[We know, it’s a little late. Written in late 2011, a version of this article was recently published in the PRINT issue of 21st Century Burlesque, a serious labor of love, featuring fun burlesque-y stuff by all your favorites, which you should order here. While awaiting delivery, please enjoy JD’s religious experience, with photos from all over. —ED]
Burlesque 2011 Year-End Church Bulletin
by J.D. Oxblood
Welcome and Announcements
For New Yorkers, 2011 was an intense, eventful year: We got Bin Laden, we felt an earthquake, and we evacuated for a hurricane. AND gay marriage was finally made legal in New York, a fantastic development that we hope spreads throughout the world. In New York’s burlesque scene, the Slipper Room is still closed for renovation, and the Parkside Lounge became the new de-facto dirty HQ. New venues were discovered, and others shut down.
It was also an interesting and eventful year in burlesque worldwide, and one marked by drama and the growing pains of a form still struggling to come into its own. The movie “Burlesque” won a Golden Globe, causing global-scale groans. “The Box” opened in London to mixed feelings, and something so foul occurred in Sydney that we’re not even talking about it. Meanwhile, Las Vegas got awkward as the new-show-on-the-block Dixie Evans Burlesque directly competed with the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend, leading to an actual lawsuit, more or less as acrimonious as the general grouchiness that ensued. Let no one forget: burlesque breakups are a bitch. But let us also remember, while any community is rife with its own particular family squabbles, in-fighting and discontent, few communities are as overflowing with love, desire, and lipsticky-glitter-filled kisses as the wonderful world of burlesque.
Call to Worship
The holidays are the perfect time of year for introspection, depression, and existential panic. Suicide rates are said to spike. But the holidays are also a great time to enjoy your family, to relax in front of a raging fire, to eat fattening foods and not worry too much, since no one will see you in a G-string for at least a couple of weeks. (Please, producers, no shows in early January.) The end of the year is a time to remember hope, optimism, and the chance for a better tomorrow. And if tomorrow can’t be better, may it please be more naked. Amen.
Hymns of Praise
“Harlem Nocturne” as recorded by Esquivel
“Tenderness” sung by Broadway Brassy
“One Note Samba” performed by the Brian Newman Quintet
Sharing of Concerns
The burlesque world mourned the passing of the great Joan Arline—The Sexquire Girl—who succumbed to leukemia just months after performing at Burlesque Hall. She will be missed.
Diane Naegel, New York producer and the founder of Zelda: The Magazine of the Vintage Nouveau, was sadly lost to breast cancer at far too young an age. We are certain Diane enjoyed the many acts dedicated to her at the New York Burlesque Festival, not to mention the absolutely ridiculous display by Miss Astrid performing a breast exam on Angie Pontani. Our thoughts and love are with the families of both of these beauties.
“If it’s not fun if you don’t take your top off… maybe you need to rethink that shit.” Miss Astrid 3:16
“I don’t give a flying fuck what your sexual preference is… Is your preference SEXUAL?” Tigger 23
My friends, 2011 was an interesting, eventful year. I saw Komodo dragons in the wild. I got engaged. I turned 40. And praise the Lady, I saw a lot of beautiful naked people.
My partner in crime and love, Melody Mudd, and I celebrated New Year’s on an airplane somewhere over Alaska, as we clicked past the international date line. We were on our way to South East Asia, where we spent the winter island-hopping Indonesia and exploring Bangkok. Considering how much talk there is about the difference between “burlesque performers,” “strippers” and “sex workers,” Bangkok is truly fascinating, forever blurring the line between exploitation and empowerment.
Back in New York, I hustled a gig writing copy in a niche industry that a) pays quite well and b) is exactly what’s wrong with America. I may be a fiction writer who has yet to crack the code, but I am also a skilled corporate tool who helps perpetrate an agenda that occupies a moral grey area.
And so, thank Goddess for Las Vegas. The third personality in my body bag may just be my favorite, for two reasons: people actually read me, and people actually know that it’s me. The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend is home sweet home, where we get to see wonderful people that we seldom see otherwise, and get to meet people that we may have only seen from afar, or on Facebook.
Returning to New York in June, I threw a party for my 40th birthday and I asked Melody Mudd to marry me in Grand Central Station. We went to the Montreal Burlesque Festival, hobnobbing with our Legend friends Tiffany Carter and Satan’s Angel, and cracking up with the ever-graceful Michelle L’Amour, who asked me to be a judge for her Naked Girls Reading literary award. Suddenly it was October, and I drank my way through the New York Burlesque Festival, celebrating the first anniversary of BurlesqueBeat and our second annual NYBF after-party. As I speak now, we’re preparing for Doc Wasabassco’s anniversary show, and looking down the barrel of 2012. It’s been quite a year.
