Burbank, California-based pin-up model, boutique babe and vintage maven Doris Mayday talks her first shoot, transitions, sexism, and the truth behind reality TV.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You were born and raised in Las Vegas, and you started college early at age 16 and began modeling right before you turned 18. You’ve stated that you were always a “vintage nerd” and never actually planned to model, but rather that it “fell into your lap.” Care to share how exactly you stumbled upon such a dream job?
A: It all started off as a favor. There was a new calendar coming out called Lucky Betties, and the creator, Jessi Pagel, was friends with my boyfriend at the time. She needed a blonde for one of her calendar girls, so even though I had done no prior modeling, I agreed to it. I couldn’t have asked for a better first gig! Jessi was so involved and passionate that I got to see all the aspects and hardwork that goes into a proper photoshoot. Understanding the importance of hair and makeup artists, wardrobe, lighting, locations, styling, and originality made me fall in love with the photoshoot process. I really enjoyed working with her so much that I ended up helping a lot with promotion. From those events, I wound up meeting a lot of people in this industry and creating relationships. At the time though, my heart was still set on being a sex therapist. I never thought my love of vintage fashion and decor would ever amount to a career, or that I was any good at modeling. To me, I was just having fun, but to others I was told I was a breath of fresh air because I had genuine interest.
Q: You managed the Bettie Page Store at the Fashion Show Mall in Vegas, and you also managed the Bettie Page Store that opened in 2011 in the Mall of America in Minnesota. You started as a model for their company many years ago, right? How did you move into the store management role? Was it a difficult transition moving to Minnesota?
A: When I started off as a model for Bettie Page Clothing, I initially sent in my résumé months prior when I caught wind of the store opening. When the owners knew I wanted to be more than just a pretty face for them and that I wanted to actually work, they hired me! Starting a store, you have a million things thrown your way and I was always rolling with the punches. After proving that I could handle more responsibility and with a smile on my face, when opportunities came up for expansion I was promoted. For the Mall of America location, I did that location on my own. At the time, I had fallen in love with a man from Minnesota. I knew I wanted to move out there, but I didn’t want to leave my company, so I started scouting locations and found a great one! I did all the meetings and paperwork behind my bosses back, and when it was time to sign on the dotted line, I presented it to them with a heartfelt plea for us to expand there. Moving to Minnesota was incredibly easy, and I am still incredibly smitten with the state. Some of the nicest people around, and talk about great vintage!
Q: Speaking of transitions, you’re now the manager of the Pinup Girl Clothing Boutique, which opened in August 2012 in Burbank, California. You met Laura Byrnes (owner/creator of PUG) at a clothing convention when you were only 18 or 19 years old, and began working for them as a model, right? How did that relationship evolve into the position you have now?
A: When I met Laura Byrnes, we instantly hit it off. Shortly after, she asked me to start modeling. I would come out a few times a year to Los Angeles to shoot and we would always wrap the end of the day with a great dinner with long talks. There was always mention of one day of them having a boutique, but Laura is a perfectionist and always was holding out for all the stars to align. Last year, I found myself in Minnesota at a cross roads where I was no longer feeling challenged and that I was missing opportunities. I decided to quit Bettie Page and move to California and give it a go since a lot of TV and modeling jobs are there. It so happened that the time couldn’t have been better, and Pinup Girl was finally ready. Laura knew of my work experience and asked if I would manage the opening. Thank goodness! Now I don’t have to be a starving artist in LA!
Q: Tell us about the process of opening the boutique! Now that the shop has been open for over six months, what have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of the job? What have some of the biggest challenges been?
A: Pinup Girl allowed me to be incredibly hands on and involved with getting the store in tip top shape. There were a million renovations we had to do from construction, to new tile, painting, sanding, molding and styling. I’m pretty sure I can start a new business called Pin Up Handy-woman! There were many 20 hour days in the final stretch before opening. But having customers come in and say how impressed they are with the final look made it all worth it.
Q: I was intrigued (and surprised!) by a post about the PUG Boutique receiving its first hate mail. Some angry passerby slipped a note through the doors of the shop stating, “not to take it personal, but why would anyone want to be a pinup girl? They are only ‘whack-off’ objects!” Understandably, your team shook it off as funny, but also considered that it’s sad that some people still think that the only reason a woman would dress nicely is to attract a man, as opposed to simply wanting to feel good about herself. This also made me wonder – as a well-known pin-up model, have you had people react that way to you/your job as well? How do you respond to those people (if at all?)
A: Unfortunately, sexism is still very much around in 2013. There have been countless times where people have doubted my intellectualism as well as my motives due to my appearance. Some women use that to their advantage and can play the dumb or promiscuous female role but I think that just ends up hurting women worse. I understand that there is a time after the 1950s where women wanted to throw on the pants and power suits and prove their equality to the male counterparts but at Pinup Girl our argument is that there is no reason why you can’t be respected in a well tailored dress. If someone is going to view you as a “wack-off object” or an inferior female that’s their problem and it should never steer you away from how you want to dress.
Q: Being that you’re a lover of vintage style, I was surprised to learn that you typically shy away from wearing vintage hats, thinking that they don’t flatter you or that they’re too “over the top.” I enjoyed reading your resolution to make 2013 “the Year of the Hat,” and that you’re trying to wear at least one hat per week. So far you’ve said that it makes you feel “classier, ladylike, mysterious, and even sometimes spy-like,” and that more of us should get over the notion of feeling silly in hats. I love this idea and was wondering, how is your hat-per-week goal progressing? Are you still getting the reactions and feelings that you were initially?
A: With any resolution you start off with a bang and I was doing rather well in the beginning. I have slowed down a little bit but recently I rocked a fabulous turban that has put the fire back under my tush… or should I say my hat! I’ve realized that I have to keep my hats on display in my beauty room so that I’m reminded to put them on.
Q: Last year you were featured on TLC’s “My Crazy Obsession” for your “obsession” with all things related to 1950s culture and style, which given the nature of our magazine, we can totally appreciate! What sort of reactions did you see from viewers? Were any of your friends or family surprised by the fact that you appeared on the show or some of the things that you said or did? I’ve seen some of your fans comment that they felt like the show exaggerated your “obsession” and was edited to play up the “craziness.” Do you have any thoughts on that? Knowing what you know now, would you still have agreed to be featured on the show?
A: When I first signed onto the project there was no name for this production and it was described as a documentary. They seemed generally interested in my life as well as my boyfriend at the time who is in a rockabilly band. I spent months coming up with a story line for filming that would be realistic. As much as people want to think that reality TV is real, it is generally scripted so I wanted it to be as genuine as possible. After signing my life away I found out 2 days before filming that the show was going in a new direction and called “My Crazy Obsession” and eccentricity was the key subject. All of a sudden I was being told what to say and do. I had to act like I didn’t have a cell phone or computer and risk spraining my ankle by putting silly bags on my feet instead of modern snow boots. It is easy for people to say how they would never do that but when you have a camera crew who flew out all the way from New York sitting in your living room on a time crunch who are being yelled at by their superiors, you will do anything to just get it all over with. My boyfriend was rather disappointed with the new direction the show had gone in and they didn’t even showcase anything about him, even though initially we were told it would showcase his band. In interviews they only got him to crack once and say something forced, so of course that’s the only clip they used of him. It was rather embarrassing but a majority of the feedback I received was positive. I think people were too busy looking at my clothes and furniture to notice the ridiculous story line… Thank God! We did get to go on Anderson Cooper which was an amazing experience. Being able to go out in public and use a cell phone is now like putting on a mustache and glasses. I literally have had people whisper how they think I’m the girl from TV but there is no way because I’m on a cell phone. So all in all I don’t know if I would do that again.
Q: Though it’s a topic I’m sure you grow weary of discussing, let’s chat about your hair for a second. I read an interview from 2010 in which you mentioned that your signature blonde locks quickly became a trademark, and at that time you mentioned that you wanted to change your hair color but couldn’t. Obviously, you made the leap to go dark since then, and last summer you went red! What changed your mind about making the switch? I’m sure your fans are quite opinionated about your choices of hair color, aren’t they?
