Micheline Pitt, Production Manager for Pinup Girl Clothing, designer of Deadly Dames, pinup hair and makeup artist, and model talks fleeing the South for the big city, bursting glamour bubbles, comics, Wonder Woman and toy-collecting.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You grew up in a small town in Georgia and eventually moved to New York where you started your makeup career. When did you move to Los Angeles and what made you take that leap?
A: I did in fact grow up in a rather small town in Georgia; it was about 22 miles outside the city limits of Atlanta. Both Atlanta and my home town were very different back then. I remember my mom saying the town had one stop light, and we were one of the few houses on the block. We were lucky to have a Goodwill and a Kmart. There wasn’t much but trailer parks and churches. I often visited Atlanta to see family and friends, and I think that is where my real interest of moving to a large city came from. Atlanta was so much bigger than my small town, but it was still a small town in my eyes. The community was a bubble, everyone knew everyone and the thought of having a boyfriend there or any real relationship was frightening. You would always be dating someone else’s ex-boyfriend or husband. The girls did not take kindly to this and there were often fist fights and quarrels among them because of this. The south wasn’t for me anymore, and the only place I could see going was NYC, it was closer than LA which is where I really wanted to be and at 18 NYC seemed a lot less scary.
I didn’t see a future for myself in Atlanta on any level; it was comfortable and easy but I didn’t want easy anymore, I wanted a challenge. So I sold off most of my toy collection from the 1980′s – He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers that sort of stuff, made a few grand and had money saved from one of my many jobs at the time and moved. When I got there it was a rocky start. I was young and lost for the first few months. The only place I found my footing was with MAC Cosmetics. In Atlanta people would have to wait for someone to die to get a job with MAC, since no one ever left, and in NY there were so many opportunities. I remember walking into the MAC store in Long Island and securing an interview for myself. I was so full of energy and passion I must have exuded it because they gave a barely 18 year old a chance. I had practiced on myself and so many of my friends, but I had not honed my skills fully at the time.
I was really lucky to join them while the company was still protected by the original contract before Lauder was able to change things. I was able to be around real artists and fellow creative types, I was a sponge. I soaked up everything they would teach me and pushed myself further. I worked on magazine shoots, fashion shows, photoshoots and anything in-between. It was so surreal. But as glamourous as this all sounds, I was hit by the hard gritty truth that my one job was not enough to survive. In Atlanta I worked several jobs because I wanted to have money to leave one day, not because I had to. With NYC I found myself sleeping on the train between jobs. Doing make-up for go-go dancers and stage performers at clubs, then going and working a full shift at the MAC store.
I had found my first real love working at that first MAC store, someone who made the harsh world of NYC so much more livable. The only downfall of falling in love in NYC is it is often a born and bred NYC type, who lives and dies by the city. NYC was just a pit stop in my life, and not where I saw myself. At the end of the day and over 2 years later I left it all behind. I couldn’t handle the city’s lack of trees, blue skies, stars and affordable rent. To buy a 1 bedroom apartment was 1.2 million dollars when I left… and a poor girl from a small town in Georgia will never be able to afford that. So I knew I needed to find my place elsewhere.
Having done make-up in the fashion industry I decided it was time to try my luck of doing makeup in TV and film, and that was the real reason for me to come to LA.
Q: You work 40-60 hour weeks as the Production Manager for Pinup Girl Clothing, but not many folks realize how much goes into your role behind the scenes. What’s a typical work day in the life of Micheline?
A: You know it is funny, the internet makes my life seem so fun and glamourous… and I hate that. They think everything we do is easy and perfect and it is so far from being that. Being with Pinup Girl for 7 years I think this month (I am like a guy and horrible with remembering anniversaries) I work Monday through Friday from 8 am till 4:30 technically. But I often find myself starting earlier, or staying later till 6:00 when the factory closes. Now my main title as Production Manager means, I am the sole person responsible in the quality, fit, production and product you buy from one of our varied house brands. I have to oversee all the fabric purchases, qualities, dye lots and expenses. I also handle all the trim purchasing, lace, bows, piping, zippers, hangtags and labels. I have to make sure we keep constant stock in all of our current materials inventory, yet keeping us at or under budget by the end of the year.
Now each time we receive fabrics they have varied bolt widths or shrinkages, meaning I have to cut and press blocks for every fabric, run the math and adjust markers and grading properly. If one or two percent is off the entire garment will not fit, leaving thousands of dollars in damages and un-usable product.
I also attend all the fittings for head designer and owner Laura Byrnes, on all the garments that are made. Most designs are tailored to her fit, and I have to ensure that the product produced matches this and that the pattern makers make the correct changes to the patterns before they are digitized and graded.
I juggle all of our fabric vendors, constantly looking for and designing new prints for the collections along with Laura Byrnes’ guidance and input. Luckily we have a quality control person that checks all the garments when they come out of production. I used to have to do this position but we were running smaller productions. Now it is a full time job in itself to ensure you’re shipping a quality product. Just this last year I got a Production Assistant and she is great! When you have Fall production starting at multiple facilities, this year we have 4 and then you have to prep and begin patterns, fittings and fabrics for Spring, and things can get pretty crazy.
