New York’s Italian Stallionette Angie Pontani, Queen of Burlesque Miss Exotic World 2008, talks wedding planning like a boss, Coney Island, droids, Burlesque-A-Pades, beach parties, Go-Go-Robics, sequin cowgirl costumes and memory lane.
For the complete interview and more beautiful exclusive images of Angie, pick up your Spring 2013 Best of Pin Curl print edition, available mid-May here!
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: Our last interview together was in June 2011 and my, so much has happened for you since then! Perhaps most notable is your marriage in February to jazz musician Brian Newman! Congratulations! The wedding images we’ve seen are breathtaking, but we’d love to hear all about your big day! I’ve read that since you’re both in show biz, you approached wedding planning much like planning a show. Did you find it difficult to stay on top of everything in addition to your careers or was the process second nature to you due to your experience as a producer? Were there frustrating moments along the way and if so how did the two of you handle them? Is there anything you would have done differently if you could do it over? What was your favorite part? (Or parts?)
A: The wedding was fabulous and planning it was just as fun. I think coming from my production background, it was inevitable that I approached the wedding with the production/showbiz side of my brain. The only difference with this was that I didn’t have to worry about press and promotion and that I was co-producing with my mom! That had its challenging moments, like when I banned flower centerpieces and she sneakily called the florist and ordered them. I come from a big Italian-American family and there is this kind of standard that our weddings are held to – you need a church, a big wedding hall, Italian Wedding Soup, tons of wine, a good DJ and a nice bursa to walk around and collect envelopes in. Brian and I love a lot of these elements, but we also really wanted to make the wedding our own, something that our families would love but that represented us too. Our location was amazing – The Grand Prospect Hall. It’s a historic hall in our neighborhood that was built in late 1892 as a “temple of music and amusement” by John Kolle, over the years it’s been an opera house, a theater, a Masonic lounge, a speakeasy, a film set (Cotton Club), and so much more! It is gorgeous and unique, exactly what we wanted, less than ten blocks from our house. Since the hall was so huge, we were able to incorporate everything we wanted, we had an on-site ceremony officiated by Pastor Paul Milholland of Trinity Lutheran Church. The amazing Steven Hammel was our artistic designer and basically turned the ceremony room into a stage/church. We had a 16 piece big band made up of a lot of Brian’s musician pals, and then segued into my cousin Bruce Mancia DJ’ing. It was a fantastic colorful crowd of family, friends and colleagues. I think my favorite moments aside from saying “I do” were just being on the dance floor and looking around, watching my crazy cousin Larry dancing with all my friends and seeing our parents having so much fun. There was so much love in the air and on the dance floor, it was magical. I keep going back and looking at the pictures and pinching myself for being so lucky to have so many amazing diverse people in my life, family and world. Balancing the wedding and normal work was a challenge; I had my costume designer Garo Sparo working on my gown and a new costume in tandem! My printer was printing invites and show posters, and Brian and I were practicing our first dance and some new acts. It was a real multi-tasking few months. We even had a show the night before our wedding in Virginia; that was a little crazy, but honestly, I really wouldn’t do anything differently, except I would have eaten more night of. We had a 2-foot cannoli in the dessert room and I didn’t even get to see it!
Enjoy Angie’s wedding photo gallery below! (Click images to enlarge.)
Seattle’s Golden Glamazon Sydni Deveraux talks creating a legacy, production advice, staying fit, veggie powered strippers, mentors and the importance of not being an asshole.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You’re a trained jazz singer, and you discovered burlesque while studying literature in college in 2005. After attending your first show you were hooked and asked to stage kitten, which you started doing almost immediately. From there you became a stage manager and eventually were asked to create your own act and perform, which eventually gave way to the Sydni we know today. In addition to singing and performing, your repertoire also includes hosting, instructing, writing, producing and much more. In just 7 short years you made your way to being included in 21st Century Burlesque’s Top 50 performers worldwide (2012). To what do you attribute your rapid success in the industry? If you could go back to the beginning of Sydni’s burlesque career, would you make any changes?
A: Hmmm…..it’s funny you should say “rapid success” because it’s been a road that seems long, windy and sometimes stuck at a dead end! I would say my “success” as you would call it would have to be attributed to the prodding of my mom to really put in the work and see where I could take myself (thanks mom), and to Catherine D’Lish, who mentored me in so many wonderful ways I can’t even begin to express my gratitude. Both of these women encouraged me to see my cultivation through, and I’m in no way done with my progress! I suppose in addition to that, I would have to say that the performers that I’ve had the honor of “coming up” with have constantly inspired me to be better every performance and also that I’m very stubborn and determined to be the absolute best I can be. In the grander scheme (beyond my personal development) I started to ask myself what I wanted my legacy to be and how I could add to burlesque’s present and future. My performances only take me to a few places around the globe a year, but my writing can go everywhere. I figured I should use my assets- my writing and wit- to lend a helping hand and hope that it might help someone else out. My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner, and that in a few situations in my baby-burlesquer years (I’m a teenager now, maybe) I didn’t speak up more for myself or the women around me.
Q: You’re the producer of Seattle’s weekly review “Burlesque Behind the Pink Door” and you’ve written extensively as well as instructed on production topics. Are there any production obstacles that you commonly encounter? What challenges are presented by producing a weekly show? What basic suggestions can you offer to fledgling producers that are struggling to keep up?
A: Producing a weekly is actually pretty easy at this point- the show that I have now was once in the legendary hands of Paula the Swedish Housewife and Tamara the Trapeze Lady, and then in my back-in-the-day co-producer Hottie McNaughty’s. I’ve done so many shows with them and had so many conversations, that you really do learn, and I very much learned from the best. My show is a challenge sometimes only because I don’t always have complete control as I don’t own the venue or manage the restaurant. It’s been a learning process (and I’m thankful for it!) to have to communicate with those not completely adapted to our burlesque world how I feel about the production and where I want to see it go. Like many small productions (the restaurant only seats about a hundred) there are challenges but all I can do is try and be as transparent as I can be about how it’s run and what I can do. Making sure that all of the releases go out whilst traveling can be a bit of a pain sometimes depending on access, but really, it’s not difficult. I have a set protocol now for my weekly production, and a really great group of stage managers. Also I have a ridiculously hot and talented roster of about 50 performers that I rotate through creating a different, fun show every week- so it makes it easy to cast something groovy. Another blessing is all of the wonderful talent that makes sure to contact me when they’re headed to Seattle to see if they can steal a slot in the show! I can’t always accommodate, since I have to book out in advance to make sure it runs smooth, but it’s so fun when it does work out.