A: You would think I kicked a puppy when I dyed my hair from blonde to brunette! People apparently view my hair as their domain and almost seemed offended I would change it. I was always called the blonde Doris and it was getting on my nerves. Why couldn’t I just be called Doris? What was the big deal about being blonde? Thankfully I did some photo shoots with the dark locks and people really started to like it. I started getting references to Sherilyn Fenn, who is a girl crush of mine so I knew the change was a good move. I actually wanted to go red before dark but at the time I had an abundance of red headed friends. When I moved to LA I thought it would be a good time to try red. I think changing my hair color has actually been a good thing because I can be more relatable to different people. People are always going to have an opinion on what Doris they prefer, but frankly dear… I don’t give a damn.
American Treasure Blanche DeBris (“white trash” in French, but Always High-Class!) talks rapping, failed careers, Edelweiss and volunteering at The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum.
Interview: Miss Violet O’Hara
Q: In 2012, you famously opened the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend with your original “Movers, Shakers and Innovators” rap and claimed your place among the emcees on that most coveted stage. Can we expect to see you perform more original raps in the near future? Are there any that you are currently developing?
A: First off, can you believe I got to be on that stage?? That whole weekend was an absolute surreal dream. I was so overwhelmed after they invited me to host I was nauseous for two months! I was so terrified of being entrusted with this honor and then messing things up. So I was in the shower, where I get all my ideas, I was thinking how ridiculous it was that I would be hosting the pinnacle event of Burlesque, and thought “What else is something that is so ridiculous there’s no way I should be doing it?” And that’s how I got the idea for doing a rap song! I’ve since done another rap, a much shorter one, that I wrote for the Minneapolis Burlesque Festival, and it was a mashup of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song.” Prince, well because he’s a Minneapolis boy, and Immigrant Song because it’s a song about Vikings!
I have to give a huge, ground-shaking shout out to my dear Eric “Travis” Wilson, the Mashup Cowboy himself, who did all the music and recording for the Movers, Shakers, Innovators rap. He does all my tracks. I’m so ridiculously lucky to know him. He also did the voiceover intros for me and Mat Fraser for BHOF. Eric is such a genius; he’s like a secret ninja weapon. He plays every instrument, records and edits it all, and he comes up with ideas for me, and writes with me. And I get to pay him by doing things to him he likes and that I would do anyway!
I do love the challenge of coming up with a specific song/rap for a special occasion! I torture myself with it really, it takes me a looong time to write something that I’m happy with. And rapping is hard, all those words have to come out of my mouth so fast! But I have to say, I really like it, and yes, I think there might be a few more original raps in the future, but I’ll probably have to find another music style before people get tired of me. I can just hear it, “oh jeez….not aNOTHER rap song from Blanche….”
Q: Recently you were in Dallas on the grand stage of Viva Dallas Burlesque for their Bedtime Stories show. One of your signature acts, “The Sound of Music in Six Minutes”, had the entire audience singing along to “Do-Re-Mi”, “My Favorite Things” and “Edelweiss”. At the end of your routine they were up on their feet as avid new Blanche DeBris fans. How does it feel to be embraced with such uninhibited enthusiasm by Texas? When will you be moving here?
A: Really? You’d like to keep me? Let me pack my eyelashes and I’ll be right over! You know, I still can’t believe that I’m being asked to come to cities like Dallas, I’m so used to being asked to LEAVE cities like Dallas. Most often with a law enforcement escort.
But oh my gosh the audience at Viva Dallas Burlesque! First off, are they some of the good-lookingest people or what? Everyone was dressed up for the theme of the show, Bedtime Stories! Lingerie and silk and satin robes and funny pjs with feet and trap doors in ‘em, oh it was terrific. THAT’s the way to turn out for a show!
I had so many people come up to me after the show to tell me how much Sound of Music meant to them, and how they loved the movie as a kid. Watch it again as an adult and you discover a lot more! I tell ya it’s like finding all these secret members of a club you had no idea you belonged to! I’m so surprised and relieved that other people enjoy my little obsession with the Von Trapp story (as told by Rodgers & Hammerstein). And to have that HUGE crowd singing along…all of us singing together, it’s pure joy. You know, I really do get choked up every time I sing Edelweiss, thinking of the Von Trapp family saying goodbye to everything they every knew and loved, a whole country, a lifetime of memories, leaving it all behind. And singing Edelweiss I just look at everyone in the audience and I feel so humbled, and so grateful to be there in that moment, all of us together. It’s really pure magic, you know, all these strangers happening to be in this theatre at the same time, yet everyone knows these songs. Even if they don’t *know* they know them, there they are singing along! All of us, making music together in the dark. That’s what the magic is. That’s the art.
I saw this one-woman show Lily Tomlin did, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe – Gosh is Lily Tomlin stupendously terrific. Really, if it’s on DVD you should watch it. Anyways… she plays one character, a homeless lady named Trudy, who meets a space alien and tries to explain what “art” is to him. She shows the alien a can of tomato soup, and then she shows the alien Andy Warhol’s painting of a can of tomato soup. “This is soup! This is art!” she tells him. But the alien isn’t convinced. So she takes the alien to see a Broadway play, but the alien watches the audience the whole time. And afterwards she asks the alien why the heck was he watching the audience? And the alien says “The play was soup. The audience, art.” That’s what I feel about the audiences everywhere I go. What ever I’m doing is just soup. The audience’s participation, that’s what makes the magic.
Q: Your bawdy humor has been heard on festival circuit stages across the country including The Minneapolis Burlesque Festival, The Moisture Festival, The New Orleans Burlesque Festival and The Windy City Burlesque Festival. Any backstage antics, travel nightmares or serendipitous coincidences you’d like to share regarding your festival experiences?
A: You know, a year ago, the only other place besides Las Vegas that I’d done Burlesque was Seattle, my burlesque birthplace. Not even a year ago, 10 months ago! I’ve never felt so welcomed and accepted unconditionally and fiercely as I do in the world of Burlesque. Finally I found my Tribe, or the Tribe found me!
I’ve not had any travel nightmares, other than the usual panic of worrying if my suitcases will make it. But I could tell a tale on myself! So, I’m at SEA-TAC airport, and I’m headed back to Vegas after spending two weeks in Seattle where I had been just soaked in burlesque and variety and the carnival community of Moisture Festival. And I get to security. So, I take off my shoes and put them in the X-ray bin. And I take off my jacket, and my scarf, and put it in the X-ray bin. And then I take off my pants. Um, yeah. I don’t need to take off my pants to go through security. But after two weeks of burlesque shows, it’s become such a habit to take off my clothes, that I just instinctually de-pants’d myself. For once my brain did start back up again and I pulled my pants back on before I got kicked out of yet ANOTHER city…
I’m still in the afterglow of the Minneapolis Burlesque Festival this January. The camaraderie and raucous, riotous, joyous love and support and excitement that everyone had for each other. Oh it was just splendid. You’d be trying to get ready for your own act, and you’d hear this cheering coming from the viewing lounge/green room that was backstage, and so you’d run in to watch what was happening on the monitors because you just didn’t want to miss a moment. And we’d be screaming our heads off backstage, watching the TV, and as soon as the performer exited the stage we’d be screaming for them again as they ran back to the dressing rooms!
At the New Orleans Burlesque Festival, I traveled & roomed with Legend Bambi Jones, who lives in Vegas. Lordy that woman is an unstoppable force. She’ll be in the bar ‘til 5am and want to keep going! Well, Bambi worked a lot in the clubs in NOLA in the 50’s; you should read her book because she talks all about it. So, she wanted to take a walk down Bourbon Street and see some of the places she used to headline. Now they’ve all been turned into pizza joints and frozen drink places. But with her book in hand, which had pictures of the clubs she was in, we walked through the Quarter and she gave me her personal walking tour of burlesque in New Orleans. How lucky am I that I got to do that?? When we were walking back to the hotel, a young man across the street starting playing the trumpet, a slow, warm, sexy rendition of ‘The Nearness of You.’ And Bambi stopped still and said “My husband used to sing that, in the shows we did together here.” So we stood, listening to that lone trumpet. I could only imagine the seas of memory that Bambi was sailing as we were transfixed in that voodoo magic New Orleans has, of a stranger playing a trumpet in the street and creating a stop in time. That’s a moment that burlesque has bestowed on me. How can a girl not feel humbled and overwhelmed?
Q: In your broad repertoire of spunky and offbeat acts; which is your absolute favorite to perform on your home turf as the “forever hostess” of Live Burlesque in Las Vegas? Do you have any routines that you only perform in Vegas?
