Lou Henry Hoover on the notion of gender in queer performance art (Artist Statement)

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(Editor’s note: As we resurrect PopSmart NOLA, we do so with more intention of making this a forum for the creative people of New Orleans. The inspiration came from, of all places, a sports-related website. (Read more about that soon.) This means more content generated BY the artists and entertainers of New Orleans who explain their craft, their performances, their intentions, their challenges, you name it, as a way of making PopSmart NOLA a forum and a safe space for dialogue and engagement. Here acclaimed boylesque performer Lou Henry Hoover explains the complications of performance on the eve of “BASKETCASE,” a collaboration with partner Kitten LaRue.)

“BASKETCASE: AN EASTER EGG-STRAVAGANZA OF PASTEL PERVERSION”
WHAT:
 Kitten N’ Lou present “gender-bending, rhinestone-encrusted drag, burlesque, and surreal fabulosity” featuring visiting performers Cherdonna Shinatra (Seattle Drag Dance Genius) The One The Only Inga (Atomic Bombshells) Elektra Cute (Minneapolis’ Tesla of Tease) and others.
WHEN: Sunday (April 1), 8 p.m.
WHERE: One Eye Jacks, 615 Toulouse St.
TICKETS: $35 (VIP table seating), $25 (reserved seating), $15 (general admission)
MORE INFO: Visit the Facebook event page

I’m sitting on my porch watching little green sprouts push their way up through plants that I thought for sure were dead from the freeze. Rebirth! Transformation! Growth! These themes are repeating like a prism in this city in this season, and I can’t think of a more perfect way to celebrate than with “BASKETCASE: An Easter Egg-stravaganza of Pastel Perversion.”

Let me tell you why.

I’m a burlesque-ing drag king who was seduced by queer performance art out of a contemporary dance career and then married into New Orleans. My wife, Kitten LaRue, was born and raised in Louisiana and got her start in showbiz in the legendary Shim- Sham Revue at the venue that is now One Eyed Jacks. We are constant collaborators in life and art, Kitten N’ Lou onstage and off.  We both had performance careers before we fell in love, and Kitten was a bit reluctant to collaborate in the early days, with good reason.  Showbiz is an endless roller coaster.  We had our wedding guests sing the Ella Fitzgerald song “It’s Only A Paper Moon” at our wedding, and the lyrics couldn’t ring more true:

Say, it’s only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn’t be make-believe
If you believed in me

Being in this business we call show requires an endless well of belief that what you are doing is important, despite whatever personal self doubts might get in the way. I’m still at it over a decade later because live performance has taught me something deep and lasting about generosity. All the costumes, the makeup, the smoke and mirrors, they aren’t there to hide behind. They are tools we get to use to create a little magic, and that magic is special because it is analogue, it is happening in real time and in real space. It’s risky by nature, and to be truly captivating it has to be an act of generosity between performer and audience member. Maybe that performer looks a little bit like you, maybe you feel an affinity with them in that way. Or maybe they don’t at all, but they make you feel something and you feel an affinity with them in that way. And either way you are invited to look at them, listen to them, and drink in a little piece of their story.

We were inspired to create a show to celebrate Easter in New Orleans initially out of a deep love for pastels, Peeps, and the Chris Owens’ Gay Easter parade, but as we write material for our grumpy gay Easter Bunny (played by Seattle’s brillikant Scott Shoemaker, most famous for his touring production of “Ms. PacMan”) and decide what best to wrestle in — Green Jell-O? Lube? (it’s even better; you’ll have to come see) — and choreograph a disco Last Supper, the importance of the actual themes of Easter are resonating with us in a very real way.

Rebirth! Transformation! Growth! Our country, our city and the queer community are all going through all kinds of growing pains right now, too numerous to list here, and drag and burlesque are no exception. The thing I currently get asked about the most in my career is gender in burlesque and performance. It’s a really interesting time to be a woman in the world, and that definitely includes the world of drag and burlesque. As I get older, I see misogyny more and more — not because there’s more, but because I’m learning to recognize something that is so ingrained that it’s hard to even notice all the ways it plays out. Since I was asked, here are a few ways that misogyny has specifically affected my experience as a performer.

It’s the so-called “Golden Age of Drag!” Hooray! I am so happy that more and more people are celebrating and enjoying drag, thanks to the visibility provided by reality TV and the incredible touring opportunities that have resulted. But so far that’s only for drag queens — so the gap between what mostly cis male drag performers (queens) are being paid and the opportunities they have and what mostly woman-identified drag performers (kings) are being paid and the opportunities they have is getting bigger and bigger.

Burlesque has been a primarily women run and dominated art form since it’s revival in the 1990s. Hooray! The burlesque community has been generally very open and accepting of all genders and gender presentations. This has resulted in a subcategory of burlesque called boylesque, which features performers who identify as male or as performing some type of masculinity. Now here’s where things get weird: When we start having these categories, people start defining them, and sometimes that leads to exclusion. Recently a festival put out a call for cis-male-only performers for their boylesque show. As the first drag king and non-cis male to ever win the title of Mr. Exotic World, the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s King of Boylesque, I find that incredibly strange and demeaning. What producer is checking under performer’s cod pieces to make sure their genitals match the application requirements? Winning the crown in this field is still not enough to make up for the fact that my penis is detachable? This kind of policy is not only misogynist, but also homophobic and transphobic.

Kitten N’ Lou: Holier Than Thou is coming to Denver, New Orleans, and Minneapolis this Fall! from Kitten N’ Lou on Vimeo.

I am undeniably a queer artist, I draw that queerness on my face. I use the artifice of drag to reveal this queerness, to express something about gender and my queer identity. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle. Come for the queerness, stay for the show. It’s funny, it’s touching, it’s camp, it’s surprising, it’s got great music and it’s wearing very exciting costumes. I’m an entertainer, I make work that is hopeful in challenging times, and celebrates our humanity. Live performance is very special, a whole room full of humans, sharing an experience that is creative and life affirming — this is an art form to be cherished.

So how do we do that? Make the art you want to see! Go see the art you want to see! Let’s all support artists who bring diversity to the form, and the easiest and most fun way to do that is by going to see them perform. One of my favorite things about New Orleans is that it holds seemingly contradictory truths at the same time. We celebrate while we mourn, beginnings and endings are fluid and seasons are incredibly important. Easter is no exception. “BASKETCASE” not only celebrates rebirth, transformation, and growth, but it also supports some damn good women artists, some damn good queer artists, some damn good POC artists, and some damn good New Orleans artists. Happy Easter, love bunnies!