Things constantly explode and break in production, things get sewn wrong, fabric comes in damaged and takes weeks to replace making your delivery date 2 to 4 weeks later than expected. Fabric gets stuck in customs and holds your production back by 2 weeks or your fabric doesn’t come in because it was wrong and you missed an entire season of dresses… these things have all happened and will always happen. This is the nature of the beast of production. You can’t control every factor, but you learn to expect the worst and plan to correct every mistake that happens. We stand by creating a quality American-made good and that is what I spend my week doing.
Now as far as other things I do, many things take place at home after work, I make flyers, events and art for any and all projects requested by anyone at the Pinup Girl office. I just spent 3 hours this last Saturday making flyers, posters, postcards and event pages for our new Pinup Girl Store. I also do all the Make-up and some of the hair for all the photoshoots you see on the website, much like Laura Byrnes, the owner who is our main photographer, she has her escape to do her passion of photography and I have my escape doing make-up and hair. The Pinup Girl photoshoots are the most enjoyable, yet often stressful things I get to do. Our huge collection photoshoots are very involved and often take an entire day or several days to complete.
I love my job, and I work really hard for them because they worked hard themselves to start this company and I owe them the same efforts to continue to make it grow and succeed. It all started with Laura in her house making clothes and that is amazing when you think where we have come in the last 12 years.
Q: How did you get started with Pinup Girl?
A: I think this is the part of the story people pay the most attention to. They think it is like a Fairy Tale or a means to an end for themselves, but in reality it is my path and my journey… and that age old saying being at the right place at the right time. I don’t know if history will repeat itself, I think these sort of things only happen once in a lifetime.
I had known of the website since I was a 17 or 16, it was shortly after they had begun the site. A girlfriend at the time showed it to me. It sat there in the back of my mind for several years until I was cast on ANTM [America’s Next Top Model]. It was a brief flash in the pan moment of bad reality TV, but through it I found Pinup Girl again. People were telling us both that I should model for them and we connected that way. I didn’t know Laura that well after only modeling once, but I knew a co-worker and what she had told me of the company. At the time I was working in Animation as a Character Designer and doing Make-up for celebs and music videos. I hadn’t gotten paid in months and I remembered the employee telling me that Halloween season was their busiest time, and I asked if I could send my resume and have an interview with Laura. Laura had to be persuaded to even interview me, and with confidence I told her all the things I was capable of, and what I could do if she would give me a chance. I am sure there was a mental eye-roll of sorts, as so many times people often talk the talk and never walk the walk.
So I began part time, and seasonal help shipping Halloween costumes. I would hand pull all the orders that were placed on the site and Kevin would ship them. There were only 5 employees then and things were so different than you see them now. So much like I promised I did all the things I said I would do, I kept my word in that interview and I made sure to do right by Laura and her company since she went out on a limb to hire me. They are my family and this business means everything to me, and I will stand by it and protect it for as long as I am here to do so.
Q: In late August you posted a blog entry on Pinup Girl Style called, “How to become a Pinup Model – The Truth Behind the Red Lipstick” in which you were, in your own words, “brashly honest” about the expenses and work involved in being a pinup model and/or burlesque performer and the multitude of misconceptions about how some women view pinup as means to becoming rich and famous. I found your honesty very refreshing, and I wanted to know if you care to elaborate on any of the topics discussed in the blog.
A: I think like before in my previous answers, people just see big sparkly photos and think our lives are filled with free rides and hand outs and they are so very wrong. Being a Pinup Model or Burlesque performer is not glamourous. They all have real jobs and lives so very different than the ones portrayed on the internet. Most of them won’t ever tell you about them or pull back the veil and show the ugly truth… but that is something I do and I think it is important to do. For some strange reason this one scene in Beetlejuice keeps playing in my head when I think of this topic, “If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have had my little accident.” The receptionist, Ms. Argentina holds up her slit wrists. I know it may seem a little morbid but I think that quote, just the words she says, not the actions, speak to this. I think all these young girls that write on all the models and burlesque performers walls saying “I want to be like you.” “I want to be you when I grow up.” “How do I become you.”
None of them tell these people the hardships and money and time that go into creating images or performances, you won’t ever get paid for, or maybe if you’re lucky you might have the venue where you have to change in the bathroom will give you 75.00 bucks for getting down to your pasties. I have heard and seen all these things happen to people I know and yes even myself. Now I am not a burlesque performer but I know what it takes to make a legit costume, props and music and it is so incredibly expensive. There are people setting un-realistic goals for all these other women who think they will get rich or famous from modeling, or doing burlesque. I am not rich or famous, nor do I desire to be either. I find myself to be relevant to my culture of people who I cater to for my job, and I live in an apartment, I don’t own a home, or fancy cars, and I think the most I spend on clothes are the ones I get from work, as the rest comes from Flea Markets and thifting.
Being famous is not something I ever wish upon myself, ever. To lose all privacy and have cameras in your face… it is not worth it. Most of those people are so wrapped up in themselves and they usually crash and burn as they spend most of the money they make letting the world know they have money. If you want to model or do burlesque do it as a hobby, as something you love, knowing you will never get any monetary return it, but you will have memories, photos and experiences you will be able to share for years to come.
Q: Speaking of that blog entry, I was curious what sort of responses you have received from your readers. I read many supportive comments, but I was wondering what kind of feedback you were given.
A: I have had mostly positive, where people thanked me for being so honest with them, and I think I may have convinced a few that this is not a career path, which is great. I did have a few negative responses, where I may have hit a nerve or two. Many girls are very sensitive when it comes to this subject and I kind of burst the glamourous bubble they have up. The truth hurts sometimes, but I think it was worth it.
