more classes, more burlesque, more Burlesque Experience® Starlets productions (my alumni group of B.E. graduates who finished and said ‘more, please’!) More connection, more healing, more tales of aplomb and transformation. More community, more joy, more success!
Anything you’d like to add?
You can learn more about me and my work at www.SacredSexyU.com and/or www.theburlesqueexperience.com. Thank you Pin Curl Magazine for this opportunity to share, and Dallas PinUp for supporting this work! The ripple effect is immeasurable.
Editor’s Note: When we at Pin Curl were brainstorming on what new additions to bring into the magazine for 2012, a question and answer etiquette column kept coming up. You know- backstage etiquette, producer/performer etiquette, all sorts of burlesque related questions filled our heads. We couldn’t think of anyone’s advice we’d rather take than Miss Jo “Boobs” Weldon, Founder of the New York School of Burlesque and author of The Burlesque Handbook! We are so thrilled that Miss Weldon is our newest monthly contributor! Have a question you’d like Jo to answer? Please title your email “Etiquette- _your issue___” and send to editor [at] PinCurlMag [dot] com and we will send them right over to her!
Since I published The Burlesque Handbook in June 2010, I’ve gotten a lot of response to it from both beginners and pros, and the most frequent comment I’ve had from experienced performers has been, “Thank you for the chapter on etiquette!” And most of them add, “Especially the part about taking pictures!”
In the guidelines for the chapter, I wrote:
1. Ask before you take pictures, and be genuinely willing to not take them. People who don’t mind being photographed doing all kinds of wild things onstage may not want to be photographed checking the crotch of their underwear for clitty litter. Or they may wish to be photographed only by professionals. This is not necessarily uptight of them. There are a lot of issues around photography and burlesque. And for god’s sake, if you post a photo online and someone asks you to take a picture down, do it!
In this era of cameras everywhere, most new performers think of their first backstage experience as something they must document and post to as much social media as possible. I think this is a beautiful instinct, and a testament to the joyous experience most burlesque performers are having.
However, for many people, burlesque is something they treat as a job or career, and they do their best to have some input into what photos appear related to their stage names. They are thinking of burlesque as something fun, for sure. However, they are thinking of it as a job, not a party. They have to think about how every photo that turns up whenever there are googled by a show producer or event planner might affect their next chance to get a gig.
About ten years ago I had a website called G-Strings Forever, on which I had something like a photoblog featuring digital pictures I’d taken at Tease-O-Rama, Exotic World, and several weekly shows in NYC, including Starshine and Burlesque at the Beach. The photos were not only low-resolution but full of mood and motion, and if anyone had a zit on his or her butt, you wouldn’t have been able to tell from these photos. Still, I carefully considered the effect of every picture I posted.
These days, when just about any image clearly shows every hair out of place, it’s just common sense to distribute them with respect and care. Just because we love every body type in burlesque doesn’t mean we’re not vain; we all want to look our most fabulous, whether our fabulousity comes from rhinestones, slapstick, or shock value. Wanting to have some control over our image is just part of being a professional performer.
Here are a few tips to help you out, so that the person whose photo you tagged on Facebook last night doesn’t suddenly become just a few degrees cooler the next time you encounter them.
1) Ask yourself: If you were a producer considering hiring this performer, what impression would you get from this photo?
2) Ask yourself: If you were a performer, would you feel this photo gave away too much about your act?
3) Ask the subject if he or she minds if you post the photo.
4) If the subject requests that you take it down or use a different one, oblige them. If they untag themselves, don’t be offended.
5) If they tell you they like the photo, offer them a high-resolution version to use (some photographers may have a professional interest that doesn’t allow them to offer this).
Performers’ etiquette toward photographers:
1) It is very common to allow photographers at burlesque shows. Don’t be offended if they assume they can take pictures at your show; and don’t hesitate to let them know if you don’t want them to shoot.
2) Although many photographers and burlesque performers work with each other without charging, if you ask a professional photographer to take pictures, they are within reason if they believe you’re intending to pay them. Make sure it’s clear.
3) If they ask you to model for them, you are within reason if you believe they are intending to pay you. But don’t assume.
4) Do your best to make sure they get full photo credit every time you use their photos in any capacity.
5) Even if you’ve paid to have a photographer shoot your show, do your best to make sure the other people in the show are represented as they would hope to be in the photos.
These tips are just the beginning , but they should give you an idea of what there is to consider and why it’s never a good idea to take for granted that what seems like common behavior around photos is acceptable to everyone. When in doubt, ask!
Pin Curl Staff Writer, and resident classic media lover, Femme Vivre LaRouge kicks off her “LowBrow Lowdown” with her favorite finds in vintage themed books, films, and albums.
Femme Vivre Recommends: The Lowbrow Low Down
Celebrate Singles Awareness Day with one of my favorite films, Down with Love. With all the style of Mad Men and Pan Am, this picture perfectly captures the sillier side of sixties cinema. Starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, with eccentric supporting roles by David Hyde Pierce and Sarah Paulson, the film plays humorous homage to the lighthearted sex comedies of the 60s. In fact, Tony Randall, who played a part in those comedies, alongside Doris Day and Rock Hudson, made his last film appearance in Down with Love. The wardrobe is fabulous, the repartee is witty, the plot twists and turns like an Olympic gymnast, the editing/effects are clever and kitschy, and overall the film perfectly captures the stylistic essence of mid-century comedy.
See my favorite scene (split screen and innuendo at their finest) here: Down with Love
Calendar Girl, pictured here, is one of my favorite Julie London albums (the cover may have something do with that). Miss London was not only the epitome of pin up, but the ultimate lounge singer. With a soft, sultry voice, Julie seduced her audience as she sang along to the smooth jazz that she loved. An accomplished actress as well, Julie performed in numerous films, and television and radio shows. Her parents were a vaudeville song-and-dance team and Julie graduated the Hollywood Professional School in 1945- it seems that her path was always set for show business. Between 1955 and 1969 she recorded 32 albums. Hear Julie croon, “I belong to the man of the month club” in Time for August
I also recommend checking out the rock n’ roll musical, The Girl Can’t Help It (starring Jayne Mansfield and a top-notch list of musicians) to see Julie London sing her biggest hit, Cry Me a River, in a haunting, yet humorous scene with Tom Ewell. Even if you’re not familiar with Julie’s repertoire, you may also recognize her recording of the Mickey Mouse March. When asked, in an interview, how this recording came about, she said, “I was backstage in Australia, and I was rehearsing for a show at a nightclub. I had my little girl, Kelly, who was just a couple of years old at the time, with me. She got antsy, so I started to sing the song Mickey Mouse to settle her down or just get her attention. The guitarist started playing it behind me, and we ended up doing the song in the show that night. And it went over well.”
