Rick Delaup, producer of Bustout Burlesque and The New Orleans Burlesque Festival, chats about Bourbon Street, Viva Las Vegas, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
Interview: Jolie Ampere Goodnight
As burlesque is primarily an industry run by women, what is it like to be a man in burlesque? What are the challenges of being a man in burlesque? What is that you love about being a producer?
As a male burlesque producer, I deal with the same issues as female producers. I’ve swapped stories with many female producers, and we face a lot of the same challenges – dealing with venues, booking talent, promoting shows, etc…
I enjoy putting good shows together and entertaining audiences, and if it turns a good profit, then that’s icing on the cake. Besides booking acts, I also create them. I have visions of what I’d like to see on stage. And it’s all based on my knowledge of the nightclub shows of the 1940s through the ‘60s. So I come up with ideas, work with a choreographer, a costumer, and sometimes with the legends of burlesque, like Evangeline the Oyster Girl and Wild Cherry.
What do you look for in classic routines, that is to say, what do you enjoy seeing? What enlivens you? What are some of the qualities of burlesque legends that epitomize classic burlesque for you?
I enjoy seeing a real bump ‘n’ grind, a real burlesque walk, someone that’s knows how to work their costume and/or prop. I like to see beautiful women who are confident on stage. I like dancers who can energize an audience. I also like to see something new and original. I would have loved to see Lilly Christine, Blaze Starr, Tee Tee Red, Evangeline the Oyster Girl, Rita Alexander, and all these other incredible performers live on stage! They paid so much attention to detail in their costuming, choreography, make-up, and the overall glamour of their act. They knew exactly how they wanted their lights and their music. They always looked their best on and off the stage.
As seen on Facebook this year, it appears that you love the build up of announcing performers for the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. Why is that?
Yes, I built up the announcement of our Queen of Burlesque contestants. So many people applied to the festival, and there are only 8 coveted spots for the competition. There’s been a lot of interest in the festival since I created it in 2009. A lot of excitement builds as the festival draws near, so I’m just contributing to it.
Bustout Burlesque is famous for being the show with a live jazz band. What is it that motivates you to maintain a show with both a full band and performers?
In the 1990s, I first heard about what the nightclubs shows used to be like on Bourbon Street in the 1950s. I became very interested in learning more about it. It sparked my passion for burlesque. It was always my goal to see those types of shows come back to life. Although it’s very costly to produce, I really love the formula. Just like the old nightclub shows, Bustout Burlesque always includes a comic emcee, singer, variety act, burlesque dancers, all accompanied by a live traditional jazz band. Although the focus is on the striptease dancers, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
You spoke at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and you live in the birthplace of jazz. What is it about jazz that is so enticing for you? Who are some of your favorite legendary and new jazz performers?
Jazz is the soundtrack to the city of New Orleans. If you’re strolling in the French Quarter, sitting by the river, relaxing on a balcony, socializing in a bar, it’s just what you want to hear. It’s fitting for a street parade and also for a funeral! But there’s nothing like watching a beautiful burlesque dancer performing to a live jazz band, especially if her movements are in time to the music. Everyone feels the music, and everyone is energized by it, from the band members to the dancer to the audience. Bustout Burlesque has been performing for 6 years, and we’ve never performed without the live band, even when we’ve done shows in small venues.
I haven’t thought about favorite jazz performers, because I don’t really listen to jazz at home or in the car. And I don’t often go to jazz shows, other than my own. I think jazz is great when you have the visual of a beautiful dancer to go with it, or a talented and entertaining singer! Usually, I just like it as atmosphere when I’m out and about or doing other things. But when I just want to listen to music, I listen to other styles of music. I love all the different genres. Perle Noire wants me to say I listen to Ol’ Dirty Bastard!
There are various philosophies about the way a fan dance should be done and it’s well known that you have strong opinions about fan dances. What is it that you look for in fan dance? What makes a fan dance thrilling to you?