I guess my basic advice for fledgling producers is:
a) to really make sure that their production lifts the face of burlesque in their town
b) be as transparent as you can
c) pay as fair as you can- don’t go below the base pay in your city- do your research
d) expect professionalism from your cast, since they will hopefully be expecting it from you too
e) go to a lot of other shows of all kinds to study (and be entertained!)
f) don’t book your friends unless they’re talented. Please.
g) get amazing stage managers
h) don’t be an asshole- if you have to turn someone down, or issue a reprimand, be nice. (I should mention that “don’t be an asshole” is one of the finest pieces of advice issued by the amazing Catherine D’Lish- and I heed it every day.)
Q: You’re also known for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and you keep yourself and countless others motivated by posting your “BQfitTips” on Twitter and Facebook. Have you been surprised by how many people are inspired by your posts, suggestions and advice? Was it your original intention to encourage others or was it more to help yourself stay motivated? Perhaps a little of both?
A: It was a huge surprise to see how many dig it- I just figured I’d try to put more good/informative stuff on the internet instead of complaining or the “me me me I’m awesome” stuffs. So much of what we all talk about online has to do with burlesque, but our burlesque has so much to do with our bodies and health that I couldn’t resist tackling it from the back end. I know it’s important to advertise ourselves, and I still do post “me” stuffs sometimes, but after all of the research I’ve done about health (mind and body) and fitness it just seemed natural to share what inspires me and what calls me to be shared. It’s a huge passion of mine (now) to try to cultivate the healthiest and most peaceful life that I possibly can- and knowing that I might even inspire one person to try something new in their day inspires me to keep doing it.
Q: Speaking of fitness and health, I was really struck by your reading your Tumblr and learned that you and your husband dramatically changed your diets and workouts and cumulatively have lost more than 90 pounds in the last two years! You transitioned to veganism in late 2012 (more on that later) and you’ve stated that that life change, along with a few other modifications, has helped you “feel incredible” and that you’re “experiencing the best health of [your] life.” What was the deciding factor in making that change? What advice do you have for those considering adopting a vegan lifestyle?
A: Heavy questions! You’ve really done your homework! Yeah- my Veggie Powered Stripper Tumblr is where I get healthy, political, esoteric and really into what I’m interested in besides burlesque. I needed a place to vent and be weird, since I don’t think my Facebook profile or performer Twitter was appropriate.
As to the deciding factors- I was miserable, body, mind and spirit. I suppose my soul ached for a change. I started on the surface, which if I knew then what I know now- I’d do the opposite, start from within. I consulted with nutritionists, trying to get to the bottom of my body woes which ran the gamut from tired, achy, bloated, carrying fat that I didn’t desire, etc. I incrementally made changes to my diet to get where I am now. First I tackled just eating regularly, you know? Spasmodic eating certainly doesn’t make your body trust that it has what it needs to function properly. Then I tackled portion sizes- I was eating too much of some things and not enough of others. I moved on to organic. I started to eat less meat in general and then decided to give giving it up a try for a bit and I felt even better (as to why- I suggest watching Forks Over Knives). As for working out, I started with cardio and then moved into hot yoga and weight training. I don’t lift much anymore as I hold a lot of muscle naturally on my body- but lifting was the thing that absolutely transformed my body. Yoga keeps me in flow and centered.
My advice to those considering a vegan lifestyle would be to do your research. I’m certain that if I wasn’t already eating enough prior to taking it on, I would have failed. Learn to cook if you don’t already know- knowing exactly what’s on your plate feels empowering. Avoid packaged stuff for the most part- it’s mostly junk. Don’t be fooled thinking that you can’t “get enough protein”- it’s absolutely a fallacy. You will have to take B-12 since it’s been depleted out of our soil over time. Make small incremental changes to start- make Monday meatless for a month. Then up it to another day or 3…..only eat organic meat (really- with what they inject into animals these days, please do yourself a favor and only eat organic if you are a meat eater) as well as dairy and cheese. Do what you can. I’ll admit, sushi and cheese were the last to go. But after I took a look at the state of our oceans, and what kinds of toxins are being discovered in fish now, it wasn’t hard. Now- I don’t even miss it. Our transition took a little less than a year, and I think we paced ourselves well.
I want to note that there is a Vegan Burlesque group- there’s not a ton of us, but we are there and I for one am totally willing to answer questions and supply links (I’ve amassed a ton). Besides making changes to what goes in my mouth, I decided to really discover why vegans say “want world peace? go vegan!”- For so long it sounded like hippie-dribble but then I started to learn about what’s going on in our world when it comes to animal ethics (how they’re treated). I realized that my feelings and findings about animal rights match up with my feelings about women’s reproductive rights, surprisingly. I started to learn more about sustainability (ie: feeding starving nations and what it actually takes to produce our food resource-wise) and what I found was horrendous, and I cannot participate any longer. Since I was looking for peace within, I decided to eat the most peacefully for me and to do what I can personally do. I have to say that it very much has helped my aspirations for inner tranquility. “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
I don’t mean to get so serious on you (in general I’m super goofy, I swear!), but the world is going through so much right now, and I want to see it change! As they say- change starts within. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
Q: Another aspect of your veganism that I found particularly interesting was its impact on your costuming. You’ve stated, “Since my transition to veganism in late 2012 I’ve been learning more what it means to be a performer who no longer purchases costuming items that come from animal sources and phasing out the things I do have and replacing them with other sources as I can afford. The trappings of a showgirl are INTENSE- feathers, furs, leather, all of it. In my most selfish moments I wish my eyes hadn’t been opened at all to the injustices we place on animals, but then I realize that it would cause so much more pain if I had remained ignorant to my part in this world. I believe that peace starts within, and since I’ve transitioned to this kinder, gentler life, I am indeed more peaceful.” What vegan-friendly costuming alternatives have you sought out? Are you finding it difficult or costly to replace existing costume pieces, or have you retired certain pieces (or acts) altogether until you can find suitable replacements?
