American Treasure Blanche DeBris (“white trash” in French, but Always High-Class!) talks rapping, failed careers, Edelweiss and volunteering at The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum.
Interview: Miss Violet O’Hara
Q: In 2012, you famously opened the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend with your original “Movers, Shakers and Innovators” rap and claimed your place among the emcees on that most coveted stage. Can we expect to see you perform more original raps in the near future? Are there any that you are currently developing?
A: First off, can you believe I got to be on that stage?? That whole weekend was an absolute surreal dream. I was so overwhelmed after they invited me to host I was nauseous for two months! I was so terrified of being entrusted with this honor and then messing things up. So I was in the shower, where I get all my ideas, I was thinking how ridiculous it was that I would be hosting the pinnacle event of Burlesque, and thought “What else is something that is so ridiculous there’s no way I should be doing it?” And that’s how I got the idea for doing a rap song! I’ve since done another rap, a much shorter one, that I wrote for the Minneapolis Burlesque Festival, and it was a mashup of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song.” Prince, well because he’s a Minneapolis boy, and Immigrant Song because it’s a song about Vikings!
I have to give a huge, ground-shaking shout out to my dear Eric “Travis” Wilson, the Mashup Cowboy himself, who did all the music and recording for the Movers, Shakers, Innovators rap. He does all my tracks. I’m so ridiculously lucky to know him. He also did the voiceover intros for me and Mat Fraser for BHOF. Eric is such a genius; he’s like a secret ninja weapon. He plays every instrument, records and edits it all, and he comes up with ideas for me, and writes with me. And I get to pay him by doing things to him he likes and that I would do anyway!
I do love the challenge of coming up with a specific song/rap for a special occasion! I torture myself with it really, it takes me a looong time to write something that I’m happy with. And rapping is hard, all those words have to come out of my mouth so fast! But I have to say, I really like it, and yes, I think there might be a few more original raps in the future, but I’ll probably have to find another music style before people get tired of me. I can just hear it, “oh jeez….not aNOTHER rap song from Blanche….”
Q: Recently you were in Dallas on the grand stage of Viva Dallas Burlesque for their Bedtime Stories show. One of your signature acts, “The Sound of Music in Six Minutes”, had the entire audience singing along to “Do-Re-Mi”, “My Favorite Things” and “Edelweiss”. At the end of your routine they were up on their feet as avid new Blanche DeBris fans. How does it feel to be embraced with such uninhibited enthusiasm by Texas? When will you be moving here?
A: Really? You’d like to keep me? Let me pack my eyelashes and I’ll be right over! You know, I still can’t believe that I’m being asked to come to cities like Dallas, I’m so used to being asked to LEAVE cities like Dallas. Most often with a law enforcement escort.
But oh my gosh the audience at Viva Dallas Burlesque! First off, are they some of the good-lookingest people or what? Everyone was dressed up for the theme of the show, Bedtime Stories! Lingerie and silk and satin robes and funny pjs with feet and trap doors in ‘em, oh it was terrific. THAT’s the way to turn out for a show!
I had so many people come up to me after the show to tell me how much Sound of Music meant to them, and how they loved the movie as a kid. Watch it again as an adult and you discover a lot more! I tell ya it’s like finding all these secret members of a club you had no idea you belonged to! I’m so surprised and relieved that other people enjoy my little obsession with the Von Trapp story (as told by Rodgers & Hammerstein). And to have that HUGE crowd singing along…all of us singing together, it’s pure joy. You know, I really do get choked up every time I sing Edelweiss, thinking of the Von Trapp family saying goodbye to everything they every knew and loved, a whole country, a lifetime of memories, leaving it all behind. And singing Edelweiss I just look at everyone in the audience and I feel so humbled, and so grateful to be there in that moment, all of us together. It’s really pure magic, you know, all these strangers happening to be in this theatre at the same time, yet everyone knows these songs. Even if they don’t *know* they know them, there they are singing along! All of us, making music together in the dark. That’s what the magic is. That’s the art.
I saw this one-woman show Lily Tomlin did, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe – Gosh is Lily Tomlin stupendously terrific. Really, if it’s on DVD you should watch it. Anyways… she plays one character, a homeless lady named Trudy, who meets a space alien and tries to explain what “art” is to him. She shows the alien a can of tomato soup, and then she shows the alien Andy Warhol’s painting of a can of tomato soup. “This is soup! This is art!” she tells him. But the alien isn’t convinced. So she takes the alien to see a Broadway play, but the alien watches the audience the whole time. And afterwards she asks the alien why the heck was he watching the audience? And the alien says “The play was soup. The audience, art.” That’s what I feel about the audiences everywhere I go. What ever I’m doing is just soup. The audience’s participation, that’s what makes the magic.
Q: Your bawdy humor has been heard on festival circuit stages across the country including The Minneapolis Burlesque Festival, The Moisture Festival, The New Orleans Burlesque Festival and The Windy City Burlesque Festival. Any backstage antics, travel nightmares or serendipitous coincidences you’d like to share regarding your festival experiences?
A: You know, a year ago, the only other place besides Las Vegas that I’d done Burlesque was Seattle, my burlesque birthplace. Not even a year ago, 10 months ago! I’ve never felt so welcomed and accepted unconditionally and fiercely as I do in the world of Burlesque. Finally I found my Tribe, or the Tribe found me!
I’ve not had any travel nightmares, other than the usual panic of worrying if my suitcases will make it. But I could tell a tale on myself! So, I’m at SEA-TAC airport, and I’m headed back to Vegas after spending two weeks in Seattle where I had been just soaked in burlesque and variety and the carnival community of Moisture Festival. And I get to security. So, I take off my shoes and put them in the X-ray bin. And I take off my jacket, and my scarf, and put it in the X-ray bin. And then I take off my pants. Um, yeah. I don’t need to take off my pants to go through security. But after two weeks of burlesque shows, it’s become such a habit to take off my clothes, that I just instinctually de-pants’d myself. For once my brain did start back up again and I pulled my pants back on before I got kicked out of yet ANOTHER city…
I’m still in the afterglow of the Minneapolis Burlesque Festival this January. The camaraderie and raucous, riotous, joyous love and support and excitement that everyone had for each other. Oh it was just splendid. You’d be trying to get ready for your own act, and you’d hear this cheering coming from the viewing lounge/green room that was backstage, and so you’d run in to watch what was happening on the monitors because you just didn’t want to miss a moment. And we’d be screaming our heads off backstage, watching the TV, and as soon as the performer exited the stage we’d be screaming for them again as they ran back to the dressing rooms!
At the New Orleans Burlesque Festival, I traveled & roomed with Legend Bambi Jones, who lives in Vegas. Lordy that woman is an unstoppable force. She’ll be in the bar ‘til 5am and want to keep going! Well, Bambi worked a lot in the clubs in NOLA in the 50’s; you should read her book because she talks all about it. So, she wanted to take a walk down Bourbon Street and see some of the places she used to headline. Now they’ve all been turned into pizza joints and frozen drink places. But with her book in hand, which had pictures of the clubs she was in, we walked through the Quarter and she gave me her personal walking tour of burlesque in New Orleans. How lucky am I that I got to do that?? When we were walking back to the hotel, a young man across the street starting playing the trumpet, a slow, warm, sexy rendition of ‘The Nearness of You.’ And Bambi stopped still and said “My husband used to sing that, in the shows we did together here.” So we stood, listening to that lone trumpet. I could only imagine the seas of memory that Bambi was sailing as we were transfixed in that voodoo magic New Orleans has, of a stranger playing a trumpet in the street and creating a stop in time. That’s a moment that burlesque has bestowed on me. How can a girl not feel humbled and overwhelmed?
