We couldn’t think of anyone’s advice we’d rather take than Miss Jo “Boobs” Weldon, Founder of the New York School of Burlesque and author of The Burlesque Handbook, which is why we’re thrilled to have her as our Burlesque Etiquette contributor! Have a question you’d like Jo to answer? Please title your email “Etiquette- _your issue___” and send to editor [at] PinCurlMag [dot] com and we will send them right over to her!
I run the New York School of Burlesque, and I get input all the time from the instructors who work with me, as well as from other headmistresses like Indigo Blue and Ophelia Flame. I also get some input from students, though not as much as I would like. Certain issues come up repeatedly, and I think you’ll see a trend when you see them all in one place!
Teacher/Student Dos and Don’ts
Instructor to Student
Be grateful when students tell you that you’ve inspired them, but remember that inspiration is your job.
Be honest. Don’t prize being liked over getting your students to do their best. Not telling people when what they’re doing doesn’t work is like stealing their time and money.
Make sure your class conforms to the description that prompted the students to register for the class.
Describe your qualifications and accreditation honestly.
Don’t teach what you haven’t studied. However, it’s okay if you can’t do it, as long as you can teach others to do it.
Don’t impress upon students that your pet peeves are universal standards. While advocating what you believe in, do tell them that your approach is one of many. Encourage them to research. Offer them positive examples to emulate rather than negative examples to avoid.
Don’t allow photographers in the class without students’ permission, or make students who don’t want to have photos taken have a different experience of the class than those who do.
Don’t teach other teachers’ material without permission and attribution. A syllabus is actually copyrightable, as is choreography.
Be forgiving. You used to not get it, either.
Student to Instructor
Don’t try to teach the class. You don’t need to point out every exception to the rule, especially in a class on fundamentals. However, a good instructor will often ask students about their experiences when class time permits.
Be on time, or if late, be quiet when entering, and don’t ask to be caught up on other students’ time.
Don’t argue with the payment policy. It was there when you paid, and it’s there to protect the livelihood of the instructors. Most folks will make an exception for a death in the family, but it’s not your school’s fault if you missed the bus.
Don’t ask questions without checking the website first. Everybody in the world gets too much email already.
Tell the instructor if you have a problem, not the other students.
Read the class description carefully and don’t be surprised the class conforms to the description.
If you already knew what the teacher told you, learn from watching the other students in the class learn it.
Give feedback when asked, and offer it when it may be appropriate. Not only is it valuable for the instructors, but it benefits the students who come after you and the burlesque community as a whole.
Don’t teach other teachers’ material without permission and attribution. A syllabus is actually copyrightable, as is choreography. Yes, I’m saying this to both instructors and students.
Be forgiving. Teachers, like performers, occasionally have off days.
Here’s the New York School of Burlesque’s mission statement: “The New York School of Burlesque has worked with Burlycon, Coney Island USA, Tease-O-Rama, and The Burlesque Hall of Fame. These associations inform our aesthetic, our educational approach, and our values.
The essential mission of NYSB is to provide both unique and fundamental classes taught by experienced performers. We strive to promote diversity in performance styles and so present instructors with different interpretations of burlesque. We want to promote instructors who teach both locally and worldwide. We want to provide classes for a variety of student interests: for fun, for fitness, or for preparing to perform. We believe in glamour that is bursting with intelligence. We believe that studying the history of burlesque is an essential component in creating burlesque with depth and character. We believe in the originality that can come from both experience and inexperience. We respect those performers who came before us, those with whom we now work, and those who will come after us. We respect performers who see things our way and performers with different goals and approaches. We believe in asking challenging questions of ourselves and others. We believe in being open to approaches and history beyond our own easily accessible realm. We believe in self-expression and audience appreciation. We believe in the excellence that develops from study and repetition as well as the excitement that comes from experimentation without guarantee of success. We believed in both seasoned and emerging performers. We believe in entertainment for its own sake, as well as for its ability to change the world.”
As I’m clearly invested in this, I look forward to getting more insight from comments on this article! This is part of a bigger project in which I’m hoping to learn what benefits performers and producers feel burlesque classes provide, as well as what responsibilities members of the burlesque community would like burlesque instructors to assume. If you have suggestions, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to see more of Jo’s etiquette columns? Check out: These Children That You Spit On: Established Performer to New Performer Etiquette, Stage Kitten Etiquette, Making Introductions: Emcee Etiquette, Photos & Pasties, How to Annoy Producers, How to Annoy Performers, I’m Just Saying, Headliner Etiquette – Part 1, Social Media Etiquette for Nearly Naked People
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!!
Layman’s Guide to U.S. Burlesque Festivals
To obtain the print copy of this guide along with a handy (and adorable!) map illustration of all the locations below, pick up your copy of the Winter 2012 Best of Pin Curl issue, available here.
Annual burlesque festivals have sprung up all over the country as the burlesque revival, now two decades strong, continues to grow. No matter where you are in the great states, there’s a burlesque festival somewhere near you. If you’re itching to take a racy road trip around the United States, we’ve got your itinerary right here!
Everything starts to heat up on Valentine’s Day with the 7th Annual Southwest Burlesque Showcase, February 14-16, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information about this fabulous festival, see http://swburlesqueshowcase.com.
Or you could head down to the Lone Star State to start off your festival circuit at the 5th Annual Dallas Burlesque Festival, in Dallas, Texas. We don’t know the dates for this burlesque and pinup celebration yet, but all the info will be available at http://dallasburlesquefest.com.
Another option in February is the 4th Annual Key West Burlesque Festival in Key West, Florida. For some wild burlesque and variety entertainment, watch for the dates at http://www.keywestburlesque.com.
For more burlesque-y goodness, visit the 3rd Annual Southern Fried Burlesque Fest, March 21-24, in Atlanta, Georgia. There’s sure to be plenty of variety, and plenty of workshops at this fast-growing festival; find out more at http://southernfriedburlesquefest.com/.
Also beginning March 21 is the 10th Annual Moisture Festival in Seattle, Washington. As the website (http://www.moisturefestival.org) says, “The Moisture Festival is the world’s largest Comedy/Varietè festival, running for four weeks every spring in Seattle.” The festival lasts until April 14 so you’ll have plenty of time to catch some of it.
March 28-31 brings the 16th Annual Viva Las Vegas rockabilly festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. Touted at “The biggest rockabilly party in the world,” this festival includes a smorgasbord of activities including burlesque and pinup events, a classic car show, and a killer music lineup. Check the website for more details: http://www.vivalasvegas.net.
However, you’ll have a difficult choice to make between Viva Las Vegas and the 7th Annual Great Burlesque Exposition in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Taking place March 29-31, this burlesque festival includes an impressive variety of classes, a historical costume display, and an art show “for interesting and innovative pieces from painters, photographers, sculptors, graphic artists, and anyone else who has found their muse at a burlesque show.” See http://www.burlesque-expo.com/home.cfm for more.
April 11-13 gives you another chance to visit Texas, for the 6th Annual Texas Burlesque Festival in Austin. The coming year will include performances, workshops, a competition, and “Austin’s First Ever Burlesque Ball.” Get all the late-breaking news on this one at http://www.texasburlesquefestival.com/home.php.
You could also attend the 3rd Annual Kansas City Burlesque Festival on April 25-27, in Kansas City, Missouri for the crowning of the next Kansas City Queen and King of Burlesque! Find all the details at: http://www.kcburlesque.com/HOME.html!
Back after a short break is Tease-o-Rama, which began bringing the burlesque community together in 2001 with performances by “The Best of the Best in Burlesque”, workshops, a photo safari, and Tea&Gossip with the Legends of Burlesque. The event has been held in New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and L.A., and we can’t wait to see what http://www.teaseorama.com/2012/ will say about the 2013 schedule.
As no dates have yet been revealed, we can only hope that there will be a 2nd Annual New York Boylesque Festival. “Celebrating the Male Performer and the Best of Male Burlesque”, New York, New York’s first boylesque festival, in 2012, provided workshops and networking geared toward the menfolk, and performances that everyone could enjoy! Keep checking the website (http://www.nyboylesquefestival.com/) to see what’s in the works for 2013– I know I will be!
May 2-5 brings an exciting new experience, FIERCE! The First International Queer Burlesque Festival, in Columbus, Ohio. Check it out at http://www.fiercequeerburlesque.com.
The month of May alsobrings us back to the Show Me State, for the 4th Show Me Burlesque and Vaudeville Fest, May 16-18, in St. Louis, Missouri. This burlesque and variety extravaganza includes workshops along with striptease, circus, and vaudeville acts. I treated myself to the 2012 festival, and I can assure you that you will not be disappointed! Find out more here: http://showmeburlesque.com/.
Although we don’t have the dates yet, May is the time for the 7th Annual Americana Burlesque and Sideshow Festival in Asheville, North Carolina. Featuring workshops, burlesque, sideshow, and vaudeville performances, you can learn about ‘ABSfest’ at http://www.absfest.com/.
June 6-9 brings us to a truly difficult decision. One option is the 12th Annual Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “The largest annual celebration of Tiki culture on the East Coast, the Hukilau is a celebration of Polynesian pop culture with live music and entertainment, and much, much more. Book your trip at: http://www.thehukilau.com/2013/!
The alternative June 6-9 trip is to the star-studded Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada. Presenting absolutely amazing burlesque, boylesque, and variety performances, the BHOF Weekend includes a Q&A with the Legends of Burlesque as well as a Legends performance and tribute night, marvelous workshops, a photo safari, plenty of mingling and boozing opportunities, and features the Queen of Burlesque competition formerly known as Miss Exotic World. While you’re there, don’t forget to visit the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s exhibition space to view some of the “art, artifacts and personal histories of the art’s biggest names and brightest stars.” http://www.burlesquehall.com.
Next year’s dates are TBA, but June is the month of the 3rd Annual Carolina Burlesque Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. This burlesque and variety festival offers workshops, live music, and a pageant; stay posted by checking http://www.carolinaburlesquefestival.com/index.html.
