The infamous Miss Catherine D’ Lish graces our “Best of Pin Curl Magazine- Sping/Summer 2012″ Issue and we couldn’t be more thrilled! To get the entire interview with the amazing Catherine D’ Lish, as well as *more exclusive* images from the photoshoot, visit our shop!
Miss Exotic World 1992 and 1994 Catherine D’Lish talks Cabaret New Burlesque, costuming PTSD, rabid ambition, scrapbooking, being a pleasure junkie and using props.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You began performing as a stripper at the age of 18 or 19, but you were once a music student, which is evident in your impeccable timing. I’ve read that the first time you stripped was “the first time [you] performed on stage without an instrument to hide behind.” The band geek in me is curious to know, what instrument(s) did you play and for how long? Do you still play at all?
Thank you for the compliment and yes, I was a music student for a long time. I started with piano from a pretty young age, then picked up the viola in 6th grade, but then quickly added the cello and soon after just stuck with the bass through the rest of my school years. I played the bass in the youth symphony and civic orchestra, and at the school for the arts that I attended (our school color was the rainbow, no joke.) I especially enjoyed playing in the pit for the school musicals and some local theater- I was a pretty bad girl, so being in the pit gave me plenty of opportunities to joke around, and I’ve always enjoyed the company of musicians. I still play the piano at home to relax.
You mentioned in an interview I read that you worked with teachers who helped you strengthen your body and learn how to correct “bad habits that were causing chronic injuries.” What sorts of injuries did you end up with and which bad habits led to them?
When I first started dancing, I was just some girl thrust out onto the stage, and I quickly got into the fun of it, and began rehearsing at home. After some time had passed and I’d been doing my own thing, moving the way I saw fit, all that squiggling and wiggling began to take its toll on my knees. Turns out, some of that stuff we do that looks so great can become problematic if you haven’t developed the strength to carry yourself correctly- there are also lots of other contributing factors, but having a good strong centered body is very important to prevent injuries. I started studying various physical therapy techniques, and different things that were very helpful to me- Alexander Technique, Pilates, Yoga, etc… I’ve learned a lot along the way, and am still fascinated by this sort of thing- bodywork is one of my favorite interests. And I’m a pleasure junkie, so I’m really into the great feeling you get from it.
You became known for your prop performances as a feature dancer and have joked that you were “sort of the Gallagher of Stripping.” As a bona fide expert on prop burlesque performance, what are your suggestions to performers who are trying learn to incorporate more large props? I’ve always been especially curious about the logistics side of using large props – the storage, the transport, etc. Do you have any stories in which logistics went awry and props didn’t arrive, or arrived in a different condition from when they were shipped/transported, what have you?
I do love working with props- I always have. Mostly, I just like having something fun to crawl around on. I was “sort of the Gallagher of Stripping” because I also liked to make a mess, lots of bubble bath, showers, paint, cream, etc. One thing I would like to stress to other performers is the importance of respecting everybody else that is using that stage too. I really frown upon those that carelessly litter the stage with glitter, and am appalled at anyone that leaves the stage wet with anything. This also carries over into prop set-up and breakdown. Your prop should be engineered to come on and off the stage without making any enemies of the show staff. Please take the time to lay down tarps if you must cover yourself in something gooey, or strew glitter about- and spend a little extra dough to have your giant whatchamacallit break down in a manageable process.
There was one time that I was doing a show for Doug’s cabaret in San Francisco and my props and costumes didn’t get shipped in time- I was coming straight there from Europe, and just used what I had in my suitcase and made up a couple of acts on the spot. Actually, it was a pretty good time… (and Doug, bless him, saved on the shipping expenses! Could have been worse.)
You’re self-taught in prop-making and costuming, correct? You built your first champagne glass prop in around 1990, and unless I’m mistaken, it’s the same glass that you use now. Do you have any stories about the development phase of some of your props? It’s obvious what ended up working for you, but I’d like to know more about the tactics/materials that you tried at first that didn’t work out to your liking. Tell us about your failed burlesque experiments, if you will.