A: Well, at Live Burlesque in Las Vegas I usually try to come up with something to fit the theme of the show, so that means it’s a one-time only performance. I’ve been keeping my clothes on though, since it’s hard for me to concentrate when I know I gotta keep pasties on. So mostly I do songs. Like at our sci-fi show I sang the theme from Star Trek. It has words, look ‘em up! But thinking about it, we did a 60’s/Psychadelic theme show and I rewrote the lyrics to the Petula Clark song “Downtown,” and I’ve since done that in New Orleans and at a private show in Vegas, so that’s now something in my repertoire. Heh, repertoire. Sounds so French!
Honestly though, I don’t really have that many “acts” per se. It takes me a long, long time to pull stuff together. Probably because I just want to do so much in one act that I spend months and months and months trying to figure out how to make things happen. All my ideas come to me in the shower! I’m lucky that I know so many people who make props or build sets or who do magic or that I have my awesome sound and music ninja Eric who I can turn to for help & advice. It takes a village to make a Blanche DeBris act! I’ve got three acts I am working on in my mind right now. And they all involve elaborate construction and props, even though I know that means traveling with any one act will mean a lot of fees in excess luggage. But maybe by announcing them here it’ll force me to start getting things outta the shower, and onto the worktable!
Q: Congratulations on your teaching debut! This February your first class, “Act Like You Mean It,” focused on helping performers connect to their burlesque persona and character. Do you have plans to expand this class and/or teach more often?
A: Thank you! I guess I learned something after so many failed careers, enough to teach about it. It was a learning experience for me, and now I have a better idea of what the class really is. Ooh, that’s spooky…a good chunk of the class is about finding out who you are onstage, and teaching the class has taught ME how to connect to how to teach the class! I would like it to be a four or six week class, because it’s long, hard work, but oh so delicious and rewarding and fun to do. Discovering & nourishing who you are onstage, and then how to bring the best ‘Onstage You’ to the audience. How to be present in every moment, with sincerity, owning it, never leaving the audience bored or wondering what you’re doing. My teaching mission is “no more ‘step-touch’ choreography!” Because I think I’ve figured out that the common thread to all the performers and acts I’ve seen that have made me warm in the pink bits, is that they fill every moment. There’s no hesitation, no ‘I’ll fill in the blank with a few arm gestures until I get to this next really cool bit in the music.’ And I think a lot of that has to do with not feeling relaxed or prepared enough and not trusting the “beats” of the story you are telling, not being afraid to take your time with each morsel. I love, LOVE slowness! Sloooow and pregnant with intention and action and a promise of things to come! Oh my goodness, I don’t know what just happened there, I sounded like I know what I’m talking about. That probably won’t happen again!
Q: As an accomplished emcee, what advice would you give to other hosts making their way in our community? Are there any classes, workshops, books or other references that you consider to be crucial for a talented emcee to devour?
A: *thud* Oh sorry, I had to pick myself off the floor because you called me “accomplished.” You slay me, Violet! I can’t believe I get left alone with a microphone allowed to wander around onstage! I was first given a chance to co-host by the wonderful people at The Moisture Festival, and that helped ease me into it. That’s some advice I can give, if you wanna try emceeing. Ask an established emcee to be their co-host! Cha Cha Velour in Las Vegas was the first person to let me do it by myself, I have her to thank for the chance to have a place to play every month, so I could get better. Cause honestly the only way to get better is to do it. And boy am I still learning. I never took any classes or read any books on hosting. If I learned anything it was by watching a lot of shows…A LOT of shows. And I just tried to be like these great emcees I’ve seen (not just in burlesque shows, variety shows, talent shows and even awards ceremonies). So then I tried to figure out how to be like them, but in my own style. That’s important, figuring out what kind of emcee you are. It also helps when you see a show/host that’s not so good and to learn what NOT to do, by the way!
Kate Valentine, (Miss Astrid, what an idol of mine!!) said something like, an emcee is not the frosting on the cake, they are the eggs. And to me I think that means you gotta hold the show together, and not let what you do be an afterthought. And don’t let the batter stand there too long. Move it along! Lola Van Ella paid me the most wonderful complement, backstage after I emceed at the New Orleans Festival, that she liked that I made it a show. That stupendous woman, telling me that! Whee! I was so happy to hear that, because that’s what I strive for.
You can learn a lot too, from really messing up onstage. If you’re gonna mess up, mess up big, but remember to laugh and learn from it! I will say, though, you gotta do your homework when you emcee. Get your intros together, have ideas for things you can do, or stories you can tell, in case you gotta fill time onstage. Be as prepared as you can be. And then get onstage and be prepared for all of that to go out of the window! Because again, the audience makes it not be soup, all the spontaneous stuff that happens with them becomes the show too. I love being in on the experience. I’m always the biggest fan seeing the show that night, so I am the lucky gal to get to be an audience member and say what I’m thinking out loud…and I get to touch the performers to boot!
Q: The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum is near and dear to your heart. As a volunteer you’ve met many Legends as well as strangers from all over the world who have personal connections to the world of burlesque. Will you share with us a few of your favorite moments from your time at the museum? Do you have a favorite exhibit, costume or other piece of memorabilia?
A: The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum is beloved of everyone in burlesque! It’s our legacy! We’re making it happen! I’m just lucky I live in Vegas so I can volunteer there, though I’m sad this year I haven’t been able to as much because I’ve been traveling. Right now, the space is smaller than people expect, I think. Which means all the more reason to support the museum’s mission to one day have a big, wonderful building where they can properly display the boxes and boxes of historic costumes and photos and diaries and memorabilia that are in storage! The thing is, because of the delicate condition of so many pieces, they really have to be conserved and displayed very carefully. So what is on display in the museum right now is the tiniest fraction of the collection. There is a feather from Sally Rand’s fan, next to her picture. There is one of Blaze Starr’s dresses, a g-string from Tempest Storm. Oh, there is a costume from a Minsky chorus girl, that’s a favorite of mine! And there’s so many postcards and pictures to love on and cherish! And a Timeline of Burlesque which I’m trying my best to memorize.
I like that the Museum is sort of a natural hang out for the burly community in Vegas. Last year every week I’d meet (Burlesque Legend) Dusty Summers there for coffee and cupcakes, (the museum is in a big Arts Center that has a lovely coffee shop right inside). And ALWAYS someone else would drop by, other Legends like Tiffany Carter, and then another someone, and before you know it, it’s a regular party.
My favorite though, is that when I’d be volunteering at the Musuem, someone would always come in who had a very personal connection to burlesque. Their moms or aunts or grandmothers were performers, or dads or grandfathers were singers or comedians or emcees. And they’ll talk about all the people their relatives worked with, the cities and theatres they played, and sometimes it would be a picture on the wall of the museum that would start them telling their story. I had a lady come in with her husband, and her dad used to work in Ann Corio’s show, This Was Burlesque, as one of the comedians. And we had a DVD of Ann Corio’s show at the museum, so we put it in my crappy laptop that I had with me, and scanned the show to see if her dad was in it. I wanted so bad to find him!! But he wasn’t on the DVD, the show did run nearly 30 years so I knew there was a chance it wouldn’t be the run he was in. But we talked about some people she might be able to contact to find another recording. Oh jeez I really hope she did.
My heart aches when I think of all the stories and costumes and pictures that have been lost! Or that are still out there, but they haven’t found their way to the Museum yet. When burlesque family members come in and ask if they can bring pictures in, oh my gosh yes yes yes!! And someday the Museum will have a place to show all of them!
Q: Las Vegas Weekly said that your “stage presence marries Phyllis Diller with Miss Piggy, then somehow makes it funnier.” Who are your inspirations and idols? Have you met any of them in the real world?
A: It makes sense that I’d be compared to a Muppet. In my head I’m a bit like Pee Wee Herman too.
When I was a little girl at the Ranch, I spent a lot of time watching this old black and white TV with my headphones on because I had to keep quiet. And there weren’t many channels, but there were always these wonderful movies on. I didn’t know they were old timey, I thought that’s what the outside world was like. Movies about these beautiful girls in big shows, girls who wore these costumes and danced, and that had the most musical voices! I just wanted to be like them so much.
And then there is the Carol Burnett Show. It’s probably obvious that she is one of my biggest inspirations. Her cast and writers and the sketches on that show. Such genius. They should be required viewing! And Bob Mackie costumes to boot! Oh I could faint with joy thinking of it! There’s an homage to her in my Sound of Music act, if you notice!