Q: You’re the designer of the Deadly Dames clothing line, and you’ve said that your “first line was inspired by 1950s Barbie and John Waters’ Cry Baby.” How has the Deadly Dames line evolved since its inception and what’s in store for its future?
A: I think that line describes what the line was when it was first created. It has evolved into many things as I take inspiration from many different places. My last Fall collection was all French and Victorian-inspired color palettes and prints. I tend to air on the more “slutty” side of designing dresses. “I make things for boobs.” My current line takes inspiration from 1950′s bad girls and old Fetish comics. I think the bad girl quality will always be in my line. John Waters was always so good at creating unique and quirky characters, so I think I do that with clothing. I don’t think I push as far as he does, as I need it to be relevant and wearable, but I like to think I push past the basic wiggle dress.
The future will hold many things and ideas, but if I tell you what they are I would have to kill you .
Q: It’s known you’re an avid comic book fan. What are your favorite series and why? What made you fall in love with comics?
A: I have been an avid comic lover since I was about 6 years old. I think the comic book store in my town still has a Spiderman I drew when I was 8 hanging on the walls. I also think my mom has Zealot from Wildcats on the fridge from a year or two later. I don’t know, I think Disney movies triggered my interest in comics. Animation and Comics kind of go hand in hand and since I drew as a child I was obsessed with them and the idea I could make that stuff for a living one day. Being an only child and often staying home alone my escape was TV and comics. I wrote and drew my first comic series in 3rd grade, I still have it, it’s pretty awful, yet awesome. My favorite series growing up were; Lady Death, Purgatory, Wildcats, Spiderman, Batman, Swamp Thing and Vampirella. I also had a ton of re-issues of old EC Comics for Tales from the Crypt and anything monster or horror related.
Q: I also hear that you’re a toy collector. What kinds of toys do you collect?
A: I am an avid action figure collector and toy collector. However, I keep things tailored down, as I don’t want my collection to consume my home. I mostly collect all Universal Monster stuff, Frankensteins and the Creatures make up the most of that though. I collect some DC figures, Batman and Wonder Woman mostly and I own most of the Beetlejuice and Ghostbuster toys. As much as I love toys and action figures, I also collect creepy and strange board games. I own three of the rarest games; Green Ghost, Kabala and the Mystic Skull. I have a ton more, but those are my prized pieces. I also collect anything Mars Attacks Martian related. I don’t know why, but I was obsessed with those vintage trading cards when I was younger.
Q: You have an instructional DVD for pinup hair and makeup in the works. How is that progressing? Any idea when it will be released?
A: Oh the DVD, it had to be pushed back as I invested most of my DVD money in the new Pinup Girl Boutique store along with John and Laura of Pinup Girl Clothing. I plan on having it out in time for the next Viva [Las Vegas]. I am writing my edit script and having to plan some re-shoots for some voice over stuff, and eyebrows. It is not a big budget film, by any means, but for what it is, I am proud of it. I am going to make it really affordable for people, and plan to wholesale it.
Q: What’s next for Micheline Pitt?
A: Marriage, a puppy, a kitten… these are all things I don’t have currently. For myself, I look forward to settling down, having a home and vacations… lots of vacations. Pinup Girl will continue on and I know we will have a great joinery together. One day when I retire I plan on writing and drawing children’s books and possibly toys.
Iris Le’Mour of Dallas, recent winner of Best Female Soloist and Best in Show at the Pinup Burlesque Festival in Florida, talks stage fright, rocky starts, Swarovskis, shenanigans, costuming and surprises.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: What is your performance background? Do you have formal dance or theater training? You seem so comfortable on the stage!
A: Well, I’ve always been involved in some type of performing art in one form or another my entire life. In school, I was involved in theater and choir, and as an adult, I did a lot of modeling and promotions. It was just always something I fell right into I guess. I think some people are just meant to be performers and I feel so fortunate to be one of the blessed few who can entertain people and make them smile. The funny thing is that I have crippling stage fright and I’m a nervous wreck before I take the stage, but when I take the first step on stage, all the nerves dissolve away. I am more myself on stage than any other place in the world.
Q: How and when did you get started doing burlesque?
A: I’ve been doing burlesque for about 2 years now. I had a pretty auspicious start in burlesque. I was a pin up model for a long time and a burlesque producer asked me if I had ever done burlesque. I have always been completely enamored with the burlesque of the 1950′s, but I never knew it was being performed anywhere currently. So as soon as the opportunity presented itself, I jumped right on it and responded with, “Sure I know how to do burlesque!” He was throwing a burlesque competition and I jumped in head first. Looking back, my first performance was extremely rocky and raw, but they must have saw something in me because I walked away with a tie for first place. After that I kind of hit the ground running, learning everything I can, taking advice from the pioneers, and working hard to always evolve and grow as a performer.
Q: You’re known for your elaborate costumes, which are all handmade by you, right? Have you made your own costumes from the very beginning? What prior experience do you have with costuming?
