Burgundy Brixx, Vancouver’s burlesque queen, talks mentorship, Kitty Nights, Canadian immigration, and advice for traveling the festival circuit.
For the complete interview and more beautiful exclusive images of Burgundy, pick up your Winter 2013 Best of Pin Curl print edition, available mid-December here!
Interview: Shoshana Portnoy
Q: You explained in an interview that when you moved from Boston to New York City in 1998, you didn’t know what burlesque was until you stumbled across a listing on Craigslist for the New York School of Burlesque and before long, Jo Weldon, you enrolled as a student and Jo became your mentor. Can you share with our readers a little about that relationship between mentor and student, and the importance of having a mentor? What are three things you learned early on that you attribute to that relationship?
A: To be honest, I don’t think I ever officially asked Jo permission to officially call her my mentor, but we fell very naturally into a wonderful relationship that was based in mutual respect. Jo was always as generous with her advice and replies to my questions, as she was very encouraging of my early work, and continues to be an invaluable resource and friend in this stage of my burlesque life. She made performance opportunities available to me very early on that I would never have gotten on my own at that stage, and introduced me to many of the major players of the NYC burlesque community in an enormously welcoming way. Having the opportunity to perform so often with top-level performers at the beginning of my burlesque journey was invaluable to my early development as a burlesque artist.
Q: You mentioned in the BurlesqueStars.net interview that at one point you thought Kitty Nights Vancouver had plateaued, and since many new shows had come onto the scene there, you thought it might be time to close the doors, saying “Maybe we’ve served our purpose”. What is your #1 purpose with your showcase? What do you think the Kitty Nights show offers that other Vancouver shows don’t? What’s the secret to the super long successful run?
A: While there are numerous other regular shows in Vancouver now, most of them are still troupe-based. Kitty Nights still remains as one of the only shows in town that is a crossroads for performers of all different troupes, which means each week is always exciting for both the audience and for me. You never know what you might see each week, and I think that really appeals to people’s sense of delight. I work hard to book a diverse selection of performers in every show. And the as the quality of Vancouver’s performers has grown, that is reflected in the continued quality of Kitty Nights. The format of the show is effective, my husband is an amazing host, our DJ (currently the effervescent Cherry OnTop) keeps the party rolling after the show and I work hard to respect my performers both personally and financially. Keeping the outreach to new audiences is hard work, which is no secret, but something many people may not see. My daily burlesque life is filled with more graphic design, promotion and administration than with creative pursuits related to my performances which I would love to have take priority someday.
At BurlyCon 2013 I had the honor of teaching a class called “How to Mix and Mingle with your Adoring Fans.” I love to socialize with my audience and this makes me a “Socialite Stripper.”
Mingling with your audience post-show can not only be a valuable marketing tactic, it can sometimes be part of your contract for a special event. It’s a wonderful skill to have in your beyond-the-stage toolkit.
Some highlights I can share today are:
- Use the opportunity to reinforce who you are to the audience members by sharing a business card or future show flyer with those who approach you.
- Talking with the audience after a show and taking pictures with them extends the showgirl/showboy experience for a fan beyond the stage show. Often leaving them with a delightful “I got to meet the dancer” feeling and winning their hearts.
- Accept compliments with an open heart. A compliment is just as much about a person’s desire to muster up the kind words and deliver them to you as it is about you yourself.
- Be patient: Your audience is often more intoxicated than you are. This can lead to all kinds of skill needed to navigate your fancy self amongst a sea of tipsy fans.
You can learn more about me here at my website as well as links to all of my social networks and favorite endeavors.
Portland’s Tana the Tattooed Lady, Miss Tiki Oasis 2013, talks El Vez, Robocop 2, Yogatease and being a “lunatic drag queen.”
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: First off, congratulations are in order! You were recently voted Miss Tiki Oasis 2013; how exciting! Please share with us your experience at this year’s Tiki Oasis.
A: This year’s Tiki Oasis was the most magical year ever. It was so fun to connect with all my friends & play in the San Diego sunshine. 2013 marked the first annual Miss Tiki Oasis Pageant, a beauty contest of sorts to represent Tiki Oasis all year long. I was in total shock when they announced my name as the winner. My dear friend & fellow devoted Tiki-goer Meghan Mayhem (with whom I moved to Portland in 2007 after stealing her from Honolulu) handed me my GIANT trophy with all the appropriate cheekiness. Being crowned Miss Tiki Oasis gave me such confidence I felt like I could chat with everybody. What a fun feeling to be so popular. Southern Culture on the Skids- one of my all time favorite bands- played Saturday night before the midnight burlesque show. I was shaking and bopping so hard in the crowd I almost rocked my beehive loose. I also got to teach a custom stretching class Saturday morning set to the lounge sounds of Cal Tjader. Then to cap off the most wonderful weekend of good vibes I played a special Hawaiian Elvis set with El Vez! He even had me sing a solo song while he changed into his tiger suit. Afterward I found out that Mary from Southern Culture on the Skids was in the audience and thought that I’d done Wanda Jackson proud with my rendition of Let’s Have A Party! AND THEN… I met Exene (from the legendary punk band X) who told me she loves what I do & would like to use me for a web series she’s doing.
Q: Let’s talk about your performances with El Vez. How long have you been performing with him? You’ve toured with him too, multiple times right? I’d love to hear some of your favorite stories about that!
A: I’ve been an Elvette for nearly nine years. More recently El Vez and I have been performing new material together as a duo act. But don’t get me wrong, nobody outshines Robert Lopez. We were just in Austin, Texas last month performing his new soul show. That was a lot of fun. Our drummer for the soul shows was Hunt Sales who played with greats like Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Todd Rundgren. My first exposure to El Vez was when my burlesque troupe, The Atomic Bombshells, opened for his Christmas show in Seattle at the Showbox. I was sooo enchanted I basically harassed him until he gave me the gig. I think I got his email or something and wrote him every few weeks and stars aligned to where I kept running into him. I’d say in my coyest (give me the damn gig) possible voice “you know, if you ever need another Elvette…” Finally he relented. I’ve been performing with El Vez since 2004. Some of the best times of my entire life have been singing on the road with our band the Memphis Mariachis. The most incredible time I had on the road with El Vez was when we played the Crossroads Music Festival in Gijon, Spain with Little Richard, The Blasters, The Presidents of the United States Of America and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. All the bands stayed in the same four star hotel; lots of mischief ensued. One night we played spin the bottle on the roof top. I wrote a little song up there that evolved into a track on the next President’s record. My version was pretty emo, but Chris doctored it up in pop as only he can. Spain with The Presidents led to more collaborations including the Capitol Hill Block Party and a music video for a song called Some Postman. It was the first music video shot completely on cell phones. Technologically speaking, it was a pretty big deal at the time. We made a behind the scenes DVD with an Australian film company in support of their upcoming tour. Then in a worst move ever I quit perusing the offer to go with them to Australia and stayed in Seattle to work toward my master’s degree in theatre only to embark on my journey as a full time artist mere months later. Bye bye, Seattle U. Never got the degree.
Q: On that note, I’d like to discuss your background. You’re a singer, a burlesque performer, a model and a yoga instructor. Did I miss anything? How did you get your start in each of those areas? Do all of these elements blend together to equate a full time job for you? Or do you also miraculously balance another job on top of all of that?
A: My mother swears I came out of the womb singing and tap dancing. I used to take off all my clothes in the backseat as a kid and jump around the moving car. I performed my one-woman-show at Kmart near the blue light to reach the largest audience possible. I auditioned for anything and everything I could. At age eight I was an extra in Robocop 2. My uncle Paul and I threw hot dog buns and Nerds at the cops in our scene in the movie. As I approached double digits I became obsessed with Hollywood glamour, movie musicals, musical theatre, all forms of dance, vintage clothing and home furnishings but the most mystifying and alluring fascination of my young mind was sex appeal.
I’ve not had a “day job” since I quit my makeup artist gig with Benefit Cosmetics in 2004. Thoughts become reality and I was ready to create a reality where I was a successful international entertainer.
Yoga is my daily moving meditation. It helps to center me and maintain spiritual connection with my community and the cosmos. I’m a certified hot yoga instructor (250 sweaty hours) worth every pain, ache and dime.
Currently I teach power yoga which is a crazy hard workout that has more mass appeal to westerners, and a vinyasa yoga inspired by Patanjali’s yoga sutras. I really prefer to gift these styles of classes. Traditional yoga is something I enjoy sharing. Creating a space for people to have a transformative, healing experience is absolutely amazing. I find teaching class more rewarding than a sold out, standing room only crowd cheering on your every move. While living in the Minneapolis area in 2012 I brought yoga into Pride, one of the only GLBTQ treatment facilities in the world as a weekly volunteer. Talk about a heartwarming experience. But a gal’s gotta pay the bills… So I took my power yoga knowledge, classical dance educator and burly teacher background and created a fusion workshop called Yogatease. I teach Yogatease all around the world and am currently working with an investor who thinks it’s a multimillion dollar idea.
When I’m home in Portland I work for the Rose City School of Burlesque as the dance and movement teacher.
I’m also a pin up model. Bettina May and Go Go Amy took me under their proverbial pin up wing in 2006 and we developed a workshop which traveled to Portugal, France, Germany, Canada and all over the US. Now I teach classes to spread the gospel of high hair and ruby lips solo. I’ve had a few prestigious modeling gigs. I was chosen for PETA’s “I’d Rather Go Naked than Wear Fur” campaign in connection with Suicide Girls. Most recently I became the face of Slappy Cakes- a DIY pancake house with locations in Tokyo, Singapore (Universal Studios), Maui, five locations in Manila and the original in Portland, Oregon. Last spring Slappy Cakes flew me to the Philippines for the grand opening in the third largest mall in the world. There were life-size cardboard cut outs and floor to ceiling posters of me everywhere. It was totally surreal.
Q: Speaking of travel, you just returned from a tour of Italy and Finland! Please tell our readers all about it!
A: Earlier this year I was selected to join an erotic circus for an event called Turkkusex. It boasts being the largest ‘sexfest’ in Scandinavia. Our Portland based cast was joined by a bevy of porn stars, male strippers from Russia and beyond and champion pole dancers from around the globe. One of my very best friends, Ivizia actually blew fire balls in a blinged out bikini inside a metal sphere with two Finnish motorcycle riders whizzing past her. Then my friends bought me tickets to Italy and insisted we go ‘make party’.
Q: From whom or what do you gather your inspiration?
