A Page from Paco Fish‘s Diary: Show Me Burlesque Festival
I had been told it was awesome. I had been told to prepare for a marathon. But despite everything I was told, I was ill-prepared for the four-days of debauchery called The Show Me Burlesque and Variety Festival. I spent the night before the festivities at the home of my hosts, SinDee HooHoo and her boyfriend Matt. It was the calm before the storm…
The Thursday night opening gala was in an old warehouse smattered with enormous and elaborate dioramas of settings from Star Wars, cool graffiti, and mixed-media art. Upstairs was a smorgasbord of food and beverages for the performers, not just for the performers in that night’s show but for all performers in the whole festival. The show was long, but exciting throughout, with three sets each hosted by a different MC. Jeez Loueez was really funny on the mic; Siren warned of long-windedness but was much more concise than most drag queen MC’s I’ve seen, and clever to boot; and Foxy Tann was an absolute pro. One of my favorite acts of the night was Eartha Delights’s pyschadelic bump & grind. She was patient, a trait I’m starting to really love watching in certain burlesque performers. If a strip tease builds like sex, which I think it should, I’m growing really fond of the performances that don’t rush toward a climax, allowing the audience to sip, savor, and drink in the sensuality of the act. Like her name indicated, her performance was an earthly, sensual pleasure. Similarly unrushed was Femme Brulee, who appeared as a human loofa, getting clean while getting dirty. With hip hop music and moves, she stripped to loofa fringe and eventually tiny loofa pasties. It was delightful to watch and her joy on stage is irresistible. Rather than irresistible joy, Red Rum’s appeal was her unmitigated ferocity. She performed a send up of 80’s cult Sci-Fi classic, They Live, to the tune of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.” I’m always wary of acts that make direct reference to specific stories or films, because an act needs to hold up on its own if anyone in the audience isn’t familiar with the reference. I think that Red Rum’s totally did. For those of us who knew the film, her act was a treat, but for those who didn’t, it was an intense commentary on evil subliminal messages in advertising, with some extremely clever narrative and costuming choices. But the act that brought the house down was the closer for the night, performed by Minneapolis’s own Redbone. She strutted out with a big sparkly afro and some cool gold 1970’s soul sister pants with suspenders, big hoop earrings, and a defiantly confident smirk. She proceeded to bust out some incredible dance moves, hugely powerful personality, and expertly timed comedic elements, stripping off not just her clothes, but even her earrings and wig in preparation to kick some ass. Redbone is like a laser. When she sets herself a target, she fucking nails it with lightning speed and incredible precision.
Afterwards, we went to the after party, and then the after-after party, and finally went to bed as the sun started creeping up. I slept for about two and a half hours and then was wide awake, fueled by cortisol and nerves about my act that night. While my housemates slept, I finished repairing my costume, showered, and shaved my head and body, except for the beard I’d been growing for a couple weeks. At noon, I taught my character and emotion class at Van Ella studios to a great group of students. It was valuable for me because it reminded me of something I wanted to accomplish in the act I was performing later that night, which I hadn’t been doing in recent performances. One of my students said she was inspired to reexamine her choreography and try to incorporate the new perspective into her act that night as well. This is the greatest thing to hear after teaching.
There were two shows that night; I was to perform my Werewolf act in the later show but had also volunteered to be in the opening number for the early show. I was very nervous about my act. I had neither performed it recently nor rehearsed it fully, so I was worried it would be rusty and sloppy. Also I choreographed it back before I learned to dance well and hadn’t updated the choreography to satisfy newly raised standards. I did, however, discover a new moment in the act, in which I chase my tail, and I reminded myself to really dramatically shift my energy downward for when I unleash the beast. I ended up performing what I felt was the best performance of the act I’ve ever done. I felt good about it, and relieved that I had done my job well enough. I was finally able to relax and enjoy myself afterwards.