Yes, self taught. Still self-teaching. I am still using the same glass- it’s a good pal to me. I’ve often wondered just how many hours I’ve logged in that thing. Luckily, I haven’t had too many failures with the props; I try to work out the kinks in my head before construction begins. My giant penis started as a stuffed thing- when I had the inflatable version made with an internal blower, which was a great improvement. But the first one was on a whim for a small contest, so I’m not sure if that counts- although I’m glad it led to the real “Chubby”. Most of the design for props is based on how it can be broken down for shipping. The spider web and the bird cage both un-assemble into very sensible pieces for travel. Dita and I had a giant acrylic bathtub made years ago for us to perform in together, but it was such a big beast (with a leak!), so that might be a fail… for comedic material though, I consider it a great success…
You’re an established costumer, especially known for your work with ornate crystal and feather detailing. You also work hand in hand with Fabulous Feathers, right? Please share some of your favorite costume projects you’ve done (either for yourself or another.) What were some of your most painstaking/difficult costume pieces that you’ve made?
Most painstaking pieces? My costuming PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] prevents me from getting too much into that- forgive me. I have enjoyed a great relationship with Fabulous Feathers, Jason (Mr. FF) sources excellent feather products, and is a terrific feather-buddy to me. One of my favorite dye-jobs ever is the blue bird costume, he gave me the perfect blue I was asking for; it photographs so well!
You’ve earned more than 30 performance accolades, including Miss Exotic World 1992 and 1994, and you performed at the first Tease O Rama in 2001. What are your thoughts on the evolution of the national burlesque festival circuit since then? What are the biggest changes and/or trends that you’ve noticed developing over the years?
There have been so many more performers attracted to burlesque over the years, and with them come oodles more, they are breeding like wild rabbits! It’s been fun to see the growth in enthusiasm, but the biggest change I’ve seen as time passes is a rabid ambition for fame and success in some girls, and I don’t think it always brings out the best in them. On the other hand, the growing numbers surely has to produce some very special performers, so fingers crossed for that…
Speaking of festivals, you also act as burlesque competition judge from time to time. Personally, what do you consider to be the most important traits in a winner?
I like to see well-honed skills, honest confidence, and actual talent, but most importantly a personality that is appealing. I prefer performers that are genuine on and off stage, that are just clearly fun people and hot (in whatever way they are hot). I just want to be entertained, and it really doesn’t take too much, I don’t need pyrotechnics, just a nice mixture of some of the above qualities.
What’s next for Catherine D’Lish?
Known as the Mexican Spitfire of Burlesque, Miss Viva Las Vegas 2010 Ruby Champagne talks Tease O Rama 2012, sparkling wine, Star Wars, crystals, Texas and disco.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You just returned from this year’s Tease O Rama. Please tell us all about your experience. What was the highlight of the weekend for you?
I had the most amazing weekend in San Francisco for Tease-O-Rama!! It was my first time attending and participating in the showcase weekend, and it was a beyond-wonderful experience! The highlight of the weekend was being the opening act for Saturday night’s show! It’s kind of a big deal to be the opening act in these type of shows that feature so many fantastic performers. It sets the bar and the stage for the audience to present what they are in for. So that was a delicious honor!!
Sort This Out Cellars is developing a wine named after you. How exciting! I’d like to hear more about that.
YES! Oh my goodness this is such an exciting project! It started out as a casual conversation which turned into a handshake deal and here we are, in the process of harvesting grapes for Sort This Out Cellar’s first Sparkling Wine which will feature me on the label! Sort This Out Cellars is keeping true to the process of making sparkling wine, so it’s taking a while. It will be well-worth it once it’s released.
Please tell us more about the beginnings of Ruby. Do you have formal dance/theater training or related experience or are you self taught? How and when did you get started doing burlesque?
I was born dancing! Well, as far as I remember, haha! Seriously, I remember jamming to the Saturday Night Fever record (yes, I’m that old and yes, I’m still a disco biscuit! LOL!) Then like most little girls, I was in ballet, tap and jazz classes. Once I reached my teenage years, we moved from where I used to take classes so that fizzled. Years later, I discovered Salsa dancing! Wepa! I LOVE Latin Dance! Fast forward to now, I feel the fundamentals I learned in ballet, tap, jazz, and in Latin dance classes have helped hone my skills I incorporate in my Burlesque performances.
You’re performing in Dallas this month in Viva Dallas Burlesque’s Cinco de Mayo show. Will it be your first visit to Texas? What are you looking forward to the most?
I can’t tell you how excited I am to be invited to perform in Viva Dallas Burlesque…and for the Cinco de Mayo show, fantastico! This isn’t my first visit to Texas, but it will be my first visit to Dallas. My dad is from El Paso, we used to go many, many times when I was little. My uncle and cousins now live in San Antonio, which I love visiting. When people visit my house, they think I’m from TX because of all the magnets and knick-knacks I have that are from Texas, haha! I’m really looking forward to performing for the Dallas audience, which is a new crowd for me and meeting new people!