A: I have no idea where my ideas or inspiration come from. Most often if I’m writing a show or creating a character I hear a piece of music and go from there, but all burlesque is derivative. No one has any original ideas anymore. I’m just a crazy, lunatic drag queen. I am certainly not the best at anything I do, I’m just not afraid to try new things and fail horrifically.
Q: What’s next for Tana the Tattooed Lady?
A: This year in addition to Miss Tiki O, I was voted Hardest Working Woman in Show Business (according to Portland) and I won the Satan’s Angel Award for Hottest Body In Burlesque at the Dallas Burlesque Festival. Every time I think I’m about to slow down another amazing opportunity turns up. I have no idea what’s in store for me and I’m thankful for the mystery. My life has turned out to be better than my wildest dreams.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: Thank you for this opportunity!
Hawaii’s Burlesque Sweetheart, Violetta Beretta, talks Tiki, Hawaii Burlesque Fest, and Oscar Wilde.
By: Shoshana Portnoy
Q: It stands to reason our chosen names would say more about us than our given ones. Yours is quite unusual; would you give us the backstory on your choice?
Of course! My original Burlesque name was “Honey Lulu”. I like that it sounded like a sweet little tribute to my island home but after a few shows I decided it didn’t quite capture what I was looking to convey. I looked around for a bit for things and names that hit the mark and was super happy to hear the words “Violetta Beretta” in the lyrics of one of my favorite songs/bands- Gogol Bordello. I chose my stage name because I loved the old world prettiness of Violetta, contrasted with the make of a gun- Beretta. It’s cool being able to convey feminine beauty or explosive energy onstage and feel that the contradictory nature of the name gives me the license to portray a total weirdo, pretty lady, or whatever suits my fancy.
Q: I first heard that Hawaii had a burlesque scene when I saw the announcement for the Hawaii Burlesque Festival last year. I surprised to learn through my research that you have actually been performing for seven years now. Was Cherry Blossom Cabaret the first to kick off the revival of burlesque on the islands? Can you give us a brief “lay of the land” of the burlesque world as you know it on the Hawaiian Islands?
I’d love to! How much time do we have? Here’s a brief breakdown:
The Hawaii Burlesque Festival is now in its third year and I am super happy to hear that you were able to learn about Hawaii’s burlesque scene through hearing about the festival! I began the festival in order to showcase the talents of our amazing local performers, and to foster growth and exchange in our burlesque scene by inviting international and US Mainland performers to attend, perform, hang out, and enjoy the beauty of Hawaii! The HBF is also on a mission to bring out the best of the best in burlesque to Hawaii audiences, and contribute to Hawaii’s artistic community by offering free workshops and classes to anyone interested during the festival week. It’s been extremely successful in all of its ventures and now the HBF is growing to include not one, but two nights of star-studded performances by some of the top names in burlesque internationally and locally, as well as workshops and group activities! I’m very interested in showcasing some of the performers and troupes from Maui, the big island (Hawaii), and Kauai for this upcoming year and I am looking forward to announcing the mind-blowing line-up soon!
Cherry Blossom Cabaret, to my knowledge, was the first burlesque troupe in the Hawaiian Islands. It was started by my burlesque wife, Meghan Mayhem, and we’ve all been twirling our tassels together ever since. CBC is an amazing collection of performers with all kinds of skills from acting to visual arts and everything in between. Everyone in the troupe has something distinct to bring to the table. Our annual “Varietease” is probably our biggest accomplishment because we work super hard to present an original full length theatrical show complete with original story, script, music, choreography, and costumes. We also have several monthly shows that are really fun! I suggest checking them out if you haven’t already!
Maui is also host to several talented folks/troupes. The Kit Kat Club Cabaret is one of them! They are wonderful performers and dancers, and have very popular and regular shows. I love working with them and they are probably the sweetest women on Earth! My pal Rachel Deboer also heads up another troupe called the Ultraviolets, an outstanding blacklight burlesque troupe that recently finished a successful US tour.
I’ve heard that Kauai [one of the smallest islands] now has a troupe by the name of Black Coral Burlesque! I believe we are in the process of setting up a joint show with them and I look forward to learning more about these lovelies from the Garden Isle!
That’s just a brief lowdown…. So many great performers on the islands in general!
Q: Many of us developed our own local scenes by watching other scenes around us. It was from official or unofficial mentors that we learned even the basics of developing a quality act, building a great show line-up and structure, marketing basics- everything that goes into a quality burlesque production. With the geographic isolation of Hawaii and the cost of travel, I imagine seeing other live shows (either mainland U.S. or Japan) would prove challenging. What were those early days of developing a scene like? Did you have anything to go on or were you starting from scratch?
Great Question! It’s easier for me to answer this question on an individual basis first. As part of Cherry Blossom Cabaret and a solo performer of some experience I’ve definitely dealt with both the benefits and the drawbacks of Hawaii’s unique geographic situation. The benefits are the lack of over-saturation, a climate of expression that allows for the formation of ideas without the possible pressure of comparison to other performers or “scenes” and Hawaii’s overall laid back nature and a propensity for tolerance and fun! The drawbacks include of course- the expense of travel, the time necessary to travel, the expense of bringing in non-local performers, and the limited audience. That said, as a local girl, born and raised in Hawaii, the benefits of living in a literal paradise often outweigh the drawbacks!
I’ve always made a serious effort to not only research and learn about both the burlesque legends and the contemporary neo-burlesque scene, and attend US Mainland events like Teaso-O-Rama, etc in order to better understand not only the nature of burlesque, but the community and intent behind it. I came from a very traditional ballet background originally, and though my dance career since then has been in a broader range, I’ve always had a semi-technical approach to learning about movement and dance, which is why I enjoy the emotional part of burlesque so much. I was fascinated by the history of burlesque, the societal reactions, the sexual implications, and of course- the glamour and beauty of it all. As I traveled to perform 9and to watch any burly-q shows I could) I began to get a sense of what I felt worked well, what didn’t, and how I’d like to entertain the audience in general.
Classes have also been a good way for me to learn some amazing things! I had an excellent time with Coco Lectric at her “Big Bad Boa” workshop class during the Hawaii Burlesque Festival and came away with some good basic boa skills- Coco is amazing!
Being able to watch and perform with those in LA, NYC,Portland, etc has also been an amazing experience for me personally in terms of growth as a performer! There are too many talented and outstanding performers to name so I’m not gonna try, but it’s a long and interesting list! I’m super excited to be attending and instructing at BurlyCon 2013 and I can’t wait to learn from my sisters in arms/pasties!
In terms of Cherry Blossom Cabaret, and the overall Hawaii burlesque scene; I feel that our origins were a great convergence of people/performers of various backgrounds and expertise in the right place at the right time. Every single person in CBC has contributed to our growth in their own unique way. Although Hawaii may seems isolated, we are also very well connected to the outside world via technology. There is also a constant stream of returning locals, new residents, and visitors bringing new ideas to the island. It’s really cool to think of how much Cherry Blossom has grown and learned over the years thanks to the worldwide burlesque community, visiting performers, and vast amounts of reference material.
Q: By the same expensive travel token, year one of the festival was dedicated to local performers, but in year two, you had quite a few performers from neighboring islands and the Mainland. Were there extra challenges the location presented?
Performers traveling from the neighbor islands have a bit of an additional expense in terms of airlift and housing, however, the festival is definitely working to alleviate some of the costs with fundraisers and volunteer housing from trusted sources.
U.S. Mainland and international performers present a unique set of challenges in terms of expense, however it’s not too hard to convince people to come to Hawaii, and I am a resourceful ecdysiast.
Q: Please correct me if you feel differently, but in my experience on Kauai, native Hawaiians are very proud and protective of the authentic culture of Hawaii. Did you catch any flack when you began incorporating hula into your burlesque acts? What about with your signature hula lamp act? Would a non-native Hawaiian performer trying to incorporate hula have a different experience?
Because there is such a legacy of misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Hawaiian culture and history in general and because the issues of cultural censorship, religious freedom, imperialism and Hawaiian sovereignty are so sensitive overall as well as personal to me as a native Hawaiian, I’m not comfortable answering this question. Please know that this is absolutely nothing personal, I’m just very protective of how and when I share my personal mana’o on this subject.
Q: In that same vein, “Tiki Culture” tends to be a huge part of the Mainland pin-up/burlesque/rockabilly scene, especially on the West Coast. What most mainlanders think of as Hawaiian, can be a touchy subject for native Hawaiians. How do you feel when walking the line between the two worlds, perhaps with your recent performances at Tiki Oasis?
Wow- Interesting Question! I love attending and performing at Tiki Oasis, and I always appreciate the love of “tiki tribe” shows for all things Polynesian in general. Most of the folks I’ve gotten to know in that subculture express genuine interest in a myriad of aspects of Hawaiian and Polynesian culture and are really into learning and preserving the tiki subculture, as well as legitimate Polynesian culture for others to enjoy, which I think is admirable! The origin of tiki culture itself is most interesting to me in the sense that it was essentially born out of visitors love of Hawaiian culture/design/motifs, and the trappings (however garish) of our local tourism culture, especially in the 60’s. Basically I feel that the representation of Hawaii within tiki culture can be at worst somewhat willfully ignorant of the realities of Hawaiian culture/life, both historically and presently. At best, it is a fun and imaginative whirlwind of ideas/cultures inspired by people who truly loved and enjoyed Hawaii, but had little to go on when they got back home, say to Ohio. Necessity being the mother of all invention, tiki culture was born from the pieces of Hawaii salvaged from vacations, knick knacks, recipes and photos, and many a backyard was strewn with flower lei and populated with Aloha shirts when America went crazy for the luau. In short, as a native Hawaiian, I celebrate my culture and heritage, and enjoy sharing them with other people as long as I feel the intent is positive, and not willfully exploitative or degrading. I also welcome the chance to educate people who might not be familiar with Hawaii, it’s history, or why it’s flipping amazing!
Q: Let’s switch gears into something lighter, and one of my favorite questions to ask of anyone. If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who do you choose and why?
Oscar Wilde- His wit and charm were utterly, devastatingly, rapier sharp and he was known as a brilliant conversationalist.
Mae West- No explanation needed.
My grandmother- Because she was awesome and I love her.
Q: What does the future hold for Violetta Beretta? What are your goals for 2014?
Chicago’s Michelle L’amour, Burlesque Hall of Fame Miss Exotic World 2005, known as “The Most Naked Woman” and “The Ass That Goes POW!” talks BurlyCon, family, focusing on the luxury of burlesque and more.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You have extensive dance experience, and after meeting Franky Vivid while studying finance in college, you began performing with his band, followed by your first burlesque performance in February 2003. You quickly went on to win Burlesque Hall of Fame’s Miss Exotic World title in 2005, which effectively put you (and subsequently Chicago) on the map, and there’s been no slowing down since! Would Michelle in 2003 be surprised by where you are in 2013? If 2013 Michelle could offer pre-2003 Michelle any advice, what would it be?