The next one is high up on my bucket list – the annual Mermaid Parade at Coney Island, New York! Founded in 1983, “the Mermaid Parade pays homage to Coney Island’s forgotten Mardi Gras which lasted from 1903 to 1954,” and each year a new King Neptune and Queen Mermaid are crowned. The parade is followed by a ball and burlesque and sideshow performances: http://www.coneyisland.com/mermaid.shtml. But that’s not all! There’s ‘Burlesque on the Beach’ all summer long at Coney Island. Burlesque on the Beach is “a revival of the most glorious and notorious of the “girlie revues” in Coney Island history. A blend of old style burlesque, sideshow freaks, strange women, new vaudeville and toe tappin’ music,” you can see the lineup as it’s released at http://www.coneyisland.com/burlesque.shtml.
Although we don’t yet know when, the 4th Annual Pennsylvania Burlesque Festival will most likely take place in June, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Formerly known as the Jim Thorpe Burlesque Festival, this event features burlesque performers from around the country: http://www.paburlesque.com/.
July also has some great festivals: this year will mark the 4th Annual Windy City Burlesque Festival, in Chicago, Illinois as well as the 4th Annual Colorado Burlesque Festival, in Denver, Colorado. Each event provides classes and top notch burlesque performances. More information about these two stellar festivals can be found at
Another option for July is visiting the annual Circus City Festival, Inc. in Peru, Indiana. Held July 13-20, in “The Circus Capital of the World,” this event boasts “longest running circus parade in the United States.” http://www.perucircus.com/
August gives us another opportunity to visit Ohio, for the 3rd Annual Ohio Burlesque Festival, in Cleveland, Ohio. The dates are TBA, but this festival hosts burlesque and variety performances, and is unique in that it chooses a charity to support each year. Learn more at http://www.ohioburlesque.com/index.html.
We’re also awaiting announcement of the 2nd Annual ABurlyQ! Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which made its debut last August with a burlesque and sideshow lineup and festivities: http://www.aburlyq.com/.
Depending on the dates that are decided upon, you’ll either have a very busy month travelling to all the magnificent September festivals, or you’ll have some very difficult choices to make. 2013 will bring us the 11th Annual New York Burlesque Festival in New York, New York. Along with performances, classes, and parties, this event includes an extra special competition, The Golden Pastie Awards. These awards honor member of the biz with titles such as “The MacGyver Award,” “Performer Most Likely to Start a Harem,” and “The Performer You Would Call with Your One Quarter from Jail.” Find out all about it at http://www.thenewyorkburlesquefestival.com/index.php.
The 5th Annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana, has a more traditional title for its competition winners: Queen of Burlesque! The weekend is chock full of workshops and shows, all appropriately located near Bourbon Street, which “featured the largest concentration of burlesque clubs than anywhere in the U.S…from the mid-1940s through the 1960s.” Look for updates at http://neworleansburlesquefest.com/.
September also means that it’s time to visit Chicago again, this time for the 4th Annual Superstars of Burlesque. Catch all the latest about this burlesque festival at http://superstarsofburlesque.com/.
As if October weren’t an exciting month already, it will now bring us the 2nd Annual Alabama Burlesque Festival, in Rocket City (Huntsville), Alabama. We don’t have dates for the return of this brand new festival, but the place to watch for updates is http://rocketcityburlesque.com/. A portion of the proceeds from the 2012 festival benefitted The Pinup Angels’ mission to send care packages to our troops!
And speaking of pinups, a 2nd Annual American Pinup Burlesque Fest is already set for October 25-27 in Tampa Bay Area, Florida. This event will consist of the Miss Pinup America Pageant, Burlesque America Competition, a Car Show, Bike Show, Tattoo Contest, and workshops! Check it out at http://www.americanpinupburlesquefest.com/.
November brings the opportunity to round out your year with a very special convention, the 6th Annual Burlycon in Seattle, Washington. As stated on their website, “BurlyCon is an annual Burlesque Educational convention that provides educational offerings, professional growth and in-person social networking for the Burlesque Community. Our aim is to further the development and historical knowledge of this rare American art form that is experiencing a popular resurgence worldwide.” There are no performances, but there are over 100 classes taught by the best in the biz! Keep in the know by checking http://burlycon.org/ for updates.
One last group to keep in mind when making your performance-art-based travel plans is the United States Association of Fringe Festivals. Dating back to 1947, the original Fringe Festival was created in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Fringe performing arts festivals can now be found worldwide. “A celebration featuring theatre and related live presentations with a special emphasis on original and innovative forms and formats,” there are a plethora of these productions to choose from in the U.S.: http://fringefestivals.us/festival.
Ophelia Flame, “the Burning Sensation” from Minneapolis and the recently named 1st Runner-Up Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2012, talks rebuilding, improv, competing in Helendale, her first set of pasties, the Twin Cities neo-burlesque scene and peacocks.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: According to your bio you have been taking your “clothes off for friends, family and complete strangers for nearly twenty years” and you worked as a topless dancer in Minneapolis, Chicago, New Orleans and Las Vegas throughout the 1990s. You also studied various dance styles including flamenco, ballet, Latin and smooth ballroom, which makes you a force to be reckoned with! I was wondering, did the dance training come before you worked the club circuit or vice versa? Or did you take dance classes while working the clubs?
A: The short answer is… before, during and after. While I’m not a formally trained dancer, I’ve always been a student of dance. Like a lot of girls, growing up I took some tap, ballet and modern. Eventually I found and fell in love with ballroom dance, especially the Latin dances like cha-cha, tango, rumba and samba. I became a ballroom dance teacher just out of high school. Then in the early 90′s the gentleman’s club Solid Gold opened in Minneapolis. I knew a few dancers who started working there, but I swore I never would. Never say never! How I became a “Solid Gold Girl” is an entirely different story, but I did continue to take dance classes throughout my stripper days, including some Flamenco, which I adore.
Q: You were 1999 Miss Exotic World Runner-Up and competed multiple times at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Helendale prior to its relocation to Las Vegas. I’d like to hear your input on how the showcase has evolved since then.
A: The pageant has evolved a lot and it’s been exciting to be a part of it since the very early days. How I stumbled across Exotic World in 1999 is quite a story, actually. One of my friends from Solid Gold and I were hoping to find a museum of some sort that had burlesque memorabilia. We wanted to look at exhibits and learn a little more about our foremothers. We thought, “I wonder if something like that exists?” We looked online and found Exotic World. Of course we immediately said WE’RE GOING! A road trip was in order. I was able to connect with Stephanie Blake prior to the trip, and she was so helpful and amazing. When I got there, I was I blown away. These were my people! I had truly found my tribe. It was such a surreal juxtaposition of harsh sun and dirt, timeless beauty and brilliant color. It felt like John Waters or David Lynch could walk out at any moment and yell, “CUT!”
There were maybe 30 contestants in the pageant, which was held poolside. Each of us did two songs to recorded music or a live band. It took all day, and in the blazing hot sun! A lot of the legends were there like Daisy Delight, Tempest [Storm], Rubber Leggs, and of course our beloved Dixie [Evans]! And dear Charlie Arroyo was there. Catherine D’lish did a stunning peacock act with a birdcage shower. What?! I’d just died and gone to heaven! Even though it was a contest, I hadn’t considered winning. I was just excited to be on this crazy adventure surrounded by my beloved crazy, freaky weirdos. I had no idea what to expect performance-wise, so I just did what I’d have done at home at the club. Except I had never worn pasties! I attached a pair of rhinestone earrings and to a piece of fabric and stuck them on my boobs. I also used my Spanish paper fan. The crowd went wild, I got a big trophy and that was it. A monster was born.
I came back to perform in the pageant again in 2004, with as many people from Minneapolis as I could possibly invite. Five years later, the scene had exploded! That was the year Dirty Martini won. 2006 was the first year in Vegas, and though I’ll never forget those Helendale desert sunsets, it was exciting to have some control over the performances with proper stage lighting. (And air conditioning!) The following years progressed with some challenges but have always felt optimistic. I’ve had the privilege of performing for BHoF audiences numerous times, and though it may sound corny, each performance is an exciting new experience and thrill. I’m honored to be recognized as someone who consistently produces quality work.
Q: Speaking of the BHOF Tournament of Tease, congratulations are in order! You were named 1st Runner-Up Reigning Queen of Burlesque at the 2012 festival and your act was absolutely breathtaking. I read an excerpt about the preparation of the award-winning act, and not only did you work with a costumer based in Seattle (which would give most gals palpitations since you’re located in Minneapolis) but you also stated that it was the most personal act that you’ve ever done – one about triumph, personal reinvention and much more. Care to elaborate on those topics for our readers?
A: First, thank you so much. It means a lot to me! And second, well… I will say it was a big, legal, terrifying deal that required that I completely rebuild my life from seemingly nothing. While the story is dramatic, the details aren’t really the point. Life is really just a series problems and it’s your job to solve them. I managed to overcome some pretty great odds but it took a lot of hard work, a positive attitude and tons of love and support from family and friends. Three years later I’m stronger, bolder and more fearless than ever. Everyone should be so lucky to have an experience that empowers them to say, if I can make it through THAT, I can make it through anything!
Q: Last year marked the opening of the Playful Peacock Showgirl Academy in Minneapolis, which you co-founded with Gina Louise. I’d like to hear a little more about your partnership with Gina Louise. How was your first year in business? What’s in store for the future of the Playful Peacock?
A: Awwwwww…….Gina Louise. She is my dearest friend and simply one of the greatest people on the planet. Who wouldn’t want to start a business with someone like that!? I met Gina at an audition for a burlesque show nearly 10 years ago and we just had an instant connection. She’s one of the most hardworking, generous and dedicated people I know, with a seemingly endless well of creative ideas. As producers we have a sort of magical synergy, an intuitive creative process, and we make an awesome team!