We all know of and love Gil Elvgren, the poster boy for pin up art. During a career that began in the 1930s and lasted over 40 years, Elvgren painted scads of scantily clad gals, as well as iconic illustrations for Coca-Cola, GE, and several other companies. A great American commercial artist during the field’s biggest boom, Elvgren did illustrations for all the best magazines, in addition to being a talented photographer, and teacher. Not only did he produce successful students, but many of his models went on to successful careers too, such as Myrna Loy, Donna Reed, and Kim Novak.
Gil Elvgren combined serious painting with cheesecake, producing more than 500 oil paintings of lovely ladies. Dallas Art News recently wrote, “Gil Elvgren remains the unchallenged champion of American Pin-Up Art, as evidenced by the $191,200 price realized for his 1956 Fire Belle (Always Ready), one of the master’s greatest works, in Heritage Auctions’ Oct. 22 Illustration Art Signature® Auction, and by the fact that fully six of the Top 10 lots in the auction featured his revered name.”
Aside from Elvgren’s merits as an artist, his pin up portraits stand apart because of his understanding of the genuine joie de vivre that makes pin up such a special and lovable aesthetic. He said the model “with highly mobile facial features capable of a wide range of expression is the real jewel. The face is the personality.” And furthermore, “The head is very important…But especially important is vivacity – being alive. It shouldn’t be faked but be sprightly and genuine.”
For more information, and nearly 250 full-color illustrations, I suggest the book Gil Elvgren: All his glamorous American pin-ups, by Charles G. Martignette and Louis K. Meisel, which includes a great overview of the history of American illustration and commercial painting, specifically as it relates to glamour and the evolution of the classic American pin-up. Another great resource is the website, Gil Elvgren.
This book also contains a marvelous account of pin up art, pulp art, and under the counter photos. It’s also a beautiful elegy to Bettie Page, and details the ‘rediscovery’ of her image, and resurgence of her popularity in the 80s and 90s. This newfound, over the counter, popularity resulted in Betty Page Comics, The Betty Pages- a small magazine ‘devoted almost entirely to old photos of Bettie,’ and her appearance in The Rocketeer comics by Dave Stevens. Several other artists began to revisit her iconic image, and for good reason! As the author, Jim Silke writes, even the most amateur photographer could get great results due to her extraordinary charisma and “…her beautifully designed body. Simply posed against a nondescript background, there are still enough design elements in her figure to survive the technical incompetence and make a graphically satisfying picture…it is the camera’s affection for Bettie that allows the paper girl to tell us something about the real girl.” In closing, Silke sums up her enigmatic charm and timeless appeal, “…But no matter how many pictures of her I study, or how many drawings I make, Bettie remains elusive, a whole lot easier to pin up than pin down…Bettie has power that is neither rational nor explainable. She is a character in tales told by countless imaginations, yet she is real. She is fact and she is fiction…she is not only an unforgettable image but an individual of such disturbing delight and character that she is a one and only. Bettie Page. An American original.”
Lillith Grey has been lighting up the stage for over five years as a burlesque and fetish performer, musician, and emcee, and can frequently be found performing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She holds a master’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education, and is currently completing her Ph.D. in psychology. She has worked as a psychotherapist, educator, and social justice advocate, and currently teaches at a local university while working on her research. She travels extensively, teaching classes and workshops on a variety of subjects including relationships, communication, trauma, body image, sexuality and gender, and diversity issues. Lillith is also active in the Leather community, serving on the NLA-International Writing Awards committee and as a co-chair for the Women’s International LeatherFest. Visit her at www.LillithGrey.com for more information.
Have a question for our new advice columnist? Please title your email “Lillith- _subject___” and send to editor [at] pincurlmag [dot] com
A close friend and I perform together at a lot of small burlesque and variety shows. We started burlesque together and have worked together ever since, but lately we are butting heads. I really love performing with her but I am worried that our friendship is suffering because we work together. What can I do to make sure both our friendship and performances are strong?
- Torn in Texas
Dear Torn in Texas:
The blending of personal and professional roles can be really difficult, but it seems like you are committed to working it out, which is a great start. This issue impacts a lot of performers and producers – since we are such a small community, we end up blurring the lines between friendship and business, which can lead to ruffled feathers, minor tiffs, or even major conflicts.
Since you two started your performance careers together, then it makes perfect sense that you’d be butting heads now. Burlesque is an art form crafted by time – when you first started performing; you probably approached your acts differently than you do now. As you’ve become more experienced, you have likely developed your own style and your own way of doing things, both on and off stage. You’ve probably also realized how much work is involved, and you may be developing a better sense of how dedicated you want to be. This kind of growth and development is a really important part of each performer’s journey. Allowing each other the space to develop independently, even if it means in different directions, is a marker of a strong friendship.
Think about these as two distinct relationships: a personal relationship and a professional relationship. They certainly blur together at times, and that’s part of what makes it fun, but don’t forget that they are unique roles that should be nurtured equally. If you come to a point where you are unable or unwilling to continue attending to those roles, it may be time to consider letting go of one or both of them. Since it seems clear to me from your question that you are hoping to maintain that strong friendship and continue perform together as well, here are some pointers to help you along the way…
One of the most important things that you bring to the table as a friend and as a performer is your own level of insight. The more you understand yourself, the better able you are to communicate your own style and find ways to support each other. If you know that you tend to procrastinate, you can ask her for support and friendly reminders. If you prefer having written choreography rather than memorized, you can say that up front and avoid annoyances down the road. Do you prefer to start rehearsals immediately, or do you like to chat a bit before beginning? Simply knowing how you work best and letting the other person know, leaves a lot of space for compromise and mutual understanding.
Small conflicts are usually indicators of underlying frustration or anger. If seemingly trivial things feel more important than they should, you may need to do some deeper reflection on how things are going. For example, if you are frustrated that she tends to be a few minutes late to rehearsals, a deeper reason might be that you are feeling like she doesn’t care about your work together. If she thinks you are too controlling about the choreography, it may be because she feels like her voice isn’t heard in the creative process. Similarly, things can carry over from other parts of your relationship. If there is something going on in the friendship, that will show up in your work together, just like these work conflicts are showing up in your friendship. Having well-developed personal insight can help create a safe space for open and honest dialogue.