A: 2003 Michelle was too young! Seriously, sometimes I look back and cringe at those pictures. I look like a kid! A stripping kid! I wish that 2013 ml’ could tell pre-2003 ml’ to get better shoes. My taste in heels has really developed since then! I would also tell her to relax! I was coming from a dance background and I don’t think I fully appreciated the beauty and nuance of burlesque striptease until I had been doing it for a couple years. It’s not just about technique. It’s about so much more. It’s a different art form all together and I am still constantly learning and falling in love with this dance. And no, 2003 ml’ would not be surprised where I am now. This is all part of the plan…
Q: I’ve read in multiple interviews that you come from a conservative Christian family that disapproves of your career choice and has disowned you, multiple times even? I’ve spoken to several other performers and models that can really identify with this notion; are you able to offer any advice to those who are dealing with similar negative family reception of their careers?
A: It is hard for your family to see you as sexual, but it might be even harder for them to see you as independent. When you combine the two, it’s a winning combination for conservative families. I was disowned from my family when it came out in the paper that I was doing burlesque. Bibles came out. Scripture was flying. It ended with them leading me to the door and saying ‘God loves you enough for us to let you go.’ Swallow that one. I had a really difficult time going through this. I was experiencing great success and receiving so many accolades but it was hard to parse because I knew my own family didn’t care, didn’t know, and didn’t appreciate it. As independent and strong willed as you think you are, there will always be a part of you that just wants to be accepted by your family. I struggled with this separation for almost 4 years. It was tough on me and tough on my relationship. One day, after I had cried too many tears, I made peace with it. Truly accepted it. A little while after that, my mother called me and wanted to meet with me. As you can imagine, I was very skeptical. I decided to give her a chance. I met with her and she apologized to me! I was NOT expecting that. I decided to forgive her and cautiously allowed her into my life. We’re coming up on 4 years of our new relationship and while she may not like what I do, she is proud of me and always says she wishes she could do what I do. She has seen me perform once (my Sally Rand tribute), and has taken one of my classes. My mother is my biggest project. Helping women is what I do, and she was always the one I couldn’t help…until now. Unfortunately, my relationship with my dad is still strained. We talk but it’s very superficial and he really doesn’t want to talk about what I do. And, what seems to be surprising to people on the outside, my parents are recently divorced. This is actually a wonderful thing and should have happened many years ago. Religion can really put you in bad spots for a long time. Guilt is a powerful motivator.
To those that might be in a similar situation, if you are doing something you truly love to do, keep doing it. If you are just acting out, stop it right now. Entertainers that have a chip on their shoulder do not last. You need to do what you do because you love it, not because you’re trying to prove something to the world or to your parents.
Q: You’re performing in the Dirty Devil’s Peep Show at Theatre Bizarre in Detroit this month, which is produced by Roxi D’Lite in a huge Masonic temple; what do you have in store and what are you looking forward to most?
A: Honestly, I’m terrified! I get scared really easily and I am so nervous about it. Roxi has been trying to get me to go for YEARS! I finally accepted, but man, am I shakin’ in my pasties. I will be performing La Panthere, Boa Tango, Whole Lotta L’amour and Stripping Away, a dance that just has me in elastic and high heeled boots dancing to NIN. That one doesn’t get out much but I am SUPER excited to perform that act.
Q: The end of October will be bringing you back to Lucha Va Voom in LA, and you’ll be teaching workshops as well. You’ve been working with Lucha Va Voom for many years, correct? What are some of your favorite memories or stories?
A: I LOVE Lucha Va Voom. I think I’ve been working with them since 2004. I’m really excited to go in October because I am bringing my newest act, ‘The Ritual Calling of the Gods of F*ck’. It’s epic and really raw. I think it will feel great in that venue. As for memories, what can I say? There are wrestlers all over the place and then there are mini-chicken wrestlers running around too. Backstage is exactly what you think it is. Mayhem!
Q: You’re a guest presenter at BurlyCon this year, and it looks like Tease and Tone, Booty Lab and Stripping Behind the Fans are on your teaching agenda. I’d love to hear about highlights from your past BurlyCon experience and what you’re expecting out of this year’s event.
A: I haven’t been to BC in 2 years, so it’ll be good to go back. I’m excited about teaching all the classes and to see everyone. It’s good to be able to just hang out with people and not worry about a show. I also like being able to go take other classes and participate in discussions and panels. There’s so much to talk about in burlesque and this is the place to do it.
Q: Studio L’amour celebrated its 5th anniversary this summer; congratulations! How have things evolved over the years? Did you imagine the studio would be where it is now five years ago?
A: The studio is still evolving. I’m currently in the middle of making some big changes. I want to focus on the luxury of burlesque. I want people to see the value in what they are learning and know they are learning from VERY qualified teachers. I am sad to see many people teaching who have no business leading a class. This is upsetting and it’s taking advantage of the public. I am not ok with this. I also see Groupon deals, etc, and I will not become a discount-dollar-bin-bargain-burlesque school or entertainer. No thank you. The game has changed greatly since I began doing burlesque and teaching. I’m now writing a new rule book.
Q: Naked Girls Reading also turned 5 years old this year, and it has been expanding like crazy! You must be so excited to see it growing! Are you surprised by how quickly it’s caught on and to how many locations it’s spread already? Any more expansion plans in the near future? Any other exciting NGR plans in the works?
A: I love Naked Girls Reading and I love that we’ve been able to do it for this long. It’s a beautiful event and I love that other cities are excited about it. I really wasn’t expecting that, but once people started asking to do it, we decided it would be a great thing to expand. Currently in the works are some chapters looking to open in Australia.
Q: It’s very well known that Franky and you are foodies, especially with the Cooking for Strippers column and all! What is your favorite thing (or things if you can’t pick just one!) to cook? What are your favorite things to eat that Franky cooks?
A: I wouldn’t say that we are foodies, necessarily. We just really like to eat and we appreciate REAL food. Eating should be a sensual experience and not just a means to an end. I used to do all the cooking and then Franky got into it. I am more than happy to let him cook for me! So, by default, I’ve become more of the baker and he’s the cook. I make homemade bread and it’s SO good. I make a great cinnamon swirl bread and French bread. Oh, and I make a bacon alfredo pizza. It’s so bad for you. We only have it once a year on Franky’s birthday. As for what I like to eat…Franky makes a great maple butter pork tenderloin with smashed potatoes. He’s also got a mean brisket.
Q: What’s next for Michelle L’amour?
A: Next is enforcing my new life plan. I plan to do a lot more traveling and embark on a teaching tour in 2014. Overall, I’m looking to feed myself more as an artist and personally. I’ve been too distracted as of late and I need to start focusing on myself, rather than just trying to pay the bills.
Keep up with Michelle through her website, www.michellelamour.com, and follow her on Twitter at @michelle_lamour for the latest information.
Seattle’s Iva Handfull, 2013 Queen of the Kansas City Burlesque Festival, talks musicality, fierceness, impersonations, BurlyCon, accounting, Prince and more.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You’re known for your fierce, edgy and high energy performance style and every time I see you onstage I wonder about your background. You started performing burlesque in 2007 after graduating from Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque, but I’d love to know more about the creation of the Iva we know today. Do you have background in theater? Dance? What led to you enrolling in the academy?
A: I have no formal dance training, unless you count the year of dance classes I took when I was around 13. I’ve just always loved to dance. In high school, I was in Marine Corps Junior ROTC where I convinced them to have a dance-a-thon as a fundraiser, where people donated money based on how many hours we’d dance. Ever since I could sneak into nightclubs, I’d arrive right when they opened and dance until they closed. Often, there’d be a few people along the sides of the dance floor watching me dance. I believe my “hamness” came from my grandfather, Hubcap Charlie. He performed around Northwest Indiana with the Knights of Columbus, singing, pantomiming, clogging, and dancing at nursing homes, festivals, and parades.
I only want to be me on stage and perform what I want to, so theater hasn’t been of interest to me. I’ve never been in a troupe – the thought never even crossed my mind, although I’m an ancillary member of Stripped Screw Burlesque, since our styles are similar and they lovingly allow me to guest in their shows often. I will only dance to music I love and create acts that I’d love to perform for decades to come. I would say that when I’m on stage, it’s me put to a soundtrack. Many people are surprised by how quiet or subdued I am off stage. It’s because there’s no soundtrack playing!
I think the fierceness and high energy on stage comes from my love of Industrial music (pre-Goth). Industrial music mixed rock, electronics, screaming, angst (although I’m not an angry person), and sometimes hip hop and/or dance beats. Industrial fashion was very individualist, unlike Goth (at least to me). This genre of music is still at the core of my being. Musicality is of the utmost importance to me. Hitting beats and keeping up with the song tempo is second nature. As part of my subconscious, I think of my acts as a music video for the song; and when I’m on stage I feel like a rock star. In fact recently, I’ve found myself sort of standing on the edge of the stage, leaning out toward the audience, as rock stars often do. I try as hard as I can to blanket the audience with energy.
I learned about Burlesque and Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque at the first Burlesque show I saw in Seattle, WA – Tamara the Trapeze Lady’s Columbia City Cabaret, entertained by performers like Tamara the Trapeze Lady and Chica Boom. I sat on the edge of my seat the entire show, dying to know how to get involved in this art form. I checked in with the door person, Pidgeon Von Tramp, and she told me about the Academy of Burlesque. I signed up for the next 6-week Burlesque 101 course, which started on my birthday!
Q: I’m very curious to know about your process of developing an act from start to finish. Your movements always seem so precise and calculated, yet you balance it perfectly with your high energy so you never seem robotic. How do you achieve this balance?
A: I think the high energy, precise, and calculated movements come from my musicality and love of spreadsheets and detail. Once I’ve chosen a song and concept (most of my concepts lately have been to just dance the hell out of a song), I open a fresh Excel spreadsheet, copy the song lyrics from an Internet search, and begin breaking the song down generally to each beat or lyric. I record the start and stop time (ex: 0:01 – 0:10) of each beat, lyric, or small section of the song, the feel of the music at that section (ex: fast, hard, slow, breakdown), and the corresponding lyric and/or music sound.