Q: In your broad repertoire of spunky and offbeat acts; which is your absolute favorite to perform on your home turf as the “forever hostess” of Live Burlesque in Las Vegas? Do you have any routines that you only perform in Vegas?
A: Well, at Live Burlesque in Las Vegas I usually try to come up with something to fit the theme of the show, so that means it’s a one-time only performance. I’ve been keeping my clothes on though, since it’s hard for me to concentrate when I know I gotta keep pasties on. So mostly I do songs. Like at our sci-fi show I sang the theme from Star Trek. It has words, look ‘em up! But thinking about it, we did a 60’s/Psychadelic theme show and I rewrote the lyrics to the Petula Clark song “Downtown,” and I’ve since done that in New Orleans and at a private show in Vegas, so that’s now something in my repertoire. Heh, repertoire. Sounds so French!
Honestly though, I don’t really have that many “acts” per se. It takes me a long, long time to pull stuff together. Probably because I just want to do so much in one act that I spend months and months and months trying to figure out how to make things happen. All my ideas come to me in the shower! I’m lucky that I know so many people who make props or build sets or who do magic or that I have my awesome sound and music ninja Eric who I can turn to for help & advice. It takes a village to make a Blanche DeBris act! I’ve got three acts I am working on in my mind right now. And they all involve elaborate construction and props, even though I know that means traveling with any one act will mean a lot of fees in excess luggage. But maybe by announcing them here it’ll force me to start getting things outta the shower, and onto the worktable!
Q: Congratulations on your teaching debut! This February your first class, “Act Like You Mean It,” focused on helping performers connect to their burlesque persona and character. Do you have plans to expand this class and/or teach more often?
A: Thank you! I guess I learned something after so many failed careers, enough to teach about it. It was a learning experience for me, and now I have a better idea of what the class really is. Ooh, that’s spooky…a good chunk of the class is about finding out who you are onstage, and teaching the class has taught ME how to connect to how to teach the class! I would like it to be a four or six week class, because it’s long, hard work, but oh so delicious and rewarding and fun to do. Discovering & nourishing who you are onstage, and then how to bring the best ‘Onstage You’ to the audience. How to be present in every moment, with sincerity, owning it, never leaving the audience bored or wondering what you’re doing. My teaching mission is “no more ‘step-touch’ choreography!” Because I think I’ve figured out that the common thread to all the performers and acts I’ve seen that have made me warm in the pink bits, is that they fill every moment. There’s no hesitation, no ‘I’ll fill in the blank with a few arm gestures until I get to this next really cool bit in the music.’ And I think a lot of that has to do with not feeling relaxed or prepared enough and not trusting the “beats” of the story you are telling, not being afraid to take your time with each morsel. I love, LOVE slowness! Sloooow and pregnant with intention and action and a promise of things to come! Oh my goodness, I don’t know what just happened there, I sounded like I know what I’m talking about. That probably won’t happen again!
Q: As an accomplished emcee, what advice would you give to other hosts making their way in our community? Are there any classes, workshops, books or other references that you consider to be crucial for a talented emcee to devour?
A: *thud* Oh sorry, I had to pick myself off the floor because you called me “accomplished.” You slay me, Violet! I can’t believe I get left alone with a microphone allowed to wander around onstage! I was first given a chance to co-host by the wonderful people at The Moisture Festival, and that helped ease me into it. That’s some advice I can give, if you wanna try emceeing. Ask an established emcee to be their co-host! Cha Cha Velour in Las Vegas was the first person to let me do it by myself, I have her to thank for the chance to have a place to play every month, so I could get better. Cause honestly the only way to get better is to do it. And boy am I still learning. I never took any classes or read any books on hosting. If I learned anything it was by watching a lot of shows…A LOT of shows. And I just tried to be like these great emcees I’ve seen (not just in burlesque shows, variety shows, talent shows and even awards ceremonies). So then I tried to figure out how to be like them, but in my own style. That’s important, figuring out what kind of emcee you are. It also helps when you see a show/host that’s not so good and to learn what NOT to do, by the way!
Kate Valentine, (Miss Astrid, what an idol of mine!!) said something like, an emcee is not the frosting on the cake, they are the eggs. And to me I think that means you gotta hold the show together, and not let what you do be an afterthought. And don’t let the batter stand there too long. Move it along! Lola Van Ella paid me the most wonderful complement, backstage after I emceed at the New Orleans Festival, that she liked that I made it a show. That stupendous woman, telling me that! Whee! I was so happy to hear that, because that’s what I strive for.
You can learn a lot too, from really messing up onstage. If you’re gonna mess up, mess up big, but remember to laugh and learn from it! I will say, though, you gotta do your homework when you emcee. Get your intros together, have ideas for things you can do, or stories you can tell, in case you gotta fill time onstage. Be as prepared as you can be. And then get onstage and be prepared for all of that to go out of the window! Because again, the audience makes it not be soup, all the spontaneous stuff that happens with them becomes the show too. I love being in on the experience. I’m always the biggest fan seeing the show that night, so I am the lucky gal to get to be an audience member and say what I’m thinking out loud…and I get to touch the performers to boot!
Q: The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum is near and dear to your heart. As a volunteer you’ve met many Legends as well as strangers from all over the world who have personal connections to the world of burlesque. Will you share with us a few of your favorite moments from your time at the museum? Do you have a favorite exhibit, costume or other piece of memorabilia?
A: The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum is beloved of everyone in burlesque! It’s our legacy! We’re making it happen! I’m just lucky I live in Vegas so I can volunteer there, though I’m sad this year I haven’t been able to as much because I’ve been traveling. Right now, the space is smaller than people expect, I think. Which means all the more reason to support the museum’s mission to one day have a big, wonderful building where they can properly display the boxes and boxes of historic costumes and photos and diaries and memorabilia that are in storage! The thing is, because of the delicate condition of so many pieces, they really have to be conserved and displayed very carefully. So what is on display in the museum right now is the tiniest fraction of the collection. There is a feather from Sally Rand’s fan, next to her picture. There is one of Blaze Starr’s dresses, a g-string from Tempest Storm. Oh, there is a costume from a Minsky chorus girl, that’s a favorite of mine! And there’s so many postcards and pictures to love on and cherish! And a Timeline of Burlesque which I’m trying my best to memorize.
I like that the Museum is sort of a natural hang out for the burly community in Vegas. Last year every week I’d meet (Burlesque Legend) Dusty Summers there for coffee and cupcakes, (the museum is in a big Arts Center that has a lovely coffee shop right inside). And ALWAYS someone else would drop by, other Legends like Tiffany Carter, and then another someone, and before you know it, it’s a regular party.
My favorite though, is that when I’d be volunteering at the Musuem, someone would always come in who had a very personal connection to burlesque. Their moms or aunts or grandmothers were performers, or dads or grandfathers were singers or comedians or emcees. And they’ll talk about all the people their relatives worked with, the cities and theatres they played, and sometimes it would be a picture on the wall of the museum that would start them telling their story. I had a lady come in with her husband, and her dad used to work in Ann Corio’s show, This Was Burlesque, as one of the comedians. And we had a DVD of Ann Corio’s show at the museum, so we put it in my crappy laptop that I had with me, and scanned the show to see if her dad was in it. I wanted so bad to find him!! But he wasn’t on the DVD, the show did run nearly 30 years so I knew there was a chance it wouldn’t be the run he was in. But we talked about some people she might be able to contact to find another recording. Oh jeez I really hope she did.
My heart aches when I think of all the stories and costumes and pictures that have been lost! Or that are still out there, but they haven’t found their way to the Museum yet. When burlesque family members come in and ask if they can bring pictures in, oh my gosh yes yes yes!! And someday the Museum will have a place to show all of them!