Now that you’ve had experience as a performer, it’s probably time to renegotiate how you work together. Talk to each about what works and what doesn’t for you. How much time do you need to prepare for a show? How many rehearsals do you need? How frequently do you want to perform? Are you allowed to perform solo? With others? Do you consider this a hobby or a career? How do you want to brand yourself to your audience? Which shows will you be in? How much do you need to be paid? The list goes on and on…. Different performers have different preferences, but the problem comes when we don’t explicitly talk about these questions because we end up making assumptions about the other person’s wants and needs. Remember, if you’re going to work together, you’ll have to compromise, but it’s impossible to compromise if you don’t know what each person needs.
Having some level of personal insight will also allow you to negotiate your working relationship based on what your own needs and interests are. Talk about how you’re going to work together – if you are going to integrate social time with work time, decide how you will know when it’s time to work and when it’s time to play. I occasionally perform with a gal who has a “working notebook.” When the notebook’s out, it’s a signal that we’re talking business and we’re getting stuff done (usually while drinking wine and gabbing about whatever books we’re reading and our latest thrift store discoveries). When the notebook goes away, so does the business. It’s a nice way of integrating both while still being clear about boundaries and roles.
Effective communication happens in person. Most of the time email and text do nothing to reduce tension or clear up misunderstandings. Instead, they perpetuate misunderstanding and create unnecessary conflict. A healthy dialogue allows space for complexity, clarification, non-verbal cues, emotional expression, and nuance, and it has a sense of give and take in the moment. Email and text offer none of those things. Emoticons don’t count as sharing your feelings.
Also, keep your drama offline. Keep. Your.Drama.Offline. Facebook and Twitter lull us into believing that we are just venting to our friends when we post overly emotional or derogatory messages online. We also tend to not recognize when we are creating or perpetuating drama because it feels so personal and so relevant at the moment we post it. The truth is that it comes across as inappropriate and disrespectful. It’s not only unprofessional; it’s also hurtful to your friendship. At tempting as it is, when in conflict you must avoid technological communication!
Another major pitfall in communication is passive aggression. This is a big one that a lot of women in our culture struggle with. Think about how kids are socialized, generally speaking: boys tend to settle their differences physically or verbally, and are encouraged to be assertive and stand up for themselves. Girls, on the other hand, are typically expected to be nice and gentle, so the necessary assertion of boundaries and needs has to occur in passive ways.
When you write a post on Facebook about “someone” doing something to you, when you make snarky comments about something rather than just confronting it head on, or when you tell lots of other people about a private conflict, you are acting out your aggression in a passive manner. This is particularly hard to deal with when you’re on the receiving end of it because it leaves you feeling unable to protect yourself – you know you’ve been attacked, but the manner in which it was done makes it hard to defend yourself. Dismantling passive aggression takes special attention, since many of us have had it ingrained in us since birth. Learning to communicate assertively and directly (albeit gently and kindly!) will smooth things out considerably.
It’s not show friends, it’s show business
I think one of the most difficult things about this art form is the financial side – this is an expensive lifestyle, with very little tangible reward. Whether you’re performing or producing (or both!), you have undoubtedly invested money – perhaps even a lot of money – into your work. Money is so important in our lives – when we talk about money we’re also talking about our personal sense of security, which can be a scary thing to feel unsure about. Many of us get very protective over that part of our lives, and understandably so.
If your friend is producing a show or bearing any sort of financial responsibility for more than just herself, it’s important that you realize how intense that is. At face value, it may seem simple – just rent a venue, hire performers, and sell tickets, right!? WRONG! Not only is event production much more expensive and complex than it seems, there’s also a great deal of emotional cost as well. When a producer signs a contract accepting financial and legal responsibility for a show; that’s a lot of weight. Depending on how big that weight is, she might have to make some decisions that you don’t agree with. It is important for you to recognize that when her money is on the line, her role has to be a professional first.
Even if she’s not a producer, she’s still investing money, time, and energy – and these are valuable resources! You may have different ideas about how much of those things you are willing and able to invest in your work. You may have different plans about where you hope your path will take you. All of these “big picture” issues end up being manifested in small things, like how much time someone can spend rehearsing or how far they are willing to drive. If you can have a dialogue with her about where you see yourselves going and how you each intend to get there, you’ll have a better understanding about the physical, financial, and emotional cost of performance.
Power struggles are tough, but the good thing is that it means you both have strengths and are willing to be assertive about them. Many times when you end up in a power struggle, you miss the fact that the other person may have ideas that compensate for your weak points. If you put down your boxing gloves for a minute, you can turn the situation into something that benefits of both you. For instance, if you butt heads about the creative direction an act will take, you might take turns being the “artistic director” for your acts. If you have conflicts about how the business side is being handled, talk about it and decide who will handle what aspects of the management. Maybe when one of you is creative director, the other can take on the business side (i.e. handling communication with producers, taking care of music prep, handling payment, etc.).
If it turns out that you are on two different paths, or if you continue to have conflict that cannot be resolved, then you may need to mutually renegotiate your working relationship in order to save your friendship. That does not mean you have to stop working together, but it might mean that things have to change. As you consider making a big change like that, remember that the development, growth, redefinition, and sometimes even the ending of a relationship can be a very healthy and empowering process for everyone involved. When you find that you are able to speak your truth and hear your friend’s truth without judgment, you’ll be able to navigate the waters of the personal and the professional with ease.
Beauty is Pain ~ Or ~ Here’s Arsenic in Your Eye!
by: Femme Vivre LaRouge
Just kidding, no one put arsenic in their eyes. They drank it. For that beautiful glowing skin, almost translucent (like a ghost!), and sparkling eyes! Never mind the vomiting and hair loss, just take your beauty medicine daily and don’t forget to take a little break in your regime to allow for a ‘toxic balance’ and the repletion of red blood cells. No prescription needed, simply order your arsenic complexion wafers today through the Sears Roebuck Catalogue (today being circa turn of the last century, but as late as the 1920s). At $6 per dozen, it’s recommended that you go ahead and purchase one dozen large boxes to ensure the following claims by leading wafer manufacturer, Dr. MacKenzie: “Even the coarsest and most repulsive skin and complexion, marred by freckles and other disfigurements, slowly changes into an unrivaled purity of texture, free from any spot or blemish whatever; the pinched features become agreeable, the form angular gradually transforms itself into the perfection of womanly grace and beauty. Used by men the favorable results are the same.”
What some women did actually put in their eyes was the extract of a lovely little flower called Belladonna, or Deadly Nightshade. Italian Renaissance women were known to dilute the substance and use it to dilate their pupils for a lusty ‘bedroom eyes’ look. While Belladonna is still in use today as a sleep aid and muscle relaxant, I don’t think you’ll find anyone dropping it in their eyes. Side effects include blindness and excruciating death.