The characters Carol created were so huge and full and FUNNY, but she could also be so poignant and real. Do you remember when Eunice went on the Gong Show, which was such a big deal and was gonna be her ticket out of town, but she got gonged? It went from being ridiculous and over the top, to being so honest and quiet and heartbreaking. Boy does that ever prove her talent, to be able to admit to an audience the flipside of being a fantastic comedian is that kind of vulnerability. And oh oh oh, the comedy! I never laughed so hard as when they would just crack each other up in the sketches, they would try to hold it together but the struggle was immense, which made it even funnier. And they kept it all in the show, they wouldn’t edit it out! Absolute spontaneous magic. And wouldn’t you know, that’s all burlesque tradition, that show, those sketches and characters and comedic interludes, with music and dance numbers. It’s pure vaudeville and burlesque. If I ever met Carol Burnett, I think I’d just lose my mind!!
As for my burlesque idols, tt was emceeing at BHOF Weekend that made it possible to meet so so many of them. I was never brave enough to go up and introduce myself. I am so star-stuck and tongue-tied around them! And then, when I floated offstage after the Movers, Shakers show, all of a sudden these luminaries were coming up to ME and HUGGING me and talking to me, and I was just trying to not burst into tears or faint, seriously! To have Ray Gunn engulf me in those gorgeous arms?? Or Minnie Tonka hold my hand and whisper love to me?? OR DIRTY MARTINI hug me and say hello?? When Dirty Martini hugged me, I just said out loud “Dirty Martini is hugging me right now!” because all brain filters just dissolved! There are still a LOT of performers I’ve been too shy to approach. Some are in Vancouver and I’ll have to cowboy up and just tell them finally how I feel!
Q: It’s rumored that one day we’ll all be able to learn from your well-meaning yet horribly misguided tips, tricks and pep talks via the magic of the internet and your “Guides to Life” webisodes. Are there any tidbits you’d like to share before those launch from your failed careers as a Life Coach and Spokesmodel?
A: Oh I hope those rumours are true!! You know, my mommies & grandma lady back at the Ranch always had a lot of advice for me. Like…they’d tell me to do something, and if I said “I’ll try” the grandma lady would say “There’s no such thing as ‘try,’ Blanche. There’s only ‘mess it up one more damn time and you’re getting locked back in the closet ‘til you get it right.’” It’s that kind of encouragement and positive, reinforcement that forces you to have a “can do” attitude, and that’s I want to pass on to as many people as can take it! I still don’t know why my Life Coaching didn’t work out. I guess not many people wanted to trust me with their lives.
Q: 2013 has already been a big year for Blanche DeBris! Your official Vancouver debut in the Taboo Revue and Kitty Nights is this Spring. What else can we expect from Blanche in 2013 and beyond?
A: This past year has been, well, I couldn’t have dreamed up something to match what has happened. Really the past 10 months, starting with getting to host BHOF, and it was like all these doors and windows and skylights opened up, and I’m still reeling, honestly, at the avalanche of friendships and invitations that have enveloped me!
So if they let me into Canadia, after that I go “home” to Seattle to the Moisture Festival, and have a big family reunion! Then I’m gonna be staying in Reno for three months, visiting some of my mommies. While I’m in Reno I’m gotta start working on my own ideas for a one woman-ish show, which so many people have said I should do, so I guess I better start listening to them and do it already. I’m envisioning a sort of Pee Wee’s Playhouse kind of show. Stay tuned!
I will be back in Vegas for BHOF time though, I wouldn’t miss it! After that, I’ll continue hosting Live Burlesque in Las Vegas for as long as they’ll have me, and Cha Cha Velour and I are working on a creating a Holiday Extravaganza, a production show we hope will become an annual Vegas tradition. I’m extremely excited about that. But otherwise my schedule is open if anyone wants me to visit! As for dreaming big…oh it would be wonderful if I could have a TV show like Carol Burnett did. I’d have all my friends on it! And then with Eric “Travis” Wilson maybe we’d build an Always High-Class entertainment empire, and have, like, inspirational books, and toys, and a line of snack foods & candy! And glitter! Glitter and candy!!
Burlesque Rates of the Union
An issue ago we finished up our Guide to Touring series. It was with touring in mind that we dreamed up the idea for our Burlesque Rates of the Union. We asked several gals from all over the country what to expect from their hometowns and compiled their responses into an easy to access reference table. Be sure and grab the Best of Spring 2013 for even more cities!
(Click images to enlarge)
By: Lillith Grey
I recently launched a new project, the Academy of Queerlesque, and I have been getting a lot of interesting reactions from people in the local burlesque community. The reactions haven’t been negative at all; they’ve been generally supportive but confused and unsure of what queerlesque means or what place it has in the broader burlesque scene. There is no shortage of allies in the Dallas burlesque community – on the contrary, the community is warm, loving, and accepting, and I have no doubt that if I wanted to douse myself in rainbow glitter and run around a stage yelling “I’M A DYKE” as part of my act, I could find a producer and an audience that would appreciate it here. Last year, a local straight(ish) performer did a Muppet-against-Chick-fil-A act in front of a huge mainstream audience and was very well received. A popular local host is a wildly gender-bending drag queen and budding boylesque star. All-in-all, being queer in the Dallas burlesque scene is pretty freakin’ cool.
So it’s not surprising that many of the people around me are not sure how to feel about this project. They’re wondering why I felt the need to start a series of performance education classes focused specifically on the queer community when the queer community is so welcomed in mainstream burlesque. Some of them don’t know what queer means, let alone the concept of queerlesque. And, although none of my kind friends and burly colleagues have said this to me directly, I wouldn’t be surprised if there might be a twinge of hurt or rejection, or maybe the feeling that I’m somehow blaming them or saying I don’t feel welcomed here, which is absolutely not true. Hopefully I can answer some of these questions and be open about what my motivation and vision is for the academy.
Before I can talk about queerlesque, though, I want to be sure I’m being clear about the terminology I’m using, particularly the word queer. Society at large conceptualizes gender as a dichotomy – only two options: boy or girl. Researchers, scholars, and social justice advocates (particularly those in the women’s movement) have a lot to say about this perceived dichotomy, and more and more people are coming to realize that those two categories don’t really make much sense. There are so many ways to be a guy and so many ways to be a girl, it seems weird to have all these expectations about femininity/masculinity connected to somewhat arbitrary body parts (WARNING: BABY WITH PENIS WILL EXPLODE IF TOUCHED BY PINK FABRIC). So a more diverse and accurate understanding might fit better on a spectrum, rather than two checkboxes. Taking the body parts out of the picture, we can loosely classify gender like this:
We’ve all known men who embody more traditionally feminine characteristics, and women who tend toward the masculine (my fav). If you were to put yourself on that spectrum where would you fall? Does it change sometimes? Mine does, depending on how I feel – sometimes I’m all high heels and glam, sometimes I’m in jeans at the gun range. In fact, that’s one of the things I love about performing – pushing my gender alllll the way to the tip of the spectrum (ten points if you know how many rhinestones I can fit on my eyelid!) And that’s the fun and appeal of drag – jumping drastically on the spectrum. Some people feel strongly identified with one place on the spectrum, and that’s cool, while other people feel most comfortable moving around it more fluidly.
Unfortunately, social messages about the relative meaning of those points on the spectrum are misleading and often harmful. We are taught early on that men should be manly and women should be ladylike, that boys should only strive to push themselves closer to the masculine and never ever to the feminine (ballet and skirts? Doubtful). Girls can push toward the masculine a little bit (playing sports, wearing pants), but cannot go past a certain line without social repercussions. Breaking these rules of gender is very, very dangerous – it is the root of gay- and trans*-bashing and is strongly related to violence against women.
Because I was born into a woman’s body and I also happen to identify as highly feminine (I am cisgender), I carry some privilege in the mainstream culture. No one looks at me funny, no one taunts me or challenges me or threatens me, no one feels the need to heap their biases on me. I don’t visibly appear to break the rules of gender. So very many people I love, though, do visibly break the rules. They are so brave and self-aware and confident and insightful that they will not conform to an unreasonable and inaccurate method of categorization. They choose instead to live authentically, and they pay the price for that, from tiny micro-aggressions to overt acts of violence.