Q: Las Vegas Weekly said that your “stage presence marries Phyllis Diller with Miss Piggy, then somehow makes it funnier.” Who are your inspirations and idols? Have you met any of them in the real world?
A: It makes sense that I’d be compared to a Muppet. In my head I’m a bit like Pee Wee Herman too.
When I was a little girl at the Ranch, I spent a lot of time watching this old black and white TV with my headphones on because I had to keep quiet. And there weren’t many channels, but there were always these wonderful movies on. I didn’t know they were old timey, I thought that’s what the outside world was like. Movies about these beautiful girls in big shows, girls who wore these costumes and danced, and that had the most musical voices! I just wanted to be like them so much.
And then there is the Carol Burnett Show. It’s probably obvious that she is one of my biggest inspirations. Her cast and writers and the sketches on that show. Such genius. They should be required viewing! And Bob Mackie costumes to boot! Oh I could faint with joy thinking of it! There’s an homage to her in my Sound of Music act, if you notice!
The characters Carol created were so huge and full and FUNNY, but she could also be so poignant and real. Do you remember when Eunice went on the Gong Show, which was such a big deal and was gonna be her ticket out of town, but she got gonged? It went from being ridiculous and over the top, to being so honest and quiet and heartbreaking. Boy does that ever prove her talent, to be able to admit to an audience the flipside of being a fantastic comedian is that kind of vulnerability. And oh oh oh, the comedy! I never laughed so hard as when they would just crack each other up in the sketches, they would try to hold it together but the struggle was immense, which made it even funnier. And they kept it all in the show, they wouldn’t edit it out! Absolute spontaneous magic. And wouldn’t you know, that’s all burlesque tradition, that show, those sketches and characters and comedic interludes, with music and dance numbers. It’s pure vaudeville and burlesque. If I ever met Carol Burnett, I think I’d just lose my mind!!
As for my burlesque idols, tt was emceeing at BHOF Weekend that made it possible to meet so so many of them. I was never brave enough to go up and introduce myself. I am so star-stuck and tongue-tied around them! And then, when I floated offstage after the Movers, Shakers show, all of a sudden these luminaries were coming up to ME and HUGGING me and talking to me, and I was just trying to not burst into tears or faint, seriously! To have Ray Gunn engulf me in those gorgeous arms?? Or Minnie Tonka hold my hand and whisper love to me?? OR DIRTY MARTINI hug me and say hello?? When Dirty Martini hugged me, I just said out loud “Dirty Martini is hugging me right now!” because all brain filters just dissolved! There are still a LOT of performers I’ve been too shy to approach. Some are in Vancouver and I’ll have to cowboy up and just tell them finally how I feel!
Q: It’s rumored that one day we’ll all be able to learn from your well-meaning yet horribly misguided tips, tricks and pep talks via the magic of the internet and your “Guides to Life” webisodes. Are there any tidbits you’d like to share before those launch from your failed careers as a Life Coach and Spokesmodel?
A: Oh I hope those rumours are true!! You know, my mommies & grandma lady back at the Ranch always had a lot of advice for me. Like…they’d tell me to do something, and if I said “I’ll try” the grandma lady would say “There’s no such thing as ‘try,’ Blanche. There’s only ‘mess it up one more damn time and you’re getting locked back in the closet ‘til you get it right.’” It’s that kind of encouragement and positive, reinforcement that forces you to have a “can do” attitude, and that’s I want to pass on to as many people as can take it! I still don’t know why my Life Coaching didn’t work out. I guess not many people wanted to trust me with their lives.
Q: 2013 has already been a big year for Blanche DeBris! Your official Vancouver debut in the Taboo Revue and Kitty Nights is this Spring. What else can we expect from Blanche in 2013 and beyond?
A: This past year has been, well, I couldn’t have dreamed up something to match what has happened. Really the past 10 months, starting with getting to host BHOF, and it was like all these doors and windows and skylights opened up, and I’m still reeling, honestly, at the avalanche of friendships and invitations that have enveloped me!
So if they let me into Canadia, after that I go “home” to Seattle to the Moisture Festival, and have a big family reunion! Then I’m gonna be staying in Reno for three months, visiting some of my mommies. While I’m in Reno I’m gotta start working on my own ideas for a one woman-ish show, which so many people have said I should do, so I guess I better start listening to them and do it already. I’m envisioning a sort of Pee Wee’s Playhouse kind of show. Stay tuned!
I will be back in Vegas for BHOF time though, I wouldn’t miss it! After that, I’ll continue hosting Live Burlesque in Las Vegas for as long as they’ll have me, and Cha Cha Velour and I are working on a creating a Holiday Extravaganza, a production show we hope will become an annual Vegas tradition. I’m extremely excited about that. But otherwise my schedule is open if anyone wants me to visit! As for dreaming big…oh it would be wonderful if I could have a TV show like Carol Burnett did. I’d have all my friends on it! And then with Eric “Travis” Wilson maybe we’d build an Always High-Class entertainment empire, and have, like, inspirational books, and toys, and a line of snack foods & candy! And glitter! Glitter and candy!!
Burlesque Rates of the Union
An issue ago we finished up our Guide to Touring series. It was with touring in mind that we dreamed up the idea for our Burlesque Rates of the Union. We asked several gals from all over the country what to expect from their hometowns and compiled their responses into an easy to access reference table. Be sure and grab the Best of Spring 2013 for even more cities!
(Click images to enlarge)
By: Kitch Coquette
I doubt many of you can your own homemade strawberry jam. If you are like me, you remember your mother gathering macerated fruit in a cheese cloth, which she then hung above a large aluminum pan. The juice would drip, drip, drip all day long. Around dinner time, the seeds would remain in the cheesecloth, and the lovely juice would be in the pan. But it took all day long! What modern woman has time for that nonsense?
So I found an easier way to make strawberry jam, and it actually tastes better. Instant freezer jam! Freezer jams have been around for a long time, but I thought it was about time that the younger generation was exposed to this easy process. If you can cut strawberries, mash them, and stir – you can make homemade strawberry jam. Once you try this, you’ll never eat store-bought jams again.
The best part about this jam is that it takes such a short time to make, and it doesn’t require you to cook your fruit. This means that all of the fresh flavors of the strawberries are still maintained. Think about how ripe strawberries taste with sugar on them. Or think about a fresh strawberry pie. That is exactly how this jam tastes. I make a large quantity during spring and summer, but I freeze most of the jars. Then, all winter long I pull out my little mason jars filled with fresh spring taste. It’s like having a jar full of sunshine just waiting for you on those cold winter mornings.
This is great on toast, yogurt, ice cream, crepes, waffles, Dutch babies, blintzes, and much, much more.
What You Need:
4 lbs of fresh strawberries
1 ½ cups of sugar or Splenda
1 sachet of Balls instant pectin
5 – 8 oz jelly or jam jars (make sure to run them through the dishwasher before using them)
What You Do:
1) Remove all of the strawberry stems and cut out the center white part of each strawberry.
2) Wash the strawberries.
3) Slice the strawberries and place in a large bowl.
4) Use a potato masher to mash the strawberries. Mash until approximately half of your strawberries are macerated, and the other half are still intact.
5) In a separate bowl, combine the pectin with the sugar (or Splenda).
6) Add pectin mixture gradually to prevent clumping. Stir between additions of the pectin. Stir until well incorporated.
7) Ladle the strawberry jam into the clean jelly/jam jars. Close tops.
8) Place one of the jars in the refrigerator and the others in the freezer. The one in the refrigerator will be ready to eat in 30 minutes. When you want to use the ones in the freezer, just take out of the freezer and leave it in the fridge for 24 hours.