As I mentioned prior, I will always follow the feel of the music and think of myself as creating a music video for the song. After I have an idea of the act, or sometimes before I have any idea of the act I want to create, I meet with my costumer Jamie Von Stratton. We search through high fashion magazines, couture fashion designer books, and runway videos for costume inspiration. I find the coolest way to show off and eventually take off the costume by looking at all angles and movements I can make while wearing the costume. Between removing costume pieces, I throw in ways to interpret how the song feels to me, as well as 10-30 seconds of what we call “Iva dancing” which is how I would dance to the song at a night club. In the spreadsheet, I also record each body part’s movement and sections of the act that need specific facial expressions. Since I’m fairly androgynous, I tend to lean toward male stripper moves instead of traditionally female sensual moves, for example in my “Relax” Marlboro Woman cowboy act. I still feel totally feminine on stage, but to me traditionally male moves are way more fun to execute and work better with the songs I love. Following that theme of “individualism”, I sometimes take private lessons from other performers for their feedback, ideas on how to fill in blank spots in choreography, interpret a portion of the song, or learn a technique I’m not familiar with. I do not take group classes, as I don’t remember what I learned and I’d just be taking notes the whole time (you’ll see me taking tons of notes during group classes at BurlyCon). In order to really get my creative juices flowing, I have to work under time constraints and usually finish the act from between a few days and one day before the show I plan to perform it in. I am now very self-aware of this and warn show producers.
Q: Your performance repertoire is one of the most versatile I’ve seen; your unconventional fan dances to Firestarter and Psalm 69 are crowd favorites, your burlesque “impersonation” acts include Prince, Annie Lennox, David Bowie and more, and you also have a number of nerdlesque acts including a hilarious Napoleon Dynamite impersonation, Ivy Valentine from Soul Calibur, Spike from Buffy, and many more. Were many of these acts created to fit a show with a specific theme or based on some other inspiration?
A: Most acts are not created with a show in mind. My signature number, Firestarter, was created based on the idea that this song by Prodigy felt like it should be performed with fans. The only way to exert as much energy and strength the song holds seemed to be through fans. Psalm 69 was similar; listening to the flow of the music, it feels to me like it should be performed with fans. One key fan dance lesson I learned from The Shanghai Pearl is to use the fans as an extension of my hands. That’s exactly what I do.
I usually shy away from themed shows unless I already have an act that fits; because in general, I won’t create an act for other people’s ideas or a theme that’s too specific where I cannot perform it elsewhere. But there are exceptions (there are always exceptions)! For example, Stripped Screw Burlesque asked me to create a Cruella de Vil act for their annual Disney After Dark Burlesque shows, that was a no-brainer. Science & Smooches Productions produce an annual fundraiser show for Seattle’s Geekgirlcon, a show centered around video games. One of the producers, Steven Stone, said that I looked like and had the energy of Ivy Valentine from Soul Calibur. I watched him and my husband play the game and decided it would be a cool act to create. I created the act in a way where I could perform it at just about any burlesque show and market it as a general video game character act and most of the audience would understand it. Jo Jo Stiletto produces Whedonesque Burlesque and asked me to perform an act as Spike from Buffy. After watching hours of Buffy, I decided I would take on this challenge and create the act. My Spike act is the only act I don’t think I can perform at just any burlesque show, as a general audience might not understand who I am and what the significance of my movements are.
I have grown quite a repertoire of impersonations – Prince, Annie Lennox, Billy Idol, David Bowie, Cruella de Vil, Napoleon Dynamite, Spike, and Ivy Valentine. Impersonations are so fun to me and are just as hard to create as a regular Burlesque act. Above, I’ve mentioned individualism over and over and honestly, this still stays with me when I impersonate people. There’s always a part of me on stage with the artist I’m impersonating. Regarding specific impersonations, I always say “who doesn’t want to be Prince?” I mean really? He’s such his own being, and it’s so exciting to replicate his moves. It took me 8 hours to learn Napoleon Dynamite’s 2-minute routine. Annie Lennox and Billy Idol are no brainers to pull from my personal look and style. People have asked me to impersonate David Bowie for years and I’ve always said no, until recently when I teamed up with Ernie Von Schmaltz as Freddie Mercury in a duet to “Under Pressure”. It’s extremely important to choose people to impersonate who are entertaining on stage and have signature moves. David Bowie is entertaining, but he really doesn’t “do” anything on stage, he doesn’t need to because he’s just that cool. So, I thought the only way to impersonate David Bowie, without boring the audience after about a minute because I’m just standing there lip syncing, was a duet as David where I could interact with another performer. Our duet came so naturally and was a huge hit!
Q: Just this year you were crowned Queen of the Kansas City Burlesque Festival – congratulations! What act did you perform? What were some of your favorite memories from the event?
A: I performed my Firestarter fan dance. I hadn’t submitted it specifically to perform in the competition but that’s where the show producers placed the act, and I was lucky they did. We didn’t know what the judges were scoring us on, but we learned of those categories after we performed. If I remember correctly, at least two were stage presence and costume, but I don’t remember the others.
As when competing for Best Debut at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, when I compete, I try not to think of it as a competition. My goal always is to entertain the audience and that’s what I strive to do.
Before I discuss the festival itself, I want to explain why I came to Kansas City in the first place. During BurlyCon, I meet awesome people from around the country and world. Two performers who stood out as amazing human beings were Sweet Louise and Goldie Goldstein from Kansas City. They do not produce and aren’t specifically part of the Kansas City Burlesque Festival, but they are 100% the reason I came to Kansas City. They are the nicest, most welcoming, ladies you could ever meet. Talk about the power of awesome people to draw you to a city!
Some of my favorite memories of the event are from both the festival itself and exploring Kansas City. I watched Burlesque Legend and actress Stephanie Blake perform and was blown away! She can get up from the floor through a backbend! She was one of the Queen competition judges and I was tickled pink to be judged by the woman who played the naughty singing telegram nurse from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. On Friday night, I saw Lady Jack from Chicago, one of the festival headliners, perform a beautiful serpentine number that made my jaw drop to the floor. I immediately asked her to come to Seattle to perform in Seraphina Fiero and I’s annual two-woman show called Relentless. I met Dangrrr Doll from New York and we are now friends. I also love having Damian Blake as King of the festival. Venturing around the city, I spent a day with Xander Lovecraft from St. Louis shopping for jumpsuits, vintage neckties, and eating Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ. I can’t wait to go back in 2014 to crown the next queen and enjoy the entire event and weekend.
Q: I think many who don’t know you would be surprised to discover that in contrast to your fierce persona, you are a certified public accountant in your day job – a career that sometimes gets a bad rap for being boring. I have to ask – what made you want to pursue being a CPA? Do you find it exciting or is it “just a job”?
A: I loved Accounting in high school. It was fun, involved easy numbers as I like to call them (add, subtract, multiply, divide and not much more), and was methodical while also involved problem solving and detail. After high school, I first went to college for court reporting; but then at 21 years old, decided to attend Indiana University Northwest in Gary, IN for Accounting. I’ve never worked for a large accounting firm and never wanted to and actually didn’t do accounting but went into Finance instead – not the kind of Finance with stocks, interest rates, and etc but the kind where you create financial forecasts and budgets for companies. An easy way to explain the difference between Accounting and Finance is that Accounting looks back at the numbers and records what happened already and Finance usually looks to the future to predict what will happen in the business financially.
I studied and obtained my CPA license just because it looks good on a resume and people seem to trust you more when you are a CPA, although many CPAs don’t actually keep up with their licensure and still use the title. As a Finance Manager, I didn’t need the CPA licensure, but since I’ve changed careers over to Accounting, it’s very helpful to be a CPA and the classes needed to keep an active license are now relevant to my career. Accounting and Finance are exciting to me. I love numbers, I love detail (as you’ve read regarding how I create an act), and I love finding ways to make businesses more money, save money, and grow financially.
Q: Speaking of, congratulations are in order, because I hear you just got job bookkeeping at an art gallery, which means you’re now officially working full-time for the arts! You must be so thrilled! Tell us what this means for you as an artist.
A: If you would have asked me about whether I thought it’d be a goal or it’d be cool to work in the Arts prior to me becoming a Burlesque performer, I’d ask you why that mattered and why is this question even coming up, because I wasn’t part of the arts at all.
Since becoming a Burlesque performer, I have an appreciation for the arts, artists, and how are everyone works so hard to create fresh, exciting ideas and almost never receive raises, health benefits, or bonuses for their efforts, but yet art is extremely important to all parts of society.
Since I started my bookkeeping business in August, I’m now a bookkeeper for a Seattle theater nonprofit, a fine art gallery, specializing in blown glass, an event space, and of course my own burlesque and rhinestone tie business. I love that I’m immersed in art day and night now. It also allows me to not “feel bad” when I need to leave early to get ready for a show or travel for a festival or performance gig. Since I’m hourly as a bookkeeper, it gives me to flexibility to still get my client’s work done and do everything I want to do as a performer and artist.
Q: You’re the co-owner of Haute Under the Collar, which has been selling fabulous rhinestoned ties since 2010. How did you get started and how have things evolved over the years? What are the plans for the future?
A: My friend, and co-owner, Miss Elaine Yes and I started Haute Under the Collar (HUTC) because we noticed a deficiency in raffle prizes and shopping opportunities suited for men, as well as women who dress masculine, at Burlesque shows. We first rhinestoned ties for friends and family members and have since grown it into a business. Haute Under the Collar is now a brand name in the Burlesque community, which is such an honor. We sell not only hand-rhinestoned neckties and bow ties, but also vintage cufflinks and tie bars. We love each tie individually so much that it’s sometimes sad to see them go.
One of our favorite things about this business is receiving tie donations from our clients! We love being able to rhinestone ties they no longer use, then offer these rhinestone ties at a lower price, since the tie was donated, and find them a new home.
We are evolving HUTC by continuously pushing ourselves to create new designs, ask our clients what kind of ties they’d like to see, and create custom orders. Up next for Haute Under the Collar is the January 2014 Offbeat Brides Bridal Expo in Seattle. Also, in 2014, we want to try exhibiting at an accessories or fashion wholesale expo.
Q: It’s well known that you have an affinity for Prince, and this year a monumental life achievement happened in which Prince beckoned you onstage while he was performing and you were dressed in your Prince costume at the time, right? I’d love for our readers to hear the full story.
A: I do have quite the affinity for Prince. He’s such an individual (there’s that word again), no one is like him, or even comes close. He’s a multi-talented artist that lives and breathes music. As mentioned earlier, I love impersonating him because he has such quirky, and of course sexy, facial expressions and dance moves.