We began teaching classes in 2005 simply because we love burlesque and thought others would want to learn. As our local scene and demand for more classes grew, we formalized our school as the Playful Peacock in 2011. The last year has been wildly successful and rewarding. We have the most incredible core group of students and we’re constantly inspired by them! Our classes are geared to seasoned pros, new performers and even people with no interest in the spotlight. In addition to our weekly classes, we have lots of amazing guest teachers and special workshops. Last year alone we had Miss Astrid, Gravity Plays Favorites, Lady Jack, Frenchie Kiss, Tila von Twirl, Ray Gunn, Minnie Tonka, Foxy Tann, Musette, Jo Boobs, Jonny Porkpie, and Miss Indigo Blue.
Q: Speaking of peacocks, I’ve read that you consider yourself “closely related to the peacock.” Why peacocks? I’d like to know more about your attraction to them and identification with them.
A: Are there people who don’t like peacocks?! I love peacocks and especially now that I’ve learned about them in relation to The Phoenix. While working on my latest act I did a lot of research on the mythological phoenix, in particular the partnership between the phoenix and dragon in Chinese culture and art. Fascinating!
Q: Your website mentions that you spent 10 years not knowing what song was about to play before going on stage and because of that, improvisation has become not only one of your greatest strengths, but also brings you a tremendous amount of joy, and that you typically don’t strictly choreograph your acts, but rather “theme” them to leave room for improv. Do you have any advice for performers who feel the need to choreograph every second and could use some pointers on improvisation?
Well, I should be clear. These days I do choreograph my acts… loosely. I start mostly with the entrance, ending pose, big hits and transitions. As time goes on it becomes more fleshed out, but I like to leave a little room for flexibility. I’d say it takes me at least a good 8-10 live performances before I really feel like I own the act. It’s really important to know your music at a visceral level, which is why your selection is super important.
Being able to improv is a great skill, but that’s not to be confused with just winging it. The piece still needs to be confident, intentional and soulful. The legends danced largely to live music and I’ve heard many of them cringe at having to dance to a recording. This is because performing to live music is as present and raw as it gets. If you have a good understanding of music and can communicate with live musicians, it’s really great. One isn’t inherently better than the other. Both can be incredibly moving, and there are benefits to rehearsing to a recorded track that will be exactly the same in performance. What’s important is that it feels and appears organic and real. I liken dancing to live music to jumping into a river. If you let go and allow the current to take you, the ride can be fluid and seamless – but if you fight it, you’ll flounder and possibly drown.
I feel the key to connecting with your audience is to imagine them as a trusted lover and remember you’re having a shared experience. It should happen organically with a natural flow that’s exciting and unexpected. Can you imagine choreographing every single sexual experience?! Weird, right? Strong performers are comfortable with the unexpected. I’ve seen burlesque performers tied to rigid choreography crumble when something unexpected happens. A flawless performance is great and it’s something to strive for, but I think it can be even more exciting when something goes wrong. It can be memorable and fun. You’ve gotta think fast and not panic. Who cares if your corset is stuck? You don’t just stop dancing and turn your back to the crowd. Because guess what? They can still see you, my little hedgehog! Your audience WANTS you to succeed. They’re rooting for you! Allow yourself to be present and share the experience even when – no, especially when – you can’t control it.
Q: You’re known as a founder of the Twin Cities neo-burlesque scene. I’d like to know more about the beginnings and its changes over the years.
A: Things have really blossomed in Minneapolis and St. Paul during the last decade. I’m fortunate to have found Exotic World in 1999 when the renaissance was happening in other parts of the U.S. That early experience combined with events in my personal life paved the way for me to become an important part of the Minneapolis scene. I was no longer satisfied with what was happening in the gentleman’s clubs, I had been searching for a new performance outlet, and in 2003 I met like-minded people at an audition for what became the first new burlesque troupe in Minneapolis. In 2004, I ushered the Lili’s crew to Exotic World where we all made connections we hold dear to this day.
In 2006-2008 our community was under great scrutiny due to archaic laws. This slowed our progress significantly. I know many other towns and cities who have dealt with this as well, and I understand your pain. But my fellow performers and I persisted. We tried as many creative solutions as we could muster: different types of gigs, private venues, playing games with semantics, not playing games with semantics, making phone calls, never giving up! We have the Ritz Theater to thank for opening their doors to us when no one else would, and helping us convince city officials that we are legitimate artists.
My observation is that the cities with established, thriving burlesque scenes share a few important features:
- Someone with an early connection to the budding national community (i.e., first TOR, BHoF in the desert, NYBF)
- Someone with an interest in the history of Burlesque
- A solid burlesque school with ties to the national scene
- A strong arts community
Minneapolis has all those things! It was a great day when I could no longer rattle off the name of every burlesque performer in a single minute, and now there are more burlesque troupes here than I even know. The so-called “high arts” are even starting to embrace us! Well, not always… but that’s okay with me. Taste and censorship are two different things, right?
Q: The Best of Midwest Burlesk Festival just had its fifth anniversary this year. What is your role in the festival?
I was a producer and creative consultant for the first three years of the festival, but I could never take credit without noting that like any huge production, it takes a village of hard working people to pull it off! The true creator of The Best of Midwest Burlesk Festival, however, was my business partner Gina Louise.
Until about five years ago, most of us Minneapolis folk were kind of floating in the Midwestern abyss. Because of our yearly sojourns to BHoF, our Lili’s crew actually knew more burlesque performers from Seattle than the entire Midwest. We wondered, is anyone else doing this in our region? And how can we get to know those gals from Chicago? We wanted to help burlesque in the Midwest grow. The decision to do a festival was a creative vision with a three-fold mission:
1. Unite our local Minneapolis community (which was somewhat divided)
2. Grow our regional community (helloooooo out there!)
3. Bring national awareness to the amazing performers and quality show production here in Minneapolis
Ding! 5 years later… SUCCESS!
Originally we figured it would be just us Midwesterners who wanted to attend. We hoped that the Chicago and St. Louis crews would join us, and we predicted that performers from Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas would come out of the woodwork. We’re all used to the cold, can drive in a shitstorm of a blizzard, and will gladly rock a pair of heels through ice and snow. So who would have imagined that people from all across the country would apply and come to Minnesota in the dead of winter? Hilarious! I’ve heard some people complain and try to persuade us to move BoMB to the summer months. Many have said they wouldn’t come because it was just too cold. But I won’t apologize for that! Like it or not, our winters are what make us unique. We’re solid, dedicated people with cold hands, warm hearts, limitless hospitality and a zest for adventure. I think even the skeptics were beyond pleased with Minneapolis, and some of them even went sledding.
All good things must come to an end, and last year marked the final production of The Best of Midwest Burlesk Festival. That’s not to say there aren’t other new and exciting projects in the works, so definitely stay tuned!
Q: What’s next for Ophelia Flame?
A: I’m excited to have been invited back to Burlycon in Seattle again this year where I’ll get to teach several of my favorite classes, including “Calm The F*ck Down!” which is about overcoming stage fright. We have a big Playful Peacock show coming up September 15 at the Ritz Theater starring very special guests Roxi D’lite and Minnie Tonka! The show will also feature local performers, a new student group act, local comedienne Shanan Custer as our hostess, and musical guests Courtney McCLean & the Dirty Curls. It’s gonna be amazing! In October, Frenchie Kiss is coming to model for Dr. Sketchy’s and teach a class at the Playful Peacock. And in November we’re planning an incredible student showcase.
In the meantime, I’m in the middle of a crazy but exciting move. (Moving is always a big deal, isn’t it?) After 13 years, we recently sold our house and bought the swankiest party pad I’ve ever seen. I love entertaining and house guests, and I’ll just say that our new home has some incredibly unique features that Don Draper would approve of!
The Reigning Queen Of Burlesque, Imogen Kelly, talks pink flamingos, performance art, popping burlesque cherries at the Sydney Opera House, and plenty of other dirty deeds done “Down Under”.
Interview: The Dirty Blonde
Q: Your performance at Burlesque Hall Of Fame Weekend was flawless –a fun, cheeky, high-energy routine full of pink feathers and lots of sass (and ass!) that had the audience on their feet. Were you surprised by your win, or did you feel when you took the stage that this was your year?
A: Thank you! I love that routine, I always have such a great time performing it, without fail. It’s like watching a cyclone hitting a flamingo flock—5 minutes of fluffy, pink, slightly-absurd-but-somehow-sexy, leggy mayhem.
The great thing about performing it is that I never have time for nerves as I am usually pretty preoccupied having fun. The music is so high energy, I just get carried away. I didn’t expect to win simply for that reason. Flamingo-Go is fast paced and technical. I guess I must make it look easier than it really is. Its strengths are that it’s fabulous and rather saucy too, if I do say so myself.
Q: You have toured very extensively around the world, but have less experience with American audiences and less exposure overall in America. Were you concerned that would be a factor during the Burlesque Hall Of Fame Competition in Las Vegas?
A: Of course! I was competing against performers who have a strong rapport with American audiences and therefore possibly the judges as well. Even I went into that competition with favorites and was thrilled that I was up against performers I have so much admiration for. I certainly wouldn’t have been sore if I lost to one of them. It wouldn’t have surprised me in the slightest.
That being said, one thing I do know about myself as an artist is that I’m a dark horse in any race. I would never enter any competition thinking I was going to win; I’m never that arrogant and it can lead to a hard fall if you lose; but I never underestimate my acts either. I’m a highly trained performer with over 20 years of experience in burlesque. I just try to do my best and let the work speak for itself. You can go in telling yourself you’re the best, but there is no way to know you are going to win and you never know what you are up against. Just offer your audience the best of yourself.
Q: People are talking a lot about the fact that an Australian was finally crowned Queen. Do you think it’s significant that you are the first non-North-American to win the Queen Of Burlesque title in years? What do you think this will mean for the Australian burlesque scene?