Want more cooking ideas from Kitch? Try her Chocolate & Salted Caramel Matzoh Brittle, Pin-Up Pot Stickers, Blueberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies, Braised Corned Beef, Bacon Mashed Potatoes, Farmer’s Wife Avocado Salad, Kahlua Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars, Ribs or Sponge Cake
The bi-coastal Jacqueline Hyde talks production, branding, tea, and pep talks.
Q: You are the producer and a performer in the upcoming Valentease which is sponsored by Bust magazine and includes an epic line-up featuring Angie Pontani, Indigo Blue, Jo Weldon, Harvest Moon, and so many more! Tell us a little about why you’re so “giddy” as your blog puts it, about the upcoming show at the Mauch Chunk Opera House.
JH: I am giddy because I didn’t actually think I could get this collection of performers. I wanted Valentease to be that of applicants and personally hand selected entertainers. I wanted to give those who were “new” or “newish” to the community an opportunity to perform with established entertainers; allowing for a dynamism that is unlike any other.
The cast of Valentease is a “dream cast” to me, and sensually unique. Valentease will showcase a variety of performers rising stars to industry recognized veterans. I am giddy because of the overwhelming interest by these entertainers in this unique love centric show. I think Cupid hit me with a couple of bows and arrows here.
Q: You hilariously refer to Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania as the “Switzerland of America”. Why do you say this?
JH: Actually “Switzerland of America” was not coined by me! It was coined by North Easter Pennsylvania era at the time of the industrial revolution surrounding coal. Jim Thorpe, originally called Mauch Chunk, was a major hub in the anthracite coal mining days. Jim Thorpe was an area that at the turn of the 1900′s had 13 millionaires in it. Today Jim Thorpe still has many of the original architecture and is rich with history of the coal mining days. Jim Thorpe is nestled in the Poconos in the heart of three mountains and has the essence of a little town in the middle of the Alps!
Q: You live in Edmonds, Washington just outside of Seattle, and produce shows in Pennsylvania, including the monthly “Silk Tease”. How did you become bi-coastal and how do you sustain having a business on each coast?
JH: I actually get this question a lot! I actually moved to Pennsylvania for an opportunity that was presented to me. While that did not work out quite as planned, what was built were the relationships with the area I had moved to. I fostered those relationships in the area via email, social networks and phone.
What is not really known is that I have actually produced shows not only in Seattle and Pennsylvania but in Paris as well. It is a matter of building relationships, finding markets that are untapped, and engaging with people in a variety of ways. I have a business manager who helps me tremendously, and have worked with him to create an action plan for the East Coast targeted areas that I want to work with. I have handed off the EC to him to work on my structured plan, as I continue to build up the WC presence… we meet up in the middle – lol. It is a full time job for sure.
Q: Speaking of your businesses, you own and operate Jacqueline Hyde Emporium where you custom create your own line of teas. How did you fall in love with tea, and what goes into producing custom blends?
JH: I fell in love with tea when I was little. But the concept for expanding Jacqueline Hyde as a brand one cold November morning in 2010. I wanted to be able to have “TEASe” parties and bachelorette parties that could be held in the afternoon or in the day. A place that would allow for the pun of TEASe to play out. A throw back to my preferred era of Victorian / Edwardian times when burlesque was socially different and where tease was just a hint of an ankle and a different level of saucy intelligence. Each named box of tea represents an act I have or a production I produce. TEASe shows are coming this summer and fall all over the country… so watch out!
Q: In the opening post of your blog, you write of the importance of having a good team of people working for you. We often get letters from readers about this issue. What advice would you give performers, producers, teachers, to help them decide when the time has come to hire a team (even a team of one to start) and how to let go of the need to do everything yourself.
JH: Having a team of people to help distribute the vision is vital to the success and growth of any business. Since I treat “Jacqueline Hyde” as a business, I of course have a business plan that is focused on driving my business forward. The business of all-encompassing entertainment. By partnering with individuals who have strong skills to support a variety of pieces in your plan, helps to distribute the workload, and helps to focus your attentions on other pieces for decision making. The biggest advice I can provide is to make sure you have a strong, strong budget. A realistic budget. You want to focus on an entire year of planning, rather than just one specific thing. Everything needs to budgeted down to even your applications to festivals to rhinestones, should a performer really want to succeed and move forward. It is also wise that have a non disclosure agreement between those you engage with on any level with any creative ideas. PERIOD! Creative theft is popular, protect yourself.
We all still want to do everything ourselves. You should know, or have conceptual knowledge, of the things you need to put in place. It is vital to not just let someone do something for you. You maintain the artistic control, the business control and for crying out you control the money decisions! You have to be willing to experience failures with people, as well as make the key decisions for letting people go should you so need to. Many people say, get your friends involved. I say… learn to separate yourself. This sounds silly, but you have to be willing to tell your friend their failures and detach from them business wise if you need to. Nepotism can be your greatest failure if you do not have the strength to change something that is going away from your vision. Many people do not necessarily like it, but I am friends with people I work with, and socialize accordingly, but I have learned over the many years of the entertainment industry the art of “separation” of friends and business. It is hard for some to do this.
Q: Speaking of writing, you announced your upcoming book Live it. Breathe It. Own It. – The Book of Pep Talk. Can you give us a sample of one of your awesome pep talks?
JH: Live it. Breathe It. Own It. has been something in the workings since 2007, when I faced one of the most challenging years ever. Since then, knowing I could survive “drama” I began looking at how I could translate that into a positive. LBO, as I call it, is my mantra for solving things, making life better, and to be free of as much drama as possible. Pep talks mostly are on individual basis, I start by questioning a person, challenging a person, and then making them believe! Yes, you can make someone believe if you believe.
Here is a sample “Pep Talk”… Scene (picture it) … a performer (Jane) really has been down lately, they don’t see themselves as someone who can make a splash in to the performance community. This would be how I would respond…
Look, Jane, you are an amazing individual with so much heart in your performances. People have come to see you perform in this show, that is noteworthy. If you want to go bigger and badder and make that name for yourself, you will have to live with choices from here on out. Ask yourself if you are living your experience. Are you enjoying this moment of being dressed up in your costume? Have you told yourself in the mirror that you are a freaking rock star and that you have something to offer? Are you taking in this moment to your heart with every breath? That you are inhaling the moment of glitter? Now mind you Jane, Glitter is not friendly up the nose, so make sure that when you dust yourself, that you don’t literally take it in. (Friendly laugh). Now, you are about go on sweetie, and you are nervous because you care. But go out there and OWN that stage. Own the moment. Own your change. Own the experience that you are providing for yourself and for others. Remember, that audience is here to see you. Remember that you are amazingly awesome in every way. Remember you can achieve if you want it badly enough.
Now, my book helps take people through the process of LBO. It is hard for many to digest a process of change or the motivation for making their world theirs. It is all about changing bad situations into good situations by changing your mind. I don’t tell anyone to forget the past, but to remember it, as it has defined them to who they are today. You can only learn from life. Breathe in the present with experiences, and enjoy life to the fullest. And you have to own all responsibility for successes (and failures) because this way you have a well-balanced life. Think of LBO as the vitamins of life.
Live It. Breathe It. Own It. will be available on my website(s) in late February early March, and the pep talk tour will be starting this summer (2013). Look to www.jacquelinehyde.com for connections about LBO.
Q: A question we often get from our readers is how to impress producers. As a producer, what are three tips you can give performers to get more bookings?
JH: Have a true press kit. I am sorry but Facebook doesn’t do it for me, in fact it makes me angry. Entertainers that truly want to be known and recognized need to manage their world like a business. That means have a website, have a press kit, have presence. Additionally, if producers have application portals (like I do) make sure to take time to fill out the form, attach photo and have video. Don’t assume that they will be able to find your email. If you are selected by that producer to work with them, don’t give them attitude, be on time, get your stuff in when asked, and realize that they are stressed out most of the time, thus we can’t babysit you. Sounds horribly mean, but it is very true. My 25+ years in the entertainment industry made me realize that perception is everything and if you are not “put together” in a variety of ways, well, you don’t really have your stuff together and you don’t want it badly enough. Be professional. Consider it a real job, after all we are paying you for your services.