Prince put on a set of smaller-venue shows in the spring 2013, which I got tickets for the moment they went on sale. Burlesque has taught me to always be ready, looking my best and never have regrets, so I chose to wear my purple velvet 1984 Prince costume, sparkle painted-on mustache, but leave the wig at home, opting for my regular mohawk. So, here’s the story.
Seraphina Fiero and I stood in line at 5:30, doors opened at 7 pm, so we did not get there that early. The venue’s green room bar was full of people who were there before us, some arriving hours earlier. The green room was supposed to get in before the regular line we were in; but the venue, or Prince’s crew, created an even more preliminary line. As we stood in line, a regular looking guy came up to us asking us about Prince, how many times we’ve seen him in concert, etc. He then gave us some wristbands to get in the preliminary line. Since I’m getting older, I didn’t believe this guy, so one of us stayed in line, while the other asked a bouncer about this “preliminary line”. Finding out that the preliminary line was in fact real, we took our spot as the first people in line.
I ended up being the first person into the entire show, even before people in the green room. We stood right in front of Prince’s mic, about 2 feet away from him, with only an amp between us. We watched him perform as if he was only playing for us. He was so close we could see his makeup in detail and even individual chest hairs. He is phenomenal to stare at for 1 ½ hours straight! He only played about 2 older songs, the rest were newer songs and 60s/70s rock songs; but the entire show was amazing. Prince’s guitar work was magical and so beautiful to experience up close. He had an all-female extremely hot band, who could play like crazy.
At some point in the show, Prince reached his hand down and I slid my hand over his. Then, during the second to the last song, a Jimi Hendrix song that morphed into a jam session, Prince motioned for me to come on stage. Being a performer myself, I wanted to be certain he meant for me to come on stage. I gave him a look to ensure that’s what he meant, and he did it again. I jumped on stage and started busting a move. Since Prince and his band were jamming, I jammed out as well. I always thought that if I were ever on stage with a celebrity musician, I would dance my heart out, instead of standing there dumbfounded while everyone screams at you to do something. Prince was facing the audience, playing guitar, so I just kept dancing. Seraphina said I was up there for about 20-30 seconds. Eventually, I thought it was rude of me to be dancing over on one side of the stage, so I made my way over to Prince. He said something, and I backed away a bit. A bouncer then took me off stage, tried to kick me out, then another bouncer told him Prince had waved me onto stage and I was able to stay. But, that was the end of the concert. I heard that during his 2nd Seattle show, he brought 4 people on stage; so the fact that I was on stage by myself makes the experience that much cooler.
Afterward, tons of people thanked me for jamming out on stage – doing what everyone else wishes they could have done. Outside, tons of people took photos with me, which was cool. The entire night was amazing!
The only regret I have is there are no video or photos, as Prince doesn’t allow photos or video at his concerts. I put out an ad on FB and posted to his fan site asking if anyone had a photo or video, but no luck.
Now it’s time to meet Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails (who I always thought would be easier to meet than Prince).
Q: What’s next for Iva Handfull?
A: In November at BurlyCon, I’ll be teaching my first class ever. BurlyCon is a community-oriented professional growth and educational convention for the Burlesque community located in Seattle, WA. I’m teaching “This Class Goes to 11”, how to be fierce on stage. The idea of creating a curriculum and teaching is scary and exciting all at the same time.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: Nope, your questions were so good!
Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Original Triple Mocha Latte, Her Highness of Highness, the Boss of Burlesque Foxy Tann talks touring, Wham Bams, terrible children’s theatre and fabulous being a state of mind.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: The Foxy Tann we know and love got her start hosting the Gay 90’s in 1997 at the Superior Lounge, which led to a 2-year stint as the “first and only female female impersonator to emcee at The Le Femme Show Lounge.” Can you also tell us about the production of Miss Biracial Upper Midwest 1984?
A: Ah Miss Biracial Upper Midwest 1984! I love that show! Miss BUM is a stage play that reenacts how Foxy Tann got her start in Superior, WI by winning Miss BUM, which launched her on that road that ends all roads, the road to stardom. It was a show that was about the ridiculousness of stereotyping. Each major race was represented, Black, Asian, Native American, Latin and Celtic. Each contestant had to represent their race through “traditional’ ethnic wear and dance. Example – Missy Asia wore a sequined karate outfit as her ethnic wear, I was Miss Black and wore traditional mammy attire…it was hilarious…now it seems so tame and not edgy at all. Back in the day people were really pissed off that we were doing it. They thought it was not respectful and bordering on offensive (which was the whole point) and the last time we did it the reviewers said it wasn’t deep and edgy enough…but we had a ton of fun doing the damn thing and quite honestly those ladies are still some of my best friends and we work together all the time to this day!
Q: You first began performing burlesque in 2006, which brought the creation of Foxy Tann and The Wham Bam Thank You Ma’ams, the troupe with whom you won “Best Troupe” and “Most Vegas” at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend in 2006. I first saw you perform your “Foxy Lady” act with the Wham Bams at BHOF 2009 and I fell in love! How often are you and the Wham Bams performing together these days? How did the group come together and how has it evolved over time?
A: Well we are working together much more these days because I have managed to find the perfect replacement for the original Wham Bam, My Funzalo. I am so ever fortunate to have RedBone (who is my right hand and sometimes brain) and now Jeez Loueez! We are touring together as a trio for the first time in November, going to BurlyCon and then working our way back to Minnesota! I do have to say that we as a group have evolved into way more of a partnership, especially with me and RedBone…before it was me doing everything and they were just along for the ride and now we do everything together from costume building to promotion to booking. It isn’t a dictatorship but we think it is funny to represent ourselves that way! It amuses us! Well it amuses me and that is what really matters!
Q: Your hosting experience is obviously vast, but I’m curious about your background in general. Were you involved in theater or dance previous to your career as Foxy?
A: All of it! Theatre dance, directing, tech, costume design everything. I have been making my living in the theatre in one way or another for more than 2 decades…Jesus I just said that, 2 decades…wow I am old! I have a degree in theatre; I am the recipient of the National Irene Ryan Acting Award a big deal in the college acting world. I worked with Theatre de la Jeune Lune and toured to Yale with them (that’s also big deal), I toured almost continuously for 3 years doing terrible children’s theatre, I have done really out there modern dance as well as costuming weird modern dance. I have done outdoor drama in Ohio, I worked for Disney in Florida for 2 years…that was a nightmare, but hey they paid well…but honestly I love burlesque so much, I think that back in the day, I would have been a vaudevillian, I really do, I love the short form performance, I love the road, I love all the people, I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Q: When it comes to burlesque festivals, you seem to be everywhere! This year you headlined the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival in May, co-hosted the Icons & All Stars show at Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend in Las Vegas in June, you headlined the Colorado Burlesque Festival in July and those are just a few! How do you keep organized and on top of everything, and do you ever rest? What have been some of your favorite festival highlights this year?
A: God each one is so different but I do have to shout out about Colorado Burlesque Festival, my personal fave…they treat me so well in Denver! I love it there so much and it isn’t just the blatant use of marijuana either! They have amazing venues…I mean Lannie’s is a gem and one of the anchors of the national burlesque scene and Jefferson Arca, who we all know as Naughty Pierre, has done so much for burlesque…and they are crazy partiers as well! CRAZY! And we all love that! And keeping organized is not my strong suit! That is Professor HoneyBunny and RedBone’s job! I couldn’t do it without them! I am not blowing sunshine here, it’s true! I don’t know how people do it without a crew, it’s too hard to do everything yourself! I am just lucky that my folx have faith in me.
Q: Let’s talk about your local burlesque community for a second. You just finished the Twin Cities Top Drawer Burlesque Exposition last month, which for the first time ever, showcased performers from all the burlesque troupes in the Twin Cities metro area. What an exciting idea! Please share your experience with us.
A: It was awesome! It was a love fest for all of the Twin Titties performers! I mean there are so many new burlie performers now! Back in 2004 which is when I started doing burlesque proper, I could count on both hands the number of performers in burlesque…now I am like, who the hell is that?!? There are people that I don’t know in the community! That is amazing! The growth of burlesque has been astonishing! And the fact that people aren’t getting fired for it any more is also amazing…it was also the first time some performers have shared the stage! I know it seems ridiculous but there are troupes that I have never performed with and they haven’t performed with me…stupid…and I think that is the best thing to come out of it, people realizing that everyone should be working together and look what we can achieve. Props to Mona Montague and Musette The Midnight Muse!
Q: You’re currently finishing your “Fox on the Run” Tour right now, and later this month you’re hosting the Shanghai Pearl’s Burlesque Royale show in Seattle, which features quite the lineup of performers! Sydni Deveraux, Donna Denise, Chica Boom, Burgandy Brixx, the Seattle debut of the Grant Avenue Follies, and of course Shanghai –that sounds like one hell of a show! What else does the rest of your tour have in store for you?
A: OOOOOH I know! This show is gonna be the shit! I haven’t worked with some of these folks and have been dying to do so…I love me some Sydni! Woot! Well..I currently am going to Chicago to work with The Stage Door Johnnies and give Ray Gunn the razzing that he deserves…make sure his head doesn’t get too big…we are doing BurlyCon, Portland with Zora Phoenix (LOVE her) and then back to Denver at Lannies and Colorado Springs with Lola Spitfire and Peaks and Pasties…and we put up two monthly shows here in Twin Titties with our production company Red Carpet Burlesque…Thank God I’m Fabulous in Minneapolis and our amateur show The Nudie Nubie Show in St. Paul…so we got a bit on our plates!
Q: You teach a 2-hour class called “Fabulous is a State of Mind.” Could you describe for our readers the general idea behind your course and what your students take away from it?
A: It’s just what it says, fabulous IS a state of mind and the class uses burlesque as a frame work to build your own methodology to get to your fabulousness. It is a class meant to build confidence because, as far as I am concerned, that is the core of sexy and hot…confidence…scares the shit out of some people, but hey without any risk it ain’t no fun! And the wonderful thing is that the methodology transfers to real life. I have seen women have major breakthroughs and change the way they interact with the world. See I think that everyone is fabulous and that a person just has to be shown their own path.
Q: Speaking of education, I see on your calendar that you’ll be at BurlyCon! Will you be attending to teach, socialize, participate in panel discussions, or all of the above? What are you looking forward to most?
A: I am teaching, attending the classes and with Professor HoneyBunny will be vending our kick ass pasties (HardCorePasties.com). I am looking forward to pinching as many butts as I can and gossip with everyone and just generally geek out about an art form that I love.
Q: What’s next for Foxy Tann?