Enter the world of the queer. In this world, we collectively reject those stupid checkbox genders – we shatter them as we dance wildly around the spectrum. We dance around the spectrum of sexuality, too, defying labels that are dichotomous, knowing we don’t have to be either “gay” or “straight,” but can love and connect with people freely and in whatever way feels right. Queer takes away the need to categorize – I mean, if someone moves around the gender spectrum, does that make a feminine gay dude a lesbian? Am I not a “real” lesbian because my partner is masculine? Wait, what? THESE WORDS ARE STUPID. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
So queer gives us space to connect, to celebrate, and to feel safe with other people who don’t live in the world of heterosexism and heteronormativity. While we love and respect and care for our friends who do live in that world (the vast majority of the burlesque community), we don’t have that comfort of normalcy. We don’t put on queer when we get to the theater and take it off after curtain call, we live it every single day. We face the oppression and hate and discrimination aimed at our people, our family, every single day. And it is exhausting. It’s exhausting to walk the tightrope of safety, to wonder if your identity will cause someone to harm you. It’s hard to hear people tell stupid jokes, make mean comments, use the word “gay” to mean something bad or unbearable. It sucks to see friends and family post hateful political messages on Facebook. It’s heartwrenching to read about another murder, another suicide, another assault. Every. Single. Day.
And we take risks when we take queerlesque to the mainstream stage. It is entirely possible that an audience member will take issue with our queerness and choose to make a scene. My partner and I had to leave a show once after she was harassed and overtly threatened when she used the women’s bathroom – I barely made it through my act and we got out of there. We were terrified and devastated and alone. And this isn’t uncommon – I have to consider our safety when booking gigs anywhere. Venture twenty miles out of Dallas and Texas becomes a whole ‘nother country. This isn’t the fault of producers, of my burlesque sisters – they don’t want us to be hurt, we know that. It’s the fault of a fucked-up social system that for some reason can’t handle the fact that my girlfriend wears ties.
Queerlesque is an attempt to create safe space. It’s a place to celebrate queer history and queer culture – and we do have our own culture! Drag Queens and Kings go way back in our history, and we have our own icons and ancestors and important events – and we want a chance to focus on that. Instead of being one queer in a cast of non-queers (which is fun and awesome and I love you all), I get to be in an ENTIRE SHOW of queers! OMG heaven!! Instead of worrying that I will make someone in the dressing room uncomfortable if I admire their panties, I know that my compliments won’t be misunderstood. And since all of us – our audience and our cast and crew – walk in the same world, we can understand each other, support each other, and celebrate each other. We can be a little bit more vulnerable, a little bit more real. For a few hours, we can be unabashedly queer, and that’s magic. Just plain magic.
As the producer of several queer-focused shows in Dallas, I see a lot of queers in very vulnerable moments. It takes a lot of guts to stand up and perform something real after living for decades in a world that says that who you are is wrong. That’s what the Academy is for – it’s a place to start unlearning all that shame, all that critique and censorship and rejection. It’s a place to heal self-doubt, to help others heal theirs, and to dance naked together in a shower of rainbow glitter spraying from the horn of the gayest unicorn ever.
The courses we’re offering at the Academy of Queerlesque are specifically geared toward queers and queer culture, but people who identify as non-queer are absolutely welcome. We love and need allies, and your presence tells us you stand with us. We only ask that you recognize that you’re coming into our safe space, and make sure that you’re respecting that. Don’t judge us, don’t tell us we shouldn’t be worried or that we’re overreacting when we express fear or concern. Don’t forget the struggles we face every day, and do everything you can to contribute to the positive, warm energy of queer space. If we designate a class as limited to a specific identity (i.e. Trans* only, or woman-identified only) please respect that and don’t be offended – it is our mission to create safe space, and sometimes that means being in private groups.
So that’s my vision. I welcome questions and conversation about it, and am always looking for more talented students, instructors, advocates, allies, and supporters. Oh, and if anyone knows where I can find a gay, glitter-spewing unicorn, please let me know.
By: Kitch Coquette
I doubt many of you can your own homemade strawberry jam. If you are like me, you remember your mother gathering macerated fruit in a cheese cloth, which she then hung above a large aluminum pan. The juice would drip, drip, drip all day long. Around dinner time, the seeds would remain in the cheesecloth, and the lovely juice would be in the pan. But it took all day long! What modern woman has time for that nonsense?
So I found an easier way to make strawberry jam, and it actually tastes better. Instant freezer jam! Freezer jams have been around for a long time, but I thought it was about time that the younger generation was exposed to this easy process. If you can cut strawberries, mash them, and stir – you can make homemade strawberry jam. Once you try this, you’ll never eat store-bought jams again.
The best part about this jam is that it takes such a short time to make, and it doesn’t require you to cook your fruit. This means that all of the fresh flavors of the strawberries are still maintained. Think about how ripe strawberries taste with sugar on them. Or think about a fresh strawberry pie. That is exactly how this jam tastes. I make a large quantity during spring and summer, but I freeze most of the jars. Then, all winter long I pull out my little mason jars filled with fresh spring taste. It’s like having a jar full of sunshine just waiting for you on those cold winter mornings.
This is great on toast, yogurt, ice cream, crepes, waffles, Dutch babies, blintzes, and much, much more.
What You Need:
4 lbs of fresh strawberries
1 ½ cups of sugar or Splenda
1 sachet of Balls instant pectin
5 – 8 oz jelly or jam jars (make sure to run them through the dishwasher before using them)
What You Do:
1) Remove all of the strawberry stems and cut out the center white part of each strawberry.
2) Wash the strawberries.
3) Slice the strawberries and place in a large bowl.
4) Use a potato masher to mash the strawberries. Mash until approximately half of your strawberries are macerated, and the other half are still intact.
5) In a separate bowl, combine the pectin with the sugar (or Splenda).
6) Add pectin mixture gradually to prevent clumping. Stir between additions of the pectin. Stir until well incorporated.
7) Ladle the strawberry jam into the clean jelly/jam jars. Close tops.
8) Place one of the jars in the refrigerator and the others in the freezer. The one in the refrigerator will be ready to eat in 30 minutes. When you want to use the ones in the freezer, just take out of the freezer and leave it in the fridge for 24 hours.
Want more cooking ideas from Kitch? Try her Chocolate & Salted Caramel Matzoh Brittle, Pin-Up Pot Stickers, Blueberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies, Braised Corned Beef, Bacon Mashed Potatoes, Farmer’s Wife Avocado Salad, Kahlua Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars, Ribs or Sponge Cake
Canadian burlesque performer, pin-up model, pin-up photographer and vintage stylist Bettina May talks burlesque Green Cards, $8 weekly food budgets, veganism, and the New York Burlesque scene.
Q: The New York Daily news dubbed you the “Jiggling Genius” when last Fall you earned your Green Card and were the first to be awarded the moniker of “Alien of Extraordinary Ability”. You may be the first burlesque performer in history to have earned a green card based on excellence in the field. Can you walk our readers through the process? Did you find you had to explain what burlesque was to government officials, or even though there was no “burlesque” checkbox on your application, you found people were pretty aware of the art form?
A: It was a real uphill struggle to get where I am now. For one thing, no one involved had ever heard of burlesque before, including my lawyers, first for my two consecutive O-1 Visas, which were each good for one year, and then with my Green Card in New York I had to repeat the same research over again when I got a new lawyer. I had to work so hard to school my lawyers on what burlesque and pin-up are, and they in turn had to explain that in a way that defined it as the art form it is to the US Government. I only ever got to speak to two actual government officials over the many years it took to get here, and they had no idea what burlesque was.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to make the U.S. home and why? Was it simply for work reasons akin to every great immigrant story or is there more? Do you plan to pursue citizenship, or will you remain a Canadian citizen?
A: I think I’ve always wanted to live in New York City, ever since I was a little girl watching old musicals about showbiz, I knew this is where I wanted to end up. On a broader scale, the US simply has a greater population density than Canada, so it’s much easier to be a touring performer, and once I started touring all over the US (I think there are only a handful of states I haven’t performed in, maybe Wyoming and Michigan?) I realized the only place I could make a full-time living as a burlesque performer was in New York City. The scene here is so diverse and it’s a town that really appreciates live entertainment. I’m definitely going to apply for US citizenship when I’m eligible in a few years, but fortunately I don’t have to renounce my Canadian citizenship to do that. I still love my home country, and love going back to visit.