A: I still have lots of feathers, and there’s not much I can do about it at this time. I plan on loving and using them until they are no longer suitable for stage. Replacing thousands of dollars of feathers on this stripper’s budget (right now) is just not possible. So, I still have pregan stuffs (pre-vegan), but I donated and got rid of what I couldn’t use properly and have no plans of buying animal products in the future.
For shoes, it hasn’t been so bad- since I wear 5 inch spikes typically, there’s all kinds of different materials, and I certainly know how to make a shoe prettier with paint, fabric or baubles. Tulle and chiffon make for excellent boas- I know my vegan stripper sisters have already been successful in making them, and there’s lots of feather alternatives out there. It’s kind of exciting to dream up new ways to make boas or fans though- I look forward to the costuming challenge! I do have to say that a benefit is not spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars of feathers…..now they can go to rhinestones!
Q: You’re an outspoken advocate of the importance of burlesque mentors. You personally sought out your mentor, the incomparable Catherine D’Lish, after making the transition to being a solo performer. Care to touch briefly on the importance of having a mentor and the difference it’s made for you?
A: A mentor can change your life. However- I should say that not every mentor or apprentice is right for each other and that I was incredibly lucky to have had a good fit with Catherine. From Catherine I learned the absolute importance of gaining control over my body and my mind, and to work through things thoroughly. I learned a work ethic that probably unnerves some people- and Catherine’s work ethic and genius is like no other- I remain in awe of her dedication to creating beautiful things. Ultimately it made me happy to somehow learn that I absolutely had permission to value my body and to work on myself to whatever end I desired, and that I should take care of “me” first. Whilst under Catherine’s tutelage I made a variety of different decisions that impacted my entire life- not just my burlesque, like giving up sugar, meditation, yoga, stretching, watching my thoughts/beliefs, way less booze, how to move my body like I’m a 6’2” lady, you know- good stuff. Throughout it all she never blatantly told me what I needed to do, she somehow in her sensei ways cleverly guided me to my own truths. Before I met Catherine I had already placed an intention out to the universe to find a teacher- I have to say it was a better result than I could have imagined! As a performer I would say that my time with a mentor certainly made me a better performer. I’m more present, more engaging, more interesting, more stable and strong, and more loving to my audience. I loved burlesque since I started, but I’m crazy in love with performing now! Having a teacher like that can crack you open to your core and reveal all of the things that you never ever, ever wanted to deal with- a good mentor will hold compassionate (but firm) space for you while you work through it so long as you have a desire to be better. A mentor should want to see you succeed and you should want to learn everything you can help them in any way you can, and you absolutely have to be open-hearted. It’s an exchange of many things, and when your time of apprenticeship is over, it should move you to continue onward and upwards all while paying it forward.
Q: Your popular burlesque advice column, Stripper Talk, is widely read and discussed among the burlesque community. Which topics have you found received the most responses from readers? Have you been surprised by any reactions to your column, or discussions that started as a result of one of your topics?
First off- I feel blessed that so many people have read what I have written, since I can be very opinionated, and I love that it has sparked discussion! Besides Burlycon and smaller discussions at festivals all over the world with your peers, all we have is the internet. We have so many topics that I feel are of the utmost importance to the survival and success of our craft, and they are the same things that readers have really run with and they are:
a) cultural appropriation/racism/isms in general
d) in general how not to be an asshole.
Q: What’s next for Sydni Deveraux?
A: Well, I have this BHOF competition thingy to do and I’ve mostly been focusing on that besides the local gigs that I have coming up. I am STOKED to be performing with and for so many talented performers that weekend and the queen’s category is fully-stocked with so many women that I adore! The backstage time I’m afraid, is going to be a love-fest! After that I have a new act to tackle- it’s quite a different style than I am used to, so I look forward to really getting into the meat and potatoes of it. I’ll keep teaching private sessions and a few bigger classes (I’m venturing into self-improvement workshops for onstage and off, I think), hopefully get back into writing (by the way I’m always taking Stripper Talk questions). I might be starting to produce bigger productions again, in addition to my weekly show and of course I would love to be in some fun shows all over the world- I am always taking new bookings!
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: Thank you for asking such tough questions!
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!!
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?
Atlanta burlesque performer and producer Talloolah Love, “The Sweetest ‘T’ in the South,” talks falling down the rabbit hole of burlesque, Studio Burlesque Atlanta, storm troopers, Daleks, and steampunk.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: What is your performance background? Theater? Dance? None of the above? How and when did you first learn about burlesque and when and how did you start performing?
TL: I knew about burlesque before I knew there was an entire movement behind it. I knew it in its vintage sense because of my insane love of theater and old movies. I haven’t had a lot of dance lessons, I will admit, but a lot of theatre experience and a love for all things glamorous I have in spades! Almost eleven years ago, I went to the beach with a friend and on the way back, she asked me to drop her off at a photo shoot for a new burlesque troupe that would be forming up within the next few months. I poked my head into that rabbit hole of period stockings, corsets, makeup and hair and haven’t come up since. For their first show, I was a costume hand and backstage assistant. A month later, I auditioned as the troupe’s belly dancer and within a year I was twirling tassels!
Q: From whom or what do you draw inspiration for your routines?
TL: I will go through hours and hours of old movies with lots of dancing, great costumes and beautiful hair before a show. I draw inspiration from the classic actresses and dancers and models more than I draw from anything. There was a sense of self awareness, and wholeness to the women of that era that I aspire to. I find a sense of peace when I dance, so I usually hear a song that inspires me to create something new, I think about and even map out some of the choreography and then, I think of what I can do to make it work.
Contemporaries that have made me keep doing what I am doing are Immodesty Blaize, Amber Ray, Roxi D’Lite and Tigger!
Q: You’re an instructor at Studio Burlesque Atlanta, which was just opened by Ursula Undress in January of this year. Care to tell our readers more about that exciting new development?