Q: What’s next for Jacqueline Hyde?
JH: Well that’s a secret, but what I can tell you is that it there will be a lot more shows all over the country and in Europe that collaborate with others on for producing. Expansion of my Emporium to have more products for performers at reasonable rates, such as rhinestones. Additionally, there will be new wearable items that are going to be available as well. This summer I will be traveling to Paris again to perform with Sugar Da Moore, and I am looking to capturing another title somewhere in some avenue of everything I do. Mostly, the Pep Talk Tour will be keeping me busy on the weekends, as I really want to focus on giving back to individuals, and giving them the opportunity to challenge and commit to themselves and their dreams. Possibly in three years, I will actually open a venue of my own, the business plan is almost complete, its just a matter of talking to the right people.
ADA Accessibility & Burlesque
By: Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
One of the things I love about the burlesque community is that we can be quite accepting when we feel like it. Not always. Sometimes we falter. Today I’m addressing one of those falterings in the hopes that we can perhaps step it up. I remember performing my mother’s 50th birthday shindig. I was performing as a surprise for that evening. On my way sneaking away from her table, I had to run up black stairs, past a glass door, up another flight, and down another flight of stairs. The venue is not ADA accessible for performers, at least not as far as I’m aware.
This is how I managed to slam into the glass doorway at full speed, and slid down the glass in my teal and purple dress and ostrich feather plumes, recreating the Roadrunner of Looney Tunes Fame for a moment. I nearly broke my glasses. If that door hadn’t been made out of glass – if there was a safer way to get from one spot to another, perhaps this wouldn’t have happened. And if I had broken my glasses, I never would have been able to get on that stage.
You have disabled performers in your midst. You have disabled audience members. You have Legends.
We need to take care of these members of our community a lot better than we do – and one of the ways in which we can do this is through ADA Accessibility.
Does this mean we need to work harder? Absolutely.
Will it be worth it? Absolutely.
Why will it be worth it? One of the reasons is simply because as an artistic community we should always be striving for more diversity and a more interesting community. Through not giving people with disabilities opportunities to perform we’re also denying that they have something to offer. Disabled performers are just as sexual as able bodied ones, and perhaps offer a different perspective on human sexuality, just because of who they are. Furthermore, creating safer spaces means making it easier Legends to perform, making more opportunities for us to learn from them. Without Mat Fraser, we wouldn’t have the same burlesque world that we do. There’s probably way more Mat Fraser’s than you would expect.
And then there’s a diversified audience. Right now most burlesque festivals have almost entirely made it impossible for visually impaired audience members to access their shows, and this is unfortunate, because most of us can see something, and why wouldn’t we want to watch burlesque? Many venues for the New York Burlesque Festival aren’t ADA Accessible, meaning that wheelchair using patrons cannot attend shows, and I have to climb stairs in the dark.
Step one is address physical accessibility – not just for people who use wheelchairs, but for Legends who maybe don’t walk as confidently as they once did. Here’s what isn’t accessible: Stages which have steps (even one!) going up to them. Elevators in kitchens which aren’t for public use (in this instance I hauled my suitcase up and down the stairs with the assistance of my peers.) Not a perfect solution, but it was a solution.
We can’t remove glass doors, but we can make them more obvious – by placing warnings, or by having decorative (and these can be classy) stickers marking where the door is. Producers don’t have the discretion of moving walls, but they do have the discretion of where they choose to produce – and perhaps by asking venues to make themselves more accessible, we can begin to fight the tide of inaccessibility.
Step two is addressing issues of sight, hearing – if you’ve got visually impaired audience members, or Deaf audience members – you should make it so they can sit close to the stage. Offering accessible seating is just as important as offering accessible venues – we can’t make shows financially accessible for everyone, but we can set aside a few seats at every show Just In Case someone needs it. For example, while the Triple Door was nearly the sight of the Great Spectacle Debacle, they also made sure every time I attended a show that I had a decent seat. They never penalized me for it, and they were always helpful when it came to my needs.
Step Three – Ask questions. If you’re not sure that the cast will be aware that a castmate has a disability, ask them if it’s OK to disclose (or even if it’s needful) before doing so. Ask what accommodations are necessary for your performers. Feeling welcome is a huge piece to this – I’ve worked with casts who didn’t give a damn whether or not I could get to the stage, and I’ve worked with casts who went so far as to make sure I could get all my makeup on even when they were pressed for time. Being the kind of cast that helps the visually impaired performer is where you should strive to be. It doesn’t just extend to disabled performers either, being a warm and comforting community makes for better working environments for everyone.
Step Four has to do with flexibility. If you know that you’ve got a performer with an illness, you have to be prepared to replace them at the last minute if something goes wrong. This does not mean that you should penalize sick people by never booking them. It just means that you need to be an excellent communicator. Are you able to say to the performer “Are you feeling comfortable enough to go onstage?” Are you willing to be supportive of them? Are you willing to not be angry at them when they call and tell you “Hey, there’s no way I can perform tonight. I’m having an episode.” Does it suck to have people end up not being able to do a show last minute? Absolutely. But if you’re working with quality people, they’ll have someone lined up to take their spot long before they call you. And if they don’t, that’s something they can likely remedy.
As performers ourselves, we can be thoughtful. Strobes are sometimes necessary for theatrical effect, but perhaps putting them in the middle of a crowded show isn’t the best idea. Submitting something which requires you to blind your audience temporarily may be suited to a smaller show where there are escape routes for visually impaired and epileptic audience members. Posting signs in the theater are also necessary.
We never fully know who is in our audience, sometimes people don’t want to be known as disabled, some people don’t want to identify in this manner. However – we’re there and we need your help sometimes in enjoying the show.
Creating accessibility doesn’t mean that we have to step entirely out of our way to make things easier, it doesn’t mean that we have to choose between making money and making art. But it does mean that we need to make a safer and more welcoming community – so that when people do come out as disabled, they don’t feel like they’re the latest addition to a minority in a community, but that they are equal and welcome members of an artistic world.
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry will be teaching an Accessibility Guide for Burlesque Producers class at Boston Burlesque Expo in March. For more of Elsa’s work, see her blog: Feminist Sonar.
Lillith Grey has been lighting up the stage for over five years as a burlesque and fetish performer, musician, and emcee, and can frequently be found performing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She holds a master’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education, and is currently completing her Ph.D. in psychology. She has worked as a psychotherapist, educator, and social justice advocate, and currently teaches at a local university while working on her research. She travels extensively, teaching classes and workshops on a variety of subjects including relationships, communication, trauma, body image, sexuality and gender, and diversity issues. Lillith is also active in the Leather community, serving on the NLA-International Writing Awards committee and as a co-chair for the Women’s International LeatherFest. Visit her at www.LillithGrey.com for more information.
Have a question for our advice columnist? Please title your email “Lillith- _subject___” and send to editor [at] pincurlmag [dot] com
It’s that time of year again! The closing of another holiday season filled with sugar-crusted sweets, savory meats (or meat-like soy products), and long lazy nights leaves many people wondering what happened to their willpower. These days of ambitious promises and critical self-reflection may be the best time to seek a new understanding of who you are and how your life is going, but it’s all too easy for our thoughts to become mired in the negative, focused on what we don’t like about ourselves and how we wish we were different.