Do you have any other plans to travel or do festivals this year?
I’m still debating whether to enter other festivals this year. It’s such a downer when you get rejected, lol! But, hopefully I will still be part of the first annual Philadelphia Burlesque Festival set to take place in August! Next year I do hope to enter a couple festivals that were recommended and Tease-O-Rama if it returns for sure!
You were named Miss Viva Las Vegas 2010. Did you notice many changes after receiving that title? If so, what were they?
The only major change I noticed was that Emcees will include my title when they’re introducing me, which I greatly appreciate! I feel I was pretty busy booking gigs before I won, so I didn’t feel like I got busier. But perhaps having a title has helped me obtain some gigs I may not have been considered for because they didn’t recognize me and my talent before.
What are some of your fondest memories since you began performing burlesque?
Staying up late working on costumes! Now that I have a pretty decent collection of costumes, I don’t spend sleepless nights gluing rhinestones. I even had a couple girlfriends who were my gluing assistants, lol! Also, it’s funny when I pull out an old costume piece where I thought 20 crystals was enough. Of course I now update the costume with 200 more crystals!
I gathered from your Facebook page that you’re a Star Wars fan, right? What are three other things about you that may surprise our readers?
Oh my gosh, YES! I remember seeing Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi in the theater with my dad. I’m definitely a fan.
Other things that may surprise your readers…well, I’m shy! I have grown out of my shell by leaps and bounds, but I tend to be quiet when I’m around people I don’t know. Once that ice is broken though, let’s have cocktails! I have a pen fetish! I love collecting all sorts of pens. Lastly, it tends to surprise people when I tell them my career is in construction. I think they automatically envision me in a hard hat and tool belt, lol! But I burst that bubble when I say I work in the estimating aspect, not actually building it.
What’s next for Ruby Champagne?
Hopefully more amazing shows to be part of and projects to be involved in! I continue to work on my skills and I am looking forward to developing a new act I can feature in festivals. And I dream and hope to someday have the opportunity to perform in Europe! That would be the deliciously supreme! The sky is the limit!
How to Annoy Producers
by: Jo “Boobs” Weldon
In this month’s installment of a two-part article, we will discuss how performers can annoy producers. This doesn’t mean that in every case the performers are doing anything dishonest or unprofessional; it merely means that these behaviors often irritate or turn off producers. Please note that it is not about just knowing specific actions that might irritate producers. Like all etiquette issues, the essence of understanding how to behave is making an effort to put yourself into the other person’s position. You are unlikely to be able to read their minds, but you stand a much better chance of interacting successfully if you at least try to understand why they want what they want instead of trying to get them to care about what you want.
Next month, we’ll talk about how producers can annoy performers. If you have any annoyances you’d like to have mentioned, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This first article is split into two sections in order to help you:
A) Get booked by a given producer, or figure out that you’re not right for their show
B) Work well with them so that they will book you again, or even if, having had you in their show once and having decided you’re not right for their show, they would have a good enough impression of you to give you a second chance in a different show or give you a good reference to other producers.
How to Annoy Producers
If they haven’t yet booked you:
1. Feel entitled to be in their shows, for any reason at all.
2. Critique their shows, even when asked.
3. Flyer for your show at their shows without asking, or be miffed when they don’t allow you to flyer when you do ask.
4. Tell them you don’t like X kind of performance without knowing that they also produce X kind of shows.
5. Say, “I’m too busy to come to your show and see what it’s like, but I’d love to be in it.”
6. Say, “I’m from out of town and I haven’t had time to check out your website or do any research on you, but I’d love to be in your show.”
7. Tell them your story and try to get them to care what YOU want. Whine about how bad you want/need the gig.
8. Assume that classes, good press, or fancy graphics on your business card are the equivalent of stage time and a developed performance.
9. Fail to respect their aesthetic but be miffed when they don’t respect yours.
10. Imagine that their life is easier than yours and that they have to hustle less than you do and they make tons more money than you do.
If they have booked you:
1. Be unreliable and/or late.
2. Be rude to other performers or venue staff.
3. Be needy and unable to fulfill their requests, such as sending music or promo in advance.
4. Assume that you are now part of all their shows which follow.
5. Fail to mention their show in your monthly mailer when the date on which you’re performing with them is during that month.