TL: Burlesque community outreach has been an incredibly high priority for me for years. When Ursula announced that we would have a studio, I was elated. I called her immediately to ask her how I could assist. Luckily, Ursula had a spot for me to teach beginning burlesque on Mondays and I leapt at the offer. The studio embraces women of all backgrounds and body types and brings them to the floor to pursue their own personal journeys through dance, self-expression, exercise, and camaraderie. The class pursues different levels of sensuality whether it be through the art of the tease, testing the limits of flexibility, or doing something more childlike and fun in the hooping class. Right now, the classes are focused more on the fitness and self-awareness one can achieve through burlesque, it isn’t as much focused on getting on a stage, but there have been and I believe there will be more classes in the near future that focus on taking it to the next level for those who show an interest.
Q: When did you first begin producing events? What are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve encountered as a producer?
TL: I started producing events under Syrens of the South with Katherine Lashe in 2007. We both decided we wanted to give the independent performers a chance to perform in their own shows and for performers to work on non-troupe related projects in a nice, more variety show based setting. Atlanta was all troupe based at the time, and there was rarely an opportunity for outsiders to break in unless they “knew somebody”. Syrens gave us the opportunity to work with anyone who was willing to play with us. In 2010, DJ Doctor Q and I moved on to form The Artifice Club and I have gone on to produce my own large shows at conventions all over the country, and big thematic event parties in Atlanta that include some burlesque, but not an entire show’s worth. My focus now is more based on audience participation and immersive experience, as well as promoting artists of all genres to collaborate.
My biggest and never ending issue is timing and venues. Atlanta fan base can be a bit persnickety. You have to find a sweet spot. Perfect timing, perfect theme, perfect venue, and you’re rolling, if you miss the mark on either of these, it’s all over but the crying in your cold cream. Paying the artists is positively number one in my book. I still don’t think they are getting paid what they are worth, but it’s all about public education and getting the fellow performers on board.
Q: Speaking of producing, since 2012 you’ve produced Dragon*Con Burlesque, “A Glamour Geek Review” which is currently taking applications for performers until February 28. For those of our readers who are unfamiliar, could you please describe Dragon*Con and its audience and describe the aesthetic of the acts which will be featured there?
TL: Oh, Dragon*Con. It’s quite a show! This is a pop culture geek-con and it brings in 52,000 fans from all over the world. It is the 6thlargest convention in Atlanta (considering the City is home to all the major trade show and corporate conventions in the Southeast, that is much more impressive than it sounds), and is the largest fan run convention in the world. There is nothing like it. It takes over five host hotels in the heart of downtown Atlanta, fills all other major hotels in the downtown area to capacity, and boasts the largest parade in the city (yes, even beating out our city’s Pride Parade). I am happy and proud to say that the burlesque show is one of the more popular events at the Con. The room we were in last year held over a thousand people and there were still people being turned away at the door!
This is the biggest event that I run, and I simply adore it. Last year was my first time taking the reins and at the end of the night, I can honestly say that I have never been so proud of any show that I have ever produced. It included some of the most incredible performers: Lola Le Soleil, Tito Bonito, and Kisa von Teasa just to name a few. Storm troopers, Rainbow Bright, dark elves and Daleks? Who could ask for more?
The con liked the format so much, they asked me to do it again this year, so the planning has started with the call for performers. I need a special kind of burlesque act from people. It needs to be what we call “nerdlesque”, but the act needs to be of a pop-culture geek reference that are of a fandom that they are seriously passionate about as a performer, not just because they think it would look good from random internet searches. Con-goers are want to know you are as into their fandom as they are, so if you bring a Star Wars act, you’d better have an opinion about who shot first! It’s not just about the boobies, it’s also about the geekdom.
Q: You’re a contributing author along with Alan Moore, Margaret Killjoy, Sarah Hunter and Molly Crabapple in “The Steampunk’s Guide to Sex“, published in both English and Italian on Ebook in November 2012 and you’ve mentioned that it’s to be released in paperback soon. Could you tell us more about this project?
TL: Oh, it did release this past month! This was a collaboration in which we all did articles, and in Margaret’s case even art, for a book that was leaps and bounds more than I ever thought it would be. It’s been well reviewed and is a fast read. It’s educational, fun, fascinating and practical knowledge about Victorian sexuality, current sexuality, and how that all has to do with the steampunk movement. I was elated to be asked to write about my experiences as a steampunk burlesque performer. I currently have three acts where I would say they are right out steampunk or at least steampunk inspired, and Margaret Killjoy asked if I’d like to do something for it. I have been writing book reviews for The Steampunk Chronicle for a few years, so he asked if I wouldn’t mind doing a top five steamy steampunk story list, as well as an article on burlesque and steampunk and I was flattered. To be honest, it wasn’t until the book was published that I realized that Alan Moore and Molly Crabapple worked on it. I am a huge fan of both of their work, and so it was most definitely on my top three amazing opportunities of 2012!
Q: I’d like to know more about the Atlanta Burlesque & Cabaret Society, its history and your role within the group. Please share with us a little more about the group and its mission.
TL: This group was started by Torchy Taboo and Tip Tart Tina when I first started doing burlesque. Tina quit the business and Torchy went on to bigger brighter and more fabulous things and the club went untouched for two years. In 2008, I decided my goal for Atlanta was to bring the community together. I believe that only through education, cooperation and collaboration can great things truly happen. That’s what I hoped to achieve with the club. It had a lot of ups and downs, but finally, Sadie Hawkins started talking about the peer reviews at BurlyCon and I had a flash of inspiration that blossomed into a real live format.
So now, we start the meeting with announcements, we have a DJ, and we invite new and experienced performers to come and workshop an act. It can be in any state of preparedness, and there are different levels of review, a new performer can just mingle with the crowd and get feedback as they ask for it, a more experienced performer can sit on the stage after the act and get live feedback with a stack of note cards from those who don’t want to speak about their critique. Everyone gets a recording of the show emailed to them within a week so that they may review it for themselves. Ever since we started this format, the club has taken off! We get new fans, new performers, new photographers every time, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic about that. It’s everything and more than I ever hoped for.
Q: What’s next for Talloolah Love?
