Legendary sex pioneer, Annie Sprinkle, will be an emcee, judge and presenter at this year’s Texas Burlesque Fest, in Austin, Texas, April 14-16. We appreciate Annie taking time out of her busy schedule to chat about the movie Gypsy, Strip Speak, the “boxed lunch”, taboos, bad-boy strip club managers and her new passion, ecosexuality.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You’re one of the emcees for this year’s Texas Burlesque Fest. Plus you’ll be doing a retrospective slide show presentation with Q and A about your life and work, and you’re one of the judges for the Saturday night competition! Obviously you’ll be very busy. What are you looking forward to most about the festival?
To see the dancers perform, of course. I’ve been a burlesque enthusiast for years. To me it’s prayer—a spiritual experience to watch a sex goddess dance. It’s Divine and hot at the same time. Actually I’m a really bad judge because I love each and every stripper! I will want to give everyone a 10 for effort.
Other than the burlesque festival, what else is on your agenda
while you’re in Austin?
On Thursday, April 14, I’ll do an intimate informal presentation for Charla’s Body Joy productions, at her house for about 30 folks. Friday afternoon I’ll do a lecture at University of Texas. I love to do college gigs and do them all over the country as much as possible. Sunday afternoon, the day after the burlesque fest, I will do my newest offering at my favorite theater, the Vortex. It’s a keynote slide show called EcoSexology—Exploring the Landscape of a New Sexual Movement, Erotic Environmentalism, Green Porn, Nature Fetishes & Fashions. Then I will take folks on an Ecosex Walking Tour around the block and everyone can have an erotic experience with nature. Its super fun and differently sexy. Everyone is invited to everything!
Please tell us about your experience in burlesque.
When I was twelve my family went to the drive in movies to see the movie Gypsy about the life of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, with Natalie Wood. That is my all time favorite movie and it was a big influence on me. Shy ugly duckling becomes empowered burlesque star and stands up to her controlling mother! I was very shy and insecure, and so wanted to be a sexy star. At 17 I happily gave up my virginity, and had a great first experience. By 18 I ended up in porn and prostitution and loved it. In the early eighties porn stars became in big demand in burlesque, so I got a lot of offers for big bucks. But was too shy to get on stage, and I wasn’t a very good dancer because when I was 13, my best friend told me I moved my ass funny when I danced, and after that I became so self conscious that I stopped dancing. It was very sad. But finally when I really wanted to go to college, and had to raise the money, I got up my courage and took the offers to do burlesque. My boyfriend at the time, a famous Dutch artist named Willem DeRidder suggested that I do story telling for my act. He was a fantastic story teller and we did radio shows together. So we created a new genre of burlesque we coined ‘Strip Speak.’ I strutted, gyrated, did floor work and stuff but I did sexy little skits, erotic storytelling, talked really dirty. I liked to interact with the audience. I did mainstream burlesque for 4 years. Playboy magazine did a little story on strip speak when I was at the Oak Theater in Chicago. I performed a lot at the Mitchell Brothers Theater, at the New Era in Cleveland, and Show World Center and the Melody Burlesque in Times Square. The Melody later became the Harmony Theater. I was always a headliner because I was a porn star. My porn fans came out for me.
Eventually I transitioned into performance art and continued to do nude and sexual performance with music but it wasn’t traditional burlesque. Maybe you could call it experimental burlesque…well, very experimental! I’ve done lots of things that people consider pretty taboo from fisting to golden showers. But interestingly, really, the biggest taboo so far is being nude onstage over 50! When you’re young taking off your clothes in public is pretty normal and acceptable. To be older and naked is taboo. But personally I love to see older bodies being erotic. Youth has its charms, so does age. We are a youth obsessed culture, which I think is very limiting. I like to expand and include. I like to fix taboos by breaking them!
While I was both on the road doing burlesque and getting my BFA at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan I took lots of photos backstage so I have a nice historic record of that time. I was also a pin-up model—in Hustler, Cheri, Club, High Society, Oui… all of them. I was also a pin up photographer for most all the magazines for many years. I had a monthly column in Penthouse Forum, and Cheri and others. So I photographed and interviewed a lot of the big strippers and porn stars of the 80’s and early 90’s. I’ve been around a long time, and I guess that’s why I was invited to the burlesque festival, because I’ve been there and done it, and have an historical perspective. The youngins have to be educated about the herstory, just like I had to be. I was tickled to be invited to do Burlesque Fest because I have been really out of that loop for a long time.
When you say, “In the early 1980’s porn stars became in big demand in burlesque” could you elaborate? Were these at modern “gentleman’s clubs” or theatrical venues? Were the performances burlesque, or more “feature dancing”? What did burlesque on the whole, look like in the 1980’s and 90’s?
The real change was the amount of nudity.
In the 80’s, most all the places I worked, you would do like 3 or 4 songs. The first couple were pretty classic burlesque in that you would work costumes, have “gimmicks”, strut, and really put on a show. Then once you were naked, or at least the naughty bits were showing, then you’d do some sort of floor work. OR, some strippers got down and dirty with the audience. Like Monica Kennedy would go out and just let the audience have at her. Or at the Melody burlesque you had what was called “boxed lunch” where the gals would lay down on the stage and men would line up and lick their pussies. It was really something to see. I never served boxed lunch, as I was a feature dancer, so didn’t do lap dances either. I think of stripper as the same as burlesque dancer.
