Trixie Minx returns to Ascona, Switzerland (Field Trip)

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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.

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

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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.”

Pirate’s Ball blends food, music and burlesque for a good cause: Odyssey House

roxie-le-rouge

Roxie le Rouge (Photo by Jason Kruppa)

INFO:
WHAT: Pirate’s Ball 2016, benefiting Odyssey House
WHEN: Saturday (June 4), 7 p.m.
WHERE: Hyatt French Quarter New Orleans, 800 Iberville St.
TICKETS: $50
MORE: Visit event website for tickets

Full disclosure: I’m related to one of the board members.

It was about a year ago when I was watching New Orleans burlesque performer Bella Blue work an audience before a show, peppering the audience with a lot of “Who’s been to a burlesque show before?”-type questions that had me scratching my head. Why was it so difficult to understand?, I thought. But as she began her performance, you could tell several men in the audience, and a handful of women, didn’t quite know how to react, and so came the occasional cat-call. (Those more in the know responded with eye rolls.)

When she performed for the 2015 Pirate’s Ball for Odyssey House, the crowd, though still a little taken aback by striptease taking over the House of Blues’ Parish stage (despite the regular presence there of“Bad Girls of Burlesque”), soaked it up. Hopefully, increasingly, mainstream audiences are getting it: that burlesque has proven to be a vital component of all kinds of entertainment options in New Orleans, from the various clubs around town to Voodoo Fest to, yes, fundraisers for worthy causes.

(Read more: Follow Odyssey House on Facebook)

That’s why it’s so cool to see another one of the top performer-producers, Roxie le Rouge of Big Deal Burlesque fame, serving as one of the entertainers for the Odyssey House’s Pirate’s Ball on Saturday (June 5) at the Hyatt French Quarter New Orleans.

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Jassy reflects on New Orleans Drag Workshop Cycle 4 (Exit Interview)

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INFO:
WHAT:Rat Sh*t, presented by Neon Burgundy; hosted by Hannibelle Spector
WHEN: Tuesday, June 14, 11 p.m.
WHERE: AllWays Lounge, 2240 St. Claude Ave.
ADMISSION: $3

In this second installment of our “Exit Interview” series, New Orleans Drag Workshop Cycle 4 student Justin Gordon (aka “Jassy”) recounts his and her experiences following the “Draguation” ceremony hosted by Vinsantos May 10 at the AllWays Lounge. (I previewed the show for PopSmart NOLA, and then I covered it for the New Orleans Advocate, and posted photos afterward on PopSmart NOLA.) Gordon started off by recounting his first drag experience while a student at Tulane University.

“Once a year (Tulane’s Center for Wellness and Health Promotion) puts on a drag show that’s called Miss Paul Tulane and Mr. Sophie Newcomb, with girls as drag kings and guys as drag queens. There’s one winner each for every year. This past fall was the 19th one. It’s been losing interest lately. I won that show twice because I was the only one who was really putting some interest in it. I’d started going to different shows around town, and I knew that Vinsantos hosted Drag Bingo every Thursday at the AllWays Lounge. (Vinsantos has since left that gig.)

I even won a poster one night! So I knew about the Drag Workshop. After graduating from Tulane, I started looking for drag shows, and Vinsantos had on Facebook talked about starting up the Cycle 4 of the workshop.

(Read more: Slenderella reflects on New Orleans Drag Workshop Cycle 4)

“Since I was a little boy, my nickname was Juicy. As in, I was fat and juicy. It stuck with me my entire life. Friends and family and some teachers called me juicy, and then a friend in college bastardized it and started calling me Jassy. So I think I’m going to stick with that. Jassy is more an extension of myself. She allows me the ability to explore gender in a way that I’m more comfortable with. It’s more empowering through it. I don’t think Jassy is necessarily a character. I have a lot of interests, and this was another one. I do ceramics, I do podcasts, I perform on aerial silks. I like to change things up and do new things each time. Like to be almost like a chameleon. Jassy’s the mastermind!

“I went into the workshop thinking it would be about makeup and lip-synching. It was way more intense than I ever would have imagined. Vinsantos was really good at helping everyone clean up our ideas, and to get us to just push past our limits and really go for it. She definitely pushed us to make our acts more like performance art. The majority of the class was more about how to perform. Like if your wig is ratty, you can still captivate an audience. And then you can alter your aesthetic and be as pretty as you want.