Actually, I don’t have a strong opinion about how fan dances are performed. I enjoy watching Catherine D’lish’s fan dance and Dinah Might’s fan dance. They both have very different styles and techniques. I guess you’re referring to the fact that I discourage performers from submitting fan dances to the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. We just get so many of them! A dancer would have a better chance of getting into the fest by submitting something else. Back in the glory days of burlesque, there weren’t nearly as many performers doing fan dances as there are now.
It’s clear that you are in love with New Orleans and the history of New Orleans. What you do think it is about New Orleans that makes it such a great city for burlesque (past and present)?
In the 1950s, Bourbon Street had the highest concentration of burlesque clubs in one area than anywhere in the country. The nightclub shows are why Bourbon Street is known all over the world. They had beautiful neon signs and huge photos of the dancers in the windows of the clubs. You could walk up and down Bourbon Street and see numerous burlesque shows on any given night. They had big stars like Blaze Starr, Lilly Christine, Alouette Leblanc, Tee Tee Red, and on and on. New Orleans was known as “Sin City” way before Las Vegas.
One reason New Orleans is a great city for burlesque today, is that we don’t have to worry about getting our shows shut down. A second reason is New Orleans has many tourists that seek out this type of entertainment. And a third reason is that we have several nice stages. House of Blues has been the home of Bustout Burlesque for almost four years. And the theatre at Harrah’s is the main stage for the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. They are big venues with big stages, and nice dressing rooms. It’s great to work with a professional production crew that makes the show look and sound so great.
[Editor’s note: Want to know more? Rick Delaup contributed to an article we did in 2009 on The History of Burlesque in New Orleans. ]
What has been one of your favorite moments as a burlesque producer?
My favorite moment was pulling off the first New Orleans Burlesque Festival. The moment it was over, I felt I accomplished something big that will grow every year, and hopefully be around ‘til the end of days – which I hope is not 2012.
You are now one of the producers for Viva Las Vegas 15. Will there be differences between Viva and New Orleans in terms of style and performances?
I’m producing the Burlesque Showcase next year. They asked me to do something different than previous years. So I decided to bring Bustout Burlesque to The Orleans for VLV. What could be more fitting? It’s an authentic New Orleans burlesque show featuring live music. I think the audience will love it. However, I haven’t decided which performers will be in the show. I waiting until after the festival to put it together, because not only am I too busy planning the New Orleans Burlesque Festival, but I want to see all the acts in the NOBF. I’ll be looking for stand-out performances. I’m also looking forward to seeing dancers I’ve heard about, but have never seen in person. The NOBF is a perfect time to look for talent I can book for Bustout Burlesque and other shows.
Burlesque seems to be gaining mainstream popularity. Do you see this as something positive? Do you have concerns? Why do you think burlesque is gaining so much momentum?
Of course it’s positive that burlesque is gaining a bit more popularity in the mainstream. That would mean it’s getting more profitable and creating more opportunities for producers and performers. However, it still has a long way to go. Burlesque can still be a pretty hard sell. It seems people who have never seen a burlesque show do not quite know what it is, or what to expect. And then there are those who do not enjoy their first burlesque show, and think all the other shows must be the same.
I think burlesque has been gaining momentum every year because it’s fun adult entertainment that women and couples can enjoy. There’s nothin’ like a burlesque show!
Do you view burlesque as more of an art form or a purely sexual form of entertainment?
I guess it should be both. Clearly, I see it as an art form. I think burlesque should sexy and/or humorous.
What are your plans for the near future? Are you in the midst of working on anything exciting?
I work in burlesque full-time, and I obsess about it 24/7. The only time my mind really moves away from it is when I’m watching a good movie or a TV show. I always have many projects up my sleeve! I don’t really like to talk about anything before it comes together. But I can say that I’d like to produce more shows besides Bustout Burlesque and the NOBF. I’d like to stage more shows outside of New Orleans. I have a new website project I’ll be working on soon. But my ultimate goal is to have a real burlesque club in the French Quarter that also includes a burlesque museum and gift shop. I have a huge collection of vintage New Orleans burlesque items that include tons of photos, promotional items, costumes, beaded bras, jeweled g-strings, interviews, and more. I want authentic burlesque to return to New Orleans in a big way!