I absolutely hate hearing people complain about how much weight they gained over the holidays, particularly when it’s followed up by a “so my new year’s resolution is….” [insert some comment about dieting/exercising/surgically altering body]. One of the greatest joys of the season is that we allow ourselves to enjoy nostalgic treats, we drink a little more, eat a little more, laugh a little more, and imagine a little more… I don’t see that season as a loss of willpower, I see it as a willingness to set down the self-critique long enough to let a little fun in. And I don’t think it’s fair to look back and regret, or try to classify that experience in terms of failure. It was fun, wasn’t it? Stop trying to convince yourself to regret it!
But now it’s resolution season, so we look forward to who we think we want to be. All too often, though, our goal setting is based on the ways we feel we’ve failed, which is simply the wrong way to set a resolution. Not only do we often have skewed perceptions of ourselves and our bodies around this time of year, resolutions based on perceived failures are steeped in failure from the beginning! So, dear readers, please consider making this year’s resolutions from a place of growth, of excitement and anticipation… of hope!
Stop resolving to fix the wrong, start resolving to add more right! Take a look at your life – what feels good? What’s going well? What do you want more of? If you can’t find anything, resolve to create something! Ignore those pesky self-doubts and the voices in your head that constantly criticize you – those voices are liars, and they are fed regularly by media and other social influences. It’s up to you to feed the good voices, the right ones. Find them and nourish them.
A specialist in behavior modification will tell you that to sustain a resolution you have to establish some sort of positive reinforcement to go along with it. If you go to the gym every day, for example, you get to buy yourself a new shirt at the end of the month! Did you starve yourself like a good girl? A non-fat cookie for you! This cycle of self-denial and conditional approval does not make us feel better because it still includes the possibility of failure – a failure of the self. Fortunately, the beauty of the positive resolution is that there is no failure: just by making the resolution, you’ve already take a step forward. And reinforcement is already built in – as you increase goodness, more goodness will find you.
Once you’ve decided on your positive resolutions, surround yourself with them! Use bright markers and construction paper to write them out, or make a graphic that you can set as your computer wallpaper. Go for a walk and find beautiful stones that remind you of your resolutions and keep them on your dresser. Exchange lists with a friend and check in with them from time to time. Post it on Facebook and ask people to comment when they see you doing them. Put a note near your steering wheel, or make one of your resolutions your password for something you use regularly. Surround yourself with your intentions and they will become real.
Need some ideas? Here you go:
Resolve to give yourself credit when you do something awesome
Resolve to smile at a stranger every day
Resolve to express gratitude
Resolve to remember the good things about someone
Resolve to practice radical self-care
Resolve to send thank-you notes (or emails, or wall posts, or texts)
Resolve to increase play time
Resolve to touch yourself more often
Resolve to eat things that sustain your amazing body
Resolve to hand-write a letter occasionally
Resolve to tell people what they mean to you
Resolve to “like” more stuff on Facebook
Resolve to try something new
Resolve to have more sex
Resolve to only buy clothes that fit
Resolve to try something you’ve secretly wanted to do
Resolve to listen to your body
Resolve to teach someone something you know
Resolve to find a swing set at least once a month
Resolve to pay more attention
Resolve to round up when tipping
Resolve to make peace with someone
Resolve to practice patience
Resolve to only say positive things about people’s bodies
Resolve to grow a plant
Resolve to increase personal insight
Resolve to get more sleep
Resolve to point out good things about people in public
Resolve to practice radical acceptance
Resolve to nourish and care for your body
Resolve to increase humility
Resolve to move your body more (walk more, take the stairs)
Resolve to give tiny gifts
Resolve to tell every performer something nice after a show
Resolve to use the word “love” on a regular basis
Resolve to breathe deeper
Resolve to take yourself less seriously
Resolve to give second (or fifth) chances
Resolve to reconsider ideas
Resolve to connect more personally with a child
Resolve to drink more water
Got more ideas? Leave them in the comments below!
It has been my absolute delight to receive your letters, comments, questions, and good wishes over the past year, and I look forward to hearing more from you in the coming year. May your world be filled with an abundance of blessings, hope, light, and inspiration.
So you wanna tour? You want to get out see new performance styles, learn and grow as a performer, make business connections, and get your name out there. Part I of our Guide to Touring will give you some resources for doing just that. Part II will run in next month’s issue and guide you through what to expect as an out of town performer and how to make the trip as affordable as possible.
Approach #1 – The Tried and True Method: The Festival Circuit
As Coco Lectric puts it, “It’s very hard to cast someone you’ve never met or seen [perform] live.”
The festival circuit is the most popular method of getting your name out there and also the most expensive. Lula Houp Garou shared some of her strategies in a recent interview with us, and while they are *so* worth reading, she sums it up with, “Have I recouped all the money that I have spent on festivals? Not at all. Do I still consider the investment to be worth it? Absolutely.”
The new 2013 Burlesque Festival Guide is out and there are over 30 festivals in the U.S. alone, and unless you have unlimited resources and a very empty calendar of obligations it is impossible to hit ‘em all. So how do you decide?
Midnite Martini’s approach: Focus on the mid-sized festivals. “I have done the really large festivals and everyone is so nervous and there are so many people it’s hard to make real connections or be noticed, or really remember the acts that you should notice. I really enjoy the smaller festivals as they are more laid back and there’s more opportunity for a whole lot of networking.”
Coco Lectric’s Approach: “I have a list of the major festivals that I want to hit each year, and festivals I have enjoyed in the past, and I do those. I make sure to make it to BHoF every year.”
Donna Denise’s Approach: “ I do as much as I can. I want to be able to go to them all, but I have to narrow it down to places I want to perform in more often.”
Tips for making the most out of festivals:
- Do go to as many of the shows as you can and make sure to compliment the acts you genuinely enjoyed. Try to focus on other performers’ acts and needs as much as your own. You want to impress the producers of course, but you also want to impress your fellow performers both on stage and off.
- Do go to all of the workshops, classes, after parties, and all of the other extras. You are surrounded by new people- make the most of all of the new connections. If there are other shows going on around town outside of the festival , check those out as well if possible.
- Do follow up when you get home. Add people on Facebook, drop them an email and let them know how much you enjoyed meeting them. Keep in touch.
Make a list of all of the cities you know with a large burlesque scene, or a scene in which you are particularly interested in performing. Now make a list of all of your out of town friends, relatives, exes- anyone who has a couch on which you can crash. See where you converge. You have a sister in Dallas you say? Great- let’s start there.
Step 1- Take your vacation days from the day job to go visit your sister, and plan your trip around a time when there are a lot of shows (a long weekend perhaps).
Step 2- Research the local scene. Who’s who among the producers and performers? What kind of shows are being produced and in what kind of venues? Which acts do you have in your arsenal that will fit well?
Step 3- Reach out. In a well-crafted email explain that you are coming to town and would like to perform. If you’ve already met who you are reaching out to, remind them of where. Let the producer know that you are familiar with his/her work, what you like about it, and which acts you have that are good fits and where they can learn more about you and said acts.
Step 4- Know the expectations. If you get a bite, make sure you find out the following: Are you able to perform in other shows on the same night/same weekend/etc? Would having you teach a workshop be something enticing to the producer, or just more work for them?
Step 5- Get referrals. If the producer who booked you doesn’t mind, or if they cannot book you during the time you’re in town, ask for referrals. Try to get a short list of other folks in Dallas whom you should contact, as well as surrounding cities. It’s time for the Piggy Back.
Approach #3- The Piggy Back
Whether you’ve used the festival approach or the whoring approach, the piggy back is a valuable strategy. So you’ve been booked in Dallas, but you’d like to do more in your week away- enter the Piggy Back.