Advertisements

The Reverend Pastor Father Brother Ben Wisdom explains his spiritual path

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

WHAT: Brother Nutria
WHEN: Tues. (Sept. 20), 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Hi-Ho Lounge

With his work as a producer and host for the Snake Oil Festival and Slow Burn Burlesque along with emceeing Bella Blue’s Dirty Dime Peepshow, Ben Wisdom has carved out his niche as the fallen preacher man who has succumbed to, revels in and even peddles the sins of the flesh. It’s as if Jimmy Swaggart had decided to stay on Airline Drive. It’s something into which he’s evolved over the years, and when he’s at the top of his game he’s one of the funniest comedians in New Orleans. He’s even become a radio host with his show “The Ministry of Misbehavin’” on 102.3 FM WHIV and WHIVfm.org, Tuesdays from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. But there is a context to his conversion, and he was gracious enough to share his journey with us as his band, Brother Nutria, prepares for its gig on Sept. 20 at the Hi-Ho Lounge.

I have a pretty interesting and fun life. I’m a burlesque emcee and show producer in New Orleans, Louisiana. I love “the city that care forgot” as well as a healthy dose of downright debauchery, so burlesque in the town I love is a good fit for me. However, I haven’t always been down with the “ways of the devil,” or the promiscuity of the Crescent City. In a different life I was a devout follower of Pentecostal Christianity. I was baptized three times. I spoke in tongues. I even, for a brief time, considered becoming a preacher.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen, I guess? My going from devout holy roller to filthy burlesque emcee was a long journey, and as you can probably guess, my relationship with religion is now and really always has been complicated. And, that’s why I can’t seem to get it out of my act. I’m known for some of my, I guess you would call them catch phrases — “amen and amen again,” and “hallelujah and hallelujah to ya.”

I often incorporate religious themes into my performance, and I even have a character, The Rev. Pastor Father Brother Ben Wisdom, that is a full-on, bent, Pentecostal preacher who extolls the virtue of having no virtue. This character was first born at a Slow Burn Burlesque show called, “Jesus’ Big Birthday Bash” — it was our twisted version of a Christmas show). I further developed the character in a show I co-produce with my partner and co-creator, Little Luna, called the “Unholy Roller Revival,” which is a mock tent revival that we have put on every year at the variety arts festival that we also produce, called Snake Oil Festival. I use the Preacher character as a lens to hold up to what I consider to be the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of the people who use Christianity to rule us.

And, now, the preacher character is going through another evolution. A year ago, I joined a group of great guys (MarkAlain Dery, Nate Pendergast and Kit Keen) here in New Orleans, and we formed the band, Brother Nutria. We all share in the songwriting duties, but I probably write two-thirds of the lyrics, and as you might have guessed those lyrics are full of thoughts questioning the world view as seen through the eye of so-called modern Christian America. We have song titles like “Gospel Billy Preacher,” “Ready to Sin” and “Holy Ghost Drone Strike.” In the latter, we sing, “We’re all good people. We’re all sanctified. And, when it comes to Christian white folks, his love is double wide.”

ben-smokeI was introduced to religion at a young age. My father was raised in a conservative Catholic household in New Orleans. My mother was raised in non-denominational, full gospel churches is Forth Worth, Texas. As young adults and parents, mine weren’t super religious, despite their upbringings. Before I was about 9 or 10, I don’t remember going to church that much except for with my grandparents. However, my most vivid early memory is from when I was somewhere around 4 or 5 years old. It is a memory of my parents allowing me to attend the Pentecostal tent revival being put on by two of my Dad’s friends, who were former drug addicts turned holy-rolling missionaries. Their son was the same age, as me and we were fast friends. I can recall the sites and sounds of that night. We were in some field in or around Vidalia, La., which is right next to Ferriday, the hometown of Jimmy Swaggart and Jerry Lee Lewis, which is where we also lived. In the field they had set up trailers for the ministers and singers. There was a humble stage at the center of it all. That stage was equipped with some ancient PA system that amplified each of the speakers and singers to the point of over-modulation. It was all lit in the dark night by blinding construction lights of some kind.

There was a smell of boiled peanuts in the air.

Continue reading

Xena Zeit-Geist’s Top 5 Miyazaki films, in advance of “Howl’s Twirling Tassels”

 

14012704_1740923706156440_88051356_o

(Photo by Jerome Gacula)

“Howl’s Twirling Tassels: A Burlesque Revue Celebrating Hayao Miyazaki,” featuring Xena Zeit-Gest, Grand Mafun, Sarah Duprix, Remy Dee, Dane Baxter, Loretta Dean and Miss Margery
WHEN: Fri. (Aug. 12), 9 p.m. & midnight
WHERE: Eiffel Society (2040 St. Charles Ave.)
TICKETS: $10 general admission, $20 VIP
MORE: Visit Facebook event page

The Society of Sin long has trafficked in pop-culture homage that taps into such familiar territory as comic books (“Arkham ASSylum: A Batman Burlesque Play”) and TV game shows (“The Vice Is Right”). But with “Howl’s Twirling Tassels,” this nerdlesque troupe explores pop culture in a very different, and potentially more vivid, way in its tribute to Hayao Miyazaki. The legendary Japanese anime director and his Studio Ghibli crafted critically acclaimed movies for decades before stunning American audiences with the 2001 release of “Spirited Away” — which won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and helped audiences take a second look at previous releases such as “Princess Mononoke” and preceded the 2004 Academy Award-nominated “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

Miyazaki’s films work against many of the narrative and visual styles to which American audiences are generally accustomed to, unafraid to explore dark, even adult themes with fluid, sometimes languid rhythms and pulsating images. They often feature strong female protagonists, one of many reasons they are a fitting inspiration for The Society of Sin. On the eve of Friday’s performance, producer-performer Xena Zeit-Geist offers her five favorite Miyazaki films.

“Princess Mononoke” (1997) — “Princess Mononoke” was the first of Hayao Miyazaki’s films that I ever saw, so it will always hold the most special place in my heart. I remember picking it out from the video rental store during a weekend with my dad because of the wolf on the cover (I was obsessed with dogs and wolves as a child) and immediately being hooked. Rewatching the movie as an adult, the moral ambiguity of the film continues to fascinate me. I love stories where there’s a clear conflict but it’s not cut-and-dry good vs. evil, like the San vs. Eboshi conflict in “Princess Mononoke.” Lady Eboshi is the antagonist of the story, but she’s an incredibly strong, inspirational leader who does what she feels is best for mankind, no matter the stakes, and Ashitaka clearly has a lot of respect for her. She’s the first female character that I remember seeing portrayed as a benevolent, competent ruler in a children’s movie and one of the first “villains” who wasn’t straight-up evil. From the first time that I saw the film, I admired Lady Eboshi, even though I ultimately sided with San. At the time that I first watched “Princess Mononoke,” I strongly preferred the company of animals to the company of humans and was really banking on finding out I was an Anamorph (or at least realizing my ability to converse with animals like Eliza Thornberry) before I got too old so that I could go live in the wild and not deal with people anymore. I may have related to San’s anti-human self-loathing on a deeper level than most of my peers at the time. (Side note: I’m still secretly sort of upset that I still have no idea what my cat is saying the majority of the time.)

“Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004) — I read an interview of Hayao Miyazaki where he actually named Howl’s Moving Castle as his favorite of his creations, and I think that this is where his passion for filmmaking really shines. Miyazaki was open about his rage over the war in Iraq, which partially inspired the pacifist themes of “Howl’s Moving Castle,” but his strong opinions never come off as heavy-handed or preachy; it’s even easy to get swept up in the sweet, whimsical side of the plot. However, the film still manages to tackle a plethora of complex issues — depicting the atrocities of war, championing the message that life is worth living at any age, and, once again, illustrating that sometimes conflicts are more complex than good vs. evil and that even those who might be considered villains are capable of positive change, introspection and personal growth. Plus, there just really aren’t enough movies with badass little old ladies as lead characters, and Miyazaki’s portrayal of Sophie makes getting old seem pretty awesome.

“My Neighbor Totoro” (1988) — “My Neighbor Totoro” is one of the strangest, most imaginative stories I know of, and therefore one of my favorites. From the soot sprites, to the cat bus, to Totoro himself, Miyazaki creates a cast of fantastical, yet somehow oddly believable, characters in this heartwarming adventure. The cat bus is probably my favorite thing about the movie. I just rewatched this one with my roommates, who’d never seen it before, and it was getting to the part where Mei and Satsuki are waiting at the bus stop with Totoro, and then it’s Cat Bus that rolls up — such a strange and pleasantly unexpected creature. We all just laughed and marveled at the strange way that she moves with her little caterpillar legs. (I always imagine that the cat bus is a lady, even though I don’t think that cat buses actually abide by the gender binary.) When Loretta Dean mentioned wanting to do a Cat Bus-themed burlesque act, I was over the moon with anticipation! I believe the soot sprites will make an appearance, as well, and am told that her act will contain some audience interaction.

“Spirited Away” (2001) — As a kid who obsessed over books and movies like “Alice In Wonderland” and “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” I was absolutely smitten the first time I saw “Spirited Away.” Another masterpiece in imaginative storytelling, “Spirited Away” immediately swept me up in its dazzling and dark fairytale world. Like the strange, fantastical creatures in “My Neighbor Totoro,” the inhabitants of the film’s spirit world fascinated me to the point that I’d find myself my own versions of No-Face monsters and pig people and thinking of little backstories for them. It’s also an excellent examination of the effects of capitalism and consumerism; once again, Studio Ghibli manages to explore extremely complex, grown-up themes in a film made to appeal to young people without sacrificing story or watering anything down.

“Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989) — While some might argue that “Kiki’s Delivery Service” in some ways lacks the complex conflict and fantastical drama the makes so many of Miyazaki’s other films remarkable, it’s an endearing film with a lot of heart and one of my favorites. The film centers on a 13-year-old witch-in-training who’s transitioning into adulthood and getting her bearings as a practitioner of magic. Unlike so many Studio Ghibli films, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” does not delve into a morally ambiguous conflict between external forces but instead makes an antagonist out of the title character’s own self-doubt. In the film, Miyazaki does an expert job telling the story of a compassionate, resilient young woman who learns the value and power of her own vulnerability. This will always be one of my favorite movies to re-watch as someone who regularly battles villains such as “Imposter Syndrome” and fear of failure (as so many artists do). Kiki teaches one of the most important lessons someone interested in harnessing the magic inside them can learn: To be the best witch you can be, you have to find a reason to get right back on your broom, even after a big fall, even when no one understands (not even your cat), even when you’re not totally sure that you can fly. This is the only way to experience true triumph.

Trixie Minx at Jazz Ascona: Time tripping with the Treme Brass Band (Field Trip)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As part of our “Field Trip” series, New Orleans burlesque producer and performer Trixie Minx continues her travelogue at Switzerland’s Jazz Ascona, which features a celebration of New Orleans music that includes the Treme Brass Band, Tom McDermott, Aurora Nealand, Glen David Andrews, Shamarr Allen, Topsy Chapman, Anais St. John, Lillian Boutté and Shannon Powell. Here she checks in at the midway point.

The other day I realized I had been in Switzerland for exactly one week, marking the mid-point of the Jazz Ascona Festival. It was a strange realization, because ever since I got to the festival time hasn’t been used as a unit of measurement so much as a pleasant reminder to see or work with another musician. It is difficult to describe but so clear to everyone that is here that Jazz Ascona is not merely a music festival but a music experience.

My days and nights have blurred together into a single thread of artistic and very human consciousness. When I first arrived I had a very grand plan of waking up early, working on projects with my friends, seeing the sights and then performing all night. I love the calm of a scheduled routine, but the environment of the festival led me to relax my “plan” and truly live the experience I am so lucky to be in. So my typical yet not scheduled day starts by waking up early to the sound of church bells (which are on every corner; seriously, it’s like Starbucks) since they hate the idea of me sleeping in. In a zombie-like state, I leave my room in search of coffee. This is where my adventures begin… .

I’m half a block from the piazza, which is the main street on the lake and the location of most of the stages for the festival. I’ve taken dozens of pictures of the piazza, but photos don’t seem to capture the unimaginable beauty of this view. The street is lined with little cafes dotted with brightly colored, umbrella-covered tables looking out on to a lake swirled with crystal clear blue and green water. Swans gently glide by, and in the distance the snow-tipped Alps are as far as the eye can see. I joke that it is like “The Truman Show” because it truly looks to heavenly to be real.

On this beautiful street, I run into different musicians each day. They are either drinking coffee at a cafe, smoking under the shade of a tree, playing music on their balcony or even stumbling home from the night before. I’m very fortunate to have worked with most of these artists for years in New Orleans, but we very rarely get to hang outside of a gig; however in Ascona we have this unique bubble where we can both work and hang. Of course we go see shows, castles, waterfalls and mountains, but my favorite part continues to be the conversations we have with one another.

My evening starts around 8 p.m. parading with the Treme Brass Band. As the only burlesque lady dancing through the streets in sparkly drawers amongst a festival that is primarily made up of musicians and people who love jazz, I bring a little extra NOLA magic to the mix in my role as an ambassador. The crowds truly love music and New Orleans, so marching down the cobblestone streets each night with Treme is more than just a “gig” but truly an honor to be sharing what we do locally on an international level. Afterwards the guys and I get drinks, eat dinner and see more music. After all the stage shows, everyone meets up at the late-night jam session.