6. Send them a barrage of emails asking how you did. Just one asking for feedback is fine.
7. Complain about what you were paid even though you agreed to it–or failed to discuss it with them before the show–without talking to them about your dissatisfaction at all.
8. Complain because they book people with whom they’ve been working for years more often than they book you.
9. Complain because they book new people more often than they book you.
10. Complain about anyone they book besides you.
By the way—notice that I didn’t use the word burlesque in any of the above! It doesn’t matter what the job is. It isn’t just about burlesque. The point is that people hire you for the reasons they need to hire people, and not for the reasons you want the job.
Also, everyone makes some of these mistakes on occasion. Furthermore, everyone has a hard time approaching people with whom they work about issues like feedback, re-booking, and pay. You’re not neurotic if you’d rather not do these things. But it’s the ability to do more than you should have to do, and being easier to work with than you need to be, that will make you stand out.
Want More? Check out Jo Weldon’s Etiquette Column entitled Photos & Pasties
by: Femme Vivre LaRouge
This month the Lowbrow Low Down is traveling back in time to the High Victorian Era…La Belle Époque…The Gilded Age…the latter 1800s! The days of absinthe, Impressionism, and one of our own patron saints, Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes!
If you’re not familiar with Lydia Thompson, then a brief introduction is in order. An English dancer/actress, Thompson toured Europe and then brought her show to America in 1868, where a 6-month tour became a 6-year sensation. At the time, ‘burlesque’ theatre was transitioning from its traditional meaning (that of a parody play, or social farce) to something of a variety extravaganza with an added emphasis on the feminine form. The risqué (at least in terms of the time period) show brought a new element to New York theatre- one that would certainly continue to thrive!
Music: At this time, music hall variety shows were at the forefront of entertainment in Great Britain, serving up a plethora of performing arts and popular song. As with vaudeville in the states, the music hall evolved out of a saloon environment, and provided spectacular shows for those who may not be able to afford a trip to the opera. Enter the famed Gilbert and Sullivan. Between the 1870s and 1890s, W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan brought together opera and popular music to create over a dozen comic operettas. While Gilbert wrote the words, Sullivan composed the music; they added elements of topsy-turvy, fantasy, and political humor to the comedy genre, and blended the traditional and the popular to help form musical theater as we know it. If you’re near Austin or Houston and you’d like to catch one of the duo’s shows, you’re in luck – they each have a Gilbert and Sullivan Society dedicated to performing their influential and entertaining operettas!
Film: Skip to Paris, 1896, and we find our feature film: Can-Can (1960), starring Shirley MacLaine, Frank Sinatra, and Maurice Chevalier. With abundant charm, a titillating love triangle, a battle over censorship, and magnificent dance sequences, this movie is among my favorite musicals. These numbers showcase popular Parisian dances such as the title, Can-Can, an energetic and acrobatic dance of joie de vivre with skirts held high to give the audience a good look at the girls’ bloomers. In spite of the law, Simone (MacLaine’s character), presents the dance each night at her Montmartre club, along with another crowd favorite, the Apache Dance. In one scene, Simone sits talking to Chevalier’s character when, suddenly, their conversation is interrupted by a man who slaps, then grabs, Simone and yanks her to the dance floor. Thus begins the dramatic, passionate, violent, and yet comedic, Apache dance. Making mockery of the mad affairs of man and woman, the choreography is half dance, half stage combat, and all satire. You can view it here. (As a side note, if you enjoy documentaries, you might like the Legendary Sin Cities mini-series, particularly the segment on Paris, which is available on Netflix.)
Art: This brings us to the Moulin Rouge. The infamous Moulin Rouge (meaning red windmill) opened its cabaret doors in 1889. It was here that famed performers such as La Goulue (The Glutton), known as ‘The Queen of Montmartre,’ and Jane Avril, nicknamed La Mélinite (a potent explosive), were captured in paintings and posters by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. A regular at the Moulin Rouge and local houses of prostitution, Toulouse-Lautrec illustrated the bohemian lifestyle flourishing in Paris, and captured subjects and cultural phenomena that other artists ignored. Before the breathtaking 2001 musical, Moulin Rouge, there was another film of the same title, from 1952. Glamorous Zsa Zsa Gabor plays Jane Avril and the film is centered on the life of Lautrec, and the historical characters of the nightclub- I recommend it!