Q: Speaking of your native Canada, how has the Canadian burlesque scene evolved in the past ten years since you were performing there full time, or has it?
A: I left Canada in 2009, and the scene there was already thriving, particularly in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. I feel like it’s really exploded in recent years, with weekly and monthly shows in the major markets, and a great presence of performers from my hometown of Victoria and across the country at international festivals.
Q: You have been living in Brooklyn for 3 years working on this process. To afford your legal fees, you allowed yourself a weekly food budget of $8, which is virtually impossible to pull off anywhere, let alone in New York City. What did a typical meal look like for you?
A: Pretty much every day I ate some kind of soup made of whatever dried bean or lentil was on sale that week, and the cheapest, heartiest veggies I could buy. My other meal of the day was pearl barley (cheapest grain you can buy) and steamed kale. That saw me through the better part of three years; it’s amazing what you can get by on.
Q: Speaking of food, I watched a recent interview where you talked about your passion for veganism for both environmental reasons and animal compassion concerns. What are the three biggest things you wish everyone knew about veganism?
1. Vegans love food! People always assume I eat boring food or don’t like it, but we’re almost always foodies and eat amazing food all the time!
2. It’s not as hard as you think! I’ve eaten vegan out of a tour bus all across the Deep South, and actually went vegan in Paris, France of all places. Vegan food is everywhere, you just have to know what to look for.
3. Chocolate is vegan! You don’t have to go without favourite foods, we even have delicious cheeses made from cashews that even the most devout cheese lover goes crazy for!
Q: You are a household name, due in a large part to your years of extensive touring. Have you always been a traveler at heart? Can you please share some of what you’ve learned over 10 years of touring- a little do’s and don’ts list so to speak for gals considering taking their show on the road?
A: I’ve always loved traveling, I think from when I was a little girl camping all over the west coast with my family. Gosh, this question could fill a whole book, so I’ll just leave it at this: Take a shower and shave every chance you get on the road, sometimes you never know where your next one will be! And always be a gracious visitor when people are hosting you. You are representing your hometown and the burlesque community at large, and if you leave them with smiles on their faces, they’ll be much more likely to bring you back and others like you!
Q: Speaking of traveling, you have taught your infamous Pin-Up Class all over the country, in which you teach women of all backgrounds- from housewives to performers, how to achieve the perfect pin-up look for them. What are your top three make-up tricks every gal should know?
1. Have a good blue-based red lipstick in your kit, it’s the only thing you need to wear on a daily basis.
2. Lose the bronzer and get a good rosy-cheeked blush!
3. Shape your eyebrows, and define them for stage and photos, either with eyeshadow and a stiff angle brush or a sharpened pencil in your shade.
Q: Bettina’s Bombshell Basics was just released by World Dance New York, which is essentially your workshop in DVD form. Can you tell our readers a little about the inception of this project? Who approached whom? Did you maintain all creative control? Any hilarious behind the scenes stories our readers would enjoy?
A: World Dance New York contacted me a few years ago wanting to expand their dance brand into lifestyle videos, and wondered if I could put together an instructional video about being a Pin-Up model. We did our first video then, “How To Be A Pin-Up Model”, which is everything I teach in my class. For this second DVD, I wanted to show how to use pin-up styling techniques of a wider variety of hair types, eye shapes and also how vintage style lingerie is great for curvy gals. They are great producers, giving me complete creative control. We filmed this video backstage at one of my regular burlesque gigs, a Dances of Vice show produced by Shien Lee called Nuit Blanche at Beaumarchais in NYC. If you look closely you can see performers getting ready in the mirror behind me and you may even see Albert Cadabra, the host of the night walking past in the background too.
Q: You seem to wear so many hats: burlesque performer, pin-up model, vintage stylist, make-up artist, costumer, hair stylist, photographer, teacher, producer….. What’s next for Bettina May? Any new upcoming projects you are eager to share?
A: I’m getting set for another big burlesque and pin-up class tour of the West Coast in March with an amazing musician from back home in Victoria, Lily Fawn, starting in Portland, OR and ending at Viva Las Vegas, where I’ll be modeling in the Secrets In Lace fashion show, teaching a class on vintage lingerie and also offering private photoshoots. People can see my full schedule and sign up for my classes at http://bettina.ca/calendar/. A long term goal is to open up a pin-up photography studio in Manhattan; I currently have one in Brooklyn. Also within the next year I hope to be launching a new product line, but that’s all I can say about that at the moment.
Portland’s Angelique DeVil, known for “Putting a Little Pop n’ Lock in the Bump n’ Grind,” talks doing what she wants, glitter dumps, the importance of balance, backstage comradery, ripped hamstrings, Milan and muses.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: I’d like to know more about your dance background, as it’s obvious from watching you perform that you’re a highly skilled dancer. How long have you been dancing and what training have you had? You were a performer, teacher and choreographer prior to becoming a burlesque performer, correct?
A: Yes I was. It’s funny, I never think of dancing as something I do, it’s more just who I am. I’ve been creating choreography and dancing for as long as I can remember, both publicly and privately. I was that bossy little kid who made her friends perform dance routines instead of playing hide and go seek; I founded and choreographed the high school dance team; I started my own dance company after graduation (not too exciting though considering this was all in East Grand Forks, MN). I didn’t really have any training outside of a single season in jazz classes; I just wanted to dance so I would create my own opportunities. In fact, I didn’t receive formal training until I went to college at the University of Oregon. I was a dance minor there and thought for a time that I wanted to be a dance therapist. I took classes in ballet, modern, jazz, improv, hip hop and African. I taught classes at a local dance school, choreographed for one of the high school dance teams and eventually was a guest teacher for the U of O hip hop courses. I also did a lot of go go dancing at venues all over the country. But, again, the performance opportunities I enjoyed most were few and far between. So I started my own cabaret troupe made up of 5 ladies and we would perform with musicians, at local events, and eventually, at a small venue that hosted a weekly burlesque show. Though I didn’t really have a concept of everything burlesque was, this was definitely its introduction into my life.
Q: I understand that the start of your burlesque career was shaped by two main events. The first burlesque performance you saw was that of your good friend Charlotte Treuse in one of her earliest performances at a bar shortly after you moved to Portland. What about that experience made you so sure that burlesque was a good fit for you? And second, though hard for some to believe, is it true that you have a Craigslist ad to thank for your very first burlesque performance? How did that come about?
A: Charlotte Treuse and I have been good friends for many years and our friendship started when we were both living in Eugene, Oregon. She actually used to be the photographer for my dance troupe (her talents are endless!) After I moved to Portland, she invited me to one of her first burlesque performances at a little bar downtown. Up until then, my exposure and my ideas of the burlesque world had been quite limited, but after seeing her perform that night with her sparkly costume, her tongue in cheek humor, and her awesome glitter dump, I realized that burlesque embodied everything that I loved- dancing, music, costumes, drama, humor and, most importantly, the opportunity to DO WHAT I WANT. I have always kind of danced to my own drummer, so to speak, and burlesque seemed like the perfect way to express all the crazy things that I envisioned. It just made sense. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing or where to begin so it all kind of went on the back burner until one day I was combing the Craigslist ads for performance opportunities when I came across an ad for a guest performer for the Rose City Sirens, a queer burlesque troupe who were about to launch their new full length show. So I put together a makeshift costume (a sparkly dress from Goodwill + embarrassing Forever 21 lingerie) and auditioned for the Rose City Sirens and their manager and founder of SinnSavvy Productions, Rayleen Courtney. I picked a cheesy song from Moulin Rouge and danced around nervously as I quickly plucked clothes off my body in probably the least sexy way imaginable. Little did I know that Rayleen actually already knew who I was (thank you Myspace) and had been following my Eugene dance troupe. I was offered the gig and told I could do whatever kind of performance I wanted so I chucked the cheese and created a gender bending hip hop number. Two months later I was officially invited to be a member of the SinnSavvy family and it was with them that I truly began to develop as a burlesque performer.
Q: Like many in the burlesque industry, one of your greatest struggles has been balancing your “big girl job,” as you call it, with your performance career, and as you well know, the plight of sometimes declining performance/travel opportunities in order to maintain financial stability can be a very difficult one. Is full-time performance/instruction/choreography, etc. an eventual goal of yours, or is overall security the priority for you?