TL: I did my first tour last year, my goal is to do another small one this year. I am booked pretty solid the first half of the year. I will be teaching a few of my Textbook Tease classes in the southeast, and I am currently working on my very first novel. It is about sex-positivity in today’s society. Seeing my words in print really inspired me, so I am hoping to springboard off of that as best I can. You can catch me as a featured performer in The Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, and I plan to make it out to attend, if not perform at The Burlesque Hall of Fame this year. It’s been two years, and I’ve missed my Nevada lovelies! It is my Mecca.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
TL: Yes, I’d like to give a lot of love to the photographers of the Burlesque Camera Club and the Atlanta Burlesque Photographer’s guild. If not for their efforts, Atlanta’s burlesque community would not be where it is today. Marc Turnley’s reaching out to our community in his charming, witty, and embracing way has really brought all of us up a notch, both as performers and as photographers. I also have to give a back-slap to Derek Jackson’s efforts in reaching out to the international burlesque community, those of us who have not ventured to shows and festivals outside of our own community would have little reason to do so without his incredible shots to show us all what we are missing.
Again, thank you so much for this opportunity. I’ve loved Pin Curl for years!
The bi-coastal Jacqueline Hyde talks production, branding, tea, and pep talks.
Q: You are the producer and a performer in the upcoming Valentease which is sponsored by Bust magazine and includes an epic line-up featuring Angie Pontani, Indigo Blue, Jo Weldon, Harvest Moon, and so many more! Tell us a little about why you’re so “giddy” as your blog puts it, about the upcoming show at the Mauch Chunk Opera House.
JH: I am giddy because I didn’t actually think I could get this collection of performers. I wanted Valentease to be that of applicants and personally hand selected entertainers. I wanted to give those who were “new” or “newish” to the community an opportunity to perform with established entertainers; allowing for a dynamism that is unlike any other.
The cast of Valentease is a “dream cast” to me, and sensually unique. Valentease will showcase a variety of performers rising stars to industry recognized veterans. I am giddy because of the overwhelming interest by these entertainers in this unique love centric show. I think Cupid hit me with a couple of bows and arrows here.
Q: You hilariously refer to Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania as the “Switzerland of America”. Why do you say this?
JH: Actually “Switzerland of America” was not coined by me! It was coined by North Easter Pennsylvania era at the time of the industrial revolution surrounding coal. Jim Thorpe, originally called Mauch Chunk, was a major hub in the anthracite coal mining days. Jim Thorpe was an area that at the turn of the 1900′s had 13 millionaires in it. Today Jim Thorpe still has many of the original architecture and is rich with history of the coal mining days. Jim Thorpe is nestled in the Poconos in the heart of three mountains and has the essence of a little town in the middle of the Alps!
Q: You live in Edmonds, Washington just outside of Seattle, and produce shows in Pennsylvania, including the monthly “Silk Tease”. How did you become bi-coastal and how do you sustain having a business on each coast?
JH: I actually get this question a lot! I actually moved to Pennsylvania for an opportunity that was presented to me. While that did not work out quite as planned, what was built were the relationships with the area I had moved to. I fostered those relationships in the area via email, social networks and phone.
What is not really known is that I have actually produced shows not only in Seattle and Pennsylvania but in Paris as well. It is a matter of building relationships, finding markets that are untapped, and engaging with people in a variety of ways. I have a business manager who helps me tremendously, and have worked with him to create an action plan for the East Coast targeted areas that I want to work with. I have handed off the EC to him to work on my structured plan, as I continue to build up the WC presence… we meet up in the middle – lol. It is a full time job for sure.
Q: Speaking of your businesses, you own and operate Jacqueline Hyde Emporium where you custom create your own line of teas. How did you fall in love with tea, and what goes into producing custom blends?
JH: I fell in love with tea when I was little. But the concept for expanding Jacqueline Hyde as a brand one cold November morning in 2010. I wanted to be able to have “TEASe” parties and bachelorette parties that could be held in the afternoon or in the day. A place that would allow for the pun of TEASe to play out. A throw back to my preferred era of Victorian / Edwardian times when burlesque was socially different and where tease was just a hint of an ankle and a different level of saucy intelligence. Each named box of tea represents an act I have or a production I produce. TEASe shows are coming this summer and fall all over the country… so watch out!
Q: In the opening post of your blog, you write of the importance of having a good team of people working for you. We often get letters from readers about this issue. What advice would you give performers, producers, teachers, to help them decide when the time has come to hire a team (even a team of one to start) and how to let go of the need to do everything yourself.
JH: Having a team of people to help distribute the vision is vital to the success and growth of any business. Since I treat “Jacqueline Hyde” as a business, I of course have a business plan that is focused on driving my business forward. The business of all-encompassing entertainment. By partnering with individuals who have strong skills to support a variety of pieces in your plan, helps to distribute the workload, and helps to focus your attentions on other pieces for decision making. The biggest advice I can provide is to make sure you have a strong, strong budget. A realistic budget. You want to focus on an entire year of planning, rather than just one specific thing. Everything needs to budgeted down to even your applications to festivals to rhinestones, should a performer really want to succeed and move forward. It is also wise that have a non disclosure agreement between those you engage with on any level with any creative ideas. PERIOD! Creative theft is popular, protect yourself.
We all still want to do everything ourselves. You should know, or have conceptual knowledge, of the things you need to put in place. It is vital to not just let someone do something for you. You maintain the artistic control, the business control and for crying out you control the money decisions! You have to be willing to experience failures with people, as well as make the key decisions for letting people go should you so need to. Many people say, get your friends involved. I say… learn to separate yourself. This sounds silly, but you have to be willing to tell your friend their failures and detach from them business wise if you need to. Nepotism can be your greatest failure if you do not have the strength to change something that is going away from your vision. Many people do not necessarily like it, but I am friends with people I work with, and socialize accordingly, but I have learned over the many years of the entertainment industry the art of “separation” of friends and business. It is hard for some to do this.
Q: Speaking of writing, you announced your upcoming book Live it. Breathe It. Own It. – The Book of Pep Talk. Can you give us a sample of one of your awesome pep talks?
JH: Live it. Breathe It. Own It. has been something in the workings since 2007, when I faced one of the most challenging years ever. Since then, knowing I could survive “drama” I began looking at how I could translate that into a positive. LBO, as I call it, is my mantra for solving things, making life better, and to be free of as much drama as possible. Pep talks mostly are on individual basis, I start by questioning a person, challenging a person, and then making them believe! Yes, you can make someone believe if you believe.