Grab your map of Texas and look around. If you have a car or can afford to rent one, it’s a straight shot to hit the San Antonio, Austin, Houston, and Corpus Christi scenes. It’s now time to repeat Steps 2-5 from above for each of these cities. If you play your cards right, the dates line up and the stars align, you could feasibly schedule four shows in four cities in four days- which makes you- officially on tour!
Now what to expect when you get there? Check back next month for Part II.
Every holiday season here at Pin Curl we ask our contributors to pick out the best gifts for the pin-up or burlesque gal (or guy!) in your life. Below are our selections for this year. Happy shopping!
Shoshana Portnoy – Editor-in-Chief
Nude Cuban heel backsteam stockings from Kuhmillion Lingerie $11.95 reg price, but 20% off with the coupon code “pincurl” through Jan 25th
Divertida Devotchka – Managing Editor
Atomic Clock (prices can range from $20 to several hundreds of dollars)
Femme Vivre LaRouge – Ravishing Researcher
Tickets to the Texas Rockabilly Revival Festival (Date and prices for 2013 pending)
One from my personal wish list, a jukebox. (Prices vary)
Cora Vette – DIY Diva
I really wanted to focus on small businesses run by or for the burlesque community.
This year marked the 10th annual New York Burlesque Festival, where they continued the tradition of awarding Golden Pasties awards to various members of the Burlesque community for their contributions. We’d like to thank the amazing Angie Pontani for providing us with the list of winners so that we could show them some love!
THE PERFORMER YOU WOULD CALL WITH YOUR ONE QUARTER FROM JAIL
MURRAY HILL (NYC)
THE PERFORMER WITH THE MOST IMAGINATIVE STAGE NAME
EVIL HATE MONKEY (NYC)
THE PHYSICAL FITNESS AWARD, FOR THE PERFORMER WHO KICKS IT HARDEST IN THE GYM
BUNNY BEE (CO)
THE CUTEST GEEK IN BURLESQUE
DANGRRR DOLL (NYC)
THE PERFORMER MOST LIKELY TO START A BAR BRAWL
STORMY LEATHER (NYC)
THE HOTTEST FRESHMAN
LOLA SPITFIRE (CO)
THE PERFORMER YOU WOULD MOST LIKE TO HAVE A SLUMBER PARTY WITH
BOO BOO DARLIN (NYC)
THE CLASSIC PIN UP AWARD
BETTINA MAY (NYC)
FANCIEST FEET AWARD, FOR THE PERFORMER WITH DANCIEST MOVES
THE LONG HAULER AWARD, FOR THE PERFORMER MOST LIKELY TO BE STRIPPING AT 90
TEMPEST STORM (NYC)
THE TRUE BLOOD AWARD, FOR THE PERFORMER MOST LIKELY TO GLAMOUR YOU WITH TEASING EYES
ANGIE PONTANI (NYC)
THE BEEFCAKE BOYLESQUE AWARD
MR. GORGEOUS (NYC)
THE MACGYVER AWARD, FOR THE PERFORMER WHO CAN FIX ANY COSTUME MALFUNCTION, ANYTIME, ANYWHERE AND WITH ANYTHING
THE PERFORMER MOST LIKELY TO START A HAREM
JO BOOBS WELDON (NYC)
SEXIEST SHIMMY & COOLEST QUAKE AWARD
PEEKABOO POINTE (NYC)
PERFORMER MOST LIKELY TO SURVIVE THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE
JULIE ATLAS MUZ (NYC)
Seattle’s The Shanghai Pearl, known as the Tantalizing Temptress from Taipei, talks BurlyCon, cultural appropriation, advice for loving yourself, costuming, and the PNW Glitter PAC.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You’re on the Board of Directors for BurlyCon, happening November 1-4 in Seattle. You’re the Guest of Honor Liaison for this year’s convention as well. Can you tell us about the preparation that’s gone into this year’s event and your roles on the Board and as a liaison?
A: BurlyCon would not happen without the vision of Miss Indigo Blue and a truly amazing group of volunteers. Over fifty volunteers work all year round planning and executing BurlyCon weekend. The love (and learningfest) that ensues is so worth it. This year’s BurlyCon takes place November 1-4 and next year’s Burlycon will take place from November 7-10.
One of my biggest jobs on the board is to help make sure that we as an organization are always working to serve our community at large. My official title is Director of Arts and Culture. My job description is pretty long but one my most important tasks staying abreast of the culture in Burlesque and other art communities to help us stay responsible and relevant.
As Guest of Honor Liaison I get to make sure our guests of honor are taken care of and happy. My focus is usually on our Living Legend Guest of Honor (In the past years we’ve had Toni Elling, Marinka and Ellion Ness. This year we are so excited to host Lottie the Body.) I spend a lot of time corresponding with our amazing living legend guest of honor to help them plan out their classes. During the weekend I accompany them to their classes and make sure they have all they need.
Q: You’re moderating a panel at BurlyCon called, “Race, Ethnicity and Color in Burlesque,” and discussion topics include “cultural appropriation tokenism” and “the Highlander Syndrome.” Do you care to touch briefly on either of these topics and how they relate to burlesque?
A: Sure! The Cultural Appropriation conversation has been happening for years and is a pretty big topic. So I’m not sure I can touch on it briefly. :)
I delved into this topic pretty deeply earlier this year. Not sure if you had a chance to read them already, but in case you haven’t- here is my note on the topic as well as the interview I did on Racialicious (with Chicava Honeychild and the ladies of Brown Girl Burlesque).
I think that a very important as performers, artists, media makers of any kind is to consider not only our intention but also our impact.
My note on the topic:
My original intention was to have one post with my experience and feelings surrounding Dita Von Teese’s Opium Den act and provide resources for anyone that wanted to read about why, but given the direction of the ensuing dialogue, I feel the need to expound and clarify.
First of all, I am not attacking Dita or the Strip Strip Hooray! Show. She has done a tremendous amount of good for burlesque and women in pop culture. I admire her greatly for the work she has done and the reach she has as an entertainer and businesswoman.
I am also not saying anyone should be offended or is a bad person for enjoying the act.
What I am saying is that I was affected negatively by the act and that I am not alone.
I was uncomfortable watching a white woman invoking two dimensional stereotypes of Asian women to convey the message of sex. Opium is also the subject of two vicious wars perpetrated against China and its people. In addition, many of the harmful stereotypes that still exist today stem from this terrible time in China’s history.
I have spent most of my life defending my three dimensional humanity and sexuality against these stereotypes. It is painful to see those stereotypes casually worn as a costume by someone who has not had those specific experiences.
I would have loved to have been able to enjoy the finale as much as the rest of the show.
But that’s not the point.
The problem is larger than my experience, Dita, or burlesque. The problem is the subtle and complex ways in which institutionalized racism pervades our everyday lives. It has everything to do with society, history, culture, pop culture, power, privilege, and responsibility.
My experience of offense and my choice of relatively neutral action is considered ‘unpopular’. My desire to ask questions, raise awareness, and provide resources has caused incendiary and polarizing commentary. These are symptoms of that larger problem.
And it will never get better if we don’t talk about it.
The Strip Strip Hooray show is spectacular and revolutionary in so many different and wonderful ways. However, I was stunned that the finale was an act that perpetuates harmful and negative stereotypes of Asian women. It was very incongruous with the rest of the show.
It would seem that throughout the conception of the act, all the tour planning, and all the press, not one person considered the possibility that the material could be insensitive, harmful, or offensive.
Dita herself has stated that she smoked opium in researching this act. Then, didn’t the first and second Opium Wars come up in her research? Wouldn’t this be clearly loaded territory?
Her reach and power as a prominent member of pop culture is exactly why this needs to be addressed.
A few ripples to consider:
- The casual burlesque audience thinking that the best in the best of burlesque is an outdated orientalist act.
