(NOTE: Regretfully, it appears due to a technical glitch, Ep. 5 might not be saved for archival purposes. Until this is figured out, please enjoy this extended version of the Alexander Scott interview, which was incredibly revealing and offers some of the most sobering examples of what New Orleans performers go through on a regular basis in terms of sexual harassment. Also check out the helpful links and other resource info at the bottom of the page.)
Even before Donald Trump was elected president of the United States back on Nov. 8, women across the United States were horrified at the language about and attitude that Trump has expressed toward women — and those most horrified might well have been women who have experienced some form of sexual assault, abuse or harassment. As increasingly more women come forward to share their experiences, especially on social media, those numbers become more apparent.
Concurrently with this was a greater frequency of women in New Orleans’ arts and entertainment scenes sharing their feelings on the subject of social media — something I become more aware of during a year or so of covering the city’s burlesque scene both for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune as well as PopSmart NOLA. So in light of the recent election, I thought it would helpful to focus on Ep. 5 of “PopSmart NOLA” on hearing from women in these scenes — especially in burlesque and music, where the line between the performer and the audience often feels blurred — to share their experiences, their fears and their hopes moving forward. With us on the show:
Singers Alexandra Scott, Nayo Jones and Meschiya Lake, each of whom have carved their own distinct niche in New Orleans’ internationally famous music scene, and quite often on their own terms.
Burlesque producers and performers Bella Blue and Picolla Tushy, whose work often has been at the forefront of New Orleans’ burlesque renaissance, and whose vocal advocacy often provides comfort for and defense of fellow performers.
Bar owner T. Cole Newton of Twelve Mile Limit; Cole penned a fascinating guest column for Tales of the Cocktail on 7 ways that bartenders can help prevent sexual harassment and assault.
And finally, Margaret Reynolds, the Greater New Orleans Regional Director for Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response, or STAR NGO.
Our first guest, Alexandra Scott, who’s been a musician here in New Orleans for the past 16 years. She’s a beloved artist here, where her 2014 album, I Love You So Much Always, firmed up the support she’s had there all along. “Gas Station Lover” became a favorite on local station WWOZ and was nominated for Song of the Year at OffBeat magazine’s Best of the Beat Awards. Alison Fenterstock of the Times Picayune noted that she “has an intuitive poetic gift for expressing how things can be tragic, absurd and achingly beautiful all at once. Her songs…sneak up to deliver an unexpected emotional kick and a peek into her strange, lovely, big-hearted mind.” Adds Alex Rawls, writing for the New Orleans Advocate, “There’s nothing theatrical in her singing, but her sadness sounds earned, her joy is felt, her heartbreak is painful, and much of it is modulated by humor–gallows, antic, or otherwise.”
I asked Alexandra Scott to discuss her past experiences, which included a history of sexual abuse both as a child and as an adult. She offered some amazing insight (listen to the podcast above), which included not only her experiences — which included being raped at the age of 7, for about two years, as well as being sexually assaulted as a 25-year-old — but also the challenges she faces on an ongoing basis as a working New Orleans musician, and how the election of Donald Trump has caused major emotional triggers in her and other women after the revelations of his discussion about women in an audio clip as well as numerous women accusing him of assault and harassment.
SEGMENT 2: NAYO JONES AND MESCHIYA LAKE
We continued the discussion about New Orleans musicians with two other vocalists, Nayo Jones and Meschiya Lake. Nayo Jones is a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta (Go Spelman!) and has appeared regularly at the New Orleans Jazz Fest and at local clubs for several years now, and often appears with the great Kermit Ruffins.
Meschiya Lake is often seen gigging around town with her popular band, Little Big Horns, as well as one of my personal favorites, pianist Tom McDermott. Nayo and Meschiya, welcome to “PopSmart NOLA.”