Here is a sample “Pep Talk”… Scene (picture it) … a performer (Jane) really has been down lately, they don’t see themselves as someone who can make a splash in to the performance community. This would be how I would respond…
Look, Jane, you are an amazing individual with so much heart in your performances. People have come to see you perform in this show, that is noteworthy. If you want to go bigger and badder and make that name for yourself, you will have to live with choices from here on out. Ask yourself if you are living your experience. Are you enjoying this moment of being dressed up in your costume? Have you told yourself in the mirror that you are a freaking rock star and that you have something to offer? Are you taking in this moment to your heart with every breath? That you are inhaling the moment of glitter? Now mind you Jane, Glitter is not friendly up the nose, so make sure that when you dust yourself, that you don’t literally take it in. (Friendly laugh). Now, you are about go on sweetie, and you are nervous because you care. But go out there and OWN that stage. Own the moment. Own your change. Own the experience that you are providing for yourself and for others. Remember, that audience is here to see you. Remember that you are amazingly awesome in every way. Remember you can achieve if you want it badly enough.
Now, my book helps take people through the process of LBO. It is hard for many to digest a process of change or the motivation for making their world theirs. It is all about changing bad situations into good situations by changing your mind. I don’t tell anyone to forget the past, but to remember it, as it has defined them to who they are today. You can only learn from life. Breathe in the present with experiences, and enjoy life to the fullest. And you have to own all responsibility for successes (and failures) because this way you have a well-balanced life. Think of LBO as the vitamins of life.
Live It. Breathe It. Own It. will be available on my website(s) in late February early March, and the pep talk tour will be starting this summer (2013). Look to www.jacquelinehyde.com for connections about LBO.
Q: A question we often get from our readers is how to impress producers. As a producer, what are three tips you can give performers to get more bookings?
JH: Have a true press kit. I am sorry but Facebook doesn’t do it for me, in fact it makes me angry. Entertainers that truly want to be known and recognized need to manage their world like a business. That means have a website, have a press kit, have presence. Additionally, if producers have application portals (like I do) make sure to take time to fill out the form, attach photo and have video. Don’t assume that they will be able to find your email. If you are selected by that producer to work with them, don’t give them attitude, be on time, get your stuff in when asked, and realize that they are stressed out most of the time, thus we can’t babysit you. Sounds horribly mean, but it is very true. My 25+ years in the entertainment industry made me realize that perception is everything and if you are not “put together” in a variety of ways, well, you don’t really have your stuff together and you don’t want it badly enough. Be professional. Consider it a real job, after all we are paying you for your services.
Q: What’s next for Jacqueline Hyde?
JH: Well that’s a secret, but what I can tell you is that it there will be a lot more shows all over the country and in Europe that collaborate with others on for producing. Expansion of my Emporium to have more products for performers at reasonable rates, such as rhinestones. Additionally, there will be new wearable items that are going to be available as well. This summer I will be traveling to Paris again to perform with Sugar Da Moore, and I am looking to capturing another title somewhere in some avenue of everything I do. Mostly, the Pep Talk Tour will be keeping me busy on the weekends, as I really want to focus on giving back to individuals, and giving them the opportunity to challenge and commit to themselves and their dreams. Possibly in three years, I will actually open a venue of my own, the business plan is almost complete, its just a matter of talking to the right people.
New York burlesque performer Peekaboo Pointe, “the Fastest Tassel Twirler from East to West,” talks low brow art forms, modern dance, Nancy Reagan and D.A.R.E., starting over and festival friendships.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You earned your BFA in Dance Performance and Choreography from George Mason University and as a classically trained modern dancer you studied under Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris Dance Group and others. Your early background is in ballet and tap, and you also had a “rare and unusual tour of Cuba studying Afro-Cuban Dance with the group Cutumba.” When and how did you go about incorporating burlesque into your repertoire?
A: I was actually always interested in lowbrow art forms, and especially fascinated with strip clubs and strippers. Although I mainly studied the more classical performing arts, I couldn’t get enough of the sleazier side of performance. I saw so much more in the raunch than I think the average strip club patron saw. I have always believed that there was an art there that most of our society didn’t see. I think stripping is important.
It was when I moved to New York in 2002, when I was dancing for a modern dance company, that I discovered that there were people in the city performing Burlesque. I had studied the history of Burlesque in my Dance History course in college…but was blown away when I saw there was this tiny group of women bringing it back in the city. I jumped in head first, not knowing what I was doing, and pretty much never looked back! I found so much more in performing burlesque than I had ever found performing modern dance.
Q: I read the most fascinating candid blog post of yours from last August in which you credit Nancy Reagan and the D.A.R.E. program for your career as a stripper. I absolutely loved reading it; your honesty was so refreshing. You said, “… I knew that someday I would be a stripper, and that there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that. I knew at 10 years old that you didn’t have to be a junkie to be a stripper.” Could you briefly share the background of your story and the context of this quote for our readers?
A: In that blog post, I am tracking my desire to be a stripper back to my earliest memory of learning what it was and when my fascination started. Like I said before, I have always been fascinated with strippers, lowbrow art, and the seedier side of life. My first memory of this part of me was in 4th or 5th grade when the DARE program came to my school and a woman recounted her horror drug story, all I heard was that she was a stripper, and I wanted to be just like her! It was at that moment that I knew one day that I would do that…I didn’t know that it would be 20 years later, but I knew it would happen!
I started performing burlesque in 2003, but I didn’t work at a strip club until 2009. And I loved performing in both areas of stripping!! Although, there’s actually very little connecting them other than dancing naked, I feel like they really complimented each other. My strip club work really fed my burlesque performance in a positive way. I do have to say that I would never recommend it to anyone, but I am so grateful for the years I spent working in both avenues of stripping! (Editor’s note: Read Peekaboo’s entire original blog post here, if you like.)
Q: You’re headlining and teaching at the Purrlesque Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina on January 18th-19th and then you’re also a headliner at Toronto’s Girrrlesque Show on January 26-27th. It sounds like you’ll be very busy this month. What else does January have in store for you?
A: I do have a busy month! But that’s actually been pretty normal for me lately. I travel on average at least one weekend a month! I love to travel and visit other burlesque communities. It makes my soul happy to teach workshops and meet other performers. I love it.