A: Yes I have always made my costumes myself or designed them myself. When I first started doing burlesque, I was also finishing my bachelor’s degree, doing an internship, working a full time job, and modeling on the side, so needless to say, time was scarce. My first three costumes were all my designs to the last detail, but I had to outsource their construction to a great friend of mine, named Glen. After I finished my degree and had run into the costuming grandeur of ladies like Kalani Kokonuts and Renee Le’Roux, I started to take on every aspect of my costume construction and went Swarovski crazy. I try to always make costumes that are aesthetically breathtaking and wowing. My mother used to sew when she was younger and she taught my sister and I, and ever since I was a child, I have always wanted to be a designer and to create beautiful clothes. As a child, I used to take worn out clothes and scrap material and would make clothes and dresses for my Barbies. I guess you could say I’ve always been a costumer, but I just get more skilled at it as I mature and grow.
Q: You have been very busy traveling and going to festivals! You did the Carolina Burlesque Festival, Windy City, and you also won Best Female Soloist and Best in Show at the Pin Up Burlesque Festival in Florida. What are some of your fondest memories you’ve made while traveling so far? Have you learned anything from the festival circuit?
A: It has most definitely been a very wild ride to say the least. I actually really love doing all these great festivals because it really gives me a chance to see burlesque from all over the world and really grow as a burlesque dancer and as an audience member. Along the way I have also met some fantastic people and made lasting friendships with other performers. I’d have to say that one of my fondest memories happened at the Carolina Burlesque Festival. I was fortunate enough to travel and perform with one of dearest friends, Donna Denise, and besides the fact that I probably lost five pounds laughing at all our shenanigans, I got to see my burlesque booby buddy get crowned the Miss Sweet Tease Queen and I also won producer’s choice in front of my mother. It was a humbling and fulfilling experience. Being able to share that experience with someone so dear to my heart and to be recognized as a great performer in front of my mom was just beyond words for me.
Q: Who or what inspires you as a performer?
A: I find inspiration everywhere in life. I have made whole costumes based on the colors I have found in a flower, or whole skits based on a song that just randomly happen to find me. Early on, I was very influenced by the glamour and costuming genius of Renee Le’Roux and Kalani Kokonuts and have dedicated myself to be just as visually stunning as those ladies. As far my burlesque persona, I’d have to say that it’s a mix between Mae West, Dorothy Dandridge, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Lilli St. Cyr, Tempest Storm, Betty Paige, and my mother.
Q: I’d like to know more about your creative process for developing a new act.
A: My creative process is very broad actually. I try to leave myself open to all forms of inspiration. Most times though, it always starts with a song. Anyone who knows me, knows I hoard music, but sometimes the music just finds me at the most random times and places. With my best acts, I would hear a song and would immediately start going through the theme, costume, and choreography immediately. It’s like I hear it and my brain just goes on auto pilot and just lays out the blue print for something beautiful. After that I’ll tweak and edit it until I feel its stage ready. It’s funny because I consider all my acts to be like immaculate conceptions. I believe inspiration should come naturally and when you force it, it comes across that way on stage.
Q: What are three little known facts about you that might surprise our readers?
A: Well, it surprises most people to know that I used to be military intelligence in the Army. Also, I’m a member of the North Texas branch of Mensa. I think it also surprises people that I have such horrible stage fright. I’ve been told I seem very comfortable and fluid on stage, but the truth is that I’m a nervous wreck most times.
Q: What’s next for Iris Le’Mour?
A: You know I hope just more great things really. I love burlesque and the people in it. I want to continue traveling and performing all over the country, and hopefully, all over the world. I would really like in the future to making performing and costuming my only jobs. I have been so blessed this year to walk away with some amazing awards and I hope to keep graduating into bigger and better arenas.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: Just that I love my art and all the things it has brought into my life. Few are as blessed as I am to find a place where they feel like they completely belong, like they are complete. I am very appreciative of everything this life has brought me.
Burlesque Etiquette with Jo Weldon: Making Introductions: Etiquette Guidelines for Performers and Emcees
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, which is why we’re thrilled to have her as our Burlesque Etiquette 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!
I occasionally post a request for input on Facebook when I’m writing an article. Often there is little or no response, as people don’t always have strong opinions about the subjects I’m addressing, but when I asked for suggestions about performer to emcee and emcee to performer etiquette, I got more response than I could handle in 1000 words!
As always, there are exceptions to most of these rules, but it’s the rules that help you understand the tenets of burlesque show business. When in doubt, etiquette goes by the rules.
First, from the performers:
1) Use a performer’s name precisely as designated. I had no idea that many performers do not wish to be called “Miss” until I got feedback on this topic from several performers who complained about it. I never mind being called “Miss Jo Weldon,” but there are many performers who deeply dislike having it added to their stage names if it’s not already included.
2) Avoid playing favorites. Performers hate it when an emcee spends five minutes talking about his road trip with another performer, then briefly introduces them with a low level of excitement.
3) Performers don’t like to be played up or down too much. It’s obvious that the performers don’t want to be played down, reduced to their body parts, or mocked, but many performers also commented that they disliked being overhyped.
4) Performers like for the emcee to be aware of what they’re doing. It doesn’t do for an emcee to tell the audience to hoot and holler for a number that is more evocative than rowdy, or to set the audience up to laugh when they’re doing a number that isn’t particularly humor-based.
5) Performers loathe it when the emcee gives away too much about their numbers. They like to be the one to provide the reveal. I usually ask the emcee if they mind introducing my Godzilla number as “a tribute to a great film star of the 1950s,” hoping that the giant reptile costume will come as a surprise.
6) Several performers said they don’t like it when the emcee talks during their act. They all agreed that the emcee gets his or her stage time, and the performers get theirs.