Collecting material about the burlesque community, from the ocean’s view and from my own small tide pool, I’ve been struck by two conflicting thoughts. It seems that people who have remained on the scene have moved up a step, and yet most seem to still be struggling. There has always seemed a stratification—three main levels, as it were: the burlesque royalty, the second tier up-and-comers, and then everybody else. This year I noticed that the New York royalty still reign, but they perform OUT of New York more than they perform in New York; it simply pays better. Meanwhile, others have truly come into their own as New York performers and producers, opening up new venues and giving people work, while, as always, new performers continue to give us new blood to cheer on.
The dilemma seems to mirror that of the American Situation. As our economy collapses, only the top-notch are guaranteed survival. So be it in burlesque: we can support a half-dozen performers who are able to make a decent living touring as headliners around the world. A dozen or two more can eke out a starving-artist’s living in New York, subsidizing their income with side jobs and stripping for a pittance in substandard performance spaces. The rest must gig part-time, satisfy themselves with working for less, or hang up their G-strings.
The complaints certainly vary from scene to scene. New Yorkers complain about the lack of decent venues. The battle cry coming out of Portland this year was that the scene was expanding too fast and producers were competing for the same audience. And everyone wants to get paid.
Some of the growing pains experienced by the “burlesque community” may be a lack of consensus of definable terms. What is “burlesque?” And what does having a “community” mean?
We could babble on about the definition of burlesque, but in my opinion, it’s not a fucking art form—it’s a group of art forms. This isn’t a debate about, say, paintings being paintings whether abstract expressionism or fauvism. This is about dance incorporating theatre, or theatre incorporating dance. Yes, burlesque can incorporate both—or neither.
As for having a community, this is something we can discuss. What kind of a community do you want? Most burlesquers got into it out of a love for performing, a creative DIY sensibility, or a lack of satisfaction with another format, but we still hear a lot of grousing about the bottom line. Sure, everyone wants to make money, and that means competition, which will always be a factor in any aspect of the performing arts. These days, even an accountant has to compete for clients, so swallow the bitter pill. Meanwhile, reach out. If you’re not getting the gigs you think you deserve, consider getting some constructive criticism from people you trust. I know—that word, “criticism,” is virtually verboten in this world, but you’re going to have to hear more of it if we’re ever going to climb out of the underground. Toughen up, and remember, it takes more than a nice set of tits. No matter who you are, if you take your clothes off, some pervert is going to cheer, and if that’s enough for you, then consider getting a job at a “Gentleman’s Club” and start making a whole lot more money.
This year brought some good news in the coverage and promotion of burlesque. Seattle’s Burlesque Press has done a great job of covering the Pacific Northwest—a scene that is truly blowing up—and burlesque news is finding its way into more and more mainstream channels. More people are coming forward to write about burlesque and to take pictures, and this is a good thing. Why do I, you may ask, a 25 year-old knockout with perfect breasts care whether or not some perv writes about me? Because, my dear, believe it or not, there are many, many, many people in the world who don’t even know that burlesque exists. Say this word to true pedestrians and they’ll simply “blink blink” and ask you about Gypsy Rose Lee. Or, worse, Cher. (Man, that movie was awful.) And the last time I looked, I didn’t have a byline in the Village Voice. Which means that publications like 21st Century Burlesque and BurlesqueBeat are the best we’ve got while we—performers, publishers, and perverts alike—struggle to get burlesque out of the underground and into the mainstream.
And to my fellow observers, please remember—and help me to remember—to always have respect. We’ll never be armchair critics like those assholes that pan terrible movies (like “Burlesque”). As part of a burlesque audience, you are always part of the shared experience; your involvement affects the outcome—the uncertainty principle of burlesque.
Sharing of Praises
I must call out the producer Franny Fluffer (now “Francine the Lucid Dream” —ED), who, with her David Lynch burlesque series, has encouraged the creation of new acts, pushing performers to play past the apron and take bigger risks. Anja Keister has been working in a similar vein with D20 Burlesque’s Geekcore/Nerdlesque, bringing in a completely new audience. We need more genius like this. It’s the downtown blackbox that feeds the proscenium uptown.