Ancient Egyptians used a slew of toxic beauty products on their eyes, including eye makeup composed of appealing things like copper, lead, and soot. Dr. Joel Schlessinger reported to MSNBC that, “The ocular skin is most likely to absorb materials due to its thin, nearly transparent qualities…The exposure would eventually lead to irritability, insomnia, and mental decrease.” Egyptian women were also known to use bromide to enhance their lips, although the risk was skin eruptions and madness.
Ancient Grecians, Romans, and later the British, thought lead paint such a good beauty product that they covered their entire faces in it, for a fashionable pallor. Using paints and peels made of lead and mercury, the fashion conscious would attempt to not only cover up, but remove skin blemishes and freckles, and hopefully nothing more important with them. Other dangers included infertility, insanity, and predictably, death. For centuries quack doctors have been selling lotions, potions, and paints to lighten the complexion, often leading to the customer’s demise. The moral of this story: we’re meant to have a variety of skin tones! Lead poisoning and skin cancer are not awesome, and like my mom told me, freckles are just angel kisses (and let me tell you, I must have been popular with the angels as a child).
For a thoroughly amusing account of Georgian era Make-Up atrocities, see one of my favorite Horrible Histories videos, the Georgian Make-Up Song.
Luckily, the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was passed in 1938 and limited the peddling of a multitude of toxic substances. Not to say there aren’t still harmful cosmetics out there, and plenty that are harmful to Mother Earth. A report in 2007 brought red lipsticks from multiple manufacturers under scrutiny for lead content, and Stacy Malkan, author of Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry and co-founder of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics told MSNBC that some mascaras still use mercury as a preservative. Furthermore, Malkan stated, “We’re also being exposed to chemicals like phthalates many times a day through personal care products like shampoos, face creams, fragrances…” An excellent resource for information about face friendly, and earth friendly cosmetics (and more) is Sophie Uliano’s Gorgeously Green: 8 Simple Steps to an Earth-Friendly Life. The accompanying website, www.gorgeouslygreen.com, also offers a wealth of knowledge about safe, and unsafe, beauty products.
So, the good news is we’re no longer breaking all the bones in our feet as children to re-form them into 3 inch stumps and we’re not corset training so intensely that we remove our lower ribs (cosmetic surgery in Victorian times – what were they thinking!?) and squeezing our guts out of our lady bits, nor are we force feeding ourselves Turkish Delight like a foie gras duck to keep us curvy and waxy-skinned like harem girls. Unfortunately, though, the ideal body image pendulum has swung the other way and some super model types have been known to purposefully ingest tapeworms (you don’t want to know how those have to come out) to stay thin. And ladies, although our g-strings look great onstage, I shudder to even think of the health risks caused by daily wear, and don’t think it proper to report them here.
Some beauty tidbits about the legendary ladies we love:
Marilyn Monroe was known to cut down one of her high heels a half inch to put an extra wiggle in her walk.
Movie executives pushed Rita Hayworth to have her hairline moved back a full inch with electrolysis because they didn’t think she was pretty enough.
Supposedly, Marlene Dietrich and Lucille Ball would twist their hair up tightly and bobby pin it under their wig to get a natural, although uncomfortable, facelift (known as the Croydon facelift). Supposedly, Dietrich also wore a small gold chain under her chin, pulled back into her hair to sharpen her jaw line as she aged.
Jean Harlow’s mother (a very overbearing type) demanded that Harlow ice her nipples before shooting scenes in satin gowns with no undergarments.
Carol Doda, a topless dancer who popularized bottoms-only bikinis in the sixties, was one of the first well-known performers to surgically enhance her bosom – by 10 full inches, through silicone injections.
Fetish Model & Performer, event producer, and Texas Pin-Up Model of the Year 2011 (Hot Rods and Heels), Courtney Crave is amazing both on stage, and in the kitchen. She is kind enough to share her favorite seasonal recipes with Pin curl Magazine monthly. For more on Miss Crave, please visit her at GermanDreamGirl.com.
Somewhere in the back of my head I am slightly aware of the fact that not everyone likes chocolate. However baffling this may be to me as a self diagnosed chocoholic, I want to provide a Valentine’s Day recipe for those special people. So no one has to open another heart shaped box of truffles and say; “Chocolates, for me? You shouldn’t have. No really, you shouldn’t have.” This also happens to be one of my favorite desserts from my childhood. Let that sink in as you realize that most of the recipe is alcohol based.
- 2 cups dry red wine, such as Chianti or Merlot
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 strips (3 inches by 1 inch each) orange peel
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 ½ pounds dark sweet cherries (the big juicy plump ones)
- Whipped cream (real whipped cream)
- Bring wine, sugar, orange peel and cinnamon to a boil in a 4 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Allow to boil for about 5 minutes then cool to room temperature. Put the cherries in a large bowl or storage bowl with a lid and pour the wine mixture on top. Cover the cherries with wine sauce tightly and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours. This can actually sit in the fridge for up to 2 days, the longer in the fridge, the more the wine becomes infused in the cherries. Serve by ladling the cherries and sauce into dessert bowls and top with whipped cream (real whipped cream, nothing that comes in a can tub in the frozen section). You’re also left with a wonderful cherry wine sauce to pour over ice cream or just drink straight.
I stumbled across this delicious drink while researching romantic cocktails that require a little more planning than “pour champagne in glass, add strawberry.” Don’t get me wrong, I love my champagne, but this year I thought we could kick it up a notch for that special someone in our lives (even if that special someone happens to be yourself).
- 1 oz strawberry, vanilla, or regular vodka (my personal favorite for this is whipped cream vodka)
- 1/2 oz white crème de cacao
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
- 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream
- 1/2 cup ice
- Strawberry for garnish
- Pour all ingredients into a blender and blend until totally smooth. If you prefer a thicker frozen cocktail add more ice or ice cream. If you prefer a thinner one add more berries or milk. Pour the mixture into a chilled margarita glass and garnish with strawberry slices.
Renowned burlesque photographer Don Spiro talks the burlesque revival, Tease O Rama, King Kong, Doris Eaton and Jennie Lee’s vision.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You’ve been interested in cinematography and filmmaking since you were a young boy. At the age of only six you were shooting movies with your father’s super 8. I’m curious to know which films you found particularly inspiring when you were a child. How do your childhood film inspirations compare to those you had as an adult studying film in college?