A: More of the same…touring, teaching, producing, making costumes, rehearsing, putting together new numbers…general hustling…oooh speaking of, I am in Hustler magazine in November! Who knew? Amazing! My life is fucking amazing! My dad is gonna be so proud!
New Orleans burlesque performer, producer and instructor Bella Blue talks controversy, polyamory, New Orleans burlesque history and more.
Q: In early August, your boobs were the focus of local New Orleans news stations when a controversy arose over a poster of you outside your venue, The AllWays Lounge. You are topless in the photo, and the venue is located near a newly opened elementary school. Can you let readers in on the beginning of the controversy? Was it a surprise to you or was it expected? Was this the coolest publicity stunt ever?
A: Ya know, no one knew that they were doing a story on it at all! I feel like it was a terribly slow day in the newsroom and perhaps one person may have called up and complained about it–anything to latch onto right? Before Katrina, that was a school. It’s always been a school. And it’s always been surrounded by neighborhood bars (which is not uncommon in New Orleans proper). The school stayed closed after Katrina literally until this school year. The way that they perceived the photo is that I am completely topless–I’m not. I have pasties on. And the fact of the matter is, on any given day of the week, a child growing up in New Orleans will see way “worse.” Our city is notorious for its over indulgence. I mean, I’ll never forget my first Mardi Gras. It was the first time I ever saw an actual penis in person and it was attached to a man wearing a thong and a cape. We have so many traditions here and events that encourage sexual freedom and discourage the wearing of too many clothes. It certainly was some free promotion not only for myself but for the club which is truly a New Orleans hidden gem.
Q: What was the end result of the controversy? Is the poster still up? Are ticket sales up as a result of the media exposure? Do tell…
A: The poster is still up! I doubt it will ever really come down and if it does come down, it will be replaced with something equally as awesome. Ticket sales and interest are definitely up! As are website hits! There’s also been a little thing going around where people are taking photos of themselves with the picture and posting. It’s like “planking” but way hotter.
Q: You are also a single mother of two young boys. Have they seen the poster? What do they think? You tend to be naked a whole lot and make no apologies for being comfortable in your own skin, does this translate into teachable moments for the boys as well?
A: The boys haven’t seen the photo up on the door but they have seen that photo before. I don’t shield them from what I do and I’ve been doing it for more than half their lives at this point. They are very used to and aware that their mom is a performer. They’ve seen everything from drag queens to burlesque queens and everything in between. In our home, we don’t shame our bodies and encourage the kids to be comfortable in theirs. My oldest is definitely more modest but that’s just his personality. My younger one however is the complete opposite! We feel that if we don’t make a big deal about it, they won’t make a big deal about it. It definitely allows for open conversations regarding career choices, sexuality, and that the only acceptable way to be in life is accepting of everyone.
Q: You also are very open about your alternative lifestyle. Two years ago, after much research, your life partner and yourself decided to be polyamorous early on in your relationship. You have credited the lifestyle for teaching you a lot about yourself, as well as helping you heal after past abusive relationships. What is the most transformative lesson to date?
A: The most transformative lesson to date is that learning how to release fear based thoughts allows you to grow as a person exponentially. No matter what type of relationship you are in, there are challenges and issues to deal with. It’s natural to have fears within that. If you’re able to change your view from fear to love, you can change your world around. That love transcends from the inside out and bleeds out into every aspect of your life. Communication is also another huge lesson learned. I can communicate like a boss now!
Q: What advice would you give to those interested in pursuing polyamorous relationships? Do children complicate the issue and necessitate special accommodations?
1) Be conscious of your personal boundaries within your relationship and always honor them.
2) Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. No matter what you think the outcome might be–you *must* talk about it.
3) Be good to yourself. Express your needs. Don’t forget to take time for yourself too.
Children don’t necessarily complicate our lives. We work around it and make sure that they aren’t exposed to anything they shouldn’t be. Again, we don’t hide the fact they we are poly. They are actively aware of who our close friends/lovers/partners are. They meet them and hang out with them. Those people are a part of our lives and any family functions or life events that happen. There are occasions where specific accommodations need to be met depending on the kids’ schedule. But mostly it just flows pretty well so that everyone is getting what they need–especially the boys.
Q: New Orleans has a rich burlesque history; one that you are very proud of and passionate about. What are some of your favorite stories from the early days and who are your favorite NOLA legends, or legendary venues?
A: One of my favorites was told to me by the late Kitty Twist is that there was a saying during the Storyville era that was “From Basin Street to Bourbon Street.” A lot of performers started out as prostitutes in the elaborate brothels that lined Basin Street. If you made it off Basin Street and onto Bourbon Street as a performer and no longer working in the brothel, then you “made it.” Bourbon Street now is a mere shell of what it used to be. But, when I go there and I’m toting my drag bag and feather fans through the muck of Hand Grenades and Hurricanes, I feel like I’m actually paying homage to the women who were so brave back then to pursue what they loved regardless of the social shame that was associated with it. It’s because of them that we all can do what we do today.
Q: Do you think the New Orleans burlesque community, which is very extensive, gets enough recognition on the national scale? Why or why not?
A: I think it’s getting there. When I first started performing, New Orleans wasn’t really on the map as far as notoriety among the national burlesque community. When I started performing there were a total of eighteen performers for the entire city. That’s not very much, and certainly isn’t enough to draw any national recognition to a tiny community. However, as the popularity of burlesque has grown and The New Orleans School of Burlesque continuing to teach and encourage women to get out there and perform, New Orleans has become one of the most flourishing communities and is getting lots of attention now which is well deserved. Amazing performers like Perle Noire travel the world and represent New Orleans. And despite the varying degrees of support around it, the development of the annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival has definitely drawn more people to New Orleans to gather as a community in a city that is so rich in burlesque history. I’ve got to give credit where credit is due.
Q: For burlesque enthusiasts visiting New Orleans, what are your 5 must-dos/sees?
A: Ohhhhh this is the fun stuff!!
5) Go to 80′s night at One Eyed Jack’s. It happens every Thursday at 11pm till 3am and only a $5 cover
4) Go eat at a restaurant that ISN’T listed in every travel magazine. They tend to be full of hype and tourists. Go eat at places that are more off the radar like Maurepas Foods in the Bywater. McClure’s BBQ which is Uptown. Satsuma Cafe in The Bywater. Dig around on Yelp and get suggestions from the locals.
3) Go to a second line [Brass Band Parade]! There’s usually one every weekend!
2) GO TO A BURLESQUE SHOW! There’s plenty to pick from!
1) Relax! We move at a slower pace here. And enjoy your to-go cup!!
Q: What are your three favorite numbers in your burlesque arsenal to date and why?
A: Oh man. This one is tough. I have about 40 acts in my arsenal all together!!!
”Send in the Clowns”–It’s a piece that was developed during a really painful time in my life. I was transitioning out into the world more as a solo performer and I was also going through a lot of loss. I really connected with the song and the lyrics and always felt that when things are rough, you send in the clowns to distract from the pain. It starts off as a sexy classic strip and then evolves into a somber and moving fan dance.
“You Are So Beautiful”–an act that involves very little! A mirror and a very simple costume. It’s a message about loving yourself and your body. But, most specifically about loving your vagina! I went through a period for a long time where I felt very critical about the appearance of my vagina. I feel that the porn industry has been especially critical in feeding the sense that unless our vaginas don’t look like perfect little coin purses, then they must be weird. This act was developed as an encouragement to women to love all their parts and how they have been built.
“Bird Girl”–this is a duet that I do with The Lady Lucerne. We start on the stage completely nude. We start off with very big showy movements. As we travel to the front of the stage, we realize our nudity and begin to attempt to hide our bodies. We come together at the front of the stage and our striptease is actually the removal of our wigs, makeup, eyelashes, etc. It’s meant to represent that as artists, sometimes being naked isn’t really when we are completely vulnerable, it’s when we have no makeup to hide behind. It ends with us making out and “bleeding” from our hearts with fake blood.
Q: What’s next for Bella Blue? Any upcoming projects you’d like to share with our readers?
A: Well, so much going on! I don’t even know where to start! The New Orleans School of Burlesque has its own space in development which will be located in the Treme of New Orleans. I currently have 4 running productions in New Orleans which I feel SO LUCKY to have accomplished. Back when I first started doing this whole crazy strip thing, I never would have imagined! I’ve also accepted a position as show producer and talent coordinator at a new club opening on Bourbon Street called Lucky Pierre’s. It’s set to open in early September and will be New Orleans’ only club offering burlesque shows 7 nights a week. Very exciting stuff for the community and for the city! As for the rest, you never know. I’m open to anything and everything that comes my way!
New York’s Dr. Lucky talks drag, Dixie Evans, NYU and creating experiential burlesque.
Q: You are one of the rare performers who has a day job that involves a world that is not burlesque, yet you get to be “out” about burlesque, so much so that your website even combines the two. In the daylight hours, you can be found teaching English at NYU and your evening hours can find you performing in or producing shows. Have you run into any complications being out as a burlesque performer? How do your colleagues and students respond when they find out?
A: I teach Burlesque at New York University in the Drama Department, so colleagues and students know I am a performer. In fact, it’s a plus to some degree, as I’m able to speak about burlesque both on an intellectual and a creative level. Because one of my primary areas of academic interest is burlesque, my intellectual life is intertwined with my creative work. I was performing a parody of Gypsy Rose Lee’s famed act, “A Stripteaser’s Education” called “The Educator’s Strip Tease” and after my act I was teetering around in a thong, high heels and a boa, and I saw the former chair of the Drama Department was there, watching the show. She offered me a job.
Q: Since 2005, you have taught a “History of American Burlesque” course at NYU. What have been some common misconceptions or interesting revelations your NYU students have had during the course? What are three things you wish every new neo-burlesque performer knew about burlesque?
A: Teaching a live art form always brings its fair share of advantages and challenges. Burlesque is constantly changing. Tastes are completely individualistic. Having conversations about burlesque conceptually is a constant struggle to contextualize, to understand the social mores of the time, so that we can understand what that particular performance was pushing against. Because if there is any constant in burlesque it is that it is social parody, an upheaval of accepted social norms as well as a social commentary about the times. The students are often surprised that burlesque has had such a huge influence on theater as they know it, and yet is rarely spoken about in their other classes. The main misconception that Drama students have is that because they are trained actors, that those skills will transfer seamlessly into a burlesque act. I don’t always assign a performance as a final, but when I do, students are surprised by how simultaneously liberating and challenging it is. New burlesque performers need to know about burlesque’s long and illustrious history. Everything starts there. I don’t have three things I wish every new burlesque performer knew. I have ten here.