A:I think it is essential for the competition to be embraced globally at this point, for its growth and also for its integrity. It is an absolute delight to share what I do with American audiences, who may not have realized that burlesque has been thriving for generations in other pockets of the world. I would hope eventually that BHOF would be the event that would bring the whole burly world together- all for one big dirty weekend! Australia is certainly very proud of me. And I am proud too—not just of my win, but as Queen of Australian Burlesque I am proud of the circuit and style that I have pioneered. I am proud to be presenting that internationally.
We are different in so many ways in OZ. Our audiences are tough and expect a high level of presentation, personality, energy and skill. So for Captain Kidd to win last year, and now myself as Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2012, I should think people would be sitting up and paying attention to what is going on in OZ.
As for my return home, I may as well have had a ticker tape parade- people were just so gorgeous. I am being called “The Don Bradman of Burlesque” which is hilarious. Don Bradman is one of our national heros, also an underdog who took the pommies by surprise in the battle for The Ashes. The burlesque scene is very alive with excitement. It has meant a lot that one of our pioneers has been recognized on such a huge level. So yes, everyone is very pleased with themselves down under.
Q: What is it like to perform in an environment like BHOF? Do you find it more intimidating to perform for your peers, or is it energizing to be in front of a huge audience that is so passionate about burlesque?
A: BHOF is a massive thrill, with such an electric atmosphere it is impossible to describe. The audience is the most deafening, insanely supportive, warm, happy audience EVER!!! And I mean that. The Colosseum in Rome would crumble under the wake of that sound. If that audience were before the walls of Jericho, Joshua would be turning around and asking them to turn it down a touch.
It was hearing them scream and cheer that made me want to blow their minds. I wanted to throw it all right back at them and be worthy of such adulation. I’ve played stadiums that have made less noise… so I wasn’t intimidated. I was turned on to my maximum setting.
I will add that the stakes are higher when your audience is full of people whose opinions matter to you personally. I think what mattered to me even more was that there were so many Aussies out there, fellow artists who are close to me who had flown all that way and spent thousands of dollars just to cheer me on. I could hardly let them down now, could I?
A: Lordy, I have about 200 routines sitting around my house. I love all of them. So in choosing for BHOF I originally wanted something grand, where I could show off my theatre or circus skills but in the end I was beaten by rigging technicalities and freight. So I opted for Flamingo because even though it has no heavily constructed character and no wiz bang tricks, it has a lot of classic burlesque elements that seamlessly work together. It took 8 years or so to finally solve the flamingo act; so I knew it was a solid act—entertaining, glamorous and distinctively mine.
Marie Antoinette is my favorite act ever. I performed her last year. I love her because she is my signature act of 20 years and she is very much a part of me–the monstrous part! My Marie is an evil bitch diva who essentially f*cks a cream cake. She was the first Marie Antoinette in burlesque so I also take pride in the fact that she has inspired so many others to do a Marie Antoinette act. Having a Marie Antoinette act is almost as obligatory these days as having a champagne glass routine or a fan dance. It makes me smile. I’ve infected burlesque with my monster.
Q: Aside from winning the Queen of Burlesque title, what do you consider your greatest burlesque achievement? What other performances, productions, or current projects are you most proud of?
A: My most memorable moment would have to be my wedding. We shut down the city of Sydney and took over one of the main streets to be publicly wed in front of tens of thousands of people.
My husband to be cruised in on a dragster with a rose between his teeth to I Was Made For Loving You Baby. I was pushed at high speed in a giant cake on wheels to the alter where I finally burst out in a red satin gown with a 4m train. I was then hoisted onto the stage by two of my carny friends on stilts. When we came to saying the vows I tore off my frock leaving a few strategically placed pieces of lace much to my parents’ horror.
That was a fun marriage and the celebrations didn’t end until the next morning when some of us were ejected from a club into broad daylight for running around the club in the nude. So we then ran around on the street nude… I still don’t know what those bouncers were thinking.
Other than that I performed at Sydney Festival in Hyde Park, this time in front of a hundred thousand people. I did 4 acts, was on huge screens, it was nuts. I also popped the Sydney Opera House’s burlesque cherry, performed and traveled with The Famous Spiegeltent for many years… training circus with Romanian gypsies was interesting and of course being the first stripper to graduate from The National Institute of Dramatic Arts is an instant milestone—although they had no idea I was a professional stripper until quite a way into the degree… hehehe…
Q: You have had a long rich history of performance experience. You’ve been involved in theater shows, burlesque troupes, kick lines, have written countless plays and screenplays…the list goes on and on. Did you always know you wanted to do burlesque, or did it grow from a general love of theater?
A: When I was 15, I used to joke to my careers adviser at the convent that I wanted to do stripping for work experience. I just liked watching her get red in the face. I started burlesque as a teenager on the strip circuit. There was no scene when i started. Actually, I was the scene. It was my humble beginnings as a performer and although I have worked in many different genres, strip-based performance is the base note to my work.
Q: You also describe yourself as a “performance artist”. Do you prefer that description to “burlesque performer”? What does that term mean to you?
A: I am a performance artist. I perform on many different levels in many different genres of performance so it is important people realize my burlesque is just one of the lines of acts I produce.
My performance art is satirical, socio-political, feminist driven character Epics—where yes, much to the audience’s joy, I end up naked… My burlesque work is geared for pure entertainment, lots of fun, sexy, big costumes with a massive wow factor. I’ll always find some way to get slightly twisted if I can.
I will always prefer work that is subversive over straight striptease, but I do have corporate, tamer work that is more accessible. If you are going to perform for a living, you have to be adaptable and diverse.
Q: We all have burlesque idols that we look up to. Are there any other performers that have been a particular inspiration to you throughout your career? Any legends that you are in awe of, or contemporary performers that you really admire?
A: I draw inspiration from so many performers. When I started working in sleazy, violent,dingy clubs I would carry a picture of Camille 2000 in my wallet to remind myself that at some point striptease had been gorgeous. I love Camille. II also love Lily St. Cyr who I have drawn comparisons to my entire career. I think she is stunning. I’m always humbled if I draw comparisons to any legends.
At the moment I am inspired by Dr. Lucky and Glita Supernova- because I miss doing bent work and am working up a new act for the queer fringe in OZ. Dr. Lucky blew me away in Toronto. Glita Supernova always blows me away.
A: The touring is fun and fabulous and takes a lot of planning to get right. So I’ve put out some feelers and I’m waiting to see what comes back to me. My aim is to work with Indigo [Blue] to try to make the Queen’s Tour international. I’d also love to see the burlesque museum in Las Vegas grow to become a must see attraction in Las Vegas. These aspirations could take a few years. I’m also looking at avenues to create a bridge between performance artists in Sydney and New York—an exchange or a residency. All of these things may take years to come to fruition but from my experience, I just set a ball rolling and wait for it to pick up speed.
As to my career, I am looking into all sorts of things from TV appearances to a PHD. I always have a lot on the boil. I got asked to ride through the city naked on a horse the other day… my response was “not at a trot, not without a bra.”
Q: You have quite a full burlesque calendar these days. How do you spend your time when you’re not performing? Do you have other hobbies? Being so busy, how do you unwind?
A: Pft!!!Unwind??? I don’t get to unwind! There is no unwinding. LOL! The trick is to not get wound up in the first place. I’m pretty zen.
As burlesque is my art, and I love my art, I spend free time these days planning new and wonderful events for the Australian burlesque community, like my Living History events, Bent Burlesque (Queer female performance) and a showgirl archive of Aussie artists that I hope one day to exhibit. I make puppets and costumes for myself, draw, paint—in truth I don’t have much free time as there is always so much I want to do and it usually revolves around performance.
Q: You also have a young daughter. What advice do you have for other performers with children? Is it difficult to travel with her? What does she think about burlesque? She must be in love with the costumes, especially the incredible flamingo!
A: It’s funny you should ask. She has taken to calling my hands flamingos and talks to them all the time. She feeds them and cuddles them which is sweet— unless you are trying to write on the computer. I love that she gets exposure to so many amazing, creative women. I do try to keep her away from burlesque, though, simply because she is a child. Burlesque is adult entertainment and it needs to stay that way.
Contrary to what I believed in my pre-mommydays, having a child is the most creative and empowering thing I have ever done. It is also perceived as being the most pedestrian thing a woman can do, so I’m disappointed that some peeps have such an issue with it. I thought this movement was all about breaking down taboos, not adopting more of them.
My advice would be more for the burlesque community in general. If one of your pals gets knocked up, don’t abandon them. Being a new mum is quite lonely . It gets even worse when you realize that your friends don’t support you. I guess really you just find out who your real friends are, but I also think in a culture that is so much about empowerment, women being defiant and strong, we come up a bit short when it comes to accepting motherhood. We don’t all want kids, nor should all of us have kids, but if your girlfriend has a bub, don’t let her be lonely. Be a pal and invite yourself over for a cup of tea. You don’t have to offer to wipe arse or cook scones. You’re not intruding. A conversation with another adult can help remind you of who you really are.
Q: And, finally: What one question have you always wished the media would ask you? Can you please ask and answer it now for your PinCurl fans?
The best piece of lady advice I ever received was in etiquette class at the convent; “a lady never swears, or gets drunk at the races.”
So whatever you do don’t become a lady, it’s obviously a really un-fun decision.
Award winning acrobatic burlesque starlet and pint-sized powerhouse Trixie Little talks celebrating America’s birthday, underboob, going down under, hateful monkeys and the four c’s of burlesque.
Interview: Miss Violet O’Hara
Q. Your wildly entertaining striptease performance repertoire includes acts featuring trapeze, physical comedy and acrobatics. Before joining the burlesque community, you founded a troupe called Fluid Movement. Can you share a bit about this unique adventure with us?