A: A few months ago I was offered a year-long contract to perform overseas. Of course, that statement alone looks incredible but there are a lot of life-altering factors that go into a decision like that, such as having to give up my big girl job, moving to a foreign country by myself, not speaking the language or knowing the culture or even how the business works over there, being locked into a contract performing 5 nights a week for 12 months, etc. Having that opportunity waved under my nose really made me evaluate my goals. I realized that as much as I love and am dedicated to performing, at this point in my life, I really value the balance that I have by maintaining my secular job. I am fortunate enough to have a big girl job that, not only provides some financial stability, but is also emotionally satisfying (it involves a lot of patient advocacy for children) and allows me to work from a remote location (predominantly, my own home). And having a relatively recent experience with a serious accident during a performance (tearing my hamstring off my pelvis), I know how your whole world can change instantly in the face of an injury. There are pros and cons to all lifestyles but being ok with turning down that opportunity made me realize how lucky and happy I am with my world I have.
Q: You just returned from the Minneapolis Burlesque Festival. We’d love to hear highlights from your trip!
A: Ooooh girl! Those Midwesterners know how to put on a show, doncha know? Seriously, it was such a huge honor to be there. It was the first time I have ever performed burlesque in my home state. The production was incredible, the performers were fantastic and everyone was so hospitable. A few bullet point highlights:
* The comradery backstage- we laughed with each other, ooohed and ahhed over costumes, gave pep talks- it was awesome and exactly what was needed to help calm the nerves of performing on the first night. Also, the after party was catered primarily with casseroles, a Midwestern specialty!
* Foxy Tann and the Wham Bam Thank You Ma’ams and their vacuum routine; Blanche DeBris in her multi-layer tribute to Sound of Music; Queenie Von Curves as Plus Size Barbie; Peakaboo Pointe in the hottest beaded dress I have ever seen!
* Jumping up on stage at the hip hop club with Sweetpea and making the crowd cheer; partner dancing with Alotta Boutté (that girl can LEAD)
* Teaching my hip hop burlesque class and having everyone call out “Pussy magic!” in unison – this was the term I used to describe the final dance move I taught them- amazing and hilarious
* Having my dad see me perform at a burlesque show for the first time (a little weird, but mostly awesome)
Q: And speaking of trips, you’re going to the Milan Burlesque Festival in May! You must be elated. Tell us all about it!
A: Yes! <wiggle butt dance> When I started performing burlesque, I decided to always set goals for myself- first it was to perform out of state (California was my first, 06/10), then it was to perform at a festival (Burlesque Hall of Fame was my first, 06/11), then to perform in New York (01/12), and then it was to perform in Europe. I applied to Italy because it was my favorite country when I traveled through Western Europe a few years ago and I couldn’t think of a better way to return to it than on a stage. There are only 4 participant artists from the United States that I am aware of and I was so excited that I had the opportunity to meet one of them, Lady Jack, face to face at the Minneapolis Festival. I will be performing Music Box so right now music box prop version 2.0 is being created- something light and sturdy enough to fly across the world with me. I can’t wait! It gives me butterflies just thinking about it!
Q: Let’s talk about the Rosehip Revue for moment. January 18 was the last show, is that right? You mentioned on Twitter that it was bittersweet for you, and on Facebook, you said, “I have been a resident cast member since the very first show. In 3 years I have only missed one show (because Rayleen and I were at Burlycon). I ripped my hamstring off during this show, had it surgically reattached, and still performed the following month. It was the foundation of what would become an actual career in burlesque for me. Blood, sweat and tears (all glittery of course) for this. The end.” I’m sure that it was an emotional evening, but how was the last show? Anything else you’d like to say on the topic?
A: The Rosehip Revue was the crown jewel of SinnSavvy Productions. It was the show that spawned our first (and only) tour. It was the show that helped create a King (Russell Bruner has been a resident cast member since 2010). It was the show that hosted a Queen (Indigo Blue, 5/12). This was the show I created all my signature acts for. It literally grew with me and shaped me as a performer. They are all still my family and it will always be my home.
Q: You’re a member of The Fringe Benefits burlesque troupe in Portland. Please tell us more about that project.
A: The Fringe Benefits consist of myself, Claire Voltaire and, our lead choreographer and founder, Zora Von Pavonine. We are all trained dancers and burlesque performers here in Portland. It was developed by Zora out of a desire to create something unique and engaging for the audience and to mesh the performance art of burlesque with the polish of a group dance dynamic to deliver a visual aesthetic not seen all that often. She has very high standards for production and detail and hand selected each of us, giving us fair warning about all the hard work it was going to be, the demand it would make on the schedule with rehearsal times, the willingness we would need to learn choreography, etc, and to basically think long and hard before saying ‘yes!’. It was not glamorized or sensationalized but it was very clear that this was going to be a very special project of magnanimous quality.
We have put on 2 full length productions that involve group numbers, duets and solos. We spend about 5 months preparing each production with choreography rehearsals, theory discussion and costume creation. Our most recent show, “9 Muses” tackled intricate movement in genres of ballet, lyrical, modern and hip hop. We utilized huge props masterminded by Zora’s crazy gift of engineering and showcased costumes that went beyond anything any of us had ever done. We estimated we had a total of about 20,000 Swarovski crystals by the time we were finished, lol. Now that we somewhat of a solid foundation, we are ready to explore outside our Portland walls and expose the rest of the world to the Fringe Benefits. You can find out more about us at http://www.fringebenefitsburlesque.com/ or find us on Facebook.
Q: You’re returning to Dallas in April! What’s on the agenda for the visit?
A: One word: ASSELS.
Ok, more words than that.. I LOVE me some Dallas! I love the performers, I love the producers, and I supermega love all these wild fans! Seriously, you have some of the best hootin’ and hollerin’ audiences ever! I am so excited to be performing at Cirque du Burlesque and I have a very special new routine I am creating especially for it. It will be in traditional Angelique style of a poppin-lockin-ass-shaking good time with a twist of carnie oddity.
Q: What’s next for Angelique DeVil?
A: Hopefully more travel, continued invitations to perform around the country (and beyond), collaborations with other performers, touring with my troupe, brand new and exciting routines bursting forth from the muses….
but honestly, I have no idea. I think that is the best part.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
These Children That You Spit On: Established Performer to New Performer Etiquette
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!
In The Burlesque Handbook, there is an entire chapter on etiquette. Since the book is intended to be fundamental, most of the etiquette in the chapter is designed to help new performers, known affectionately as newbies. The goal of the chapter is not just to help them avoid offending established performers, but to understand how to get gigs and get called back for more. When I teach I try to frame my advice as useful to helping new performers get what they want, rather than as a way of teaching them to care what established performers think. For instance, when I talk about stage names, I don’t tell them that established performers will find it annoying if a new performer uses a stage name too similar to names that already exist. I tell them it will make their stage name hard to find when producers do an internet search for them, and that they’ll get confused with other performers, which could result in getting fewer gigs. It does behoove new performers to learn from experienced performers. The experienced performers are often the ones who got the revival started in the first place, the ones who gave it a reputation as a form of entertainment appealing to mixed audiences, who helped build it into contemporary culture. The perspectives and information gained by experience have unique value.
Most new performers and most experienced performers treat each other with respect and generosity–not to mention that most of the legends these days are loving and supportive, unlike the haters of my early strip joint years. However, I’ve seen a few instances of bad behavior that drove me to consider etiquette from the angle of experienced-to-newbie.
A few of the suggestions I offer new performers in The Burlesque Handbook:
1) Ask before taking pictures backstage. A person who doesn’t mind being seen naked onstage may not want to be photographed checking for a tampon string, especially if s/he hasn’t finished her/is makeup.
2) Do not perform a messy number (whipped cream, water, confetti, wax, etc.) without permission. Cleanup is boring for the audience, and if you can’t be interesting without endangering your fellow performers by making the stage slippery, you’re a crappy performer.
3) Don’t bring a plate of spaghetti backstage. It isn’t just the chance it might stain the costume, though that’s important; it’s the chance that the smell might remain in someone’s costume. If you think we clean those things frequently, you ARE new.
4) Don’t bring your friends backstage. Especially friends with benefits.
5) Don’t distribute flyers for shows at other venues without asking. And don’t just ask the producer, ask the venue.