7) Performers don’t want to listen to the host harangue the performers, the venue, or the audience onstage. “I don’t see any point in running down the venue. It makes the performers seem cheap and the audience stupid for being there.”
8) Everyone likes it when the emcee can handle a heckler without paying toooooo much attention to them. When a heckler becomes the most prominent performer in the show, it’s a downer.
9) Performers agreed they dislike having the emcees make overtly sexual remarks about them. They preferred to be introduced as performers rather than as potential sex partners.
10) Above all, performers want the emcee to say their name, correctly pronounced and clearly stated. None of them had any patience for carelessness with their names.
My thoughts: As I read the comments, I noticed a tendency a few of the newer performers to be very concerned about having their credits and their introduction and tagline presented exactly as provided, and having the host use every bit of information the performer had turned in before the show; I think this comes from a new performer’s inexperience with being part of an ensemble show. It’s totally understandable, but it’s not exactly how show production usually runs. Generally speaking, it is in everyone’s interest to think of the audience’s attention span. The host will do their best to keep the show moving, which means they may have to edit or pad information on the fly. And the audience needn’t shouldn’t have to sit through a long introduction because a performer was concerned that an element of their CV might be left out. The CV is for producers to use to decide to hire you.
Also, I prefer that the emcee should be discreet about problems when necessary. The audience should be unaware of problems, or at least should feel that the problems of which they’re aware aren’t drastic, or the problems should be made genuinely entertaining. The audience doesn’t want to know about personality conflicts, whether they are taking place in the dressing room or in the burlesque community at large. The stage is not the emcee’s opportunity to vent about other show producers, directly or indirectly. They shouldn’t see the performers and emcees getting annoyed with each other.
Always think of the audience. It’s a show.
I asked a few well-known emcees to contribute their thoughts, and they offered some choice and thoughtful nuggets.
Kate Valentine (Miss Astrid): I appreciate it when dancers keep in mind that the emcee is a performer too. I often need physical and mental space backstage before I go on & for the duration of the show. Personally, I love a performer that sees the whole picture and thus is a pro and a team player. Your job is so much more than your 3 minutes on stage. My biggest pet peeve is when someone brings their diet/exercise regimine/body issues/gluten intolerance into the backstage space. Self loathing talk is contagious among women!
World Famous BOB: My few tips are: please don’t ask an mc to do a “comedy bit” with you as part of your act the night of. Good mc’s already have material and are not obligated to be in your act. Do- provide your tag line or anything special that can help the mc introduce you properly- this is especially helpful if the host doesn’t already know you that well. Example; “Recently performed in the New York Burlesque Festival”, or any awards you may have won. These all make for a sparkling intro. Please do not ask a host to say your website, the audience is not taking notes and if they are impressed with you they can find you online as long as they know your name. Finally, if you are new to Burlesque and people have a hard time pronouncing your stage name often, change it, you will do better to have people say it properly than to have something really witty that every host gets wrong. Your stage name is a concept and character but it is also a marketing tool- make it yours but make it not too difficult.
Murray Hill: For me, great stage kittens are key to the show running smoothly and making my emcee life easier. They wrangle the talent to make sure they’re on deck, remember the set list for me (helps now that I’m an AARP representative), help trouble-shoot live during the show with tech and managers or any of the other crazy things that can happen in live theater, write down new jokes, and then of course to do pick-up in a seamless manner so the show keeps grooving. I always say to the stage kitten at the top of the show, “It’s me and you, kid.” Really the only thing I ask of the performers is to not get glitter or lipstick on my suit and don’t touch the hair!!! At any given time, I’ll have a half a pound of pomade in my hair and if one of the gals runs into me, or runs her fingers through my hair, she may get stuck and we’ll need to call in the jaws of life for a removal!
Bradford Scobie: A supreme pet peeve of mine is when an MC screws up a performer’s name. It strikes me as disrespectful, unprofessional and a little self-absorbed. True, burlesquer names get pretty out-there and tricky to remember. Do what I do: Suck it up and read it off a piece of paper, Stupid. I’ve even stooped so low as to stop mid-intro, tiptoe behind the curtain, ask the kid her name, step back out and announce her name correctly and with conviction. I mean, it’s her NAME…!
Mat Fraser: Most hosts like myself like to get a handle on the performers before the show if possible, so a couple of lines about them in an email a couple of days before the show is useful, but any pre act set up/description should be short and snappy. Recent accolades are fine but no one wants to know if you won a dance competition at school dammit, so keep it recent and relevant and short, spell any difficult to pronounce words and names especially, make it easy to read, and your host will love you.
Jonny Porkpie: Remember that everyone – performers, host, kittens, producer, tech crew – is, from the moment they arrive at the venue (perhaps even from the moment they agree to do the show), part of a team. The show is a collaboration, even if you’ve never met some of your partners before. One of the glories of Burlesque: it is an art form which celebrates the talent and vision of the individual, but that can never be at the expense of the whole show — That isn’t fair to the people who have paid to see you. The host is your point person, the one on the front lines, the ambassador between production and audience. As such, their responsibility is to serve the audience first, then the needs of the show and the needs of the performers, and his or her own material last. It’s great to provide a host with 2-3 pieces of information with which they can pad out your intro, but don’t be insulted if they don’t end up using it. A host must keep the show flowing, and while it’s helpful to have extra material available, saying these things about every single performer can interrupt the rhythm of the night, making it seem a series of unrelated events instead of a unified production. That being said, there’s no excuse for getting a performer’s name wrong. If a host does that, feel free to point it out (gently, of course, we’re all in this together) – any good host will be apologetic and correct the error at the next appropriate opportunity.