Fluid Movement was a troupe that I founded in Baltimore right out of college in 1998. I studied traditional visual art (painting and drawing) but knew I wanted to do something that connected more with the world than I could just by putting up work in a gallery. I wanted to really affect people with my creativity. The first Fluid Movement show I did was a puppet show with dressed up tofu hot dogs that re-enacted the opera Carmen in under 8 minutes. But what I always wanted to do was water ballet. I loved Esther Williams for combing beauty and athleticism; I was passionate about combing high brow and low brow for comedic effect and I also really believed in populist entertainment as art. That’s what we did…we paired regular community people with a team of artists and staged elaborate synchronized swimming shows in public parks every summer. I was artistic director and executive director of Fluid Movement through six seasons of water ballets and numerous other shows before leaving it to pursue burlesque seriously with Monkey. Fluid Movement is still going strong! I am proud that it was strong enough to survive without me.
Q. The Evil Hate Monkey has been your flipping and stripping partner since 2002 and became your fiancé (onstage during a show!) in 2011. Congratulations! What’s it like to live and work with your beloved? How do you balance the personal and professional aspects of your relationship?
Ha-ha! Well, it’s not something I recommend to people in general! When you’re self-employed and an artist, it takes constant effort to keep love and romance afloat, but we try! Artistically, we are always searching for ways to stay inspired and to allow each other space to explore our own ideas, but we both have a great desire to keep building our body of work together too. We sort of come together…go apart…come together again…it’s an ebb and flow we’re used to by now.
Q. In celebration of America’s birthday, you’re currently touring with ‘Trixie & Monkey’s All-American Burlesque Circus’, featuring juggler Sean Blue, singer Lady Scoutington and circus giant Mr. Gorgeous. What is your strategy when developing a new show and planning a tour? What do you look for when casting performers and booking venues?
We like to produce true variety shows. Since we have a background in circus, we love working with professional jugglers, acrobats, contortionists, hula hoopers and aerialists…in addition to stripteasers! I try to book people that seem fun to play around with and that would be easy going on a 5 hour car ride. We like collaborating on opening and closing numbers and incorporating all their new talents. For this tour, we’re creating a 21-pastie salute and a group jump rope number. As for venues, we just keep going back to the places that seem to like us the most. We maintain our relationships with venues because we need them as much as they need us.
Q. This current tour will stop in Coney Island, Baltimore, DC, West Virginia and New Jersey. Have you ever had to alter costumes or re-choreograph acts due to differing state or city regulations?
The laws are so crazy from state to state! We are really adaptable, so I don’t ever mind.
We’ve had to cover butt cleavage, under boob, and even got fired from a casino once for being too racy when we didn’t even take anything off! Whereas in England we’ve done outdoor daytime performances for kids in pasties and undies. I have to admit that we have been getting quite comfortable with NYC’s comfort with nudity! We do perform fully nude at times at The Box in NYC and love the freedom of it. It feels like an even more heightened expression of the emotion we’re going for in Total Eclipse to end it by collapsing onto each other fully naked as the curtains close. I never thought we’d ever be those performance arty types, but I guess we are.
Q. Congratulations on your win as the 2nd runner up for the title of Queen of Burlesque during the 2012 Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend! The coveted trophy for Best Burlesque Duo went home with you and The Evil Hate Monkey in 2006. As a veteran performer and competitor in this annual reunion and fundraiser, can you share with us some of your favorite memories of BHoF’s gone by? Are there any stories that are itching to leave Vegas?
Oh geez! There are too many to list. We’ve attended for seven straight years! I did have the time of my life bowling this year with our fellow Baltimore natives, Mr. Gorgeous and Lil Miss Lixx. We wore matching unitards with the Maryland state flag on them while executing acrobatic bowling moves and ribbon dancing. We really earned our “Most Distracting” and “Fan Favorite” trophies! You can see us on YouTube under “BHOF 2012 Barecats Invitational.”
Q. The festival circuit has grown larger with each passing year in both quantity of festivals and the number of performers applying for them. What advice would you offer to a performer looking to navigate the myriad of festivals happening regionally, nationally and internationally? What trends have you seen developing along with the expanse of festivals and competitions?
My advice is to be humble, work hard and focus on your body of work not on one act or achievement. Apply to everything, work with everybody, collaborate and challenge yourself. I wish newbie’s would talk less though, they would learn more. It took us 3-4 years of attending festivals before we even had the nerve to talk to anyone! We were so shy, we just observed from the outside until people had seen us a handful of times and they started to talk to us. Over time, we became more outgoing as we built confidence, but I feel that we earned it. I get so tired of all the posturing and self-promotion that is inherent in this business. I just want to be with artists that I respect.
Q. Speaking of festivals, this fall you’re booked at two Australian burlesque festivals with your very own hour-long, greatest-hits show, ‘Trixie & Monkey: Flipping & Stripping Down Under!’ What an exciting opportunity to share your talents with a new international set of fans! Which of your signature acts have made it into this special show and why? Will you have any time to take a gander around the outback while you’re there?
Thank you, we are really thrilled to have evolved to the point of holding an hour-long show like this on our own. We’ve done it before, but in a theater setting, where we created every act to fit the narrative. This is a new challenge for us because we’re doing our best burlesque/circus acts which have lots of costume changes, so we had to select acts based on a mix of artistic and practical factors. We knew we wanted to put in “Total Eclipse” because that’s our signature act and we wanted to do our sexual fortune telling act “Gypsy Little” as well as our duo trapeze “Kama Sutra.” When choosing our solo acts, we realized we needed to do a bit of writing and choreographing for some fun transitions, that’s what we’re working on now. We’ll debut the show next month in Baltimore then have another 2 months to workshop it before Australia. One of the festivals we’re doing travels to 3 different cities, so I do hope we get to site-see as much as possible!
Q. In August you’ll be heading to Baltimore to perform a special preview of this show in order to raise funds for the airfare to Australia. Money is a hot topic, and some performers have chosen to create online campaigns with sites like KickStarter to help them fund new costumes, props, equipment, travel expenses and/or specialized training. What are your opinions on this new practice vs. producing a benefit show as you have chosen to do? How challenging is it to fund your traveling expenses in this economic environment and do you foresee an environment in which your compensation would include all expenses?
Well, we usually only go places when the producers cover all of our expenses, but we know that there’s a lot of work for cabaret/variety performers in the Australian festival circuit and have always wanted to be part of it. We’ve been working with a wonderful Australian producer for over a year now trying to orchestrate an opportunity, but it’s very, very difficult when people don’t know who you are! All of the work we get happens because producers are impressed with us live. So, we kind of know the deal now. When you’re trying to bust into a new market, you often have to take some risks. So, for our Australian debut, we organized a benefit show where we’re going to try to raise all $3,600 for our flights in one night and we’ll debut the show we’re going to take over there. We did consider doing a KickStarter for it, but ultimately just decided to do what we do best: put on a show. I know from my Fluid Movement days that people want something for their money- so doing KickStarter almost seemed like too much follow up work (with all the levels of thanks and what not) than would be worth it. It is very hard to fund your dreams, but that’s just part of the creativity. It’s the journey, not the destination, right? It’d be so boring if we didn’t have to work hard to pay for our crystals!
Q. In reference to the burlesque mantra: ‘The Four C’s: Choreography, Character, Costuming and Charisma,’ what are your favorite resources on the web and/or in our community to harness and develop these important C’s?
My advice for all of those is another C….classes! Just become a life-long student and you’ll be fine. I take classes continually and will never stop. This year, I’ve focused on contortion/handstands, screen writing, basic tumbling and ballet.
Q. Now that you’ve been in The Big Apple for awhile, what differences have you noticed in the fans and venues in comparison to Charm City? Do you have plans to stay in New York, or do you see yourself moving onto another city or possibly returning to Baltimore one day?
I was so sad to leave Baltimore, but life is great here! We work four times harder than we had to in Baltimore and are always going-going-going, but I feel like I’m closer to reaching my full potential here. New York audiences are actually great, but they do expect a lot. It’s harder to produce shows, but we work at some great clubs so we don’t have to do everything ourselves anymore. It’s just different. We traded some simplicity and space for complexity and culture. I always dream of having a big artist studio in Baltimore that I can use as a retreat. I don’t see why I have to choose between the two cities I love when they are only about a 4 hour drive from each other!
Q. With 30 different acts and two full length theater shows under your belt, are there any new characters in the works or additional circus skills you’d like to master and unleash on the world?
I’m always working on new things: handstands, a screenplay, new stripteases and new aerial numbers. Our documentary is coming out this year and I also really want to ride on an elephant in a circus before I die. But right now I’ve got 68 days to plan an awesome, relaxed, transcendent and thoughtful wedding with my soon-to-be husband! [See the Proposal]
Keep up with Trixie Little at www.trixielittle.com!
Want more of Miss Violet O’ Hara? Interview with Miss Astrid
Highlighting the Burlesque Oral History Project:
An Interview with Elsa Sjunneson
by: Femme Vivre LaRouge
We’ve told you a little bit about the Burlesque Oral History Project before, but now we’d like to tell you more – and appeal to this fabulous community for some much-needed assistance. Founded by Dr. Lukki, the Burlesque Oral History Project endeavors to preserve the history of burlesque by gathering and archiving memories of yesteryear from the remarkable ladies (and gents) that lived it. There is a great deal of work to be done and, as you can imagine, very little resources with which to do it. Therefore, it is my pleasure to introduce to our readers the woman who is taking on the task, burlesque historian Elsa Sjunneson. I had the pleasure of meeting Elsa last year in Las Vegas at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Reunion, when I volunteered for the Burlesque Oral History Project. A performer herself (Lydia Ransom), she is the daughter of world-famous Paula the Swedish Housewife, and has grown up in the world of glitter and garters. Elsa graduated from Sarah Lawrence with a Master’s degree in Women’s History, and wrote her thesis on burlesque and censorship – she is a personal hero of mine.
Elsa, won’t you please tell us a little bit about yourself, your research, and your passion for burlesque history? Also, what is your role with the project?