These jam sessions are perhaps one of the strongest defining points of Jazz Ascona. While each artist is amazing at their craft and kills it on their individual stage sets, at the jam session you have an incredible mix of all the artists playing together. It’s a very interesting game of musical chairs where people are continuously jumping on/off the stage to play the next song. I even got to get in the mix on bass for a couple tunes and did a pop-up burlesque performance as well.

With music in the air, booze in most everyone and an electric energy of happiness, the night fades into morning, and the process is all repeated again.

As I said earlier, time has not been a unit of measurement but a pleasant reminder of music each day. So while I am halfway through my “time” at Jazz Ascona, I’m not counting the minutes but loving all the moments, a concept I hope to bring back with me.

 

Snake Oil Festival closes out with the “Unholy Roller Revival” Sunday (photos)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A crowd of about 200 enjoyed the third and final night of the second annual Snake Oil Festival on Sunday (June 26) with the “Unholy Roller Revival” hosted by co-producer the Rev. Ben Wisdom, with Dr. Sick and the Asylum Chorus providing a mesmerizing soundtrack for New Orleans and visiting national and international performers.

I’ll have more fleshed-out thoughts on the evening once I nail down some details, but wanted to share this photo gallery (with a quick video) to give you an idea of how much fun the night was — a hellfire-and-brimstone celebration of dance, music and flight. And while the local performers showcased New Orleans’ burlesque and sideshow talent, arguably the most intriguing performance came from an out-of-towner — sort of. Lune Noirr, an Asheville, N.C.-based performer who reportedly will soon set up shot in New Orleans, gave a brilliant dance performance in a costume as kinetic (and timely) as one could see at the show.

Other performers: New Orleans’ Ember Blaize, Tsarina Hellfire and Queenie O’Hart, as well as Kitson Sass (Minnesota), Mariposa Bop (London), Mena Domina (Santa Fe, N.M.) and Miranda Tempest (Toronto).

The Snake Oil Festival was produced by the Rev. Ben Wisdom and Little Luna and featured about 70 performers over three nights showcasing burlesque, circus arts and circus sideshow acts, with workshops held during the day. Check out my preview in the New Orleans Advocate, as well as a mini-review from 2015.

Again, more to come soon.

Trixie Minx returns to Ascona, Switzerland (Field Trip)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When I learned New Orleans burlesque producer and performer Trixie Minx (Fleur de Tease) was returning with Piper Marie to Atlantic City for their seasonal performances with “The Burlesque Show,” it made sense to approach Trixie about participating in our “Field Trip” series. But when she mentioned that she would be returning to Ascona, Switzerland, for the Ascona Jazz Festival, a change in plans was in order. We will have more on the Atlantic City gig later this summer, but for now, here is the first installment of her European trip, starting with a look back to 2011.

The first time I ever heard about the Ascona Jazz Festival was through drummer Gerald French. In a nutshell, this festival celebrates New Orleans Jazz over a two-week period in Ascona, Switzerland, every year. The festival organizer, Nico, was visiting New Orleans when Gerald had invited him to see my “Burlesque Ballroom” show at the Royal Sonesta (Gerald was playing drums in the band). Nico quietly stood by the bar and watched the whole show with a big smile on his face. Afterwards, Gerald introduced us and we all hit it off. Nico asked if we could bring a burlesque show to the Ascona Festival, and of course we said yes.

The idea of combining jazz music and burlesque is not new, but one that has been lost over the years, most notably since the heyday of 1950s burlesque on Bourbon Street. Nico recognized the importance of the relationship between music and dance leading him to theme the 2011 Jazz Ascona Festival as “Body and Soul.” He told us that this was the first time they had ever brought burlesque into what was an all-music festival. While it was sort of a risky gamble to try something new, he truly believed in us and the artistic merit of the marriage between jazz music and burlesque.

With excitement and our first gig already booked, Gerald, myself and Jayna Morgan (who was the “Burlesque Ballroom” bandleader at the time) teamed up to create “Creole Sweet Tease” specifically for this event. We put together an all-star cast featuring dancers: Kitty Twist, Nona Narcisse, Bella Blue and myself. This included a killer band that featured Kerry Lewis, Steve Pistorius, Tom Fischer and, of course, Gerald and Jayna. With Magic Mike as our host we had the dream team that made up the first cast of the new show.

I wanted the show to be more than just talented ladies in sparkling costumes dancing to great music. Performing at this festival was an incredible opportunity, so it was super-important for me that the show had a story arc that touched on the history of New Orleans. With home and history as a start, Jayna, Gerald and I picked songs from the late 1800s to the 1920s. We assigned each dancer a character that each had a different story of how they came to work in Storyville for the first act. The second act then continued the story of their lives after the fall of Storyville and through the roaring Twenties.

When we arrived in Ascona, it truly was heaven on Earth. A small town on a lake in the south of Switzerland surrounded by snow-capped mountains, it looked like a scene from a Hollywood movie. Several outside stages were set up along the Piazza (all with the Alps as a backdrop) and a couple of smaller stages in cafes not directly on the lake.

While the beauty of our surroundings had us is awe, it was the New Orleans people that truly brought the town to life. Musicians from all over the world, but primarily New Orleans, played day and night for two weeks. Brass bands parading down cobblestone streets turned the pleasant quiet town into one of hearty celebration. Creole Sweet Tease performed our full show four times, and our band/dancers did several smaller sets throughout the week.

While I could write a book about all the crazy stuff that happened here is a short list of my favorite experiences:

1) Seeing giant posters of Gerald and myself plastered all over town. We were the image for the 2011 festival, and it was a surreal experience to see our image blown up with foreign text in the headline.
2) Second lining and getting to better know the late Uncle Lionel Lionel Batiste, but most of all …
3) Showcasing New Orleans burlesque with a cast of fiercely talented performers to a brand new audience, and seeing that audience smile.