Scotty the Blue Bunny: As a host I like to rock. The important thing to remember is that an MC’s job is largely unscripted and f*cking up a name or getting the set a little confused goes along with that territory. Sometimes you can ask and ask and ask for bios and show orders way ahead of time and you still get a napkin written in sharpie the night of. Everything else in a show is choreographed but the host has to field millions of variables. I think an important thing to remember is that hosts and dancers are not separate entities. We are all burlesque performers and we all have our styles. Dancers have to do their show and hosts do theirs- that’s our performance. Sometimes dances suck and sometimes hosting sucks but we all have our relationship with the audience to navigate. The host is the glue. The one character who stays with the audience the entire time and we will do whatever it takes to keep them. I like to tease and cajole and ruffle and do shots of tequila with my audience. The best thing that can happen to any MC is a stage manager. I don’t appreciate the word “stall” although I am using it as an opportunity to be filthy. PLEASE BE READY FOR YOUR PERFORMANCE and try not to be overwhelmed by your props. Other than that I would like to say that my latest goal as a host (other than not f*cking it all up) is to introduce the performers as performers and artists. I find that if I stay away from gender it’s easier to stay away from words like “tits” and “boobies.” There is a double standard where female hosts use that language and only men are called rude and misogynistic. Maybe there are two ys in that. In any case if I have a personal relationship with a performer I might take a chance on razzing their character. I like to burlesque the burlesquers. After all it usually happens in a bar after 11 PM. People want an adult show…a live adult show.
Shelly Watson: As an MC it’s MY job to be prepared and I’d like to think I spend time getting to know the performers, the show, making space between acts and give everyone equal build-up. It’s not easy doing improv on the spot when something happens but I revel in it and always find a way to turn a bad situation better. I want to add that it is very frustrating when you do ask about a performer and they do not give you any information until the second they go on. Two emails are more than enough to get that info.
Keith Nelson: As an MC, I try to know my audience, know as much as I can about the performers, be able to pronounce the names of the acts, and bring more material than I will ever need. As an MC, it is our job to save the day and be the general lubricant for the show.
Shaffer the Darklord: I do pre-show homework on each act and shower every performer (including kittens) with praise when I get booked to host any show, but I make sure to show the producer tremendous respect/love as well. Simply booking a host demonstrates to me that the producer recognizes hosting as skilled labor and not just some superfluous show element that ANYBODY can do.
Bastard Keith: Ironically, as a master of ceremonies, my attitude is that of a humble servant. Serve the dancers, serve the show, serve the audience, serve the night. But as in any arrangement of servitude, there are ways of making it all run smooth. My pledge is to be courteous, get your name right, promote what you want me to promote, represent you the way you wish to be represented, and get the audience revved up properly for your entrance. Here’s what YOU can do: know how you wish to be represented (and if you say, “Oh, I dunno, just say whatever you want,” don’t get pissed off at me if it isn’t exactly what you wanted to hear). I’m there to help. Use me.
For more on this conversation, see the posts here: http://www.facebook.com/groups/NYCburlesqueperformers/
The conversation began on September 18.
There is a wealth of input from performers as well as from other excellent emcees such as Shelly Watson, Shaffer the Darklord, Brett Rollins, and Chris McDaniels.
As of the deadline for this article I had not yet transcribed the comments for my blog, but I plan to do so.
Want More Jo? Check out her previous Etiquette columns: Photos & Pasties, How to Annoy Producers, How to Annoy Performers, I’m Just Saying, Headliner Etiquette – Part 1, Social Media Etiquette for Nearly Naked People
DIY One Hour Pencil Skirt
Beloved Emcee and costume goddess Cora Vette, owner of Denver’s one stop burlesque shop VaVa Vette, gives us the lowdown on how to create your own custom fashions.
This D.I.Y. will show you how to make a pencil skirt in under one hour and all you need are very basic sewing skills. If you can sew a zig-zag stitch, you can make this pencil skirt!
First, you will need stretch fabric. There is no zipper for this simple pull on skirt. I used a stretch velvet but any fabric with a two-way stretch works great. Note: If you use a stretch velvet, cut it out and sew it with the nap of the fabric going up. Basically, that means if you would run your hands from your hips to your waist it will feel the smoothest going up. This will make it look richer.
I took a pencil skirt that I had in my closet and used it as a guide. But, you can do it without a guide. All you need to do is take your hip measurement, divide it in half, and leave a little space on each side for your seam allowance. I use the standard 5/8th inch seam on the sides. I allowed a little more room at the hips and took it in a little at the waist for my figure. But, even a plain old rectangle works great with the stretchy fabric. Just make it wide enough for your hips and as long as you want.
Step 1) Fold your fabric in half.
Remember to leave a 5/8th inch seam allowance at both sides and about an inch and a half at the top and bottom for the hem and the waistband and cut your fabric.
Step 2) Pin the skirt with the right sides together at both sides.
Step 3) Stitch each side closed. For this skirt, I used my serger, but a plain old zig zag stitch on a regular sewing machine works just as well.