If you’re interested in his work, and you’re in the DFW metroplex, you’ll be delighted to know that October 14 will mark the opening of a special exhibition at The Dallas Museum of Art: Posters of Paris: Toulouse-Lautrec and His Contemporaries, which focuses on the birth of the artistic poster in the late 1880s, and particularly, the influence of Toulouse-Lautrec. For more information see the DMA’s website.
Literature: Back to England in the 1890s, and I’m currently engrossed in Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. This saucy book came highly recommended and it drew me right in with its vivid descriptions of Victorian England, and the music hall environment. The novel explores gender, class, and lesbian love in the late 1800s…and I’ll leave it to you to ponder the real meaning of the phrase, ‘tipping the velvet!’
Another big hit on my fiction list right now is the Nellie Bly mystery series by Carol McCleary, which begins with The Alchemy of Murder. Nellie Bly’s character is based upon the real person, a daring exposé reporter from the days when women were not reporters, and a woman who set out to beat the record set by fictional Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s seminal work, Around the World in Eighty Days. In 1889, Miss Bly made it around the world in 72 days! The book may start off a bit slow, but with Jules Verne, Oscar Wilde, Louis Pasteur, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Jack the Ripper as supporting characters, it turned out to be a very enjoyable tale of murder and intrigue, mixed with history!
If you prefer non-fiction, and you want to read something truly lascivious, check out The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England by Steven Marcus. It’s badly in need of an update (1964), but contains some very interesting information about the less-repressed Victorians, and was the very first study to make use of the vast Victoriana materials collected in the library of Alfred Kinsey’s Institute for Sex Research. A good portion of My Secret Life, the autobiographical sexploits of a rich and thoroughly debauched Victorian man, is reprinted and discussed in the book – it’s intriguing, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Vivien of Holloway talks vintage inspired fashion, red carpets, and curious weddings.
by: Femme Vivre LaRouge
Won’t you, please, tell us a little more about the evolution of the company?
With a life long love of 1940′s and 50′s movies I started the company so I would always have lovely clothes to wear. The high street is so boring and has been for years with cheap fabrics and ill fitting clothes. Having started making my own clothes at 10, by 14 I was making them for friends. At 18 I opened my first shop filling it with all the vintage clothes I had collected, then gradually replacing it with clothing I had made, most items being one-offs. Back then I was designing, cutting and making it all myself in the shop. Over the years I have always sold a mixture of vintage and hand-made designs. When opening the shop, I wanted it to be fresh and spacious so stopped doing vintage. The growth of the company means that I no longer make the clothes myself, but I do make the patterns and supervise the whole process.
You use mid-century patterns, slightly modified to flatter modern, feminine figures of all types, as well as prints and materials authentic to the time period. Would you please share a little with us about those patterns, prints, and materials – and how you choose what to use?
I have always just thought about what I would like to wear and then gone ahead and made it. I originally designed our trademark halterneck dress when I was 18, but the pattern has been modified many times over the years to get it as close as perfect as I can to suit all the different shapes us gals come in! I had no formal training in dressmaking or pattern cutting, I simply picked it up along the way. I do sometimes miss the whole process but there just isn’t the time now. Saying that, I was just thinking of making a sample for a new top this evening as I am impatient to see how it will look!
As for our fabrics, for years I have searched high and low to find interesting prints but as our company grows we really have to make our own now. So the next 12 months will hopefully see lots of lovely new fabrics for us.
I read on your website that you offer some wonderful services for brides-to-be who want a retro look for their wedding. Please tell me more about that; would you say that more brides are choosing an ‘alternative’ wedding look these days?
Most definitely. I think a lot of brides consider a 50s dress as classic and how they always dreamed of looking. A lot of the dresses available today are ridiculously over the top and badly fitting. Many gorgeous brides-to-be don’t feel comfortable in huge gowns and feel much more ‘themselves’ when they try on our designs. Lots of lovely brides come to us for their evening party frocks so that they can hit the dancefloor in style! Our dresses are so versatile that brides can style them with white or ivory accessories for a more traditional look, or mix it up with bright petticoats, belts and flowers! Each and every bride-to-be leaves us feeling like a million dollars and having spent far less than they would have in a bridal boutique! We also go up to a size 38” waist so we can cater for plus-sized brides.
I’ve noticed from your wonderful newsletter (which I’ve followed for quite some time) that Vivien of Holloway also sponsors several pin up/burlesque/rockabilly events. Please tell me about some of the upcoming events, or favorites that you’ve sponsored.