I am a historian working for the Oral History Project. Right now I organize all the interviews, I interview legends, and I make sure that the legends are comfortable with volunteers if volunteers are being used. And after the BHOF season ends, I’ll be editing interviews, and making them into useful documents. I love what I do because this community is family to me, and as a historian who came out of that family, I feel a deep obligation to directly participate in the documentation of our history. Art history, specifically the history of art made by women, has been systematically ignored or put down, and it is a goal of mine to be able to continue to push forward the history of burlesque, and of women doing burlesque in particular, to the minds of other historians.
What are the most pressing goals of the Burlesque Oral History Project at this point?
Right now I really need to get transcriptions happening. The thing is, when you take an interview with a tiny microphone, there has to be a transcript so that future scholars can actually utilize the information. If (knock on wood it doesn’t) the audio dies and we no longer have the original audio file, we’d still have the transcription to create our archive, and to tell our story.
What work is there to be done and how can we help?
If you find a new legend, tell us about it. If you find a new Legend who REALLY wants to talk to us? Seriously. Tell us about it. The more people we interview, the fuller picture that we can paint of our history. Furthermore, if you have old audio equipment, or old video equipment, that you’d like to donate to the program, we really need better equipment than we have. This is a project, again, for after BHOF.
Would you please share some rewarding moments with us from your experience working with the Burlesque Oral History Project?
It depends on what you mean by rewarding. I’ve heard stories in interviews that made my skin crawl, and it was rewarding because I felt like I was getting the true story, and not just the sparkly story. I’ve also had rewarding moments like this one, knowing that there are people in the community who ARE interested in hearing about this work and how to get involved.
After the interviewing, transcribing, filming, etc. has been done, what will happen to all the material that you’ve gathered? Will it be available to the public as well as archived?
We’re still in the process, but it is my hope that the community will be able to access documents online. The notion of an archive for an international community that doesn’t utilize the internet makes little sense. There might be a fee in order to keep the archive and the museum going. Until I have transcription done, I can’t really begin to know what the archive will look like.
How do you hope to see the program grow in the upcoming years?
I’d like to create an oral history corps. Essentially, you – the reader – can join the oral history corps and take interviews too. The way it would work is that I would present workshops at BurlyCon, BHOF, maybe other cities and programs, and I would train people in basic oral history interview tactics so that we could take more interviews from legends. I’m not ever going to be able to fly from one city to the next just to take interviews, but I CAN create a system by which we’re able to gather more interviews through education and training.
Is there a website or blog where we can follow the progress being made by the Burlesque Oral History Project?
We’ll likely make posts about things through the BHOF blog.
I believe in telling other people’s stories. By gathering stories, we create a vibrant and real history for ourselves. I’m really honored that I get to work with the Legends so closely, and that I have the opportunity for 4 days out of the year to really work as a historian. The rest of the time, I’m doing some historical work and a lot of other stuff, but for four days every year, I really get to do what I set out to with my MA. THAT is what’s rewarding to me.
If you have information to share about a Legend, please contact Elsa at: email@example.com
U.K. burlesque performer Anna Fur Laxis, First Runner-Up for Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2011, talks ridiculousness, BHoF legends, knife-throwing, fans with actual anaphylaxis and ninja training.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Your breathtaking act “The Prestige” won you the title of First Runner-Up for Reigning Queen of Burlesque in June 2011 at the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend. I’ve read that it took you at least 18 months of work to properly execute the act and I’d love to know a little more about the details of your extensive preparation, especially the quick change aspect. Had you ever done quick change prior to that act?
Thank you for the breathtaking bit! I’m so glad you liked it. Back in 2006 when I saw the titular film I completely loved it, I found it gloriously evoked what must have been incredible excitement at the performances of the magicians of that period; it’s one of my favourite films. Michael Caine’s description of the three-act concept of a magician’s performance, with ‘The Prestige’ being the climax, particularly lodged in my head. I always said to myself that if I were to seriously apply for BHoF it would have to be with something amazing, I would want to perform something that no one had ever seen before, really to show myself what I could achieve as much as anyone else. A trip to LA’s Magic Castle in 2009 incepted the routine and I jokingly threw out “The Prestige” as a working title to my husband, after he’d stopped laughing at the pompous ridiculousness of it he said he loved it and his enthusiasm for the idea sealed the deal. I knew I had a killer concept but it turned out that I had no idea of the scale of the work that would be required. I had to imagine, develop and build everything myself, with only the help of my wonderful husband.
Prior to this act I’d had zero experience with magic, illusion or quick-change. I can read for England though so I picked up everything I could find on it. I started looking into the mechanics of the quick-change type act but it became clear that they weren’t suitable for the effects I was looking for. When I realized the act was more of a vanish-and-appear the pieces started to fall into place, although the effects are visually similar it’s an important distinction as it creates very different costuming challenges.
I love making costumes but it’s fair to say that this one was my biggest challenge to date and the length of time spent on the routine’s development speaks of the numerous costume pieces that didn’t quite work as required and so had to be re-made, modified and/or abandoned.
Two legends you are particularly inspired by are Holiday O’Hara and Dusty Summers. Would you please share about your admiration for them and in what ways each of them have helped mold you into the performer you are today?
Hands down, THE most incredible thing about attending the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend is meeting the legends of the industry. These amazing men and women are full of inspiration, advice and brilliance and it’s incredibly motivating to spend time in their presence. Hearing Holiday O’Hara speak at the 2008 Legends Panel really did have a profound effect on me. During that weekend’s show, Holiday had performed a striptease for which she had entered the stage with the necessary aid of her mobility walker; the act also featured her utilizing it for comic effect. Speaking of this at the panel, she recalled her mentor’s words, “if you can’t fix it, feature it”. Those words were a revelation to me, and they have informed me both as a performer and in my personal life since.
With Dusty Summers, I’d read her book and been so inspired by her story. I loved that Dusty incorporated magic into her numbers, and when I saw her perform live with doves for the first time, I was blown away. Those doves seriously appear from NOWHERE! When I started to create ‘The Prestige’, I knew I wanted to impress Dusty Summers. Winning the trophy was amazing, but nervously approaching Dusty the next day to ask what she’d thought, and to hear her say that she’d loved the number and had stood up to cheer really made my day!
Let’s talk pre-burlesque background. How/when did you get started? Do you have any formal dance/theater training, etc?
I don’t have any formal dance background (other than a performance as a munchkin in a small production of “The Wizard of Oz” aged 3) – the other dance training I have undertaken as an adult, and since starting to perform Burlesque as a career. I love learning new things and I grab learning opportunities wherever I can.
Other than dance classes, the ‘training’ I’ve found most beneficial from my previous life and careers has been from unexpected areas – Anatomy & Physiology & body positioning studies from my Radiography training has helped with modeling, my Beauty Therapy has helped with stage make up & presentation, and my time as a Legal Secretary has been invaluable in writing my contracts and the huge amount of administration that being a Performer brings.
Initially, I started to perform Burlesque as an extension of the pin-up modeling I’d been doing. I had no clue that I would fall so in love with performing and creating acts and that I would be doing it full time within six months of my first performance!
Aside from burlesque, you’re also an established model. Care to share some career highlights thus far? Any exciting modeling projects in the works?
Modeling and Burlesque work well together and I love both. I love working with creative, retro companies such as Vivien of Holloway and Arcanum Accessories or with incredible Artists like Gary Crozier and Saarai Salmi & Marco Melander. I’m really looking forward to some of the shoots I have lined up, for example with creative wig specialist Archania by D’Licious, and I also have a new project in the pipeline with Gary Crozier. As for highlights? I’m a sucker for being on magazine covers. Five years ago I was a nerdy Yorkshire Housewife – being on magazine covers makes me feel like I‘ve broken the laws of Physics.
Your fans recently voted you number 5 in 21st Century Burlesque’s Burlesque Top 50 for 2011 (a drastic jump from the number 19 spot in 2010). In your opinion, what contributed to the increase in notoriety? Were you surprised to be in the top 5?
I was absolutely thrilled to be voted into the top 50, and to be number 5 was wonderful. I’d obviously been hoping I’d be somewhere in the top 50, but as names were announced and the numbers get smaller you do start to wonder if you’ll be in there.
I think I owe my position at number 5 to the people who saw my BHoF act – either online or on stage in Las Vegas and Leeds. It’s very rewarding to know that people enjoy what I do enough to put me alongside such esteemed Performers, Teachers and Ambassadors of this industry.
You’re also known for knife/axe-throwing, and you won a medal from the International Knife Throwers Hall of Fame recently. We’d love to hear more about that!
Haha!! Yes, I was pretty excited about that medal! Since I met Hollywood Knife Thrower Jack Dagger in Los Angeles in 2008, I’ve come to know some really great members of the International Knife Thrower’s Hall of Fame. It’s a wonderful community and, in many ways similar to the burlesque scene. It’s an international group of enthusiasts, skilled in a discipline they love, loudly spreading the word to anyone who’ll listen. I’d love to go to more events and throwing contests but I’m rarely available, so to get recognition from them was wonderful, and again, very much an honour.
I giggled at a recent Facebook post in which you stated, “I know I’ve been going in this direction for quite some time, but in 2012 I’ve decided to become an actual ninja.” You’ve got some pretty serious training ahead of you this year, no?
Totes. Although in many ways I’m almost there already; I’ve studied the martial art Aikido, I can pretty much quote the whole of Enter the Dragon, I own some REALLY tight black pants and my knife-throwing instructor has offered to teach me how to throw bo shuriken. The way I see it, my main challenge in this quest is to figure out how to be a lot less clumsy in the dark.
In December you had to delay the second act of show because an audience member was actually experiencing anaphylaxis, reportedly right after you left the stage. I’m certainly not making light of anyone’s ailment, but my goodness how incredible is that?! (What happened, anyway?)