Step 4) Cut your elastic for the waistband. Take your waist measurement and subtract one inch then overlap the ends and stitch the elastic together making a circular waistband elastic.
Step 5) Pin the elastic to the WRONG side of the top of your skirt. The easiest way to do this is to place the seam of your elastic circle to the seam one side of the skirt and then half the elastic circle and put a pin in the elastic and place that at the other side seam of the skirt. Stretch the skirt and pin the elastic every few inches.
Step 6) With a small zig-zag stitch, sew the elastic to the skirt close to the lower edge of the elastic stretching the fabric as you sew.
Step 7) Turn the elastic over once again. The previous stitching will hold the elastic in place. This time, sew the waistband close to the edge of the material (again, stretching as you sew). This will encase the elastic and make a nice finish on the inside of the waistband.
Step 8) Make a simple hem by turning up the bottom edge a half an inch, and then another generous half inch turn, making a nice double fold.
Stitch (in a zig zag) close to the top edge and you are DONE!
The first skirt I made took me about an hour. But, after one, I made another one in 20 minutes! It makes me want to make tons of them to travel to festivals! They don’t wrinkle and they dress up or down, and they are so comfortable!!
Until next time…xoxo Cora Vette
How To Be A Good Woman And Other Lessons From The Kitchen
By: Kitch Coquette
I was told from an early age that a good woman should have two things — the mind of a rocket scientist and the heart and fortitude of a farmer’s wife. This advice came from my mother, who was a neuro-scientist and whose father was a farmer. I supposed I have unintentionally spent my entire adult life trying to live up to this standard. Sure I’m smart and can probably kick your ass in a game of chess. But, I am also one tough chic. If you need wood for your fire, you would ask me (not my husband) to get the axe.
Just the other weekend, the customers and employees at my local gardening center gawked (and yes some of them snickered) as I hoisted giant compost bags over each of my shoulders (in a fireman’s hold) and carried them to the cash register. As I walked between the rows of sweet little flowers, I couldn’t help but think of my more demure female friends. My big hands, wide shoulders, and strong thighs gave me an advantage in the garden center, but probably a disadvantage in the dating arena. Oh well. Who really cares about boys anyway? All I know is that in the event of a zombie outbreak, I’d bet on my survival. I’m just sayin’.
But I digress. This article is not about my formidable, carny-like strength, but rather a great avocado salad. The only reason I started ruminating about what it means to be a good woman is because I got this amazing recipe from someone who has the mind, heart, and fortitude of a good woman — plus she lives on a ranch, which furthers my argument! This is my adaptation of my friend’s recipe. If you love avocados, you will LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this recipe. It might be my favorite recipe of all time — and that is saying a lot.
What You Need:
1 pint grape tomatoes halved
1 diced yellow bell pepper
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup diced red onions (I just stick the onion in my food processor)
2 T minced jalapeno pepper
1/2 tsp. lime zest
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup good olive oil (*I can’t stress the importance of getting good olive oil. I use Napa Valley Natural’s “Rich and Robust” olive oil. I use the cheaper stuff if I’m going to be cooking on the stove, but the more expensive stuff for drizzling over food and/or making salads like this).
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp minced garlic
dash of red pepper flakes
3 diced avocados (I just scoop the avocado flesh directly out of the peel with a spoon and put it into the salad. It is not in perfect segments, but close enough for our household.
Fresh chopped cilantro (optional)
What You Do:
1. Gently mix first six ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients except for the avocados and the fresh cilantro. Pour mixture over vegetables and beans. Toss well.
3. Just before serving, fold in the avocados and the chopped cilantro (put in as much cilantro that will suit your taste. I like a lot of cilantro, so I put in about 3/4 cup of chopped cilantro).
4. Serve at room temperature by itself or with a side of tortilla chips (I prefer Tostitos Scoops for this recipe).
The Ice Cream Blonde’s Last Sunday
It was a chilly December night in the Pacific Palisades when an intoxicated “Hot Toddy,” screen actress Thelma Todd, stumbled to her door after dismissing her driver, only to find herself locked out of her own home. Apparently her lover had had it with her drinking, and thought a night out in the cold might really sober her up. She had been out all night at a star-studded Hollywood party, thrown in her honor at the famous Trocadero nightclub. But as the party progressed, Todd quit drinking for fun and started drinking to forget after a spiteful fight with her ex-husband, Pasquale “Pat” De Ciccio. De Ciccio, with a new ingénue on his arm, left the party after placing a phone call, but Todd stayed on till the wee hours of Sunday morning. And that fated night of 1935 proved to be her last. Or was it?
Thelma Todd had come to Hollywood after winning a beauty contest in 1925, leaving behind a teaching career and a Miss Massachusetts title to become an actress. Known as “The Ice Cream Blonde,” Thelma got her big break doing slapstick comedies for Hal Roach. Todd proved that she could clown around with the best of them, making movies with the likes of Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and The Marx Brothers. She made a total of 120 pictures in just less than 10 years, and was at the height of her fame when she met her untimely demise. Todd didn’t show up on the set of her latest Laurel and Hardy vehicle, The Bohemian Girl, Monday morning; after her house and haunts had been searched her body was found slumped over in the front seat of her Lincoln, the ignition still on, but the motor dead, and the garage door closed. The official decree was simply “death due to carbon monoxide poisoning,” but the stumped jury was unable to sort out a more specific verdict. Much like Marilyn Monroe’s greatly-debated death, it could have been suicide, murder, manslaughter, or just plain carelessness. There was no shortage of theories, some more fantastic than others, and the evidence was all contradictory.