Q: You were recently crowned Miss Coney Island Queen of Drag 2013. On the Marc Steiner show, you described burlesque as a form of drag. You also have many lectures that examine gender ideals, roles, female/female impersonation, and drag. Do you consider yourself a drag performer? Would you care to elaborate on the idea of burlesque as drag? Isn’t portraying yourself as a gender that you are not biologically essential to calling yourself drag?
A: I’ve been identifying as a female drag queen since college. Drag to me is not necessarily reducible to biology. Drag is a hyperstylized presentation of an exaggerated gender ideal. Drag queens aren’t really trying to look like women per se. In many ways, I like to think that drag can performatively enact the inherent fluidity of gender that already exists in humans. We are forced to check a box — male or female – but I don’t think gender has to be reducible to biology, and biology is not reducible to sexuality. I absolutely think that much burlesque is a form of drag. I’ve written about hyper femininity as a form of drag. I am now thinking about hyper femininity as drag not just in a postmodern context: in fact, many of the stars of the Golden Age of Burlesque were impersonating celebrities: Dixie Evans was the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque, April March was known as the First Lady of Burlesque due to her resemblance to then first lady Jackie Kennedy. Before the sexual revolution and women’s movements began, burlesque performers were female impersonators of sorts. Burlesque, like drag, presents an exaggerated image of a fantastic ideal. And if there’s any doubt that a woman can’t be a drag queen, well then just look at who is the Reigning Miss Coney Island Queen of Drag!
Q: Last year you produced a Surrealist burlesque show that was described as “stripping meets Socrates”. It was so successful that the show returns to Coney Island this month. The show doesn’t follow the traditionally accepted format of a burlesque show (burlesque or variety act, MC, burlesque or variety act), but rather takes on a more traditional theater approach. Could you please describe your thought process behind the show, and your approach to the production and direction?
A: Surrealist Burlesque aims to present shows that are epic, multi-disciplinary, collaborations that challenge audiences to experience entertainment with their bodies and their minds. Last year’s Surrealist Burlesque show was based on Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, a seminal text from the ‘60s that lamented reality was being replaced by media representations; to address this concept, which seems to have even increased relevance today, we created an “intimate theater experience” that led spectators in small groups through interactions with performers. It was highly structured in terms of the way spectators were led through the space, but each experience was unique. The show on the sideshow stage was hosted by a television that was a given a wine bath – a Coney Island Burlesque tradition – at the end of the show. Other Surrealist Burlesque shows have included “Animal Funhouse”, based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and “20,000 Legs Under the Sea,” based on Salvador Dali’s Dream of Venus exhibit at the New York World’s Fair of 1939. For these shows, I have used multiple spaces at the Coney Island USA building, including the Museum, the Freak Bar, and, of course, the Sideshow stage, so that spectators’ experience is decontextualized from a “show” and recontextualized as experiential. In that sense, everything becomes the “show”, even those things that are not staged.
This year Surrealist Burlesque is staging a Dada Ball, which is a slight return to the traditional burlesque format, just with more non sequiturs, more surrealism, and a blurring between the categories of spectator and performer. I want this show to be a grand one, and to help make that happen we need some help. The manifestos from the Dada movement are a huge inspiration, and will make their way into the show. Spectators are being asked to dress in black tie attire, and there are a couple of staged “Happenings” that are being planned as we speak. This is very exciting to me as it asks spectators to really experience entertainment corporally and cerebrally. All of this is rather unexpected at a traditional burlesque show, but I want to push against people’s expectations, to use these profound historical texts and philosophical concepts to call attention to what is going on in our modern world. It’s not historical reenactment, it’s postmodern pastiche.
Q: Speaking of summer projects, you are on the board of Dixie Evans Week and I know the project is super close to heart. Can you tell us a little more about the celebration? How did it come to be, why is it necessary, and how can folks get involved?
A: Dixie Evans Week is a celebration and fundraiser for Dixie Evans, founder of the Miss Exotic World Competition, and the women who really put the Miss Exotic World Museum on the map. It is the rally cry of many performers and producers who love Dixie and want to help her out at this stage in her life. She suffered a stroke earlier this year, and we want to see her getting the best care that the world has to offer. Many new performers have idols from the neo-burlesque movement, which is a natural progression for a continuing art form. But we want folks to remember that most of those neo burlesque performers site Dixie as one of their inspirations. So in a sense, Dixie is an inspiration, whether you know it or not. We want Dixie to be remembered and celebrated for the important role she has played in preserving burlesque history and ephemera at a time when that collecting was not considered necessarily “collectible.” She has dedicated her life to burlesque preservation, and we hope that this celebration will help preserve her legacy in the years to come. It’s also a fundraiser to help Dixie with her medical expenses. There are many ways people can help. There will be shows all over the world during Dixie Week (August 26-September 1), so if there’s one in your neighborhood, please go. If you teach burlesque, you can donate the proceeds of a class. Performers can donate proceeds from a raffle or do an auction, as Dita Von Teese is doing now with her signed photographs on Ebay. To learn more about how you can get involved, go to www.dixieevansweek.com. Or you can give directly to the YouCaring campaign. 100% of the proceeds are going to Dixie’s medical expenses.
Q: You are currently collaborating with Dixie herself on a book length manuscript about Dixie’s life. How’s the project coming? Are you looking to have it published as a biography in book form or will it be produced as a film or play? What is your favorite memory of Dixie to date?
A: I met Dixie for an interview in 2008 for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Oral History Project, a project I began which seeks to document and preserve the stories of burlesque legends past and present. Though I had sat in on many incredible interviews before, I was not prepared for what transpired that day: I laughed, I cried, and my jaw literally dropped, a number of times, in sheer awe. The sweet, elderly woman before me was utterly transformed: she broke into Marilyn Monroe drag, imitating the star as she did for many decades, with a drawl and sex appeal that were palpable. By the end of those 21 minutes, I was sitting on the edge of my seat. It was then that I decided that I wanted to help Dixie get her story to the world.
I began recording Dixie’s later that year, and have returned numerous times to record her stories and to spend time with her. From working with her, I have learned a lot, and not just about burlesque history and her life story. Dixie is a masterful storyteller as well as an incredibly humane human being. This project has become not only about Dixie, but about the process of doing this project with her. For as I work with Dixie, I am witness not only to her stories but to the life she lives. She leaves tips for the postal worker who is burdened with delivering large amounts of mail from fans. One day we both misrecognize one of these gifts, and I pull from a cardboard box the urn that will hold her ashes when she passes away. This is the most bittersweet memory I have of working with Dixie – it is in no way my “favorite” memory as it is filled with such finality and loss. But when I’m asked about memories with Dixie, it comes back to me in all its tactile realness. Dixie is so alive, so present, so energetic, so interesting and interested in the world, and that urn represented all that she is not. But that moment reminds me that human life is precious, and that my time with her is an utter gift, and it is that gift that I want to give back to the world. After transcribing hundreds of hours of interviews, I am now rewriting the entire project, weaving stories of Dixie in the present with her stories of the past. I want the book to have a mass appeal so that Dixie’s incredible story can be heard by a broad audience. Then we can talk to Hollywood about the movie version!
San Francisco’s Baby Doe talks Tiki Oasis, Dixie Evans Week, Tease-O-Rama, the Devil-Ettes, and making family her priority.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You’re the producer of Tiki Oasis (along with your husband Otto) which started in 2001 with an attendance of 50, and this year’s event, Tiki Oasis 13, themed “Hulabilly – A Hawaiian Hootenanny” promises to be a blend of Americana and Hawaiiana; in basic terms Hulabilly is Rockabilly meets Hawaiian, is that right? Please tell us more about how the event has evolved over the years and what you have in store for this year!
A: Anyone who knows me knows that I am ADDICTED (yes in all capitals) to producing events! There is just something special about having a kernel of an idea and seeing it become a reality. There is also the adrenaline that the ‘show must go on’ and you are doing this event no matter what – once you say you are making an event happen there is really no turning back. You just gotta figure out how to make things happen.
Sometimes the best events are the ones that grow organically. When Otto and I started Tiki Oasis it was as a fundraiser to support the rehabilitation of the Palm Springs Caliente Tropics Motel. It is funny to think now how impressed we were that 50 people showed up that year in the dead heat of the desert summer. But each year the event has grown as the love of this sub-culture of Tiki enthusiasts has expanded. Eventually we found our Tiki Oasis homebase at the San Diego Crowne Plaza (formerly The Hanalei) where now over 3,000 attendees enjoy the event.
I would say our goal for Tiki Oasis is still around preservation of historical ‘Tiki’ but we do this in a much broader way now with the music, cocktails, symposiums and artists that attend the event. Each year we have a theme – more than anything the theme allows my husband Otto and I a little fun to explore different genres that interest us. This year at Tiki Oasis we are exploring the Hawaiian influence on American music. “Hulabilly” is part Americana, part Hawaiiana; Hulabilly is an American music style derived from the blending of Rockabilly and Haole Hawaiian music.
What to expect at Tiki Oasis? Tons of bands, car show, fashion show, burlesque, vendors, artists, dj’s, pin-up photoshoots, symposiums on everything from how to mix the perfect cocktail to how to tease your hair higher than Dolly Parton could ever dream…. truly the event is huge and diverse and there is really something for everyone who loves retro vintage Tiki stuff. Believe it or not I am hosting my first ever beauty competition this year where we are crowning the first Miss Tiki Oasis! There is always something new to add and some interesting way to expand the event. Otto and I do our best to keep the event interesting for both of us and for the audience.
Q: You’re on a team along with a number of other industry heavy-hitters to put together the first ever Dixie Evans Week, occurring this August 26th through September 1st to raise funds and show love and support for Dixie. Can you describe your role on the team and how the planning process has been going thus far?
A: In January of this year our godmother of burlesque Dixie Evans suffered a stroke. Dixie is someone that has always had a special place in my heart. When we first even thought about doing Tease-O-Rama we called up Dixie to find out what she thought about the event and she was just thrilled and so supportive. She came all the way from California to New Orleans for the first show and has always been so supportive over the years. In March I visited Dixie Evans at a rehabilitation facility – I could still see the sparkle in her eyes even with the troubles she was having talking I could tell Dixie is still there! I was not sure what could be done to support her or what was really needed. When Angie Pontani and Kitten de Ville threw out the idea of doing a fundraiser for her I was happy to volunteer. We did our best to assemble a core committee that spans wide in the burlesque scene – really building off of each of our strengths. As for myself, I feel that my greatest asset to the team is that I am trustworthy and honest. Over the years I have created many relationships and ties in the community that run fairly deep and strong. For the committee I am helping with the online fundraising portion and also helping with promotions. I am also co-producing a benefit for Dixie in San Francisco with Bunny Pistol. We have a line-up of the best talent in the Bay Area so I am thrilled to get to see the fundraising portion come to life in my own hometown!