SEGMENT 3: BELLA BLUE & PICOLLA TUSHY
Next up: the world of burlesque, which for decades has labored under the other nickname — “striptease,” which becomes increasingly problematic a word as social media often helps create a false sense of intimacy between the performers and their audience. Here with us we welcomed New Orleans burlesque producers and performers Bella Blue and Picolla Tushy.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Bella Blue started dancing at the age of 3 studying extensively in ballet and modern into adulthood. In 2007 she traded in her pointe shoes for pasties and hasn’t looked back since. At the start of 2015, she debuted at #16 in the Burlesque Top 50 by 21st Century Magazine and one year later has ranked as #8 in the world for burlesque industry leaders! Bella’s pride and joy is The New Orleans School of Burlesque, where she has reigned as the headmistress since 2008 and hosts New Orleans’ only weekly running of burlesque classes. She is also the Artistic Director of “The Dirty Dime Peepshow,” “The NOSB Student Showcase,” “Strip Roulette,” “The Blue Book Cabaret,” “Whiskey and Rhinestones,” as well as a number of large scale productions that take place in theaters across New Orleans.
Picolla Tushy is the founder, producer, and a performer with Picolla Tushy Presents the Bluestockings Naked Theatre Troupe. Picolla began her burlesque career in Chicago close to 7 years ago. Although Chicago was her first love, New Orleans is her true love. When not designing routines, producing, or performing, Picolla can be found in The Quarter and Treme’ at her “day job” as a tour guide.
SEGMENT 2: T. COLE NEWTON AND MARGARET REYNOLDS
For this segment I wanted to chat with people who can offer two unique insights into this culture and who collaborated on a helpful essay. Margaret Reynolds is the Greater New Orleans Regional Director for Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response, or STAR NGO. A Gulf Coast native, Margaret Reynolds now lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. She spent her youth traveling and reading. Margaret graduated with her B.A. in English from Tulane University. Following undergrad, she worked in both the DC area and Montreal. In 2012, Margaret returned to New Orleans to complete her Master in Public Administration with a focus in nonprofit management. During her academic tenure, Margaret focused on both the individual antecedents to collaboration and the long-term effects of sexual violence. Among other things, Margaret is a current fellow of the HIVE Leadership Development Program, a member of the NOLA Cherry Bombs, and is actively involved with the Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans.
Born and raised in Washington, DC, T. Cole Newton moved to New Orleans, enrolling with AmeriCorps to volunteer full-time in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. After his service year, Cole found his first full-time bartending job at Commander’s Palace, culinary alma mater of Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse. He later opened his Twelve Mile Limit in 2010. Among other honors, Twelve Mile Limit has been named as one of the top ten bars in New Orleans by the New Orleans Times-Picayune every year that list has been published. In addition to operating his own bar, Cole has consulted on bar programs at a range of venues including the restaurant Square Root, the Orpheum Theater, and the Troubadour Hotel.
Cole collaborated with STAR GNO on this fascinating blog post, “7 Ways Bartenders Can Prevent Sexual Harassment and Assault.”
That’s our show for this week. Tune in for our next show, next Saturday, Dec. 3, 3-4 p.m. for another edition of “PopSmart NOLA.” We will be discussing, among other topics, the transgender community and our culture. Our guests will include someone near and dear to Bella, AJ Strong, as well as Brookly Shaffer who will return to the stages in next weekend’s “Steel Poinsettias” at Rivertown Theaters.
I want to remind everyone if you like what you’re hearing you can “like” PopSmart NOLA on Facebook and follow me on Instagram at @popsmartnola and on Twitter at @dlsnola504.
You are listening to 102.3 WHIV LPFM, New Orleans. We are: community radio dedicated to human rights and social justice — end all wars. Stream us online (if you aren’t already) at whivfm-dot-org.
For “PopSmart NOLA,” this is David Lee Simmons, reminding you to keep the intelligent conversation going.
Attorney General’s report on sexual assault in New Orleans
HELPFUL RESOURCE INFO
Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response (New Orleans), www.star.ngo, (855) 435-START (24/7 hotline)
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), (800.656.HOPE, online.rainn.org y rainn.org/es)
National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-4673
Crescent House Healing & Empowerment Center Crisis Line, 504-866-9554
New Orleans Family Justice Center, http://www.nofjc.org
Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, http://www.lafasa.org
Women with a Vision, wwav-no.org