- The casual showgoer thinking that burlesque is irrelevant and not a legitimate artform because of the outdated or culturally insensitive material.
- An audience member that finds burlesque uncomfortable and/or disempowering.
- The audience member who already harbors negative Asian stereotypes and watches it glorified and reinforced.
- Fans and followers thinking that cultural appropriation is not only acceptable, but popular, trendy, and fashionable.
It’s these considerations that seem to be missing entirely. This kind of consideration is a responsibility we have to each other as humans, especially when you are in a position of power.
Yes, there is value to classic burlesque, challenging art, and nostalgia, but there is also value to progress. Burlesque has come a long way. We can do better.
I am not saying artists should not tackle controversial or challenging subjects. However, If we choose to take on challenging material, we should be prepared to have challenging conversations. I absolutely believe that art will not suffer from sensitivity. Sensitivity should make us work harder, research more, and think more. Art can only benefit from that.
We could do well to be more sensitive and aware of our individual privileges and other people’s experiences. It is not only our responsibility to one another, but common courtesy to consider others in our actions.
There are many damaging stereotypes and behaviors that used to be widely acceptable and now thankfully, no longer have a positive presence in mainstream thinking. This change is due to people asking speaking up, taking action, and raising awareness.
Regarding choice, one of the reasons Burlesque is so empowering and potent is choice. We serve as our own directors and we choose the stories we tell. That sort of agency with our sexuality and bodies is rare and powerful.
I don’t have a choice in my sex and my race. I don’t get to choose the complex and rich human histories that precede me. I certainly don’t have a choice in how and why sexism and racism is so institutionalized in our society. Examples of racism are sometimes overt, clear, and tragic. Often however, they are subtle, complex, and challenging.
What I do have a choice in is when I see a symptom of this larger problem, I can choose to act or not to act. I can choose to speak up or stay silent.
Silence is the only choice that will keep us from doing better.
Again, if you are interested in the what’s and why’s such an act can harm, here’s some reading for you:
Here are some recent news items and blogs on this topic:
I love Jay Smooth’s take on talking race:
Video and photos of the act in question:
Here is the racialicious article:
Q: I was reading a past interview of yours and saw that like many other performers that I’ve interviewed, you’ve mentioned that somehow by accident your involvement in burlesque has simultaneously helped you grow a love for yourself as well as your body, which you’ve stated you didn’t always love. Do you have any advice for gals out there who are struggling with loving their “soft, curvy and juicy body” as you put it?
A: Ha! It’s just going to get softer and curvier over here as it’s just become very wintery over here and my body wants all the carbs and all the sweets!
Here’s the advice I would give:
- Be gentle with yourself and LOVE YOURSELF. I think that’s one of our most important jobs as humans, to love ourselves and each other.
- Be open to the possibility that all the negativity, self loathing, shame, hate, etc is a product of billions upon billions of dollars of propaganda (and an extremely unhealthy society) and is not your authentic, true self talking.
- I would ask ‘How is this self loathing, shaming, hate, negativity serving you?”
I would also echo the advice of World Famous BOB who says “If you find yourself on a negative train and can’t get yourself over to the positive train, at least try to get to a neutral space.’
Q: Let’s talk the development of Shanghai Pearl. You were a painter and theater major, and if I’m not mistaken, your first burlesque show as an audience member was Tease-O-Rama 2002 in San Francisco. You graduated from Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque in 2006 and you began interning at the Academy during your first year as a performer. You interned and assisted for years and you’re now a lead instructor at the Academy. Like many of us, you became obsessed from day one, but you’ve stated that you were “full-time from the very beginning” and that burlesque immediately “took over [your] life.” Can you describe the whirlwind that it must have been to go from being an audience member to full-time burlesquer seemingly immediately? What a story!
A: Actually, the whirlwind happened my first year attending the Academy of Burlesque. For a few years I was very happy being in the audience. After a few years of regularly attending burlesque shows, I started to notice that I rarely saw any performers of color and I wanted to find out why that was. So I originally signed up for the course to explore that, I had no intentions of becoming a burlesque performer myself.
Throughout that first year, several things just ‘clicked’ and it really just took over my life. It’s definitely been a whirlwind ever since.
My first few years I had some pretty extraordinary moments where not only did I have a chance to meet some of my burlesque idols, I got to take classes from them, and then before you know it I would be sharing a backstage with them! It was a truly amazing and special experience.
I feel extremely lucky to have the life I have. The choices I have, the places I have been, the people I have met through Burlesque are nothing short of amazing.
Q: You have years of experience as a costumer, even prior to your burlesque career, and you’ve said that you’re “not a trained seamstress” and that you were and still are “very D.I.Y.” Please share with us your pre-burlesque costuming experience. Regarding burlesque, have you always and do you still make all of your own costumes, or do you ever commission items from others? What has been the most challenging costuming undertaking you’ve tackled thus far?
A: My costuming experience pre-burlesque was limited to going to thrift stores religiously to dig around for oddities and treasures to deconstruct and reinvent them. In high school I used to make costumes for concerts (fairy costumes for Tori Amos concerts and punky/gothy outfits for The Cure).
I have always designed all of my costumes, but the meticulous math behind patternmaking is not one of my strengths. Usually I’ll plan out a new costume and if an article is too difficult for me to find or make I will commission work. I have worked with extremely talented local designers including Danial Hellman, Jamie Von Stratton, Esther Garcia, and Jady at Steamtropolis.com.
Hmm, most challenging undertaking? The first thing that comes to mind is my most recent headdress. I had a lot of fun working out some of the technical details (positioning, distribution of weight). It’s quite large and features many delicate details. I spent a considerable amount of time working out how to stay true to my design while protecting the delicate decorations and keeping it comfortable to wear.
Q: I read an interview from Northwest Asian Weekly from 2010 in which you spoke about a common issue with some performers – the difficulty of sharing your performance career with your family. As of that interview, you stated that you hadn’t told your mom much except that you were in theater because you didn’t think she would “get it” and how she hadn’t been to a show but you were hoping to one day change that. I was wondering – does your mom know more now than she did? Has she been to a show yet?
A: It is hard to talk about. This particular kind of embodied, empowered, sexy lady love is not really a part of traditional Asian lifestyle or even language for that matter. My blood family is also quite old fashioned and along with that come some very outdated notions of women’s roles and narratives of success. I think that is a pretty common theme among immigrant families. Immigrants are occupied with survival and fitting in, the last thing on your mind is choice and empowerment.
My mom might know more than she did five years ago (she does have internet access and I don’t hide what I’m doing in the world) but I wouldn’t know about it. It’s not something we talk about. I took her to a pretty tame cabaret (it was mostly cabaret and acrobatics with a little burlesque) show once and she wasn’t particularly excited by it. So I don’t push it.
I think that on some level she is happy that that I am happy, but my impression is she’d be over the moon to see me married with children.
Q: I’ve read a little about your Pacific Northwest Glitter Political Action Committee and I’d love to hear more. Can you tell me a little more about the committee and its mission?
A: The PNW Glitter PAC is made of up of smart, socially conscious artists that want to make a difference and raise money for causes we believe in and politicians that have our interests at heart. There’s no reason why artists can’t be as powerful and effective as some of the irresponsible businesses and corporations out there. The difference in tax bracket and capital will just have to be made up by some extra organization of our smarts and sass. Over the summer we raised over $4500 for the Obama re-election campaign.
PNW Glitter PAC: Pacific Northwest Artists, Freaks, and Radicals organizing to make a difference.
Q: What’s next for Shanghai Pearl?
A: I am starting to plot out a busy 2013. I travel widely to perform and teach and currently I have plans to hop around the West Coast early next year and the East Coast in the Spring.
I am also very excited that to have just completed my new website: www.theshanghaipearl.com