I was performing in a run of nightly dinner shows in the Grand Casino in Helsinki, an awesome gig with beautiful performers LouLou D’Vil and Lada Redstar. One night, I noticed that the interval was lasting a lot longer than usual and asked around to find out what was happening. I was told that the show had been halted while medical help was sought for a diner who had eaten something, suffered an allergic reaction and was experiencing anaphylaxis! BOOM! You can’t buy that headline! Thankfully, we later learned that he made a full recovery; you never know what could happen next time though!
What’s next for Anna Fur Laxis?
Sewing! I’m planning two new numbers for this year so I’m currently riding a wave of costuming inspiration. I’m also working with my husband again on the design for a new prop I’ll need for one of them. Ninja Training obviously, I’ll be starting that in earnest. Then there are rehearsals for some overseas shenanigans in the pipeline, can’t give too much away about them yet but if you currently reside in, oh, let’s say… Canada? Australia? Spain? Yorkshire? Then there’s a chance you could bump into me somewhere. Drinking tea? Counting cards? Leaving no trace?
Burlesque: There Are Big Hearts Behind Those Busts.
Story Femme Vivre LaRouge
It struck a poignant cord with me this year at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Legends Q&A how many of our legends have followed humanistic pursuits, not only in the performing arts, but in the social spectrum as well. I realize that it might be easy for the uninitiated to think of these sensual entertainers as divas or mere attention-seekers, but they are, in fact, intelligent, empathetic, strong, and passionate women who have chosen to share their love of life with others. Judith Stein and Shannon Doah, legends of burlesque, have displayed themselves with grace and glamour for international audiences. But their beauty goes much further than skin-deep. These ladies have followed up their lusty and illustrious careers as showgirls with work that serves others. Judith Stein brings humor to housebound patients and Shannon Doah aids animals in abusive homes. We are lucky to have living legends such as these to look up to.
Judith Stein, a resident of Nelson, British Columbia, has been inducted into The Burlesque Hall of Fame as Canada’s only Legend of Burlesque. She is active in the Canadian burlesque community as a performer and mentor, and teaches workshops on the art of striptease “for your inner tramp” (theartofburlesque.com) Ms. Stein’s performance career began in 1974 when she took up topless go-go dancing to help pay for college. From there she had the chance to learn the art, firsthand, from some of the greatest peelers in the business, and became an internationally acclaimed sensation herself. I was lucky enough to meet Ms. Stein this year at the BHoF Reunion and she was absolutely delightful, “the last Legend standing” at all the after parties!
Judith Stein now works with Interior Health of British Colombia as a Home Support Worker. She provides services to those who wish to remain in their own homes, but need a helping hand with cooking, meds, bathing and hygiene, etc. Furthermore, when these patients are getting ready to pass, Ms. Stein keeps them clean, comfortable, and in good company. She states that, in these palliative health care cases, “Of course, mine die laughing.” Some of the men she has cared for even knew her from her original days as a performer, one telling her, “I can die a happy man now.” Judith says that the great reward in this type of work, the same as with burlesque, is “The smile on people’s faces.” The importance of her work is obvious, and her patients are grateful; as one woman put it, “You walked with me to the end of the road.”
When asked, “What have been some of the more challenging and rewarding aspects
of your careers?” Ms. Stein replied that, after quitting burlesque, she moved to a small town and was open about what she had done in her previous career. “Some of the challenging things were being taken seriously as an intelligent, caring human being; being taken seriously by men, and dispelling the myth that I was probably a hooker, and dumb. I remember when I moved here, there were radical feminists, and they challenged me about my choice of career.” A long-time feminist herself, and member of C.O.Y.O.T.E. (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), she attempted to explain to such challengers that, “I earned my own living, I did what was right for me.” She says, “I had to educate a few people.” Judith states that what was rewarding about her career in burlesque was the ability to entertain, lots of money, travel, independence, and being her own boss. In her current line of work, it is rewarding to do something that is needed, to provide a valuable service.
I asked Ms. Stein, “What has remained constant between your careers, and what has changed?” to which she replied, “What has remained constant is my love of people, and to provide the service with the utmost of charm, grace, and intelligence.” As to what has changed, “When I was a dancer, I thought the world would never end. I hadn’t given much thought to aging. When you’re young and beautiful and in demand, you don’t think about the days when you’re going to go through menopause, health issues, and that you’re not going to have all that money again.”
When asked, “What are some of your accomplishments that you are most proud of?” Judith replied that it has always been the ability to entertain people, “to present myself as an intelligent thinking and aware woman, and well-educated.” She shared a chilling story with me about dancing at a frat party, after which a group of young men rushed the stage, shouting “Rape her!” and pulling at what was left of her costume. She said, “I got away, by sheer luck” and she took them to court over it. Although the case was not a total success, the judge was impressed that she was not after any monetary compensation, but that she was charging these disrespectful hooligans because it “was the right thing to do.” When asked by the judge what she would like to see happen to them, she stated that she would like for these boys to be sentenced one year of compulsory women’s studies. And that is just what happened- a great accomplishment, indeed, and hopefully a turning point in those wayward young men’s lives.
I also requested that Judith Stein honor us with a favorite memory from her career in burlesque. She told me a charming story about an old cowboy who came up to her after a performance in Odessa, TX, and said in the customary drawl, “Ma’am, you’re one fine filly of a lady and I’d be right honored to buy you a drink.” Later, while performing her cowgirl act in assless chaps, he played the spoons on her bum; it turned out that he had also played the spoons at none other than the Grand Ol’ Opry! Judith shared the following with me as well: “Two years ago I performed at the Vancouver burlesque festival, and it had been about 22…23 years since I’d been on stage. The music started, I walked onstage, and the whole place stood up. I was incredibly honored. It was thrilling to be back onstage, to entertain again, to put myself out there and spread the love. The young people who are involved in burlesque have been so gracious, and have honored us more than we could ever have imagined.”
For anyone interested in doing the type of work that Ms. Stein now does, she shared, “In every town there’s a senior citizens place, nursing homes, assisted living, and neighbors who live down the street and might need a hand with groceries, shoveling their walk, or just someone to drop in for a cup of tea and a visit.”
“There are no great deeds, only small deeds done with great love.” Mother Theresa
Shannon Doah (also known as Patricia Oppelt) was born in London, England, and now resides in San Diego, California. She is once again active in the burlesque scene, performing, teaching workshops, and selling some truly lovely merchandise at vintageshowgirl.com. Shannon Doah began performing in 1967, in San Francisco, after which she moved to Hollywood, and subsequently traveled a great deal to perform, into the 1980s. Elegant, gracious, and sympathetic to the needs of others, she reminds me of a modern-day Audrey Hepburn.
What influenced your decision to focus your energies on assisting with the Animal Safehouse Program, and implementing the subsequent Canine Coach Kids and Silent Companion programs, after your illustrious entertainment career?
I had been volunteering at a local humane society for nearly ten years when I was asked to join the front desk staff. I was still performing, but I was traveling less and beginning to think I should transition into a new career. I thought working for the shelter would be a place I could wrap my heart around. Within a year I became the program director for Humane Education volunteers and the Animal Safehouse.
When Janet Winikoff spearheaded the Animal Safehouse, it was a new concept and only a handful of these programs existed nationally; today there are hundreds. The program is life-saving and provides shelter for the pets of domestic violence victims who wish to leave their abuser and enter a battered women’s shelter. I won’t go into detail about my personal history, but I empathized with the women who needed this resource, and supported the new program. When Janet moved, she encouraged me to continue her work. I conducted presentations to professionals and the public on the link between violence to humans and cruelty to animals. I was thrilled to see animal welfare and domestic violence workers collaborate. I attended the domestic violence community’s workshops. I learned that a woman is abused by her partner every 9 seconds so the chances are high the family pet is also at risk. In fact, 75% percent of family violence victims who have animals report that their pets have been harmed or threatened. This added worry has kept victims from leaving their abuser and entering a domestic violence shelter. I also learned that animals could be protected in restraining orders, as property.
The need for kindness programs to help break the cycle of violence to humans and animals inspired me to create the Canine Coach Kids program. Through my experience, and from information from workshops, I learned that the children who most needed interaction with animals were those who had been displaced and exposed to violence and could readily relate to animals that were homeless and abused. I set up animal shelter tours for the kids from DV and transitional housing shelters. During one visit, a boy didn’t want to participate and was sullen and withdrawn. As we entered the rabbit area, I gave the kids some greens to feed the rabbits. The young boy’s face lit up with a big smile as he gave the rabbits their treats. According the DV shelter’s manager, it was a break-through for the youngster. I started my new program with trust and help from the community, support from my peers, child therapists, and plenty of eager homeless dogs at our shelter.
In the Canine Coach Kids program, side by side with their dogs from our adoption program, children experience goal setting, the power of the Human-Animal Bond, compassion, and a sense of responsibility. The homeless dogs’ adoptability increases, and many are adopted before the sessions end- and the kids are delighted get to train another dog!
My inspiration for creating the Silent Companion project blossomed when I served as Chair of the Domestic Violence Council Shelter and Support Services Committee. I worked on collecting data for the National Domestic Violence Silent Witness Project (awareness campaign using silhouettes of domestic violence fatalities). There were no animal silhouettes. Animals are often the overlooked and forgotten victims of domestic violence. In 2003, I created the animal figures to serve as a powerful educational tool to remember animal victims of family violence and to bring awareness of the correlation between human violence and animal fatalities. Each figure represents a companion animal killed by a perpetrator of domestic violence and animal abuse, and is a life size silhouette. Each figure wears a collar and tag with the name of the pet (when available), a description of the pet, other family members, how the animal was killed, and the outcome or conviction of the perpetrator. The animal silhouettes are displayed at international conferences, candlelight vigils, and other family violence awareness events. I’m pleased that others have shared my vision and additional silhouettes have been created.
What have been some of the more challenging and rewarding aspects of your career after burlesque?
Getting up at the same hour I had been going to sleep was a huge challenge!