As far as what else is in store for January…there’ll be a focus on resting up, snuggling with my kitties, taking dance classes, and of course doing my regular shows in NYC.
Q: February 1-3 is the Minneapolis Burlesque Festival, where you’ll be a featured performer and instructor. What are you looking forward to most about the festival?
A: I’m really looking forward to spending time with friends that I don’t get to see very often! And hopefully there’ll be lots of snow!!! I love the snow, so I’ll be very disappointed if I go to Minneapolis and it doesn’t snow.
Q: Are there any other upcoming projects or events you’d like to tell us about?
A: Yes! I’m so excited about it! I’m working on an evening length dance show that blends my background in choreography with my love of stripping. It’s a large project a couple years in the making, that’s interactive, narrative, personal, and really, really sexy. Stay Tuned!
Q: While reading your blog, I also learned that last fall you and your husband of 5 years divorced, and because you live in New York City, trying to find a new apartment to “start over” is not really a practical solution. I loved your attitude with your approach to completely reinventing your apartment and reclaiming it as your own. You decided to move out and move back into the same apartment in a sense – packing all your stuff, cleaning thoroughly and rearranging all the rooms and redesigning everything. Could you tell our readers about your process (I especially loved your Stripper Painting Tips!) and how it helped you during that transition?
A: I try to keep a positive outlook on life, even though it’s really hard to do sometimes. Especially when dealing with something as life changing as a divorce. I knew that the change was for the best, and that I had to make the best out of a hard decision. And if my space felt the same as it did when my husband lived here, then how would I ever move on? And so, I decided to make it as fun as possible. I have never lived alone and this was really exciting for me! I had some friends help me with this, and I pack up all of my stuff…literally…put pretty much everything in boxes then I was able to paint the apartment all new colors, then bought a new couch and a couple other pieces of furniture, new linens, and donated a lot of old stuff, then I moved back into what really did feel like a brand new apartment. It felt like mine. It ended up being a really positive experience during a time that was really difficult. Then, after my apartment was all put together and I was settled into my space, I got a new kitten to be friends with my fluffy white cat! It turned out to be a really great year! (Editor’s note: Read about her entire process here in her original blog post.)
Q: Your performance résumé and accolades are impressive and you’ve traveled extensively. Care to share some of your fondest memories from your burlesque career (either onstage or off, locally or touring?)
A: Oh man, I don’t know…I love ever moment of my career, I don’t even know where to begin!
This past summer’s tour of Australia with the Australian Burlesque Festival sticks out as one of my favorite recent moments. I always love traveling no matter what the gig, but this summer I was partnered up with another performer who I had never met before, Anna Fur Laxis. I knew that we were going to be rooming together for a few weeks, and I was really hoping that we were going to get along! You never know how those situations are going to work out, but I honestly could not have asked for a better tour roomie! The first night in our room together we stayed up almost all night talking forgetting about our horrendous jetlag. I made a friend that tour that I will hopefully have for the rest of my life! We had so much fun together for the entire trip, and even got tattoos together! Then, when we met up with the other 2 headliners Coco Framboise and LouLou D’vil it became even better. It really was like we were filming the feel-good-chick-flick of the year about showgirls bonding on the road. It was fantastic!
Q: Do you have any advice to offer for aspiring performers?
A: My biggest advice for new performers is to take risks! Don’t imitate what you’ve seen before- make something new, make it your own!! It’s our job as artists to innovate and excel the art form.
And… it doesn’t matter how many rhinestones you have…You should be able to entertain and enchant your audience with no costume at all. If it doesn’t work without the costume, it doesn’t work. It’s all about your passion for what you are doing onstage, if you’re passionate and you love what you do, your audience will love you too!
Q: What’s next for Peekaboo Pointe?
A: I want to keep on doing what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years, performing and creating. I love what I do! I’d love to tour Asia…
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: Congratulations on the publication of your new book, Burlesque Beauty, which was published in December by Tomahawk Films. You must be so excited! I understand that it was a two-year process putting it together. Could you share some of the book development process with our readers? Was it difficult to find a publisher?
A: Burlesque Beauty has taken exactly 2 years to come together and it all started when Chris, a photographer & graphic designer I had met at some Burlesque events and indeed where I had performed at various locations around the south, (including several big events at The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu), emailed me to say he had an idea for a photo-led book on the Burlesque scene. However, he & his writer friend Brian, (whom he had asked to pen the words to his pictures), wondered if they could both come and meet me to discuss their plans and get my opinion as both a performer & producer and to possibly offer an opinion as to whether what they were thinking of producing ’would actually float’ as a commercial proposition.
I did indeed meet them and was enthralled by what they were planning: basically a close-up look at Burlesque in the New Millennium by featuring 8 wonderful girls currently on the UK & European circuit, but rather than just a ‘general look’ at the scene Chris wanted to do a photo-shoot & in-depth interview with each girl to really get their ‘story’ of Burlesque, (and have Brian research the history behind it all), and so both illustrate the beauty of the art-form and to really explain to those ‘new’ to Burlesque what it was all about in terms of its history and who these girls were, how they had also come to Burlesque and why. To my delight, this was exactly the type of book I had wanted to find whilst researching the world of Burlesque before I ‘dipped my toes’ some three years ago!
Towards the end of our meeting they asked me if would like to be involved and though I was most flattered, I said I would love to help them produce the book but should not be featured in it as there were many far more experienced dancers that I thought should be in ahead of me. However, over a period of weeks & months both Chris & Brian gradually wore me down and I eventually agreed to also be one of those 8 featured artistes as well as their ‘consultant’, though for a long time afterwards I must admit I still felt I shouldn’t actually be in with the other artistes. Upon seeing what we have now achieved I must admit that I am now thrilled to also appear amongst such talented and beautiful ladies in it as a performer in my own right… and so glad they kept pushing me!!
As a small 3-man (or 2 men & 1 woman) team, once we were up and running with our idea we did not want to then be at the mercy of a big London publisher in it ‘just for the bucks,’ but luckily Chris knew a small film company based near Winchester: Tomahawk Films, for whom he had previously done some design work and discovered they also had a small specialist publishing arm and we were really excited when they said they’d like to publish Burlesque Beauty on our behalf.