We of course want to praise everyone who had the courage to get onstage and take off his or her clothes in front of strangers in 2011, but for those of us who make a career out of watching these acts, it sometimes becomes a glorious blur of skin and glitter. The next morning, you accidentally slam a glass of vodka by the bedside—thinking it’s water—and try to remember… who WAS that in the chicken suit?
In the tradition of year-end lists, here are my top 5 of 2011. To be considered, I had to actually see the act for the first time in 2011 (and before Halloween, the deadline for this piece). In no particular order, here are my best, my brightest, my most memorable burlesque performances of 2011.
Tansy Tan Dora (New York): “Happy Happy Birthday, Baby,” at J.D. Oxblood’s 40th Birthday Party, Chelsea, Manhattan, June 17, 2011.
[Disclaimer: Tansy was hired by the author to appear at a private event; this opinion is almost certainly biased. Which is part of the definition of “opinion.”]
Madame Rosebud pulled me out of the audience at my own party and sat me in a chair. This was fitting; I had booked Rosebud to perform, but she was unable to, so I booked Tansy, a wonderful, gorgeous performer who has literally been appearing everywhere this year and routinely turning in interesting, charming performances. While most of the acts at this event were well-known to me, I had no clue what Tansy would bring to the fray. In what can only be considered a classic, lounge-based, Playboy-bunny era striptease, she came out in a top and a skirt made of birthday wrapping paper, stuck a cigar in my mouth and a scotch in my hand, and had me blow out the candle on a cupcake. She then proceeded to “unwrap” my present—her—and sit on my lap, eventually getting me to hold her while she leaned back to do a tassel twirl for the crowd. It was an unmitigated disaster—when she leaned back I almost dropped her. When she stuffed the cupcake in my mouth for a bite, we dropped it, and I got cupcake frosting all down the front of my bespoke suit, my tie (an Iva Handful original)—everything. By the time the act was over, she was 99% naked, I was completely aroused, and neither one of us could stop laughing. Neither could anyone else in the crowd—and they didn’t even get quite the view that I did. For weeks later, guests from the party mentioned this act, especially friends who are less acquainted with burlesque. For all the talk of “strippers” vs “burlesque” and “classic” vs “neo,” it’s easy to forget that a performer’s first obligation is, once and for all, to entertain. Was this just a lap dance? Well, it fit the venue, and sometimes simplicity takes the cake. Tansy did it so well, so erotically and, at the same time, so classily, that even my (relatively conservative) parents were giggling uncontrollably. Tansy was a pleasant surprise and a runaway hit, and she can tear it off for me anytime.
Andreane Leclerc (Montreal): Untitled, to Liljiana Buttler’s “Si Si Si,” at Club Soda, the Montreal Burlesque Festival, Old Montreal, Quebec, August 27, 2011.
I worked for a circus many years ago and never got over my taste for the circus arts. Many performers include contortion in their burlesque acts, but never before have I seen a performer so skillfully weld the eye-popping effects of contortion done well with the classic moves of burlesque. Leclerc was unknown to me before she took the stage in Montreal, and I was instantly grabbed, for the obvious reason—she’s lovely, a brunette with aquiline features and a strong, pliant body. Beginning in only trousers and pasties, it was clear this wouldn’t be much of a strip, but few ever moved so slowly and deliberately in removing so little. This is contortion in service to burlesque. Taking off your pants? Just bend over backwards—literally—and push them to the floor. The fact that her body is moving counter-intuitively only makes you look harder, and her control is trenchant, formidable by any standard. It’s a slow, hypnotic act, and leads to a distinct climax: the classic burlesque removal of one stocking using the toes of the other foot, executed upside down, back bent, her enviable derriere inches above her head. I die for this.
Nasty Canasta (New York): “No Hay Banda,” at the Pink Room’s Mulholland Drive Burlesque, the Parkside Lounge, Lower East Side Manhattan, June 29, 2011.