Fleur de Tease’s Chris Lane on life as a burlesque emcee: “My job is to get off the stage”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

INFO:
Fleur de Tease “Prince Tribute Revue,” with backing band the White Beach
WHEN: Saturday (June 11), 8 p.m. and 1030 p.m., followed by dance party
WHERE: One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse St.
TICKETS: $15
MORE INFO: www.fleurdetease.com

“Comic Strip,” hosted by Chris Lane
WHEN:
Mondays
WHERE:
Siberia, 2227 St. Claude Ave.
ADMISSION:
Free

While many of the attendees of this past weekend’s Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender in Las Vegas were excited about the crowning of Miss Poison Ivory as Miss Exotic World, a lot of the action that drew attention centered around controversial comments from two male emcees at different events. (Check out 21st Century Burlesque posts on Dusty Limits and Armitage Shanks; the latter emcee is familiar to New Orleans audiences notably for “Storyville Rising” and the Snake Oil Festival.) In light of the controversy, we asked Fleur de Tease emcee Chris Lane to reflect on the challenges of and opportunities for a male emcee who presides over an increasingly diverse range of the bump and grind. Lane, a veteran New Orleans stand-up comic, also hosts and produces “Comic Strip,” an open-mic comedy show with burlesque “interludes” Mondays at Siberia. He has toured with the Pretty Things Peep Show and has hosted shows in Austin and Chicago. Fleur de Tease concludes its 10th season with a return of its ever-evolving “Prince Tribute Revue” Saturday (June 11) at One Eyed Jacks.

Fleur de Tease, New Orleans’ now firmly ensconced burlesque troupe founded and directed by Trixie Minx, had, in its first season, experimented with a few emcees before I was brought in as a host. Unbeknownst to me, a producer of the show told Trixie Minx that, if she didn’t try me out as a host, the show would fold. So, I came into our first meeting not knowing this was a coerced partnership. (I didn’t find out till the next season.) Luckily, Trixie and I appreciated each other’s work ethic and were able to hash out a strong friendship that has lasted 10 seasons and brought me around, and out of the country.

Having a monthly show that, because of the variables posed by a live, rowdy audience, has a looser format, gives me the chance to strengthen my chops in terms of working a crowd — riffing and improvising more time than what a more traditionally brief open-mic comedy set allows. Also, the themes and characters the dancers present onstage gives me ideas to work with, providing me with additional inspiration and material to mine when I’m onstage between acts.

(Learn more: Read about the “Prince Tribute Revue” on Saturday night)

Ultimately, my job as an emcee is to get off the stage; until my graceful exit, I set the tone for the show, pump up and engage the audience — ensuring the performers are stepping in front of a safe and receptive crowd. It’s fun, frivolous, and I look damn good while doing it. But like anything else, serious topics come up. I’ve been asked to address some intersections of ribaldry, glitter and social issues especially my place as a male emcee, gender, empowerment and the language around these topics. I won’t be delving in with half-assed interpretations of Michel Foucault or bell hooks, but speaking anecdotally, and with the hope that further chitchat on the topic is engendered (no pun).

It’s a sticky wicket to address, as a male host, sexuality and female empowerment in burlesque; I’m not a woman onstage disrobing for strangers, I don’t have to deal with real life and online stalking, or body shaming. There have been a lot of great essays and discussions about empowerment and the Male Gaze, presented by much greater intellects; but at the end of the day burlesque is still a mediated experience, people are still paying to see someone onstage, there are still voyeuristic and exhibitionistic elements, so issues of sex, power and commodification collide alongside boas, pasties and glove peels. To navigate that minefield as a host, I personally do lots of crowd control and make sure the audience is getting their money’s worth, but without indulging in “the customer is always right” philosophy or throwing performers under the bus.

The one thing I am conscious of is that, at most shows, I am the sole body onstage talking, a male with the only speaking role, and an amplified voice at that. I have to check myself and make sure I am giving the ladies their propers; I do this by explicitly praising the dancers performances, and when I encourage the audience to respectfully interact by catcalling and hollering, a staple of burlesque crowd work, I suggest they think of it as “subjectifying” instead of “objectifying” the performers. In doing so, I remind the audience that these are strong, sexy, creative performers onstage, that they are putting the work in, and that work should be respected.

Back at the turn of the century, I used to go see the Shim Shamettes, and I distinctly remember this one host who threw out the word “bitch” while telling a hacky street joke during his set. It was met with silence, and rightfully so. He wasn’t serving the performers or the audience, and he was using the word in a misogynistic way at a show that celebrates women. That always stuck with me and served as a cautionary tale as an emcee.

One way I have personally addressed the empowerment/disempowerment argument was by staging a burlesque benefit, “Rights of Spring”, for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast back in 2012. Trixie Minx was my co-producer, our thinking being to have women use their bodies onstage to support women’s bodies offstage. We had a wide range of performers, erotic readings of Roe vs. Wade between acts, emcee Anne Howe, and the New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling League, who set up a wrestling table where woman in the audience could challenge NOLAW wrestlers for a donation fee. I produced a similar benefit for Planned Parenthood this past year: “Stand Up, Get Down” with local comic Mary Devon Dupuy. At both of those benefits, I was an organizer, but we had women as emcees/hosts. This was done for a variety of reasons. No. 1, reproductive health issues, especially abortion access, usually are presented in the public sphere by men, and nine times out of 10, they are spiteful attacks on freedom that put women on defensive footing. As a man I could help provide a venue and platform for pro-choice voices, but my getting out of the way and not being the authoritative voice on stage was integral to the show and the overarching, pro-choice message.

Speaking of tone and language, the phrases “PC” or “un-PC” gets bandied about too much without really being examined. A lot of comedians and burlesque emcees pride themselves on bawdy and shocking language and burlesque is supposed to have a satiric and parodying component, which can include working “blue,” but what do you satirize and parody, and how? If you are punching down and making fun of people who have already been disempowered and maligned, you’re taking the easy way out, not risking anything and being a borderline bully.

I work out of New Orleans, arguably the wellspring of American burlesque and the burlesque revival. It’s also a town with a horrifying racial history, that was incredibly mobbed up, especially in the nightclub scene, where burlesque flourished mid-century. I like to satirize and parody these historical blind spots of burlesque and New Orleans. I also like to satirize the self-important, self-aggrandizing elements of burlesque, the “shock the bourgeois” acts that are really just “Hot Topic” posing, canned music, online burlesque polls/contests and pay-to-play festivals. Some of these jokes have pissed off some people, but, if you think your medium is above reproach, then you’re taking yourself too seriously, and that’s fertile ground for satire.

But again, with satire, are you punching down or punching up? And how well do you craft a joke to serve the latter? One time I did a joke about black voters being disenfranchised, which continues today, and a woman in the audience spoke to me afterwards, saying it’s placement in the show was jarring and killed the vibe for her for a few minutes. But we talked at length about the joke and where it was coming from and how it landed. I can honor her feelings and reaction, but still think of it as a valid joke, because I was indicting the state of Florida, not black voters — the takeaway being, to really craft a joke (which means writing and rewriting), see who the target is but be able to check yourself and listen to other people.

Listening to other people, serving the audience and the performers are in the forefront of burlesque this week because of two incidents at BHOF; the first was Dusty Limits’ using a “rape joke” to try and quell a rowdy audience, the second was Armitage Shanks making an analogy about Life and Art that, whatever the intent, invoked a trope of rape culture, drunk fucking implies consent.