Although the police proclaimed the death time was early Sunday morning, at least one witness claimed to have seen Thelma driving through town on Sunday afternoon, and another claimed to receive a phone call from Thelma that day. Was it a phone call from beyond the grave? A look alike hired to throw the cops off a murder trail? Did her business partner/lover, Roland West (acclaimed filmmaker and married man) end their ambiguous relationship in violence, angered by Thelma’s incessant boozing? Did her gangster ex-husband, De Ciccio, terminate their tumultuous relationship with something more final than divorce? Or was it, perhaps, a mob hit that had no more to do with De Ciccio than a phone call? Rumors about Lucky Luciano abounded, with many theorists claiming that he had decided to teach Todd a lesson after she refused to let him run a gambling racket in Joya’s, the speakeasy she had opened on the second floor of her home.
Some sources claim that there was an abundance of blood at the scene of the ‘crime,’ signs of a struggle on the scene, and signs of abuse on Todd’s body. Yet, other sources claim that none of these were present. What is certain is that Todd’s body was cremated after her highly-attended funeral, preventing another autopsy from ever happening. Although Todd’s attorney petitioned for a second inquest, with thought to lay the blame on Lucky Luciano, the District Attorney decided to close the case, leaving it one of Hollywood’s most mysterious unsolved fatalities.
Many of the details don’t add up, and the evidence points in all different directions. From what I’ve read in books and articles, the case for suicide seems the least likely. Accidental death, while wholly believable, is still awfully suspicious, depending on which set of ‘facts’ you’re considering. It seems probable that, if Roland West was to blame, it was the result of negligence and rash actions after a lover’s spat, rather than premeditated murder. It doesn’t take a very far stretch of the imagination to believe that Luciano had Todd rubbed out when she refused to cooperate (and again, depending on the source, there are accusations of an affair between the two, and also of him using amphetamines to control Todd). But I can’t seem shake the feeling that De Ciccio was really bad news; and, after all, he was the most intimately involved with Todd. Right hand man to Luciano, De Ciccio was purportedly a bootlegger and a pimp. Todd ended their marriage due to cruelty and incompatibility after two years of drunken brawls, and De Ciccio went on to swindle 17-year-old Gloria Vanderbilt into marrying him, only to divorce him on grounds of extreme cruelty. Just two years after Todd’s death, De Ciccio was implicated in the brutal beating, and death, of Ted Healy, original leader of The Three Stooges. But then again, maybe it was just a tragic accident…
Sadly, this cold case will most likely always remain a mystery, but the charismatic work of Thelma Todd will live on. And so will the stories of Todd’s ghostly visitations. The spirited comedienne’s spirit has been seen by many gliding down the steps outside her home and café/speakeasy-turned-religious-film-production-company. Others have been alarmed at the smell of exhaust fumes and the sound of a car running with the garage door closed, but upon closer inspection, they always find the ill-fated garage to be empty.
It’s All Hedy Lamarr’s Fault
By: Hella Goode
Anytime you text during a class, a conversation, a drive or take a picture of me with your phone or drunk dial me from your butt, thank Hedy Lamarr. Hedy Lamarr, known as the “Most Beautiful Woman in Films” was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria to Gertrud, a pianist and Emil, a bank manager. From early on, she turned heads so hard they ached.
She began her film career early at age 17. By 19 she had already done her first nude scene in the 1933 Austrian film Ecstasy, shaking up the still young film industry as she ran wet and naked through a field after a horse. Eyes opened in amazement at this green-eyed brunette’s stunning prowess and grace, including execs from MGM Studios who couldn’t wait to sign her on. Her first Hollywood film of many was called Algiers in 1938. She went on to star in films like John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat (1942), White Cargo (1942), Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Female Animal (1957) and shared the screen with the biggest names in the industry not excluding Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable.
Her personal life, however, was not as glamorous. In fact, Hedy once said “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” Maybe Hedy was tired of pretending she was less than a genius. Maybe she was tired of losing husbands to their own inferiority complexes. Maybe she discovered she did not have to juggle everything and could choose what was more important to her. Really, it was her decision.
The decision to leave Hollywood and the stupid glamour behind allowed her to devote more time to her children, James (adopted with John Loder), Anthony and Denise (biological parent, with John Loder). She was hardly as successful in marriage, wedding and then unwedding five husbands: Fritz Mandl, Gene Markey, John Loder, Teddy Stauffer, W. Howard Lee, and Lewis J. Boies.
Despite her familial struggles, Hedy’s brilliance continued to shine. She always had a new invention up her sleeve. Her big bang came in 1942. Along with musician George Antheil, she patented something they called the ‘secret communication system,’ a technology which allowed users to change frequencies at will to keep enemies from intercepting messages. At wartime with the Nazis, this development was used to dodge torpedoes and keep intelligence secret. They may not even realize it, but the military and cell phone companies should be paying a little gratitude to Hedy Lamarr.
She wouldn’t be credited much with it during her lifetime, but Hedy would see what her original idea would grow into before her death on January 19, 2000, at her home in Orlando, Florida. And yes, next time a beautiful dark-haired girl catches your eye as she cuts you off in traffic and you notice she’s jabbering on the phone, you’ll remember Hedy Lamarr.