I think that most people who are inspired to be filmmakers at a young age are informed by films they saw as children. The 1933 King Kong did it for me. NY Channel 9 showed it every Thanksgiving, followed by Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young. I saw it when I was six and wanted to make films ever since, a desire that was only reinforced when Star Wars was released. I had the benefit of having parents who were interested in avante garde and classic films, so I grew up with Saturday afternoon Universal horror films, Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello and screwball comedies, MGM musicals, Warner Bros film noir and the rest from local New York and Philly stations. Also, my father was into Charlie Chaplin films, so we would go to whatever colleges in the tri-state area were showing one, and soon started going to other films they programmed. The Seventh Seal, Pandora’s Box, All Quiet on the Western Front, and O Lucky Man! All stand out. And they took me to R rated movies, so I was well aware of modern releases. By the time I got to college I wasn’t only already familiar with most of the curriculum, I’d already done research on my own.
Unless I’m mistaken, you first began participating in the burlesque community in 2001 with the now legendary Velvet Hammer Burlesque. According to many performers I’ve interviewed, the year 2001 was pivotal in the development of the now booming burlesque revival, mostly due to the first Tease-O-Rama. Being that you’ve been not only a witness to but a participant of both the L.A. and New York burlesque scenes for arguably the entire burlesque revival, I’m curious about your take on how burlesque has evolved in the last decade.
You’re correct, I didn’t actively participate until 2001. The ladies (and gents) in the Velvet Hammer were friends of mine, I’d been seeing their show for years and had been going to their personal side projects as well. I didn’t get involved until they were accepted to perform at Tease-O-Rama in New Orleans and they staged a benefit to raise travel funds. Augusta, my girlfriend at the time decided that documenting the Velvet Hammer would be a fun project and a good excuse to go to New Orleans. The project expanded to a few years of work and ended up as a feature length documentary, “The Velvet Hammer Burlesque.” It was in New Orleans that we became close to the Velvet Hammer’s ‘sister’ troupe, the Va Va Voom Room of NYC, which included Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz, the World Famous *BOB*, and Miss Astrid.
In New Orleans I didn’t just shoot the Velvet Hammer and Va Va Voom Room, I shot the Lavender Cabaret, Tigger, the Pontani Sisters, Dita and Catherine, Dane’s Dames, and anyone else I thought fun. Remember, this was before digital, so there weren’t many photographers and I thought it would be good to shoot for posterity. I shot with two cameras: one loaded with black and white and one with color film. I shot boxes of film, had them processed in New Orleans and printed in Los Angeles…it was very expensive!
That show introduced regional performers to others around the country (and world) for the first time. Thanks to that, and to the online community, everyone was able to share ideas, cross promote, and take burlesque to a new level.
Before TOR everyone involved in new burlesque had a more vintage aesthetic, they appreciated the glamour and art of the past and paid tribute to those that came before. Some were just fans of the art form, some had a rockabilly or pin up background, some theatre or dance, and some had come from the tradition of stripping. After TOR there were a new crop of performers, inspired not by Blaze Starr or Tempest Storm but by Dita von Teese and Dirty Martini. Many of them stayed with burlesque got to be great performers (and got to know the history), but at the time there were a lot of people who were using burlesque to conquer their fears, build self esteem, or use it to further some personal agenda. I got to see people, working out their issues on stage in front of an indifferent crowd, on the same bill with established talent and ambitious up and comers who are headlining today.
Over the years, as burlesque became a buzzword almost synonymous with performance art, it seemed like anyone felt they could get up on stage and do burlesque or worse, teach it. The genre, as a traditional American folk art, seemed to get lost and the quality was diluted. As time has passed that is happening less, and a lot of the participants who have stuck with it have improved to the point where I am in awe of some of their accomplishments. The reputable teachers have outlasted the less qualified, and have genuine respect and camaraderie for each other.
My focus has always been on documenting burlesque, archiving the history as it is made. I’m curious what direction it will take, and how it will evolve, but I like my role as a passive observer. I know that some of my work has inspired others, and my involvement with some events and groups has helped keep burlesque alive, but other than that my interest is in seeing where others take it. Christopher Isherwood, one of my favorite authors (and another inspiration) wrote in Goodbye to Berlin, “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking,” and I feel that is an appropriate motto for a documentarian. As a photographer, I will always still have my own personal style, but as a witness to burlesque as a subject I like to stand back and see what happens. I’m involved with the movement, but I can’t control where it goes.
I’ve always been impressed by how genuine your backstage burlesque photos are – how candid they are and the apparent level of comfort between the subject and the shooter. What’s the secret to capturing that essence? Or rather, as a photographer, what are your suggestions on how to ensure that the subject is comfortable enough to produce a genuine shot?
There’s no secret. A reputation as someone who respects performers is the best way to get the kind of shots that I do. The community is really small, and someone who is disrespectful usually isn’t tolerated. I rarely shoot backstage unless I’m asked, or happen to be there and see something worth documenting. For the novice, make sure you have permission, be prepared to stop shooting the moment you are told, and keep any promises you make.
In most cases, I am just taking pictures of my friends backstage, and they are already comfortable with me. It’s years of mutual feeling, and it’s why I don’t usually shoot people I don’t know. If I do, I usually ask permission, and in many cases either the producer or one of the other performers introduces me, but if I don’t see that level of comfort in a person’s eyes I don’t take the shot.
Burlesque people are always confident and self aware, so they are comfortable with who they are already, and are used to having cameras around. As a photographer I don’t have to deal with insecurities or pampering that you might need to do for someone else. However, through experience I am also aware of which performers do not want photos taken until they are in full make up, or when a backstage area is too crowded for me, or when some external situation may be causing tension backstage.
Over the years you’ve chronicled tons of important BHOF figures and events. What have been some of your most memorable moments as a participant? What about the most challenging moments for you as a shooter?
Shooting film was always the most challenging, you had to be experienced to know how a particular image would look when it was developed and printed, and any situation with low light was a challenge, particularly at live events where I didn’t get a second chance for a shot. An example is the Velvet Hammer Burlesque show at the El Rey Theatre November 2001, which had the Va Va Voom Room as guest performers and Miss Astrid as host. I’d watched the rehearsals. I wanted a crowd shot and positioned myself to the side of the runway, waiting for the moment when Michelle Carr would walk to the middle and be cross-lit by the follow spot and backlights. I knew when I took the shot that it would be a favorite. A shot I like looking up at Kitten de Ville at an outdoor show was similar…I put myself in the right place and waited for the right time.
Digital changed all that, but I still rely on my experience with film to get good shots without needing to fix them later. One of my first digital shoots was of Julie Atlas Muz as a mermaid in the saltwater aquarium behind the bar at the Coral Room. I had to climb above the tank to set up lighting gear to create shafts of light that would illuminate her and the fish that swam around her. I’m really proud of that shoot.
Most of my favorite shots, though, are the studio portraits I’ve done. Usually they are for promotion and publicity, but after we get what we need I like to experiment and challenge myself, working at odd angles or with dramatic lighting to get a particular effect. Those are often the most rewarding, and most fun.