My favorite act of the evening that I was actually able to concentrate on was Eva La Feva’s dashboard hula girl responding to the car radio. It was original, clever, sexy, funny, well-executed, and fun to watch from start to finish. I also really enjoyed Michelle Mynx utterly oozing sex around and on a jungle gym disguised
to look like a bed and Ginger Licious’s making tittie tea. I didn’t want to like Ginger’s act at first because of the abundance of props, but each was used really well to create a thoroughly enjoyable act. After the show, a bunch of us went out partying until the bars closed and they kicked us out.
The Saturday night Beggar’s Carnival show was stupendous. The venue was a gorgeous old art deco ballroom and was set up with entertainment pockets and vendors all around the periphery and balcony. There were games, and fortune tellers, a sideshow tent, a posing mermaid, and a photo booth. Once the show started, there was no MC, but giant projected placards to announce each act instead. There was a live band and the whole thing had a feel like a silent film. Each act was excellent, but the three that blew my mind the most were Jett Adore’s peacock act, which I had never seen in person, Lady Jack and Eva La Feva’s duet as a sort of witch controlling an undead subject with the use of an enchanted flower, and Ray Gunn with Rob Racine’s adagio chair-dance duet. Jett’s act is just fully committed to marvelous beauty. It’s breathtaking. Eva & Lady Jack’s duet was immaculately precise in execution, but also told a very satisfying narrative about power and desperation in love. Ray and Rob’s act was not only impressive, but beautiful and
powerful. Rob sang, while Ray danced with him, incorporating acrobatics for dramatic and emotional accents with significant meaning, rather than pure spectacle. In the end, their embrace simultaneously dropped the bottoms out of our hearts, and brought our voices out of us in unabashed joy and gratitude. It was stellar.
And from that inspired and romantic space, we all went to get bombed at the afterparty. In Lola Van Ella’s packed studio, I felt really awkward and out of place. We were recommended to wear circus-style clothing, and I went with a totally roustabout costume—overalls with beaded fringe and a flannel shirt—rather than a that of a performer. I had been charged with the task of delivering SinDee’s comfy boots to her, but she wasn’t there, so I popped my beer into her boot and used it as a coozy. This really added to the roustabout look, especially with my itchy new beard. At one point I found myself pressed up against and talking to three gorgeous women, Deanna Danger on my left, Lady Jack in front of me, and some other beauty whom I didn’t know and don’t remember. Awkwardly, I took a sip from my boot beer, for which Lady Jack demanded an explanation. I told her, “This is someone else’s boot and I’m looking for her. It’s kind of like a redneck glass slipper.” Their three sparkling and confused faces stared back at me in silence. I felt very uncomfortable in that moment and searched my brain for an exit line. I finally broke the awkward silence with a desperate, “Say! What size shoe do y’all ladies wear?” Deanna laughed and rolled her eyes; Lady Jack just said, “No,” and the other woman kind of sighed and looked away. I took another boot sip and slipped out of sight. The night went on like that, allowing me to play and goof off, but not really endear myself to anyone but myself. With so many personalities, so intoxicated, I felt lost in the pull of human drama, of stories I can’t tell, looks and references I didn’t understand, and feelings I couldn’t handle. Eventually I was able to get away and take some breath in peace. I returned relaxed and sat with Siobhan Atomica for a real conversation until the party closed down and we were all kicked out.
The next day, a bunch of the performers reconnected at the hangover brunch to regale each other with embarrassing tales from the night before and praise for the performances that we loved from the weekend. Once we were brunched and caffeinated, a group of us slipped over to the gem of St. Louis, the City Museum. It’s a 10-story, full city block, indoor and outdoor jungle gym envisioned and created by a millionaire madman. For hours, we played, climbed, ran around, jumped on stuff, and crawled through dark, tight, and elevated nooks and passageways. For a few hours, we were children again, sliding down slides, swinging on ropes, and playing with every object that caught our eye. It was wonderful and exhausting. It restored the sense of peace in me that I had lost throughout the weekend of parties and shows. It restored my innocence.