We sponsor hundreds of events and companies at a time, and there are a few regular events that promise some of the best nights out in town! Kai Hoffman’s Live and Let Jive is one of our favourites and is at the fabulous Ronnie Scott’s bar in Soho. We also sponsor wedding fairs like The Most Curious Wedding Fair and burlesque evenings such as the Tassel club and Missy Malone’s Revue, so there’s always somewhere different to go to! We also support the likes of the Jive Aces and Nina’s hair parlour. We just like to share as many contacts of interest as possible, so I would like to think we also supply much more than just a fabulous new look!
I saw some mention on the Vivien of Holloway blog about your designs hitting the red carpet; can you divulge for us, who are some of the most famous and glamorous people you’ve dressed?
We’ve dressed some lovely ladies for the red carpet and for various events and shoots. Our favourites include Paloma Faith, Nigella Lawson, Imelda May, Claire Richards, Heidi from the Sugababes and most recently, the extremely glamorous Christina Hendricks!
Highlighting the Burlesque Oral History Project:
An Interview with Elsa Sjunneson
by: Femme Vivre LaRouge
We’ve told you a little bit about the Burlesque Oral History Project before, but now we’d like to tell you more – and appeal to this fabulous community for some much-needed assistance. Founded by Dr. Lukki, the Burlesque Oral History Project endeavors to preserve the history of burlesque by gathering and archiving memories of yesteryear from the remarkable ladies (and gents) that lived it. There is a great deal of work to be done and, as you can imagine, very little resources with which to do it. Therefore, it is my pleasure to introduce to our readers the woman who is taking on the task, burlesque historian Elsa Sjunneson. I had the pleasure of meeting Elsa last year in Las Vegas at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Reunion, when I volunteered for the Burlesque Oral History Project. A performer herself (Lydia Ransom), she is the daughter of world-famous Paula the Swedish Housewife, and has grown up in the world of glitter and garters. Elsa graduated from Sarah Lawrence with a Master’s degree in Women’s History, and wrote her thesis on burlesque and censorship – she is a personal hero of mine.
Elsa, won’t you please tell us a little bit about yourself, your research, and your passion for burlesque history? Also, what is your role with the project?
I am a historian working for the Oral History Project. Right now I organize all the interviews, I interview legends, and I make sure that the legends are comfortable with volunteers if volunteers are being used. And after the BHOF season ends, I’ll be editing interviews, and making them into useful documents. I love what I do because this community is family to me, and as a historian who came out of that family, I feel a deep obligation to directly participate in the documentation of our history. Art history, specifically the history of art made by women, has been systematically ignored or put down, and it is a goal of mine to be able to continue to push forward the history of burlesque, and of women doing burlesque in particular, to the minds of other historians.
What are the most pressing goals of the Burlesque Oral History Project at this point?
Right now I really need to get transcriptions happening. The thing is, when you take an interview with a tiny microphone, there has to be a transcript so that future scholars can actually utilize the information. If (knock on wood it doesn’t) the audio dies and we no longer have the original audio file, we’d still have the transcription to create our archive, and to tell our story.
What work is there to be done and how can we help?
If you find a new legend, tell us about it. If you find a new Legend who REALLY wants to talk to us? Seriously. Tell us about it. The more people we interview, the fuller picture that we can paint of our history. Furthermore, if you have old audio equipment, or old video equipment, that you’d like to donate to the program, we really need better equipment than we have. This is a project, again, for after BHOF.
Would you please share some rewarding moments with us from your experience working with the Burlesque Oral History Project?
It depends on what you mean by rewarding. I’ve heard stories in interviews that made my skin crawl, and it was rewarding because I felt like I was getting the true story, and not just the sparkly story. I’ve also had rewarding moments like this one, knowing that there are people in the community who ARE interested in hearing about this work and how to get involved.
After the interviewing, transcribing, filming, etc. has been done, what will happen to all the material that you’ve gathered? Will it be available to the public as well as archived?
We’re still in the process, but it is my hope that the community will be able to access documents online. The notion of an archive for an international community that doesn’t utilize the internet makes little sense. There might be a fee in order to keep the archive and the museum going. Until I have transcription done, I can’t really begin to know what the archive will look like.
How do you hope to see the program grow in the upcoming years?