Q: You were the Artistic Director and Producer of the very first burlesque convention, Tease-O-Rama, first held in 2001 in New Orleans. What was it like planning a burlesque festival for the first time? How did your process develop over the years?
A: I always loved burlesque… the costumes, the dancers, the music, the old-style comics! I was thrilled in the late 90s when I started to see dance troupes like the Velvet Hammer bringing this dance form back to life. Around that time I created my 60s Go Go dance group The Devil-Ettes, and although not burlesque, we were part of the up and coming burlesque scene being booked on the same types of shows and being involved in the same online forums, etc.
In 2000 Tease-O-Rama was created from an online forum called ‘burlesque’. There was a writer in New Orleans named Alison Fensterstock that contacted all the burlesque groups happening at the time for an article she was writing for the late, great Atomic Magazine. My 1960s dance troupe The Devil-Ettes was featured in the article. Alison suggested on the online forum that a group show should be pulled together with all the talent across the US and she suggested her hometown of New Orleans. I quickly raised my hand to be part of the show (mostly because I wanted the Devil-Ettes to get to dance in New Orleans) and before I knew it I was the Artistic Director and Co-Producer of the very first burlesque convention! Alison had never produced a show before and I had already been producing multiple events with my dance troupe and Tiki events so I guess I seemed confident to Alison that I knew how to pull this together!
Luckily Alison and I had the same vision – get as many performers together on one stage and showcase all this amazing burlesque talent. Word spread quickly that we were doing Tease-O-Rama and as we invited artists to get involved everyone said YES. We pulled that first event together in just a handful of months and even though it was far from perfect we were really pleased with the results. We ended up with 25 different ‘acts’ including Dita von Teese, Catherine D’Lish, The Velvet Hammer and the Va Va Room which included members such as Miss Astrid, Dirty Martini, The World Famous Bob and Julie Atlas Muz. We also had vendors selling burlesque wares, daytime classes taught by up and coming burlesque stars and legends, and legends of burlesque such as Dixie Evans.
After that first year, Alison and I wanted to continue Tease-O-Rama. We didn’t know what to expect but we had a feeling it would be bigger and even better. We brought in Alan Parowski (Bardot Au Go Go) as our co-producer and to help make sure our vision continued. Alan and I have been producing Tease-O-Rama together since 2002. Both Alan and I have families so we do not produce a Tease-O-Rama yearly but when we decide to make it happen you can bet it will be over the top!
It is funny that you ask how the process of producing this event has changed over the years. I would have to say not by much! Sure I have MANY failures over the years but I learned from those mistakes. I have always been open with the performers and always let them know what was expected from them. I think building trust and confidence and respect from your performers is key to any good producer-performer relationship. Tease-O-Rama is about showcasing the best of the best on stage and in order to do that as a producer I need to be the best of the best off stage and behind the scenes.
Q: Speaking of Tease-O-Rama, I can’t even count the number of performers and legends that I have interviewed who mark TOR 2001 as the beginning of the burlesque revival as we know it, and in 2011, you were even awarded the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s “Sassy Lassy Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Art of Burlesque” because of its impact. For those of us that weren’t there, could you please describe the energy/mood of the event? Could you ever have imagined what far-reaching effects the event would have and the community that would blossom from it?
A: The most amazing thing that came out of it that first event was that we connected and created a community. Anyone who was at that first Tease-O-Rama will tell you there was something special about those 4 nights in New Orleans. Everyone there just knew they were part of something unique and magical.
It is hard to believe now, but this truly was the first time most of these burlesque dancers met each other in person. Phone numbers were exchanged that lead to bookings in various cities. The press was there in full-force to capture this new scene and it is hard not to feel special when you’re being interviewed by top international press! Most importantly the performers learned from each other… either through the classes at the event or through watching each other on stage. Now the performers understood that it just wasn’t them in their own towns trying to make something happen but that there was a whole world of talent to lean on. I hope this doesn’t sound too cheesy but Tease-O-Rama was really the foundation and the glue of the community in those formative neo-burlesque years. I truly believe that is why so many performers hold Tease-O-Rama in such a special place in their hearts!
Q: For 14 years you have been the Artistic Director and Choreographer of The Devil-Ettes, San Francisco’s only 60’s go go dance troupe. How did the group get started and what are some the most memorable moments you’ve shared together?
A: Moments, eh? I really should write a book about The Devil-Ettes! Gawd that is a great idea, isn’t it? I mean I would have to change names to protect identities but the stories! Oh the stories! The thing is we started the group when we were young and had all the time in the world to dream about costumes and future tours to fabulous glamorous locations. We spent hours putting glitter on home-made horns, watching Annette Funicello beach party movies and taking roller skating lessons. We would go out for drinks after each rehearsal and because there were so many of us (the first few years we maintained a group of about 18 women) it seemed like everyone in San Francisco knew a Devil-Ette personally. Actually it is hard for me to think of just a few memorable moments because there are so many of them… could it be the time we had an interview with El Vez in Vegas for British TV? Or getting to be made up to the nines for a photoshoot with Glamour Magazine? Nah, probably my favorite memories are being sweaty and stinky with all the girls at our countless years and years of rehearsals just being together and creating our little mini masterpieces.
Above photo: The Devil-Ettes (Photo: Lenny Gonzales)
The Devil-Ettes have started as all my ventures have, by accident. There was a talent show at a restaurant I was working at and a group of us had no identifiable talent. We decided to come up with a dance routine to some 60s songs and somehow this group number blew the minds of everyone at this party and before we knew it we were booked at clubs around San Francisco opening for hipster bands and 10 months later found ourselves on a stage in Las Vegas. We hadn’t planned to start a dance troupe but after a few months we realized we were really something and decided to get a little more organized. I found myself the leader and choreographer. Over the years have learned a lot about group dynamics (that is a class I have taught at Burlycon!) and I also grew up myself through being in and leading The Devil-Ettes. Eventually some women left the group and others joined, many now have ‘real careers’ and families and other commitments. There are fewer visits to the bar after rehearsals but what we have is a strong working ethic, true friendships and a love for 1960s dance. As long as our fans want to see and learn about the lost forgotten dances from the 1960s we will continue to perform.
Q: If I understand correctly, Pip Squeak-A-Go-Go is a children’s go go dance party that you created to teach “the lost art of go go to the next generation.” I’d love to hear more about that!
A: I started to realize we lost some of our wild party crazy Devil-Ette fans after they had kids. I decided to create an event where our fans could come and bring their kids called Pip Squeak A Go Go. I even created a theme song for the event! For the most part, The Devil-Ettes are pretty much rated PG so we really didn’t need to change too much to make it kid friendly. We host the shows at rock venues, parents can drink beer while the kids learn 1960s go go moves from the heyday of go go, while they wear our homemade (non-toxic) devil horns. There is something weird and awesome about a Pip Squeak A Go Go. I imagine it is only a matter of time that I will be seeing some of these tikes all grown up and starting their own 1960s go go dance troupe. When that happens I will feel like an ultimate success!
Q: In addition to your impressive production and performance resume, you also balance family life with your husband, two children, and a regular full-time job. How on earth do you manage it all? Can you offer advice for the rest of our readers who struggle with similar balancing acts?
A: For me my family is my priority. I use the experience I have in organizing events to get involved in my kids schools and in volunteering in their classrooms. I also include my kids, when I can, in creating events…when age appropriate that is! I ask their advice about what to include in events, I show them options of costumes we are creating, etc. Last year we watched a solid 6 months of spy movies to get ready for the spy Tiki Oasis. They feel like they are part of the process and that means they are part of my life and something that I am passionate about. Now that my kids are 7 and 11 they understand that mom (and dad!) create events and they understand what it is to be a producer and performer. Neither of them seem interested in doing either at this point, I think because they know how much work and dedication goes into it! But I can tell that they are proud of what I do. As for the day job, I am lucky that I work in a creative environment that also sees value in what I do outside of the office. That is not to say that the day job hasn’t taken the top priority multiple times in my life. It pays the bills and honestly producing shows rarely if ever does that!
My advice to mamas in this scene is to follow your heart and do what you love and the rest will fall into place. Of course, I can’t do it ALL! Most likely something will have to give. You might not be able to book all the shows you want to, make all the appearances you want to and you might have to go to your son’s soccer game the night after a show with only a couple hours of sleep. But if you are doing what you love you will not have regrets and it will make you a better mom and person to be around.
Q: You’re a longtime collector of tiki and various other kitschy items. What first sparked your love of tiki culture and when did you first start your collections? What are some of your most prized items?
A: Going to thrift stores at an early age sparked my interest in finding unique items. I remember clearly around age 8 my friend Michelle’s mom telling me how I could score designer jeans at a thrift store if I dug around enough. She took us with her on one of her thrift shopping trips and I think she was a little confused when I bought a 60s bright blue mini skirt covered in bright yellow flowers. I have always been into vintage clothing and eventually my interest expanded to vintage photos, vinyl, and various kitschy items. My sister Coco was actually the big Tiki Mug collector so I used to buy Tiki Mugs and send them to her until she eventually said she had too many and I should stop sending them to her! That is how my Tiki Mug collection started. That was back in the late 80s! It is funny, once you have a couple dozen of something you are now considered a ‘collector’ and everyone and their uncle will start adding to your collection. Eventually I met Otto and we combined our collections into one mega collection of Tiki Mugs as well as menus, matchbooks, statues, etc. As for my favorite? I am not sure I can just pick one! I guess I have always loved Tiki Bob. He is from a San Francisco restaurant that had a bit of a seedy reputation for having a lunch time Lingerie show! Oh and Tiki Bob has eyeballs! I really love just weird things that are a little bit strange. One of my favorite items in my closet right now is a 1960s straw hat that has sunglasses built into the rim of the hat so you can sit poolside and totally be incognito. My dream is to have a closet filled with those hats so I can wear a different one each day! I am obsessed!
Q: What’s next for Baby Doe?
A: I will continue to produce Tiki Oasis and Tease-O-Rama and dance with The Devil-Ettes. I have plans to keep working with The Mod Mobbers which is the all male version of The Devil-Ettes that I created in 2009. I have quite a few creative projects in the works – it’s just finding the time to really dig my go go boots into them!