When I was performing, I wasn’t open about my occupation. I often received a negative reaction to this profession. Although I didn’t disclose my former life, I was insecure that when I spoke to the professional community they wouldn’t take me seriously. I decided to call upon my stage experience to help me prepare for the public speaking. If I could strip off my cloths in front of a crowd, why not speak? I created a “show” with rehearsals, a script, and slides (no power point then!) Eventually, it became second nature to speak, and really quite enjoyable.
What has remained constant between your careers, and what has changed?
Well, I’ve never been mainstream, and I’m a progressive thinker. I think I’ve proved this by my choice to become a strip tease artist and in my willingness to create, develop, and implement programs where they don’t exist. I believe in humanitarianism and the rights of all animals. Creativity in my life has remained constant. It’s part of everything to me and has given my life meaning. The way I approach work comes from my ability to see possibilities and draw from my creative nature. What has changed is that I’ve learned I am a great collaborator.
Please honor us with a favorite memory from your career in burlesque.
There are so many fond and funny memories. Being a lover of tropical weather, I took the opportunity to perform in a huge outdoor Tiki Hut on the island of Tahiti. I was the Feature and I followed two Asian acrobats. There was no stage and the audience sat in circular fashion around the floor. Since it was all outside, if the weather was bad, I got several nights off with pay and flew over to the beautiful island, Moorea. This was 1970 and only two hotels existed on the pristine island!
I also read on your website that you are related to Jane Greer! Being a fan of film noir (for anyone interested, Jane Greer’s most famous role was the femme fatale, Kathie, in 1947’s Out of the Past, which is a visual dictionary of film noir’s classic conventions), I was very interested to learn this, and I can absolutely see the resemblance- you both have such a graceful and sophisticated loveliness. Would you care to share anything about this intriguing family connection?
The film noir actress, Jane Greer, is my cousin from my mom’s side of the family. She was classy and beautiful. I think it runs in the family, and a reason I keep my strip tease shows a class act.
Are there any resources you would like to share with our readers who might be interested in volunteer work or implementing one of the programs that you have conceived and carried out?
Readers may contact me though my website: www.vintageshowgirl.com
Readers can contact their local animal shelters or domestic violence shelters and inquire about volunteer work or programs to help break the cycle of violence. Please report animal abuse to your local animal shelter authorities.
First Strike Humane Society of the United States: http://www.animalsheltering.org/programs_and_services/first_strike/
Directory for Safe Havens for Animals: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/abuse_neglect/tips/safe_havens_directory.html
Guide to Safe Havens for Pets: Guidelines for Programs Sheltering Pets for Women Who Are Battered by Frank R. Ascione, Ph.D.: http://www.vachss.com/guest_dispatches/safe_havens.html
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (1-888-799-7233)
Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-344-6000
Sexual Abuse Hotline: 1-888-272-1767
Elder Abuse Hotline: 1-800-510-2020
Chicago’s Stage Door Johnnies, winners of Best Group at this year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame, took time out of their crazy schedules to dish with us. Group members Bazuka Joe, Ray Gunn, and Jett Adore and talk masculinity, Hot Toddy, codpiece malfunctions, Twizzlers, world domination, and drunk dials.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Please tell us about your performance experience prior to burlesque.
BJ: I performed some theater in high school and started focusing a little more on dance in college. When I moved to Chicago I did some back up dancing in Chicago for a bunch of performers and that’s actually how I met Ray and Jett!
JA: I have been a professional actor and dancer since childhood, performing mostly on stage, but also in film, television, commercials, and print. I have a fine arts degree in acting and in musical theatre, and a minor in dance.
RG: I was a professional modern dancer for 12 years. I was the artistic director of a professional dance company in Chicago for 3 years then started my own dance company which I have been running for the past four years.
Care to briefly explain the development process of each of your boylesque personas?
BJ: I got my name by accident actually. When I was learning my very first solo (at the tutelage of Hot Toddy) I forgot I was chewing gum. We joked that my name should be Bazooka Joe and it stuck! (I changed the spelling later to give a nod to my Asian half … and for copyright issues!). Now, the name is really more of an extension of my actual personality, only much more exaggerated. Bazuka Joe is comical, sweet, unconditionally optimistic, almost naive.
JA: First, I imagine, I pretend, that nostalgia actually exists for male burlesque just as it does for the ladies. I dream, what if, when burlesque was at its original height of popularity, male burlesque had been as prominent and mainstream as the women who have made history? How would those men have translated the genre? I aim to create a character who, just as so many of the divas of burlesque, has a playful sense of humor, without sacrificing legitimate sex appeal. I aim to explore masculinity, and to draw on icons and images which promote it, exploit it, twist it, exaggerate it, expand it, I never intend to bend gender, but I ask always as a man, what can be provocative in the contrasts between delicacy and muscularity, softness and brawn. I am fascinated by exploring the contradictions in our romanticized male icons; his tenderness, charm his glamorous elegance, all despite his brute strength.
RG: The name Ray Gunn is a nod to science fiction and blacksploitation films and my love for the genres.
Can you please tell us about the creation of the Stage Door Johnnies as we know them? What exactly is the involvement of Hot Toddy (2009 King of Boylesque)?
BJ: As Hot Toddy was getting more into the burlesque scene, he kept asking a few guys back regularly as back-up dancers. Little by little we kept showing up together. One day he asked us to meet, and at the time, we kind of knew he was going to ask us if we were interested in getting more involved. Much to our surprise, only the three of us showed up and he already had our first gig booked, a photo shoot set, and we each needed a solo and persona in two weeks! (Surprise!) Since then, Toddy has focused more on improv theater and we’ve taken up the reigns. Every now and then we get him to come and perform with us onstage though! It’s fantastic!
What in your opinion are the pros and cons of performing in a predominately female industry?
BJ: Wow! Loaded question! The biggest con is probably having to explain what it is we actually do. Even to audiences who are privy to female burlesque it’s really hard to convey until they actually see us perform. Usually they think we’re Chippendales knock-offs or drag queens! Also, it’s hard to find male legends who we can learn from and model ourselves after. BUT, there are plenty of amazing female performers who we learn from, idolize, and really work hard to pay homage to but in a masculine, theatrical way. We’re really grateful that the burlesque community is so welcoming and supportive.
JA: We have been embraced by the women of burlesque with immense love and respect. We love being part of something innovative and relatively untouched from the male perspective. The word “boylesque” has worked against us, though, as it means so many different things to different people and confuses the idea of our aim in burlesque, which is to create a male counterpart to the historic art form, with the same standards for refinement, polish, and style as the top women in the business.
RG: Pro: All the inappropriate comments a boy could ever want! Con: Always having to remember to put the toilet seat down.
Have any noteworthy show mishaps, costume malfunctions or the like that you’d care to tell about?
BJ: Ha ha ha!! Yeah, ironically, a burlesque performer’s costume malfunction is usually when something DOESN’T come off. But there are still times when something comes off that you don’t want to. In our case, we wear codpieces that cover crotches – lots of times they’re decorated and used as the punch lines for acts. Well, I was in Indy with Lola Van Ella’s Show-Me Burlesque tour performing my chef routine “Dixie Biscuits”. The punch line is a very glittery codpiece that reads “Kiss The Cook”. Well, as you can probably guess, the glue wore off and I didn’t know until my final reveal. FORTUNATELY, I turn away from the audience right before I show them the end and noticed it in time to hold it up with my hand, so the audience didn’t see anything they weren’t supposed to. The stage crew on the other hand…. (whoops!)
JA: I slipped and completely fell onstage once, and took the opportunity to do some impromptu floor work. I think all of us have had a codpiece malfunction at one point or other along our journey to continue improving on their designs and construction. Thankfully there is always a hat, cape, or feather fan to save the day.
RG: Nothing really shocking, although I Have had clothes not come off when they were supposed to. During my act “Trust Me” the corset got stuck and I spent a good portion of that section trying to wiggle my way out of it!
How has winning best group at this year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend changed things for the group?
BJ: So far, life has gone on as usual. We have been getting a few more offers than normal and some really great opportunities to jump into line-ups with other burlesque icons and title-holders. I do think however, it’s helping to mainstream the concept and idea of our style of male burlesque. We’re finding more and more people who ‘get it’ and know what to expect.
RG: We are busier with travel but we still get referred to as the ‘Backdoor Johnnies’ from time to time.
Please share a few of your favorite burlesque memories so far.
BJ: Another loaded question! I could go on and on! I’d first have to mention the number of hilarious drunk dials I’ve gotten (and given) by performers all over. Minnie Tonka got that train running and now on any random weekend evening we get largely unintelligible calls from god knows who! I usually save them and play them back the next time I see that person.
JA: Performing the last two years at BHOF has certainly been a highlight. Also, one of my most noted honors was when Midnite Martini threw her bra onstage during my performance at the Best of Midwest Burlesque Festival.
RG: Experiencing, first hand, World Famous Bob’s “Bobs Away”. If you don’t know what that is, just have your birthday celebration the next time she’s around! Your life will never be the same!
I’d like to know 3 little known facts about each of you.
BJ: Hmmm…. tough one. 1. I get really nervous in front of cameras. 2. I have ZERO sense of style for blinging up costumes. 3. I have a huge crush on Julie Atlas Muz!
JA: 1. I am the parental guardian for a bear named Franklin (He’s often mistaken for an Akita). 2. I never sleep, but I dream about sleeping. 3. I bathe in buttermilk every Tuesday at dusk.
RG: 1. I love Twizzlers… the original kind, not those crappy Pull-n-Peels. And not those other random flavors – not the cherry, not the peach, not the raspberry, and *definitely* not the watermelon. The original strawberry Twizzlers. 2. I have my own professional dance company. 3. I’m a huge comic book nerd.
What’s next for the Stage Door Johnnies?
JA: We are continuing to stay beyond busy traveling and performing all over the US and in Canada and have been negotiating several offers to perform overseas as well. Our big “next” is our huge monthly show here in Chicago at the legendary Park West Theater starting in October.
RG: World domination. ‘Nuff said.