I recently had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with Mysterion – founder of the Great Canadian Burlesque, Canada’s foremost mentalist and psychological entertainer, and producer of over a decade’s worth of Toronto’s best burlesque showcases – and just a really great guy who has a ton of fascinating stories. His newest project and passion is the development and production of a Canadian Burlesque Hall of Fame. What follows are excerpts from a truly interesting and educational chat made all the better by hot wasabi-spiced sushi…
“Two years ago I had the idea of creating a hall of fame because I thought it was important that we start recognizing non-competitive performers who have made change in Canadian burlesque whether they’re industry movers and shakers or people who did something in their own area that’s relevant – maybe not relevant to the country, but relevant to their own area which is thus then relevant to the country – to legends, or somebody who might be forgotten, or buildings that might be forgotten.”
His vision for the Canadian version of a Burlesque Hall of Fame isn’t one that strictly caters to the industry. All those out there who are intrigued or interested about burlesque, may have even thought about dabbling in the artform a bit, or just those who find burlesque as interesting and intriguing as I do would are very welcome. And today, the best way to spread the love of burlesque – with a Canadian twist – internationally is through the internet.
“We’re going to have an online virtual museum where you can go on with a timeline of photos, links to articles, pictures, that sort of thing, historical facts, chronologically from 1893 to today. The community is encouraged to send in pieces that can be added to, but of course are going to be screened before they go up. Photos and things that I may have missed – it’s a community project and I really encourage people to be involved, get involved. Just send in an article or something that’s from your area. It can be something from a long time ago, something from the rebirth of the burlesque in the modern time, anything is allowed.”
Canada has a long history of burlesque from coast to coast, but it hasn’t kept track of it very well and many of the materials and stories are lost… or so we thought. Mysterion has been meticulously researching the timeline, from Klondike days to modern times and coming up with some amazing people of ephemera.
“I’ve already gotten some tremendous pieces. I’ve got Roxi’s merkin from when she won BHoF. I have Tanya Cheex’s first pair of pasties. I have an article of clothing from Judith Stein. I have articles of clothing from the 60s and 70s that were from Toronto. I have playbills from Victory Theatre, photographs from the 1940s from Halifax. I’ve got things that are unbelievable, like club matchbook packets and I’ve got the only photo of Zanzibar from 1956 and the club doesn’t even have this. It’s a privately taken photo and it’s the only one in existence. I have a signed 8” x 10” of Yvonne de Carlo from when she did burlesque in Vancouver in the 1940s. You know, these things don’t exist, and they definitely don’t exist in one area. And I think it’s important that we get them in that one area.”
And it isn’t just Canadian performers that are going to be showcased in the museum. There has been a lot of international talent that has come to Canada to perform, stir up some trouble, and even help change the rules and regulations.
“There are also people like Lily St. Cyr who are not Canadian that are an honorary Canadian and did a lot of work in Montreal. Got banned in Montreal. Caused a big uproar in Montreal with the Catholic church. So part of the timeline is touching on the history of burlesque in those areas and how it affected the economy and how the interest in the industry affected burlesque as a whole. So we can watch the dips, and watch the curves and the different things in the industry. And it’s history repeating itself.”
One thing is definite – it’s a way to unite the burlesque community within Canada. There are pockets in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax but this is a big country and it’s not that easy travel from coast to coast to perform. For those who get lost on the radar, it’s a way to even out the playing field and show that all Canadian talent are at the same potential and the same level – professional and talented. But getting this type of project off the ground takes a lot of work, and it’s not the kind of thing you can just waltz into a bank and get funding for. So what’s the plan?
“So you know I’m raising a little bit of money. I need to get about $10,000 to do the project properly. The IndieGogo campaign ended in mid-September but I can stretch it and I’m going to revamp it. It’s going to be constantly up until Girlesque (January 2014) because I constantly need money to get it rolling. We’ve not made a lot of money so far but that’s allowed us to buy some frames and I’ve had some stuff mounted and it’s starting. But everything from printing costs, to anything, it’s expensive – really expensive – so I can’t fund this out of pocket. It’s definitely something I can do on a shoestring budget, but because it’s a step-by-step process and it’s still in its infancy, it can go step-by-step and every time you see it, it just gets bigger and bigger like my collection.”
So what happens once the funding is in place? That’s when the real work begins behind the scenes with all the volunteers working away to get this Hall of Fame from an idea to a physical burlesque-apedia.
“And then you go to the next stage of course, which is bringing it to a museum – a permanent exhibit in a gallery or rented space, or somebody donates a space in their store. We’re getting to that. We don’t have a deadline on this, and that’s the most important part. I want to get the website up by Christmastime. So, I’m working on it now. We’ve put together the timeline – the timeline is quite intense. I didn’t realize how long it is – there’s over 400 points on the timeline and each one of those points have a footnote of a newspaper article or a book or an interview or something that backs that up. So you’re looking at a website with almost 1300 components that you can click on and get an image, a quote, an article, something that shows the validity of the timeline.”
A project of this size and scope needs a dedicated team and Mysterion has a shockingly amazing one working on the project to get it off the ground: Brooke Alviano just majored in Women’s Studies out of York University is an archivist helping with archiving, paperwork and grants; El Toro is helping with grant writing; Loretta Jean just did a Doctorate in Burlesque Studies also helping (somebody mentioned we don’t have somebody with a PhD – we do actually); Tanya Cheex is a fountain of knowledge of burlesque and modern burlesque; Champagne Sparkles is helping with contributions about burlesque history in Vancouver; Miss La Muse helping with parts of Winnipeg; Mlle Oui Oui Encore and Miss Cadence lightly helping with Montreal and Halifax; and of course Charlie Quinn with the fabulous graphic design. That’s a great roster of burlesque genius – but there’s something we, the burlesque loving public, the performers, and the supporters can do to help out as well.
“I could do it for about $7,500 – but if 200 people gave $40, that’s $8,000! If 300 people gave $30, that’s $9,000! You look at it that way – there’s 100 performers in Toronto, if they all gave $20, that’s $2,000, but a lot of people don’t have it so one of the most encouraging things is to share this and talk about it. The more people share and talk about it, the more outsiders are going to donate, and the more it’s going to happen.”
So – if you’re a performer and have some Canadian memorabilia you’d like to donate to the museum, contact Mysterion and let him know; if you’re a fan of burlesque you can show your support by heading over to the IndieGogo campaign and make a donation. Every little bit helps and will go towards the website, the museum, the framing, publicity, printing, and so much more that needs to be done. This museum is for all of you, so be a part of it.
Olena Sullivan (Photolena) is a Toronto-based model and performance photographer who specializes in onstage burlesque photography. All photos ©Olena Sullivan-Photolena and used here with permission by Burlesque Beat. Performers may use shots for promotional purposes, but please credit properly with photographer’s full name and a link to this piece.
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