I’d like to create an oral history corps. Essentially, you – the reader – can join the oral history corps and take interviews too. The way it would work is that I would present workshops at BurlyCon, BHOF, maybe other cities and programs, and I would train people in basic oral history interview tactics so that we could take more interviews from legends. I’m not ever going to be able to fly from one city to the next just to take interviews, but I CAN create a system by which we’re able to gather more interviews through education and training.
Is there a website or blog where we can follow the progress being made by the Burlesque Oral History Project?
We’ll likely make posts about things through the BHOF blog.
I believe in telling other people’s stories. By gathering stories, we create a vibrant and real history for ourselves. I’m really honored that I get to work with the Legends so closely, and that I have the opportunity for 4 days out of the year to really work as a historian. The rest of the time, I’m doing some historical work and a lot of other stuff, but for four days every year, I really get to do what I set out to with my MA. THAT is what’s rewarding to me.
If you have information to share about a Legend, please contact Elsa at: email@example.com
Thanks to Miss Mina Murray, Headmistress of the Boston Academy of Burlesque Education, we found out about an amazing burlesque costume exhibit going on now in Boston! We’ve got all the info from her right here, and even if you can’t make it to Boston to see it for yourself, she’s provided some lovely photographs so that our readers can enjoy the exhibit right here on the pages of Pin Curl!
Interview by: Femme Vivre LaRouge
How did this exhibit come about?
Since 2008, there’s been a costume exhibit at The Great Burlesque Exposition. Scratch, the conference organizer, is always on the look-out for ways to educate the mainstream populace about burlesque and to promote burlesque to the general public.
In 2010, plans were made to open a small, permanent museum dedicated to Boston’s West End, a neighborhood which was destroyed as part of a massive urban renewal program in the early 1960s. The West End included Scollay Square, which was the center of burlesque in the city and home to several theatres, nightclubs, supper clubs, and hotels popular with burlesque performers.
Scratch reached out to the museum about hosting an expanded, and more Boston-centric, version of the exhibit from The Great Burlesque Exposition after the Expo closed. The executive director is a big fan of burlesque and it just took a little while to get approval from their board of directors, arrange the loan of the costumes, and – of course – raise the money to mount the exhibit.
Start with the library and the local historical society. Check in with your chamber of commerce. If there are organizations dedicated to historical preservation, especially of old theaters, reach out to them. If there’s a local university or college, see what they have in their collections. If you’re lucky enough to have someone who performed locally back in the day, by all means, talk to them.
We were lucky in Boston. There are a couple of noteworthy burlesque performers associated with the city. One of them is still alive, and living in Florida; the other one has a niece who is a friend of Scratch’s. Boston was also the home of Jess Mack, who was a major producer and promoter, and his papers and effects were left to a library in Las Vegas.
Is there anything that you would like to add about the exhibit?
The exhibit would not have been possible without a lot of help: first, all the groundwork done by Scratch. He came up with the idea, negotiated with the museum, did the initial contact with the costume owners, and very importantly, acquired all the mannequins we needed.
Betty Sioux Tailor, a burlesque performer and costumer from Rhode Island, not only curated the exhibit at The Great Burlesque Exposotion, but loaned her artist’s eye and MacGyver-like jury-rigging expertise to setting up the museum exhibit. We needed a special mannequin to accommodate the tiny corseted waist on Dita’s costume and Betty Sioux built one!
There was a Kickstarter campaign to help pay for things like insuring the costumes and shipping them (not to mention all those mannequins). We had a lot of support, but I’d like to single out The Burlesque Hall of Fame, Miss Kitty Baby, and Lee & Susan Weiner for their particularly generous donations.
The core of the exhibit was the costumes:
l There is no burlesque performer more tied to Boston than Ann Corio, the Queen of the Old Howard. We were fortunate that a number of costumes that Miss Corio wore in her burlesque revival show, This Was Burlesque (which had its try-outs in Boston before opening in New York) still survive. Those half dozen costumes became the centerpiece of the exhibit.
l Boston native Lily Ann Rose began performing in burlesque as a teenager just after WWII. She started as a chorus girl at The Casino in Scollay Square and soon became the protegee of Sally Keith, Queen of the Tassels, at the Crawford House. After her retirement and marriage, she kept her career a secret from her family for more than 40 years. She has just one costume left from those days and we’re so pleased to be able to display it.
l We were also extremely fortunate that Dita Von Teese was willing to lend one of her amazing costumes. Although the costume stands on its own merits, Dita has some ties to the Boston area. She was a performer and Mistress of Ceremonies at the annual B & D Ball, held at the now vanished Goth nightclub ManRay (like the burlesque theatres of old, a victim of urban renewal).
