By J.D. Oxblood
September 13, 2011
Mystique Ultra Lounge, Manhattan
You have to celebrate newness; it’s etched into our akashic records. New year, new birthday, new job, new boyfriend. And you have to celebrate a new template for a burlesque event. How’s this for clever: First, have a great idea. Second, get yourself a Kickstarter.com page and tell everyone in the community, get them to tell their friends, and raise enough money to be able to finish the project. Third, do the project. THEN throw a big fat party, which is almost a done deal since you have all the folks who gave you kickstarter money—many of whom were promised free passes to a sexy party for contributing. At the party, sell the product. You pretty much can’t fail.
And so we have the genius of Malgorzata (Maggie) Saniewska, a Polish national who came to New York in 2003, became a bartender and then an accountant and then a photographer, shooting for clothing lines such as well-known friend-to-burlesque Garo Sparo. As she became a full-time photographer and got involved in the nightlife scene, she got hooked on burlesque. According to her kickstarter page, she became inspired to capture the beauty of [burlesque] in her photography projects.” “Maggie looked for a way to portray the performers in a way that would highlight each of their unique styles and individual interpretations of humor, sexuality, theatricality and grace. The answer? A new deck of cards with girls on the back, so classic it’s a Tom Waits lyric. The cards gave Maggie “the ability to feature a larger number of the most talented Burlesque performers in a photographic exhibit – all at one time.” And a group of 54 women who had a good reason to come to a party, making this launch party the most successful full-on all-burlesque schmoozefest I’ve ever been to outside of Las Vegas.
And that’s no joke. While New York has arguably the largest burlesque scene in the world—in sheer numbers of performers and shows—we have a low level of schmooze possibilities and still, a dearth of venues. What Maggie gave us was another look at how to do it. In this case, a party in a swanky club with a shotgun bar leading to a low-lying dance floor, surrounded on all sides by a mixture of the hoi polloi of burlesque and the fans thereof—gorgeousness in sequins kneeling on the floor next to schlubs in jeans, just like the goddess intended, watching live performances by Jo Boobs, Dame CuchiFrita, Delysia La Chatte, Medianoche, Cheeky Lane, Gal Friday, Calamity Chang, Peekaboo Pointe, and Ms. Tickle. But then you had the OTHER party—the one upstairs in the V.I.P. room, where New York’s burlesque royalty rubbed elbows (etc.) with each other and generally had a good time. And having a good time is what a party is all about, which is why I praise this event as being more of a party than a show.
Which got me thinking. There’s no question that internet resources such as Kickstarter are changing the way artists do business. A friend and contributor to BqB recently told me about an English site called Unbound.com, where readers can “donate” money towards the publication of an unpublished book. It’s an obvious attempt to fix a deeply flawed business model; currently publishers are scrambling to save sales, in spite of the fact that they still dish out six- and seven- figure advances to untested writers or questionable projects, leaving that much money left in the coffer for other books. Writers themselves are looking for a way to make a little more money than the lackluster percentages offered by the big houses. My obsessions aside, Kickstarter has blown up, and who knows, it and sites like it may completely revolutionize the ideas behind marketing, publicity, or even creation of a product. If you’re one of the millions who’s flipped through Timothy Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Workweek,” he cautions that you should never try to bring a product to market that hasn’t already been tested to sell. It’s counterintuitive to artists like me—I create because I must—but it sure makes sense in a broke-ass world. Why write another book that no one wants to read? For that matter, why produce another burlesque event that no one wants to attend? Again, like in so many other philosophical investigations, you gotta ask yourself if you’re out to make money or if there is another goal in sight. You also gotta ask yourself, “Do I feel lucky?”
Back downstairs in the Bowery, Peekaboo point is writhing serpentine in a beaded dress, and I’m saddened, once again, by the lack of decent lighting in this town. The dance floor is set with two moving lights, but no one is controlling them, and they’re on default—not moving, blasting a purple glow, and while it actually makes Peekaboo’s dress glow like a peacock, when she takes it off, it does nothing for her absolutely gorgeous, tattooed skin. Darlinda Just Darlinda turns to me and says, “You can quote me: I didn’t want her to take the dress off, it was so pretty.” I agree, for other reasons. Someone did buy a vowel, and the lighting did move and change colors, but it was still awful—and by that I mean unflattering to the performers. Turns out that Precisely Planned Events, LLC are either color blind or don’t know the meaning of the word “precise.”
But we all know I’m a bitch and hard to please. The party was still raging, as one broken glass doesn’t bust an orgy. Gal Friday shook her moneymaker, making the most of the in-the-round format with round-and-round tassel twirls, clearly intimidating the rookie half of the crowd, our host Honi Harlow cutely repeated her introduction of the card-hawking cigarette girls for the benefit of those behind her, and Calamity Chang demonstrated exactly how to walk backwards in shockingly high stiletto heels. That shit ain’t easy. And Dame Cuchifrita—who is rocking a bagus new tag line that is just hilarious and deeply disturbing—The Tastiest Deep Fried Dish of Burlesque—did a Caribbean act in which she was stripped by her friendly shoulder-perched parrot. Awesome.
A new era has begun: photographer as burlesque event producer. I can’t wait for the next one.
All photos ©2011 by Melody Mudd. Please respect copyrights and contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permissions. Performers using for promotional purposes, please credit properly with photographer’s full name and a link to this piece in all instances. Story cover shot: Ms. Tickle
“PlayMe Burlesque” Playing Cards Credits