6) Be wary of calling yourself anything unless you’re reasonably sure it’s true. You are probably NOT “The First Ballerina in Burlesque!” Wait a minute–I’m SURE you’re not.
7) Don’t add people to your email list without asking. Especially if you haven’t added yourself to theirs.
8) Don’t use another performer’s signature gimmick in your act. If you see someone using one of my gimmicks, smack ‘em.
9) Don’t assume that anyone owes you stage time based on how hard you worked or how much money you spent. Or for any other reason.
10) Don’t contact a producer and say, “I’ve never seen your show, but I’d love to be in it.” You should be in their audience, at least on Youtube, before you get on their stage. That represents only about 5% of the chapter, which includes detailed explanations for why I make these recommendations.
However, I didn’t spend much time in the book talking about how established performers treat new performers.
When I first started working in strip joints in 1980, there were still what we now call “Legends of Burlesque” working in the clubs, usually as costumers or house mothers. And they HATED us. They had worked in the 40s-70s and they’d had minks and limousines and choreographers and champagne and feather boas and had all been engaged to Frank Sinatra. We were whores in spandex who were destroying the art form with our full nudity and jukeboxes and lack of artistry. I certainly wasn’t inclined to think of them as mentors. Realistically, they didn’t have much to offer in terms of helping me make more money–their era, which in some cases was only ten years past, had a different format. If I had done what they did I wouldn’t have gotten the results they got. Also, I didn’t care to be trained to end up stuck in a strip club I detested. I did, however, adore them for their stories. And their incredible hair and nails. And I really wanted to get paid to prance around in a beaded gown and play with ostrich fans and boas, although it took me another 12 years to figure out how to make that happen.
Remembering how they alienated us, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts on how the established performers of 2013 might relate to the new blood. Even if you disagree, I hope it gives you food for thought.
1) Remember that things are supposed to change. If burlesque looked the same as it did fifteen years ago, that would be weird. And if you were doing the exact same thing you were doing fifteen years ago you’d be bored out of your skull.
2) Give them a reason to care what you think. If you think that they’re destroying the art form, why should they care? Are they having fun making new friends and earning money doing what they love and delighting audiences with their aesthetic? Are you considering paying to get into their shows? WHY should they care what you think?
3) Don’t be offended if they do burlesque repertory (ie, things that have been done before). They may come from an art form where that is what you do–you watch people do the thing, you learn the thing, you do the thing. Give them some time to get to know the community before you get all up on your hind legs about it.
4) Don’t give them a hard time for doing it differently than you do. Otherwise what can they do but do what you do?
5) Don’t mistake your insecurity about your future for concern about the art form. These kids WILL get your gigs. You will find people who value experience– let new performers find people who value the new. It’s a beautiful thing that there are audiences for both.
6) Don’t feel superior because they’re dying to dress up like a superhero or because they’re dying to dance with feather fans and you feel you’ve seen it all before. They may attract people who’ve never seen that before. You may not be their intended audience. Just because they’re not blowing you away doesn’t mean they’re not blowing someone else away, and initiating new audiences who may end up paying to see your show. Do tell them if an act they’re doing isn’t likely to be unique enough to get them into a particular festival, IF THEY ASK YOUR ADVICE.
7) Don’t ask them to work for free just because they’re new. If you have an intern slot or an audition slot, that’s one thing, but if you’re asking them to do something that you would prefer to use an
experienced performer for, but you’re trying to avoid paying anyone so you can make more money than you’re entitled to, you’re exploiting their hunger to get onstage and it’s icky.
8) You can let them know if they are doing an act that is likely to spark conversation about copying another person’s act or if they are engaging in cultural appropriation. You don’t have to lecture them about it–just let them know they are going to end up having certain conversations if they continue. They may not appreciate it, but you’d let them know if they were about to trip over a rock, wouldn’t you?
9) If you think they suck, don’t hire them for your show or venue. And don’t tweet about them sucking or annoying you (you don’t have to name them for them to know who you mean). Maybe they’ve been paying to see you perform or get into your show for the past five years.
10) Remember that a newbie may have mad skills in an area in which you have none and may be a rockstar in another field than burlesque.
If you want to enjoy your community, be willing to find inspiration in your generation, the generations before you, and the generations after you. Respect works best as a two-way street. If you don’t respect the pioneers of your art form, you’re setting the standard for disrespect of pioneers and setting yourself up to become a has-been when the new breed after you accomplishes things and establishes themselves. If you don’t respect the new breed, you’re setting the standard for exclusivity and alienation and setting yourself up to become a has-been when the new breed after you accomplishes things and establishes themselves. Be secure in yourself, respect everybody’s ambition and accomplishments, and live and work in the present.
And finally–yes, somebody is always ruining burlesque. It’s been ruined a million times. Histories of burlesque usually detail its demise. Your perception that burlesque is being destroyed is accurate.
However, if your shows, which you structure and style as you like them to be, keep selling out, and you keep being flown around the world to perform, and you keep getting press, and your audiences remain loving and enthusiastic, the demolition of burlesque may be just what you need.
Want to see more of Jo’s etiquette columns? Check out: Stage Kitten Etiquette, Making Introductions: Emcee Etiquette, 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
By: Kitch Coquette
Iʼm an Irish Jew, which means I’m a walking-talking oxymoron. This year, both St. Patrickʼs day and Passover fall in March. This unfortunate overlap means I have to choose between my two heritages for this monthʼs Pin Curl article. I can either make my famous shepherd’s pie or give you a recipe from my Seder table. Turns out the choice wasnʼt that difﬁcult. Passover is my favorite holiday of the year. When else are you religiously obligated to drink eight glasses of wine during one dinner?
The recipe I want to share with you is one of the easiest recipes in my arsenal. It starts with the simple matzoh cracker. Matzoh is also fondly referred to as “bread of afﬂiction” or “poor manʼs bread”. If youʼve never had matzoh, itʼs similar to a sheet of stale saltine crackers without the salt. Until I found this recipe, I thought the best use for these tasteless crackers was to secretly feed them to your dog under the table, build a 10 foot tall house of matzoh cards, or break and throw them at your friends like misshapened ninja stars.
So why would I start with matzoh? First, Jews canʼt eat leaven bread during the week of Passover. Second, matzoh turns out to be an amazingly crunchy delivery mechanism for chocolate, peanut butter, salted caramel, toffee, and pecans. This brittle recipe is basically Jewish crack. Once you take your ﬁrst bite, you wonʼt be able to stop.
What You Need
4 unsalted matzoh crackers
1 cup unsalted butter or margarine
1 cup light brown sugar
1 pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Chocolate chips (at least 1 cup)
Peanut butter chips (at least 1 cup)
Toffee bits (at least 1/2 cup)
1 cup of chopped pecans
What You Do
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a lipped baking sheet with aluminum foil and line the bottom with matzoh crackers, breaking the fourth cracker to ﬁt the baking sheet. Set aside.
In a pot, melt unsalted butter and brown sugar over medium heat. Stir constantly until well incorporated.
Then continue to cook for 5 minutes more, continuing to stir. It will thicken as you stir.
Off the heat, add the pinch of salt and the vanilla extract. Stir to incorporate.
Pour the brown sugar mixture over the matzoh. Spread with a spatula to cover the matzoh.
Place in an oven and bake for 5 minutes. Take the matzoh out of the oven and immediately sprinkle generously with chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and toffee bits. Let sit for 5 minutes until the chips are shiny.
Spread the now melted chocolate and peanut butter chips over the matzoh.
Sprinkle with chopped pecans then place entire baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight or until chocolate has hardened.
Break apart the crackers and serve at room temperature.
Want more cooking ideas from Kitch? Try her Pin-Up Pot Stickers, Blueberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies, Braised Corned Beef, Bacon Mashed Potatoes, Farmer’s Wife Avocado Salad, Kahlua Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars, Ribs or Sponge Cake
Looking for a refreshing twist on the typical St. Patty’s Day cocktails? Try this relatively healthy Irish Tea recipe, which you can make by the glass or the pitcher!
What You Need:
4 Parts Sweetened Green Tea, Chilled
1 Part Jameson Irish Whiskey
½ Part Pernod Absinthe
Lime Slice for garnish
What You Do:
Combine liquid ingredients, serve over ice in a rocks glass, garnish with lime & enjoy!