I was interested to read about a project you worked on for years (are still working on?) which is inspired by E.J. Bellocq’s 1912 book of New Orleans bordello photography. You mentioned wanting to one day turn it into a book, and I wondered, do you still hope to do that?
I did that for over a year and would still love to get back to it full time but real work has gotten me a bit distracted. I have tons of negatives from that project, and would love to shoot more, but since it’s a personal project I don’t have a deadline to force me to commit to it. That project was and still is shot entirely on film; the goal is to someday print it as a portfolio book but without ever going through a digital medium, although now that may be cost prohibitive. There are fewer and fewer labs today that print directly from negatives, so I plan someday to learn platinum and palladium printing. I still shoot for the project when I get time, and if anyone wants to participate and is in NY or LA, let me know.
Do you have any stories about any ridiculous set up that was necessary in order to pull off the perfect shot?
There aren’t any situations that I would call ridiculous to get a perfect shot, but I’ve been in plenty that others may consider ridiculous. For years I’ve been shooting burlesque Mexican wrestlers at Lucha Va Voom around the country. I’ve been doing it for so long the safety guys know me and know that I’ve got experience. I’ve gotten to get a feeling for when the best shot might present itself, and often that means putting myself in a precarious position ringside close to the action. I’ve had them land very close to me and some of them land outside the ring right beside me! I’ve seen photographers next to me get kicked in the head (or worse, the camera) and have even seen wrestlers land on them. But I never fool with my own safety, I can anticipate when to get the right shot, or what last possible moment I can stay in one place without getting hurt. The only disappointing time is when I need to be in certain place and I see someone else already there, getting the shot instead of me.
I suppose one kind of ridiculous job was when my friends Ron Lynch and Craig Anton had their show “The Idiots.” There was a point early on in the script where they shake hands and smile at the audience like a photo op. I don’t use flash when I shoot live shows, but they asked me to stand up and take their picture with a flash when they shook hands, so I became part of the show.
Many who only know you as a burlesque photographer might be surprised to learn that you’ve been a professional camera assistant and lighting technician for film and television for the last twenty years! Could you share some of your career highlights for our readers to give them a sense of the scope of your work?
Most of my credits are on IMDB, if anyone is actually interested in my resume. My very first job in Hollywood was camera work for a documentary about the Ed Wood film, “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” I got to meet everyone associated with Plan 9 who was still alive, and have great memories of Maila Nurmi, aka Vampira.
I worked a lot in TV, lighting shows like The Shield, Malcolm in the Middle, and others, as well as lots of feature films, both low budget indies and big budget blockbusters. I spent six months on B unit for “Deep Impact.” I was on the lighting team for “Memento,” and one of the only crew members to be on the show from the first day to the last, and it all shot close to my apartment, so that was a big plus.
Besides having friends who helped start the burlesque revival, I have also been friends with a lot of people who are actors and writers in Los Angeles, and much of my favorite work has been collaborating with them. I’ve shot short films with and taken portraits of people who later went on to do work on Mr. Show, The Simpsons, Carnivale, and some amazing shows. If I wanted to be a writer or performer I would have great connections!
Do you have any plans to do a retrospective of your work or anything of that nature?
I’ve thought about it, but every so often I’m asked to show work in a gallery or group show and that works just as well for me. I’ve also realized that curating my own work would be a full time job and I’m too close to it; I would need someone else to come in and do the actual labor. Maybe someday I’ll compile all the projects into compendiums and publish them individually, but since I feel I’m still involved with my subjects a retrospective wouldn’t be complete. Anything I would do would have to be of an incomplete, work-so-far nature.
I’ve shot literally thousands of photos since Michelle Baldwin’s book “Burlesque and the New Bump-n-Grind” was published, but if someone wants to see the type of work I was doing then that has a lot of my shots and is pretty comprehensive. Anyone who wants to know the origins of new burlesque should read it anyway; it’s a great primer.
What’s next for Don Spiro?
I’m working on a new documentary for a Los Angeles production company and that is full time. In addition, four years ago my fiancé Diane and I started a monthly hot jazz club called Wit’s End at a former speakeasy in Manhattan; I’ve gotten to know a lot of great jazz musicians as a result. As a labor of love, I’m also editing Zelda Magazine, which Diane started two years ago that celebrates the jazz age and vintage lifestyles. Because of Zelda Diane interviewed and I was able to conduct the last photo shoot with Doris Eaton, the last living Ziegfeld Girl, just weeks before she passed away. She was 106, lovely, and had a better memory than I do now.
I don’t shoot much weekly burlesque anymore unless I’m asked, there are so many people shooting I feel I don’t need to anymore. They days of being the only one taking pictures at a show are gone. My main interest is in the Burlesque Hall of Fame and the New York Burlesque Fest, and those jobs also entail helping coordinate photography policies as well as shooting the events. I’m also looking forward to the next Tease-O-Rama, because that show originally opened my eyes to burlesque as a world-wide phenomenon.
Anything you’d like to add?
We’re reinventing the wheel with burlesque. We’re taking a great art form and recreating it for modern audiences and sensibilities, but the aspects that make burlesque unique have a direct line to the past. You can’t have a general definition of burlesque anymore than you can any other art that lasts, but like jazz it has definable eras. Burlesque in the 30s was different from burlesque in the 50s, or 70s, and today it’s certainly not the same as it was in the 1880s. We know this because we can look at ephemera, posters, photos, and read stories and articles about it. With the internet this has gotten easier, but a lot of the past is disappearing, so documenting and archiving is necessary now. I’m hoping the Burlesque Hall of Fame can eventually fulfill the vision of Jennie Lee and be a true museum. Just as live events keep burlesque alive as living history, seeing a clear vision for the Hall of Fame as an ongoing non-profit repository of burlesque is important to me.
Julie Atlas Muz
by: Femme Vivre LaRouge
Julie Atlas Muz has received much acclaim for her work as an actress, burlesque dancer, choreographer, performance artist, and professional mermaid. Muz has appeared in numerous films, documentaries, and television episodes, and consulted with Kate Winslet as Winslet prepared for her mermaid scene in John Turturro’s film, Romance and Cigarettes. As Julie La Sirena, she swam in Europe’s largest saltwater aquarium for the 2005 Valencia Biennale in Spain, and as head mermaid at New York City’s Coral Room nightclub for over two years. Muz has been the co-host of the burlesque game show, This or That!, for several years and was recently featured in the Cannes award-winning film, Tournee. She has reigned as Miss Coney Island (2005) and Miss Exotic World (2006), and has oft been awarded Artist-in-Residency status.