A couple of thoughts. Limits’ comment wasn’t a joke. It doesn’t have a joke structure, if one thinks of a joke as a syllogism* — there is no “A + B therefore C.” It was just a shock line meant to insult — bush-league Howard Stern with a Brit accent. But, if we really strain to apply the algebra of comedy to what he said, it would look like this:

“The audience is rude, ergo, they were raped by their grandfathers”

It doesn’t make sense, and it’s cruel, it’s punching down. If anything good came out of the incident, it’s that people called him on it immediately and directly, and he issued a very succinct, sincere apology without any rationalization or attempt to explain away the situation. He fucked up and then he stepped up, and I think other people could learn from him when they screw up.

Social media amplified information about these incidents, and this amplification helped it to be addressed and not lost in the ether. Social media can be catty, misogynist and divisive, creating a digital Tower of Babel where conversation turns into blood sport with emojis. Or it can be used to call people in, call people out, reflect on what works, what hurts, what has overstayed its welcome and what new ideas should be welcomed in. I hope the latter is favored in burlesque. Twitter and Facebook can bring out the mob mentality and the pitchforks when a slight or injustice is perceived, sides quickly established and defended with outrage, accusations and rationalizations.

I like a good argument, but not a brawl. I am of “the more dialogue the better” school, that freedom of speech informs and creates more freedom of speech; with social media used in the service of social justice and the overlap of art and politics we see an expansion of the dialogue, especially in burlesque. I hope that this very brief article provides a glimpse of how I have dealt with just a few of these issues, and that it may add a rhinestone facet to the discussion.

*  If any performer wants to use syllogism as the basis for a boylesque/ drag name (Cyl O’Jism, a naughty Irish mathematician etc. have at it).

**  Though I am glad Limits stepped up, and Shanks issued a kinda/sorta apology, and continue their work as hosts, I am still the most handsome and humble host I know, and throw out haymakers every time I trod the boards, come check out “Comic Strip” at Siberia in New Orleans when you are in town.

 

 

 

Fleur de Tease caps off a purple reign of shows with “Prince Tribute Revue” Saturday at One Eyed Jacks

Fleur de Tease “Prince Tribute Revue,” with backing band the White Beach
WHEN: Saturday (June 11), 8 p.m. and 1030 p.m., followed by dance party
WHERE: One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse St.
TICKETS: $15
MORE INFO: www.fleurdetease.com

Ever since music legend Prince’s death on April 21 at age 57, New Orleans has found a range of ways to pay homage — from a series of special moments at the New Orleans Jazz Fest to the down-and-dirty DJ Soul Sister show. But it’s not like this is the first time fans around town have paid respect to a living legend; DJ Soul Sister often dedicated a party to his birthday, and then there’s Fleur de Tease’s popular Prince tribute shows.

Trixie Minx’s troupe is resurrecting that show but with lots of new material in its “Prince Tribute Revue” as the finale for this, its 10th season, on Saturday (June 11) at One Eyed Jacks. Minx debuted the show in 2010 and has brought it back occasionally but always with new twists.

(Learn more: Read essay by Chris Lane on life as a burlesque emcee)

This year should be no different, in terms of different, although there will be the ever-reliable The White Beach as the backing band. Minx will perform along with regular dancers Madame Mystere, Natasha Fiore, Mamie Dame and Piper Marie, along with aerialist Sarah the Bobcat, and special guests such as boylesque performer Phantoms, acrobat Sweet Tooth, and a flash mob by Kynt. Veteran emcee Chris Lane also will sing a number for the occasion, which will be followed by a late-night dance party DJed by Helen Gillet.

(Learn more: Read about the best in New Orleans burlesque for 2015)

“When we first started doing the Prince tribute show, we knew we’d always wanted to work with a live band, and it just made sense when we chose Prince because the music itself is so universal and it crosses so many boundaries,” Minx said. “Each time we do the show, we change it up every time. We like it to continually evolve and grow. I think the reason the show does so well is you’re truly bringing in artists who love Prince and love to celebrate Prince. And the reason it was requested to be brought back was, when he died, fans clearly remembers the show really fondly, and this became a necessary way to honor his life and celebrate what he’s given us.

“It’s a great way to honor his legacy, which I think is important.”

Kitten N’ Lou’s “OVEREXPOSED!” reveals life for “world’s show-busiest couple” at One Eyed Jacks

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For Kitten N’ Lou, life is no picnic, even when they’re having one. That was one of the key themes bubbling up from their “OVEREXPOSED!” show, their first full-length effort, which they brought to One Eyed Jacks on Sunday (April 17) before heading back out overseas for more touring.

Featuring former Shim Shamette Kitten LaRue, Kitten N’ Lou prove for New Orleans audiences who hadn’t seen their set at the “CREAM!” show they co-produced with Bella Blue last September that they’re doing what no other burlesque artist is doing today.  Through a curious mash-up of burlesque, boylesque drag and multi-media, Kitten N’ Lou reveal with “show within a show” cheek that gender isn’t the only thing that’s fluid in variety acts.

(Learn more: Kitten LaRue on “OVEREXPOSED!” and returning to New Orleans.)

Essentially, “OVEREXPOSED!” is a series of set pieces (presumably pulled from several of their popular acts) that speak to what it must be like to be in love and onstage together. At various times lip-synching, pantomiming and straight-up dancing, the duo checks myriad influences, whether it’s Lou Henry Hoover’s obvious love of Charlie Chaplin while doing a drag king bit or Kitten LaRue (a native of Ruston, La.) offering an expressive camp that is as reminiscent of our own drag queen legend Varla Jean Merman (without ever saying a word) as much as any striptease artist.

Their frequent collaborator, BenDeLaCreme, provided the unseen, pre-recorded narration that propels the show from one set piece to another, sometimes as basic narration, sometimes in a sort-of meta conversation with the performers. That, and some incredibly risky but often rewarding moments of total silence, give “OVEREXPOSED!” a distinction that keeps the audience on its toes. Sometimes the silence worked against them, as over-served members of the audience took to hooting, often unnecessarily, thinking they were either filling in the silent moments to help out or simply to hear themselves howl. (At one point a women checked an audience member behind with a dismissive “Not your show,” to which the other replied, “Oh, sorry, I’m really drunk.” OK…)

While 80 percent of the time they spent their moments either trying to put up with or woo back the other — during a picnic scene, Lou keeps pushing over a beer bottle to Kitten as a sign of affection, which she responds each time by semi-politely sliding it right back with increasing frustration — the show ends in a kiss, and applause.

It should come as no shock that following Sunday’s performance Kitten N’ Lou ultimately will head to the Vienna Boylesque Festival (where Bella Blue served as the headliner in 2015) — further evidence that the world is not over this couple’s exposure.