Q: The book focuses on a “brief snapshot” of burlesque in the U.K. through the works of 8 carefully selected burlesque artists – Ally Katte, Amber Topaz, Anna Fur Laxis, Carrie-Ann O’Dell, Domino Barbeau, Khandie Kisses, Mysti Vine and you – Sensu’Elle. It must have been so difficult to narrow down the selections! How did you and your colleagues decide on the content? Can you tell our readers a little more about what they can expect by purchasing your book?
A: So in addition to Chris & Brian kindly asking me to be involved we set about looking for 7 other performers across the country: Ally Katte, Amber Topaz, Anna Fur Laxis, Carrie-Ann, Domino Barbeau, Khandie Kisses and Mysti Vine, who were absolutely fantastic and all readily agreed not only to be photographed by Chris but to also be interviewed, in depth, by Brian.
During our chats with them, all 7 girls really opened up and generously imparted so much professional information and fantastic tips as Burlesque performers that we hope aspiring Burlesque artistes will be able to actually use Burlesque Beauty as an inspirational hand-book to help with their own performances. Every one of the girls featured was an absolute star and in our opinion, each fully illustrates and epitomises the ‘real beauty of Burlesque’.
As you’d imagine we had a really tough job trying to narrow down just 8 performers from the multitude of wonderful Burlesque artistes currently across the UK. That was possibly the toughest part of the project as there were so many wonderful performers we wanted to feature. However, we eventually managed to whittle down our initial list to this eclectic mix that, though each were totally unique in their own way, all combined to give the picture of the ‘true femininity’ of Burlesque whilst also dispelling the myth that modern Burlesque performers have to be a blonde, 20-something size 8! For as we all actually know the wonder of Burlesque is that there are no hard and fast rules about who can become a Burlesque artiste, encouraging any girl to perform it, and perform it well and with verve & enthusiasm…and our book, I feel reflects that important fact!!
Q: You’ve been performing burlesque for 3 years, correct? And for two years of that you’ve been working on the book? How on earth do you balance everything? Are there are other projects that you have in the works?
A: As for my own chapter and my contribution to Burlesque Beauty, as a performer I have only been on the Burlesque stage since 12th September 2009, but whereas a number of our girls featured are full-time professional, touring dancers I am actually a Company Director by day as well as being a wife & mother, so for me Burlesque is very much a wonderfully glamorous and rewarding hobby.
However that is not to say I don’t take it very seriously, as I do (and then some!), as over the last few years I have taken to producing my own Burlesque shows, another reason that Chris & Brian were so kind enough to urge me to become a part of their project as they also wanted to harness my knowledge of what went on ‘behind-the-scenes’ of Burlesque production as well as out front on stage!
As such I have also become a Burlesque teacher and am really delighted to see some of my pupils successfully taking to the stage and now performing in their own right and I hope that, through my involvement & participation in this unique little photo-led book, I can also encourage and inspire many other ladies either to take up this alluring vintage entertainment that is enjoying quite a revival once again or at least encourage them to some of our shows and experience the enjoyment of modern Burlesque performed ‘live’!
I am pleased to say that both Chris & Brian have also travelled a long road with their research for this book and the three of us are now looking both towards producing further volumes of Burlesque Beauty, (to include & incorporate the other many & varied forms of Burlesque currently being performed across the country), whilst to my great excitement also actively considering producing our own shows under the Burlesque Beauty banner..!
So I think the future looks really good for Chris, Brian & myself at the moment, for not only have we produced something in this book that we are all incredibly proud of, but we are also having a ball and enjoying each other’s company. We genuinely have had such great fun working with the ladies we featured and so we hope the future will be just as creative & laughter-filled and we can really build on this, our first Burlesque Beauty book.
Jo Weldon, Founder and Headmistress of the New York School of Burlesque and author of the Burlesque Handbook, talks devil dancers, biting off more than you can chew and the Pink Light Burlesque project.
For the complete interview and more beautiful images of Jo, pick up your Winter 2012 Best of Pin Curl print edition, available here!
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: September of this year was the 10th Annual New York Burlesque Festival. Care to share highlights from the festival? What were some of the most memorable moments for you?
A: I always love this festival because I get to see people from all over the world in my hometown! It was particularly exciting this year because it was the tenth anniversary. I saw so many people I loved I don’t want to name them for fear of leaving someone precious out by accident. I will say I loved seeing Tara Pontani perform with The Pontani Sisters. I used to perform with them at Marion’s a decade ago and that was amazing! I also loved getting to do my big Queen of Hell number with my devil dancers retinue. Super fun.
Q: I’d like to hear more about the Pink Light Burlesque project. The New York School of Burlesque began a program last fall in which you offered free burlesque classes to breast cancer patients and survivors, in memory of Jennie Lee, the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s founder who succumbed to breast cancer in 1990. I was really struck by Pink Light’s mission to “address the particular needs of women in treatment and recovery, especially women seeking a rock-n-roll way to reclaim their bodies after experiencing a negative body image or a loss of femininity.” If I’m not mistaken, Pink Light started in October 2011 and was dedicated to Diane Naegel, who tragically passed away from breast cancer one week prior to the start of the program. Pink Light Burlesque happened again this fall, and I would like to hear your take on the effect the classes and/or subsequent performance has on its participants, both students and the instructors.
A: Different students have had different experiences, but many of them have said that they had renewed sexual and social confidence. They also said it was fun to meet other survivors that shared their adventurous sensibilities. In some ways it is a very serious project. I hope that this will restore quality of life for some people. And of course it can be a very difficult project emotionally. Losing Diane Naegel and Lotus Eyes was deeply saddening.
Q: In an August interview with BurlesqueStars.net, I was delighted by your refreshingly honest response to a question about how you manage to get everything done being involved in so many projects. You said, “I don’t – there’s people mad at me right now about something that I didn’t get done.” You went on to say, “I love being a part of so many things, but sometimes I bite off more than I can chew.” I know a lot of gals in this industry have more irons in the fire than they can count; what is your advice to those who, like you, have a tendency to spread themselves too thin?
A: I don’t really know how to stop saying yes! I admit it! My advice is, don’t do as I do, do as I say: choose your work only when you’re as sure as you can be that you can deliver. People deserve your best.