The neo burlesque movement is based on the old vaudeville style of burlesque, before the 60s. During the sixties there was what you called go-go dancing, in bars also. But no, the places I worked all did what I would call burlesque, but it wasn’t usually the 50’s styles of clothing, of moves, of tease. It was a different style, with different kinds of moves-but still very theatrical. Very theatrical indeed. When gentlemen’s clubs came, yes, the dancing got mostly pretty boring. It’s not very theatrical at all, more ambient usually. Creativity isn’t really supported or encouraged. But yeah, in the 80’s and early 90’s, we had dancers with snakes, trumpets, magic acts, and all kinds of theatrical extravaganzas.
A lot of the earlier strippers were really pissed off about all the nudity and floor work that evolved, so they tried to say that it wasn’t burlesque anymore. But really I would say it was burlesque with more nudity, the latest fashions and more sleaze. I’m sure if you interviewed a stripper from the 50’s she’d probably say it wasn’t burlesque. But when I see the dancers at a gentlemen’s club, I would say that is not burlesque at all. There are very little theatrics. Most of the theaters we went to were not bars or night clubs, except in canada. You couldn’t have liquor and nudity both. So they were theaters, usually with a good sized stage and with a run way.
You use the word “stripper” for some, and “burlesque” for others. Is there a difference between strippers, feature dancers, and burlesque performers for you?
Stripper: A dancer that takes their clothes off on stage.
Feature Dancer: A dancer that has a known name and draws customers. Thus she/he is paid more than “house dancers” and usually doesn’t have to do things like boxed lunch, lap dancing, drink selling.
Burlesque dancer: A dancer that uses theatrical elements while taking (some of or all) of their clothes off. Costumes, props, lighting, tease, eye work, special music, etc.
In one of your articles on your website, you describe at length what you call your “brushes and crushes with the law.” I was especially interested in the section about your work as a stripper and all of the creative ways you had to work around liquor/nudity laws in various places. Please share some of those stories with our readers.
Over many years, I’ve seen the pendulum of freedom and repression swing back and forth. People try to stop adult entertainment from happening, and there are people who fight to allow it. Traveling the bumpy burlesque trail I got to see just how ridiculous laws could be, and how clever the lawyers could be in helping us get around those laws. For example, in one city the law demanded ‘no full nudity ‘. So we simply kept our g- strings on when we took our bras off, and put our bras back on before we took off our g-strings. It was full nudity, but not all at once. In another city, the law said ‘no nudity and liquor allowed at the same address’, so a glass wall was built between the bar and the stage, and each side of the glass was given a different address. In yet another city, the law insisted that ‘dancer’s nipples had to be covered’. So dancers had to paint them over with clear liquid latex, which kept us legal, but made our nipples painfully irritated.
You have stated that you “never really liked burlesque.” What specific aspects of burlesque did you find unappealing?
The only thing I didn’t like about burlesque was ‘the management.’ Some, not all, of the owners and managers at some of the places I worked were simply greedy, arrogant, controlling, misogynist, patriarchal men. The Mitchell Brothers theater was the best place to work. Ironically the Mitchell brothers were really respectful. For twenty years I worked in massage parlors (brothels) and in pornography and the men in charge were wonderful! They were there to protect you, make sure you were taken care of, and helped you make money and they were fun to be with. So after 38 years in sex related work, burlesque theater owners and managers were the only bad apples. Hopefully that has changed and they are more enlightened now. I had become too much of a feminist to put up with it anymore and got out of the burlesque biz.
You have a Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, and your bio states that you have “passionately researched and explored sexuality in all of its glorious and inglorious forms for thirty eight years.” Which did you find to be more difficult- your doctorate coursework or your many years of independent research?
None of it was difficult. It wasn’t all hunky dory. But I was very blessed. Just like with any job there were good and not so good days. But most days were wonderful. I was never a drug addict or alcoholic. I have noticed that people with drug and alcohol addictions have a tougher time in the sex industry. Plus I have relatively good self-esteem compared to a lot of people, and I had an attitude that I’d come out a winner no matter what. Very importantly, I had a wonderful support group, called Club 90–a core group of 5 porn stars. We all also performed in burlesque and we really supported each other. We are still a support group today we’ve been meeting for 27 years and are the best of friends. We email each other almost every day, but also get together whenever we possibly can.
Do you have any other current projects about which you’re
I’m what I call metamorphosexual—always in a state of change. I’m constantly interested in the new thing. I honestly feel like my best is yet to come. The past couple years I’ve been super excited about the work my partner and collaborator Elizabeth Stephens and I are doing around ecosexuality, and what we call Sexecology; exploring the places where sexology and ecology intersect. We are working on changing the metaphor from ‘Earth as mother’ to ‘Earth as lover’ to entice people to take better care of the Earth, Sky and Sea. I’m interested in nature fetishes, in being sensual with water, plants, sky, dirt… We have a new theater piece; Dirty Sexecology—25 Ways to Make Love with the Earth. At the end of the show I do an ecosexual striptease for the Earth while Beth sings a song about the destruction of the Appalachian Mountains. Then we get down and dirty in two breast-like piles of dirt. At the finale she pulls a flag of the Earth out of my plooch. It’s fun and very dirty! I’m stripping for the Earth now.
For more about Annie Sprinkle visit her sites: anniesprinkle.org, and loveartlab.org.