(NOTE: New Orleans’ own Perle Noire will serve as this year’s headliner at the Vienna Boylesque Festival.)

 

Kitten LaRue: Former New Orleans performer on Kitten N’ Lou’s “OVEREXPOSED!” show at One Eyed Jacks, Lady Gaga, and returning home

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

INFO:
Kitten N’ Lou in “OVEREXPOSED!”
Sunday (April 17), 9 p.m.
One Eyed Jacks
Tickets $18 advance, $20 day of show (VIP table seating available)
Click here for tickets

Kitten LaRue has come a long way since her days in the Shim Sham Revue in the early 2000s as a part of the burlesque renaissance that emanated out of the Shim Sham Club on Toulouse Street. Moving to Seattle, she helped kick-start the burlesque scene there with the Atomic Bombshells. But the Ruston native has never lost her love of the Crescent City, so it shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise that her other project, Kitten N’ Lou — with her onstage/offstage partner, Lou Henry Hoover — actually was birthed on a dare at the Bourbon Pub in 2011.

“It was summertime,” she recalls over the phone at her home base in Seattle. “We were both living down there for a month or two, just because my sister is having her baby, and so I was spending the summer there. We weren’t married yet, and we just went and saw this drag show, and we met the Carnival Kings, who were performing, and we were like,‘Oh we’re performers, too.’ And they said, ‘You should do an act, and we just kind of threw together, a little fun, dance-y lip-synch act, and that’s kind of where it all started.”

The song? Big Sean’s “Dance A$$.”

And so began Kitten N’ Lou, which over the past five years has become one of the most original, funny and popular burlesque acts in the world. The couple was named Most Comedic Act at the 2014 Burlesque Hall of Fame festival in Las Vegas. Months later, they performed as showgirl dancers (along with burlesque star and friend, Angie Pontani and two others) backing up Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett in their “Cheek to Cheek“ concert as part of their appearance on PBS’s “Great Performances” series and from their duet album of the same name.

Kitten N’ Lou made a return to New Orleans in 2015, co-producing the “CREAM!” show with Bella Blue and held at One Eyed Jacks, the former Shim Sham Club, and hosted by their frequent collaborator, BenDeLaCreme.

“They’ve taken a combination of many elements of burlesque and then added their own flair to it,” said Bella Blue. “And they have also added an element of drag to it well with their makeup and costuming. Like if you watch their acts you’ll see dancing, tassel-twirling, striptease. Those are the basic elements. But, when you are dancing to ‘Last Dance’ in a 1970s-inspired costume with heavy choreography and camp and gender fuckery (Lou as a drag king), it makes it uniquely Kitten N’ Lou.”

And 2016 is off to an amazing start, considering that the duo was voted the most popular burlesque act in 21st Century Burlesque’s poll of the top 50 performers.

Now they’re back, bringing their first-ever full-length show, “OVEREXPOSED!,” to One Eyed Jackson on Sunday (April 17) at One Eyed Jacks. LaRue discussed the concept for the show, which plays on their married life at home and onstage, as well as their long-term plan to make New Orleans their home base, among many other topics in this edited Q&A.

Let’s start with “OVEREXPOSED.” This is your first full-length show, but it also incorporates some of your previous acts, and you get to extend those, or simply draw out everything a little bit more, and there’s also a little bit of a more thematic approach at work here as well, correct?

Yeah, that definitely is, so this is our first evening work as a duet, and it does indeed include some of our more icon acts that we’ve created over the years, but it tells a story. It’s sort of a show within a show. It kind of follows the ups and downs of being the world’s show-busiest couple, so to speak, what that entails, and there are some acts that are also new material, and theater, and all kinds of stuff in there. The premises is essentially that we start the show with one of our bigger acts, and then we quickly discover that we are the only ones in the show, and we didn’t get that memo until just now, so there’s a narrator (BenDeLaCreme, pre-recorded) who interacts with us, and speaks to us, and kind of guides us through. And so it’s really funny, and it’s has some serious moments as well.

And a lot of it is meta thing, right? Where your show-biz people are talking about show biz, but also there’s a lot about being a couple as well. You can kind of expand on that a little bit.

Absolutely, yeah. I mean it’s kind of a we sort of talk about how we artist to reveal truth, and our drag, and in our work. It’s kind of about who are Kitten and Lou without Kitten and Lou. What happens when you strip that away? What happens when the goal of success on the stage interferes with your personal relationship? It explores some of those ideas.

Is it tough being a couple, and performing?

Yeah, I mean it definitely has its challenges. It’s also obviously it’s like we’re the luckiest people in the world to get to do this together, and do it all over the world, but it’s definitely not without its challenges. We’re together like 24 hours a day, and you have to make a real group effort to carve out non-work time with each other. Where we’re just us, and this show supports that. What the concept of just us means, and it’s also at levels of exploring what it’s like to be a queer couple in the world. What that sort of otherness means.

Kitten N’ Lou are… OVEREXPOSED! sizzler reel! from Kitten N’ Lou on Vimeo.

You said something in the Huffington Post, I’ll read the quotes it says, “It’s really thrilling to get to bring to the stage both our biggest show biz acts, along with the kind of theater that only works in longer perform. And we use the duration in a way that doesn’t really work in a five-minute act.” And you expand on that a little bit, but I really love the idea of talking about making it thematic, cabaret act of where the length matters, so to speak. Pardon any puns, but you really get to kind of stretch things. What is the beauty in this stretching?

Within this context of a burlesque act, we’re trying to tell a story within five minutes. And that story has a beginning, middle and end, and you have to really make a lot of very clear vast choices of how to do that. With an evening length work we’re able to play with this idea of duration in that we can have awkward silences if we want to.

So there’s this section where I essentially like eat my feelings with a bag of potato chips for three minutes, and people really responded to it. That’s exciting, and that’s not something I can just do in the context of an act. I mean I guess I could, but it would not kind of work. There’s a section where Lou and I have a very uncomfortable, awkward picnic. Where we cast a beer bottle back and forth. And that has within the context of our show has different layers of meaning, and metaphor that we get to play with, and explore.

One of the things that really struck me, just from a very zippy, snappy highlight reel is everyone talks, and you talk a lot about theater and drag, and burlesque and more. What I got was that this extended time kind of brings a mime-style theater into the act more.

We both draw heavily from mime, and clown, and we’re both like deeply interested in the different levels of meaning that it can be found in a gesture, and a real economy of theater in that way. I mean we love like bringing the over-the-top element with our burlesque acts. It’s just over the top, but we’re also interested within this kind of work this evening lengths work were we’re exploring that sort of economy of how much can we convey within a single gesture, or movement or eyebrow raise.