l Miss Exotic World 2008, Angie Pontani is not only an amazing performer, she’s also a talented costumer in her own right. She provided the costume she made and wore for her farewell performance at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in 2009. The costume is lovely on a mannequin, but it should be seen in action to really be appreciated.
l April March, The First Lady of Burlesque, loaned an entire costume set which was made for her by designer Simon Sorr. It consists of a robe, gown, bra, garter belt, panties & g-string. This costume is paired with a reproduction that I made myself for the first tribute act to April March. There’s more information about the costume on my website: http://minamurray.com/tribute.cfm
Besides the costumes we are also displaying some burlesque ephemera that comes from the personal collection I share with Scratch. We have a lot of This Was Burlesque memorabilia: programs, souvenir pictures, the book Ann Corio wrote, and the “How to Strip for Your Husband” record. Even more precious are the items from the Old Howard: some fragile programs and a couple of rare photographs of show in progress.
Just a few blocks from The West End Museum, at the Government Center train station is a bronze plaque which marks the site of The Howard Athenaeum, called “The Old Howard,” Boston’s premier burlesque palace. It is all that remains of Boston’s scandalous Scollay Square. Boston was home to Jess Mack, a comedian turned powerful burlesque producer, and was the seat of The Eastern Burlesque Circuit, a multi-state conglomeration of burlesque theatres run by Frank Bryan and Frank Engels. In1956, Bryan-Engels signed a 10-year contract with Tempest Storm for $100,000.00 per year, making her one of the highest paid women in America in any profession.
The days of six-figure salaries for burlesque performers are gone, but Boston remains an influential city in the world of burlesque. In 2000, The Burlesque Revival Association was founded in Boston and, while it didn’t last long, it helped pave the way for the other burlesque performers and troupes that followed after. Today, Boston is home to several venues that include burlesque alongside bands, plays, and D.J.s.: Oberon in Harvard Square; The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline; and The Davis Square Theatre in Somerville have all hosted burlesque events in the past year.
Boston plays host to many burlesque troupes and performers. The leading troupe, The Boston Babydolls, are perennial features on “Best Of…” lists, and produce large theatricals and a monthly revue. Two major annual events call the Boston area home: The Great Burlesque Exposition,which takes place each spring in Cambridge, and The Boston Burlesque Marathon,an overnight showcase of 100 performances each November in Brookline.
And what about Miss Mina herself?
I’m one of the founders of The Boston Babydolls Burlesque Troupe and Headmistress of The Boston Academy of Burlesque Education (B.A.B.E.). I’m a dedicated scholar of burlesque history and collector of memorabilia. I blog about my experiences in burlesque at missminamurray.wordpress.com. Before I got involved in burlesque I received a Master’s degree in archaeology from Brown and a Certificate in Museum Studies at Harvard. I’m also an award-winning costumer and was an embroiderer on a recreation of a 17th century lady’s jacket at Plimoth Plantation (how’s that for eclectic?). Museum work has always been a dream of mine, and this exhibit – combining my passions for burlesque, costuming, and history – was a perfect fit … so to speak!
It’s time for our annual DIY contest! Check out the following opportunities to be published in Pin Curl Magazine:
Contest: The Best in DIY
Burlesque and DIY are almost synonymous. We are looking for fabulously insightful and original DIY articles that are well written, easy to follow, step by step, include lots of photographs, and are of course, geared to the burlesque and pin-up minded gal.
Examples: Hover over DIY at PinCurlMag.com and choose a category!
2011 Winner: Silver Kitsune of North Carolina & Her DIY Fascinator!
First Place: $100 Cash & $100 prize basket full of pin-up goodies and publication in future online and print issues!
Second Place: $50 prize basket of pin-up goodies and publication in future online issues!
Third Place: $25 prize basket of pin-up goodies and publication in future online issues!
Deadline for submissions: Sept 1st, 2012
Article must be original! It must be your writing and photographs. It must be your own brainchild or a significant improvement or twist on an existing project.
By submitting your DIY article you agree to be published without restriction in Pin Curl Magazine.
Send article to editor [at] pincurlmag [dot] com with the subject “DIY Contest – _____________(name of project) Submissions must include LINKS to low res images shot to illustrate project. High res images, if needed will be requested.
Winners notified by October 1st, 2012