Q: As an introduction to your incredible career, would you please share a little bit about how you began in burlesque and the broader performing arts? I’ve read that you hold a degree in both dance and history. Some artists describe their vocation as inevitable; would you say that your creative drive propelled you onto your career path?
When I saw the musical CATS as a 7 year old, my life was changed forever. I fell in love with music, dancing, make up, costume, the whole she-bang! For the next decade I spent my free time dancing by myself in the family room, or running around the backyard with a walkman, dancing to the “Footloose” movie soundtrack. It was inevitable to become a performing artist. I also have always been very comfortable naked, so it’s kinda a no brainer.
When I moved to NYC I came to be involved in experimental dance and theater, but the total amount of rehearsals vs. stage time did not satisfy my desire to be onstage and then quickly fell into nightclub performing.
My first burlesque show was the “Red Vixen Cabaret” at KGB run by Selena Vixen now living in Australia. Tigger was there, eventually Dirty Martini and Scotty the Blue Bunny. We all quickly formed a showbiz family that grew to include everyone!
Q: The play element and humor, especially of the bawdy and irreverent variety, are evident in much of your work, regardless of the medium and genre. This element, in union with your undeniable charm, lightens the more strident commentary apparent in some of your works; conversely, the element of humor can also make a piece seem darker due to the incongruity of mirth with the situation presented. There is a curious tautness of these mixed emotions, pulling your audience towards various reactions at the same time and creating a delightful energy. How do your works generally evolve, from conception to completion?
Well generally I try to make myself laugh! I think it’s really important to be thinking as a performer and try to make something that is important to you and if you can do that while seriously trying to make yourself laugh then I believe the audience will laugh with you, or at least see the joy in your work! I want to make work that resonates with me and my feelings and try to be honest with myself so that I can show honestly an evident love of the audience.
Craft is super important. There are a million good ideas, but if they are not crafted properly, with a good beginning, middle, and end, a good punchline, a good rhythm, an appropriate costume, then…. Well, the dream won’t come through.
I try not to realize ideas but instead dreams. It’s an important distinction.
Q: Your work also courts the realm of the grotesque at times (in the sense of the fantastic, unnatural, and absurd), presenting a traditional form through a distorted lens. It pushes boundaries, blends styles, and pays homage to the original form of burlesque theatre, which focused largely on satire. What are some of the main influences for how you present your art?
YIKES! That’s a tough question! Uhm my influences are varied. Certainly I am very influenced by my contemporaries like Dirty. We always talk through stuff together and give each other notes. Other greats that I am influenced by are Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin, Harpo Marx, Martha Graham, mostly artists who tell stories through physical humor! The Muppets of course! Pina Baucsh. You name it.
It is important to train you body, which will in turn help train your mind.
Q: I feel that those uninitiated to neo-burlesque find it difficult to believe that burlesque acts can have a social, and even political, content; that a performer can express their observations and commentary about society just as effectively by taking their clothes off as playing a guitar. What causes you to make the conscious choice to back up your pieces with a statement; or, is it, perhaps, subconscious and inherent in your work?
Well, to refer to a previous question, I tend to make work about things that move me and things I care about. I watch the news and try to keep my finger on the pulse of things happening around the world and sometimes when it can be translated into performance I do so. I don’t TRY to make something with a political message usually, except for the 9/11/11 show. That was a 3 hour cabaret spectacular, all political, on 9/11/11, and we raised over $2,500 for the Uniformed Firefighter’s Association Widow’s and Children’s fund. I opened that show with a speech from which I quoted Nina Simon and she said:
“An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians- as far as I’m concerned it’s their choice. But I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself. That to me is my beauty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival I don’t’ think you can help but be involved. Young people, black and white, know this … We will mold and shape this country or it will not be molded or shaped at all. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times. That to me is the definition of an artist.”
Q: In Michelle Baldwin’s book, Burlesque and the New Bump-n-Grind, Laura Herbert is quoted, saying that you do “high-concept pieces. When Julie does her rope act, that’s a hell of a statement.” I have not had the pleasure of seeing that act in person, but even on YouTube, it’s incredible, and moving. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of your song choice (and of the song in and of itself) is truly brilliant. Would you care to share your feelings about this piece, and how it came to be?
That act is on YouTube? OH NO!!! HAHAHAHAHHAHA Really? I have no idea what’s online of my work except my website! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH
Oh, for the rope act, I was obsessed with the song “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore. I was listening to it on a constant loop and then bought some rope at a hardware store and then it kinda came together. I never practiced it before going onstage. HAHAHAHAH, it evolved quite a bit in the years that I have been doing it. I’ve learned a lot from it! Again, it came from a dream more than an idea. Dreams! That’s the key.
And a lot of my early numbers first came from me being obsessed with a song! Still do really.
Q: I would also like to learn more about your artistic intent with your recent production of Rite of Spring, of which Dance Insider’s Faith Pilger stated, “The choreography (more honestly than any other “Rite of Spring” that I have ever seen) portrayed the truly uncivilized, nasty, bloody-loving side of sacrificial rites.” Reading over the section titles for Rite of Spring (such as The Augurs of Spring: Dances of the Young Girls, Ritual of Abduction, Mystic Circle of the Young Girls, and Ritual Action of the Ancestors) I am beginning to see the possibility of a connection between it and the Jon Benet Ramsey story. Won’t you please enlighten me as to what brought these seemingly disparate elements together for you in this production?
The history of the Rite of Spring is legendary. In 1913, it was premiered in Paris and literally caused a riot in the theater, the audience hated it so much. And thus the birth of modernism in ballet and music. Stravinsky and Nijinsky, a wild and crazy pair. So the plot of the Rite of Spring always has a virgin sacrifice. And as Penny Arcade says, Jon Benet Ramsey is the patron saint of performance art. And I consider her to be the virgin sacrifice of my generation. It only made sense to honor her by making her the central figure of the dance.
OK, from the legendary duo, Dancenoise, and fabulous NYC downtown artist, Tom Murrin, this is the way to make a show. Three easy steps
1- get the gig
2- make the poster
3- make the show
It’s a formula that works and I highly recommend it. It will help you get your dreams into reality if you are working towards an actual gig. Making the poster will help you define the aesthetic and then all you gotta do is throw the show together. Oh, and for nightclub stuff, don’t rehearse too much. It’s nice when it feels live. The audience knows.
“Through the power of dance I tell stories that are beautiful, political, and emotional, with a bold and theatrical irreverence. I use humor, positive sexuality, and glamour to address serious topics in a playful manner.
