September 24 – September 27, 2015
All around town, NYC
Ah, New York: City of Dreams, Gotham, Empire City. This Northwest boy finally made his way to the Big Apple. Source of my teenage punk rock dreams. Home of the Velvet Underground, Warhol, the Ramones, the Chelsea Hotel, Lydia Lunch. For most of my life, this city loomed large in my imagination. I had yet to stroll the dirty Manhattan sidewalks. Thanks to Brown Paper Tickets, that was about to change. They sent me east to attend the New York Burlesque Festival and host a couple meet and greets. I was ready to experience the night life that fueled my artistic fantasies for as long as I could remember.
From the minute I stepped into The Bell House for Thursday’s Teaser Party and stumbled out of the Highline Ballroom Sunday night, I was under the spell of the city. The energy of the crowds, the quality of the venues, the high bar set by each performance, all made it apparent I was no longer in the Northwest. Not that Seattle doesn’t have great crowds, venues or performers. It’s just that everything seemed bigger, more metropolitan.
Seattle fosters an inspired creative community because of its infamous weather (note: not as bad as you think, New Yorkers). Overcast skies inspire Seattle artists to hunker down–writing, building, creating, working out routines in dark, cozy little bars with intimate audiences. As a result, we create work that possesses a certain introspection. The insular nature of Seattle’s creative culture also makes it a great incubator for taking chances because folks are much less likely to tear you down if something doesn’t work.
New Yorkers seem to live their lives out–in their neighborhoods, in the subway, in the myriad bars and restaurants. The audiences are more diverse and involved. At times, I loved it, like at the Bell House and BB Kings’. Other times, it was distracting, like at Brooklyn Bowl with 600+ Brooklyn hipsters screaming their heads off, the scent of youthful entitlement hanging heavy in the air. Sunday night’s show at the Highline presented a happy medium–burlesque industry folks and friends. A strong, palpable sense of community permeated the room. Scotty the Blue Bunny, the perfect host: a drunk, sarcastic queen with impeccable timing. A moving routine from Üla Überbusen brought me to tears. This night felt comfortable to me because it was a lot like a typical Seattle burlesque show, full of in-jokes, cat calls and a higher ratio of performers to punters.
I dislike comparing cities because I literally find something to love in every place, but if I was still a young man, New York would be a hard city to resist. Gentrification or not, the city pulses with excitement twenty-four hours a day. That said, Seattle is more true to my personality now: introspective, thoughtful and quiet. In terms of burlesque performance, both places posses a strong, creative, experimental energy. I would say that New York is more in your face, while Seattle tends to be a bit more subtle.
Some Seattle performers, like Kitten N’ Lou, are bi-coastal, getting the perfect blend of both mega metropolis and easy-going port town. The artistic bond between the two cities goes back further than the neo-burlesque movement. I remember the close relationship between post-punk groups like Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore who collaborated with many of Seattle’s proto-grunge acts. Or, comedians like Reggie Watts who honed his act in Seattle before making his break in the Big Apple. Together the two cities balance each other out, like smoked salmon on bagels or cream cheese on hot dogs (Seattlites know what I’m talking about). Can’t wait to get another dose of that Gotham magic.