You’re blurring so many lines in there, whether it’s burlesque, boylesque, cabaret and drag. Do you see a kind of (audience) acceptance of your blurring these lines more now compared to five years ago? In other words, do audiences get it more than they did five years ago?

I think they do, and I feel like in our world it sort of depends on what they’re looking at, but this is what we have found to be true for ourselves, and we can only really speak for ourselves is that what we aimed to do with our work was give the spoonful-of-sugar approach. So we’re sort of like of delivering these subversive notions, or these subversive scenes of queerness, and drag, and there’s definitely like political under-curtain in what we’re doing because of that, but we wanted to do it in a way that was just pure eye candy, and pure 100 percent show-biz entertainment so that a broader audience would be open to receiving that message.

I guess when you say spoonful of sugar, you’re trying to make it as fun as possible to get this acceptance shot through your own filter a little bit.

Exactly, the things that we come from, we’re all like the different musical-theater world, and Lou actually before Lou got into burlesque kind of career as a contemporary dance choreographer and performer (as showgirl Ricki Mason), so Lou is coming from contemporary dance world. I’ve been in the theater and burlesque world for years, and we’re really just kind of interested for the two of us in creating this sort of new kind of performance that wasn’t just one thing, and then actually pulled from all of our influences, and both of our backgrounds, and could appeal to a really broad audience that also all the while delivering the inherent subversive message of us being clear performers.

The other part of your life that I’m curious about is, how you as a person and your sexuality evolved, was something that, one became more apparent before the other as a performer? Or was that something that was always you was aware of as a younger person?

Yeah, that’s a good question. I definitely have always been aware of my queerness since I was a teenager maybe, perhaps even before that, but I just didn’t have a word for that because I live in a small town in the Deep South (Ruston, La.), so there weren’t really like a lot of examples for me to look to, or a lot of people talking about it, but I definitely had been aware of it for a long time. But your question about its relationship to burlesque was really interesting, I think, because burlesque definitely helped me feel more comfortable with my sexuality in general, as I think it does for many burlesque performers, and it also really helped me kind of discover a way to express femininity and to perform femininity in a way that felt comfortable to me.

And here you are discovering things either about yourself or your performances, and both seem to have been playing also and maybe an emboldening the other. Whether creatively or emotionally. I’m not trying to dimestore psychoanalyze you, but it just sounds interesting that your creative side, and your sexual sides were kind of able to really meet in these really cool places.

Well, actually because as a queer person trying to figure that out about myself, burlesque kind of helps you reclaim your sexuality and reclaim performing femininity in a way that’s not strictly about the male gaze. So it’s like using drag — first of all bringing drag into my performance plays with that idea of femininity as a construct. And femininity can be a fun, playful thing. and it’s not exclusively for the purpose of attracting male attention. 

Right, but most guys think that it still is (laughs).

Yeah, well, I think that’s one of the reasons why in the burlesque world a lot of people have responded to what Lou and I are doing, is because there’s kind of like no questions that what we’re doing is not exclusively for men to look at. It’s like we’re clowns, and we’re obviously like queer women who are together and Lou is his own weird character. It’s not like it’s not for men to enjoy. It’s for everyone to enjoy, but it’s very clear when we are onstage doing what we do that this was not created to attract male attention.

Was winning Most Comedic Act at the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend in 2014 a flashpoint that started getting you more and more attention, or were you already in ascendance when that happened?

We already had a lot of people excited about us, but there’s something about performing at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, where so many of your peers get to see your work in one place. They’re all there like Mecca for burlesque, so everyone is there and so, so many of your peers, so many producers are there watching you, and so doing our act on that stage for the first time really like brought our public profile up to a different level, and after doing that and winning that award we then got Lou to perform at like 15 festivals that year or something as headliners. And before that we were kind of maybe still like not people were aware of us. They didn’t really know what we did, but then after that event we started getting calls to headline festivals, which is really great, and then from that point on you have people from other countries or all over the world who become aware of your work.

The Internet obviously is a very useful tool as well. We now have people will go … We’ll be headlining a town we’ve never been to for example and we’ll have people say to us oh my God I’m your biggest fan. I watch all your videos on YouTube. They haven’t actually seen us even perform live, but they are aware of our work from what’s been posted on the Internet.

Was performing in “CREAM!” with Bella Blue at One Eyed Jacks over last year’s Southern Decadence kind of one of your bigger moments? Coming back to New Orleans to perform as Kitten and Lou?

For me, personally, it was so cool to come back to the stage that I started doing burlesque on. I have such a history with that stage. Just being on that stage, and being backstage, and there’s something really meaningful for me about producing my first big show in New Orleans on the stage that I got my start on. It felt really like a full-circle moment. It was really thrilling.

 

http://player.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365352892

How did your involvement in the PBS show “Cheek to Cheek” with Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett come about?

Lou and I were performing in Provincetown at the time, and we got a call from Angie Pontani, who’s a burlesque star …

And a pretty big one.

She was one of the originals, and we worked with her before, and she couldn’t even tell us what it was. She just said I have something really big on the horizon. She said send me all of your press stuff, and so we sent in our press stuff. Lady Gaga  wanted five burlesque dancers, burlesque performers to be part of that show, and we were two of the ones chosen. We had just dropped everything, hightailed it to New York, and spent three very intense days learning like in the dance studio with Lady Gaga and her choreographer. Learning, like, three different dances, and then performing it to be taped.

And this was with Lou as a dancer …

A glamorous showgirl. It’s interesting they chose us out of all the people who submitted, because we submitted Kitten and Lou as we are — Lou, with the mustachioed character. But they still just picked us anyway.

So tell me about some of the meetings. What were the moments like?

The moments? They were very intense moments! Just a couple of highlights where in one of the rehearsals, the choreographer wanted Lou and I to be flanking Lady Gaga, to be on either side of her. So we were just standing next to her in rehearsal, and (the choreographer is) like, “Don’t stand so far away from her. Get in close like she’s your homegirl! So we kind of scooted up a little closer to her, and she just looked at us and was like, “Are you having fun?” I was like, “Yes, Lady Gaga, I’m having fun. Actually it’s like the most nervewracking job I’ve ever had in my life! (Laughs.) Another real highlight, which you can even see a little glimpse of on the TV special, is that it choreographed us to be doing a dance around Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. And they had one of the pieces of choreography was for us to be backing up, like with our backs towards up stage, and Tony Bennett was supposed to head and move to the side of the stage when we did that, but during the filming he didn’t do that. So I basically just like crashed right into him, because he was directly behind me, so that was a special moment.

That’s one way to meet a star.

Mmm-hmm!