Nasty Canasta has a firmly-established reputation as an innovative, adventure-seeking artist, unafraid to fail. She is always working, always pushing the envelope, always working on the next trick or the next twisted conceit. As a result, she’s less known by a short list of signature acts than she is by the phrase, “What’s she gonna do THIS time?” an honest question, expressed with excitement tinged with anxiety. At Franny Fluffer’s Lynch-ian smorgasbord dedicated to the rebus “Mulholland Drive,” Nasty picked the most ineffable scene of the capricious film, in which a bandleader announces, “No hay banda”—there is no band—before allowing that we do, in fact hear a band; a long litany of Magritte-style nonsense that leads up to the catharsis of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” sung majestically in Spanish. Nasty interpreted this anticipatory moment as a psychophysical gesture—nothing she did had anything to do with the film in actuality, but reflected the moment as if through a surrealistic mirror. In a nondescript black dress and black wig, her face obscured by a flat black mask, she appeared as a cipher, a walking question mark that could be at once death, the Other, and nothing at all. She held three illuminated light bulbs, and used them as her only source of lighting. What you could see from one side of the room was unseeable from the other, lending a sense of stereoscopic singularity to what was and could only be live performance, as she stripped off her dress, spookily illuminating her own luminous skin, wrapped in what could have been cassette tape or electrical cords. As an educated theatrical practitioner, I had no fucking idea what she was doing. I only knew how I felt—alienated, enraptured, endlessly interested—and until the strange man stopped yelling “no hay banda!” I was lost in my own echoes of thought. The act was strangely erotic, and certainly qualified as burlesque, but most definitely weighed in at the “performance art” end of the spectrum and splashed about in the deep end of the pool.
Jett Adore (Chicago): “What’s Opera, Peacock?” [ED: JD invented this title.] at the Orleans Showroom, Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend, Las Vegas, Nevada, June 4, 2011.
Jett Adore took this act all over the country this year, so by now, most of the international burlesque community has seen it, swooned for it, and tweeted, faced and tumbld over it. To an opera score, Jett enters in a cape, and performs a number of skillful sleight-of-hand tricks with a mask, at one point taking the shape of an enormous, bejeweled bird—cape as bustle, arm as elongated neck, and mask as face. It’s well-crafted and impeccably executed—the next time I saw it, four months later, he consistently hit all his marks exactly the way he had the first time I saw it. What makes the act better than clever stagecraft is the intensity of emotion that Jett pours into it; he’s glistening with feeling, his chest rising and falling with the intensity of a man’s strongest emotions. That opera is an unusual element in burlesque—as strange as that may be—adds to the fortitude of the act, but the strength of his commitment lets us never question. We’re with him from the beginning, and saddened to see him exit, looking longingly into the wings, rushing off to the next misfortune. The fact that Jett is also a gloriously gorgeous specimen of manhood is also hard to miss. Jett didn’t win Best Boylesque in Vegas, and sadly, I wasn’t surprised. It was too good. Too strong, too bold, too heavy, too full of powerful medicine.
Lillian Star (Sydney): “Cherry Pie,” at Brooklyn Bowl, the New York Burlesque Festival, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, September 30, 2011.
I love nothing so much as an act that begins familiar, luring us into a false sense of complacency, and then utterly explodes into the unexpected. Lillian Star gave us a 50s housewife act, apron and all, rolling out dough and putting her pie in the oven, and then gave us a little striptease. She gave herself a bit of a spanking with a wooden spoon—hot—and when she took her pie out of the oven she kneeled over it on a table, covering it in whipped cream, holding the can near her loins and grinding as she squirted the cream. I was already sold. But then she put some weird kind of belt on (?) and reached for her rolling pin—that was when I got it. It was a strap on for her rolling pin, and she was going to fuck it. I had the good fortune of standing next to Leroi the Girl Boi, and I grabbed her and her fiancée, yelling, “She’s gonna fuck it!” My friends caught on and started screeching. Lillian strapped it on, got on top of that cherry pie like she knew where it was born, and gave it the what-for to Warrant’s “She’s My Cherry Pie.” The crowd went, predictably, wild. Not that the act wouldn’t have been fun if she hadn’t gone all the way. Not that violating a pastry will win you any prizes. But beginning prim and becoming progressively more deviant is a strip-tease of its own, and turning expectations upside-down is a large part of the original meaning of the word “burlesque,” no matter what Christina Aguilera would have you believe.
“When nobody tells you who you are, you can be anything.” —World Famous *BOB*
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The artist and burlexicologist also known as J.D. Oxblood received a BFA in Theatre Arts. He has worked professionally as an actor, musician, stagehand and circus stage manager, and directed for the stage as well as film. He has written numerous novels, screenplays and stage plays. He is co-founder of BurlesqueBeat.com and wishes he had a dog. A cute one, like a pit bull.
Photos ©Melody Mudd & ©Tonya Armbruster for Burlesque Beat, ©Eric Harvey Brown and ©Ed Barnas. Please respect copyrights and contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permissions. Performers may use shots for promotional purposes, but please credit properly with photographer’s full name and a link to this piece in all instances. Performers who would like hi-rez images, get in touch.