My performances range from short solos to full-length, large-scale extravaganzas, but the three things I strive for in every show are: developed content, an evident love of the audience and a strong physical and visual presence. I employ showmanship, original costumes, and every conceivable type of stagecraft to immerse the spectators in a thought-provoking, interactive and entertaining experience.
I consider myself a renegade performer whose work reaches across genres, venues, demographics and tax brackets to champion the notion that performance in any context can challenge beliefs and change behavior.”
Roxie Moxie, founding member of The Lollie Bombs (Dallas), and later Stripped Screw Burlesque (Seattle) talks big glittery ponds, sexual role-reversal, inside jokes, and surviving marathons.
Q: You got your start in burlesque as one of the founding members of The Lollie Bombs. Can you share a few stories with us on the early days of burlesque in Dallas?
Those early days were so much fun – mostly, I think, because we had no idea what we were doing. We made a lot of it up as we went along. Not everything we created was stellar, but because we were free to explore the avant-garde side of burlesque, some of it was really ground-breaking and unique. We used spoken-word poetry and even conceived a number where we formed a giant human spider that crawled around the stage as Lawless sang about the “unrighteous government.” It was weird and silly and fun, but I suppose my favorite story is of the time Angi’s balloon-popper broke and she had to tear apart the balloons with her hands instead. Now THAT is dedication to your craft.
Q: In regard to your early days, you are quoted as saying in your interview with RAW that “I told [The Lollie Bombs] I would be in it as long as I didn’t have to strip”. Obviously you have changed your mind about the stripping part. In your mind, is doing a full reveal essential to calling yourself a burlesque performer? Why or why not?
I suppose that depends on how you define “full reveal.” A burlesque reveal is less about showing your body and more about showing the audience something special. Something they didn’t expect. I don’t think you have to take your clothes off to have an effective burlesque routine. I’ve seen some great numbers that don’t incorporate stripping at all.
Of course, most of the time your body is at least part of the reveal because the naked human form is beautiful, tantalizing, forbidden, and hot and a hell of a thing to see onstage surrounded by feathers and rhinestones. If you make the decision to incorporate classic 50’s style striptease into your burlesque acts then yes, you do have to remove your clothes. Preferably nearly all of them. There’s no reason at all to be ashamed of doing so.
Q: In 2008 you moved to Seattle. How hard was it to come from a place where you were very connected with the “scene” to being completely on “the outside”. What did you learn about how to break in to a new burlesque community that you could share with our readers who might be having the same experience?
It was really very difficult to break into the burlesque scene in Seattle. Some would argue New York is the burlesque capital of the country, but I beg to differ; no offense to Jo Boobs or Tigger. Seattle is a well-established scene that is saturated with fabulous performers. Many of them come from Indigo Blue’s burlesque academy and are driven enough to begin performing almost immediately after they graduate. So by the time I got there in 2008, I was a very small fish in an enormous glittery pond. I kept pushing, went out to as many shows as I could, took classes (acting, voice and dance), met producers, and took any gig I could get. I did a lot of awful gigs, but I just refused to give up. Eventually I hooked up with some like-minded burlesquers and formed Stripped Screw. After that things really skyrocketed for me.
Q: In 2009 you formed Stripped Screw Burlesque in Seattle. What is it about being part of a burlesque troupe that appeals to you so much, as opposed to life as a solo performer?
The best part of having a troupe is you’ve got a built-in sounding board for your ideas. Sometimes you don’t realize an idea is terrible, or already been done by another performer, or logistically impossible, until you run it by other burlesquers who understand your mindset. They often have creative insight on how to change or improve an act so that it works. Having a troupe means you also have a ready pool of available actors/dancers/singers to pull from for specific roles in a show. Having talented people to work with in a group setting is invaluable.
Don’t get me wrong. Being a solo artist has its perks. You don’t have to depend on other people to show up to rehearsals, get their costumes finished in time, or remember to send you the right cut of their music, but you also have no one to share the workload, no one to laugh at your inside jokes backstage, and no one to gripe to when the sound guy screws up your music. Your troupe is your showbiz family.
Q: In Stripped Screw you began producing shows that were more narrative from start to finish, reading more as a play then “just a burlesque show” or even “a themed burlesque show”. What was your thought process behind the move, and what were the pros and cons of such a structure?
First of all, I still love burlesque shows of all kinds, themed or not. But I noticed in Seattle that the most successful shows, the ones I wanted to see over and over like The Burlesque Nutcracker, House of Thee Unholy and Shine (the burlesque musical in which I played “Feral” in Seattle and New York), were shows that followed a more narrative structure. With a cohesive show that follows a narrative framework, each number can advance the plot and provide audiences with a more effective and engaging story. You can also create really interesting, complex reasons for characters to take their clothes off.
Q: In your RAW interview you also stated: “I use sexy strip tease to send a message.” Can you please elaborate on this?
Sure – actually I suppose I should have said that I use sexy strip tease to tell a story. Whether or not you want to interpret the act as having a message is entirely up to you. It’s not my goal to beat the audience over the head with a message. For example, my Roxie the Riveter act is, on one level, a cute story about a Rosie the Riveter character who transforms into a military-costumed pinup girl. On another level, it plays around with female stereotypes and sexual role-reversal. You could see it as a feminist piece or an anti-feminist piece, or both. Or you could just watch me strip into a heavily-rhinestoned military costume with sequin shoes and the cutest army hat EVER.
I prefer to create acts that work on multiple levels like this. You can choose to over think or to turn off your brain. Either way, you’ll be entertained.
Q: Later this month you are performing in the first ever Lollie Bombs Reunion show, on January 6th. What should audiences expect, and what makes The Lollie Bombs so unique? With so many troupes that come and go, what is the secret to keeping together and strong for as long as The Lollies have been going?
I think audiences should expect to see how each of the Lollies have grown as performers over the years. One of the unique things about the Lollies is that we always emphasized the individual girls’ personalities. We each had strong show personas that shone through in the types of acts we danced, the clothing we wore and the music we chose. We prized that individuality and somehow it never got in the way of creating a strong troupe of performers that worked well together. Also, we were the “old school” of Dallas burlesque. We stuck it out through a lot of craziness in those early years and pushed into new burlesque territory. Because of that, we all have a very intense bond that will never be broken.
Q: Speaking of the new year, what are three of your New Year’s resolutions?
I’m running my first marathon on February 19th, so my first resolution is to survive that.
If I succeed in surviving, my second resolution is to push new boundaries in my burlesque routines. I’ve got a few new tricks up my sleeve for 2012 that I’m sure no one has seen before. I’m super excited about that.
Third, I want to really get involved in the Austin burlesque scene. I’ve only just returned to Austin after seven years away, and I think the scene is really ready to take off. I’d love to be a part of it.