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“I decided to perform to the Bjork song ‘Oh So Quiet’ when, a few months ago I was listening to the song and thought that would be good for an Anne Frank character. It had all these loud sounds and then the shushing. So I started thinking up this funny little Anne Frank piece. At first, I was confused how I would incorporate the love theme. I remember there was a news headline controversy about Justin Bieber writing in the Anne Frank House guest book (in Amsterdam) that she if she were alive today she would be a ‘Belieber. So I started thinking about conceiving my character a Justin Bieber-obsessed Anne Frank. That was concept I was going for. For the first section, I decided to write an original diary script that the audience hears over the speakers while I’m performing. Then I used the website Fiverr, which offers a variety of tasks for a small fee, after I’d Googled ‘German voiceover actress,’ to get someone to record my ‘diary entry’ in German. It’s totally absurdist, but it makes sense in the context of what people are doing. I was excited that that many people (in the audience) got it. I was a little nervous they wouldn’t quite grasp it. But the AllWays Lounge is a great place to do these kind of conceptual pieces.

Snapshots from New Orleans Drag Workshop Cycle 4 “Draguation” (Photos)

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My recap of the New Orleans Workshop’s Cycle 4 “Draguation” ceremony Tuesday (May 10) ran in the New Orleans Advocate (Tuesday, May 17), featuring some truly beautiful backstage and onstage photos by staff photographer Matthew Hinton.

Hinton captured the craziness in the dressing room as performers furiously applied makeup and costumes to prepare for their big debut in front of the packed house at the AllWays Lounge on St. Claude Avenue.

Each of the 10 performers presented a distinct drag persona, which I sneak-previewed earlier. I’ll have a more expanded look at the show and interviews with some of the performers to kind of clean out the reporter’s notebook, but here’s an excerpt from the Advocate piece, noting the participation of the tall, lanky Cory Greenwaldt, who put his 6-foot-3 frame to silly affect:

Greenwaldt said he was looking for a way to feel less self-conscious about his slender 6-foot-3 frame, and thus invented Slenderella — “silly, bubbly, a bit ditzy, and a laugh you can hear a mile away.” Slenderella swayed and flopped her away around the AllWays Lounge stage, wrapped in a long white wig, a white leotard with matching stockings and a blue plastic miniskirt — all to the tune of “Primadonna” by Marina and the Diamonds. “It truly represented my inner need to be perfect in an imperfect world, which can be dangerous at times,” Greenwaldt said after the show. “I’ve learned through the creation of Slenderella and the drag workshop that not everything is perfect, and at times, I just need to loosen up and have fun.”

Look for more on the site later this week.

 

Jason Kruppa on contributing work to “Muses & Musicians” exhibition

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One of the many joys of covering New Orleans’ variety arts scene — whether it’s burlesque, drag, circus or sideshow — is running into the photographers who so beautifully capture the ambience of the shows. Burlesque photography in particular almost seems to be in the same kind of renaissance that burlesque itself has been enjoying, and the quality of the work — whether it’s in the mood, the action, the sensuality or the sheer exuberance of it all — has riven to the same kind of art form. (And, possibly, as under-appreciated as burlesque in the same context.)

Their loyalty to their subjects is one of the most fascinating relationships in the cultural scene here; both are masters of their craft and appreciate what they do for the other, but there’s a protectiveness at play here that borders on the spiritual. You don’t post their stuff without crediting them, you don’t mess with the original file, and you make sure you use the photos that make the performers look their best. They’re almost pathologically protective of one another. That reverence shows up in the work.

Some of my favorites while covering the scene include Roy Guste, JonGunnar Gylfrason, Jian Bastille and Michael Egbert, but one photographer in particular always captures my attention: Jason Kruppa. There’s a special kind of sophistication that Kruppa brings to his work that suggests an undeniable versatility and style that makes him a special photographer. (His shot of Trixie Minx for her “Cupid’s Cabaret” show, pictured above, earlier in 2016 was one for the ages.) So special, in fact, that his burlesque and other works are included in the upcoming “Muses & Musicians” exhibition that opens this weekend at the Claire Elizabeth Gallery on Decatur Street in the French Quarter.

The reception runs 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday (May 14). Kruppa’s works will be included with that of Garret Haab, Briana Catarino and Lela Brunet.

The exhibition examines the notion of the muse, something a photographer who shoots burlesque can relate to.

“In ‘Muses & Musicians,’ the viewer is presented with artistic representations of Muses — the personification of the arts and beauty in the female form, alongside those of Musicians — the disseminators of creativity in song,” says the exhibition’s description.

Kruppa’s work isn’t limited to burlesque performers; as the title suggests, he’s found plenty of inspiration in New Orleans as well. Kruppa was kind enough to share his artist’s statement, and some of his works, in this post:

Jason Kruppa is a self-taught, New Orleans-based photographer specializing in portraiture and conceptual photography. 
A substantial portion of these photos were made with “instant film.” Kruppa uses the unique characteristics of this medium to recall the techniques and effects of early photography.
The first series in Kruppa’s portfolio, “Transformations,” explores the transition from what we see in an individual to the person they become before the camera.  Images such as “The Traveler” and “The Dreamer” capture that flicker of the imagination when the artist’s subjects become something greater than themselves – archetypes connected to a longer timeline.
In his ongoing “NOLA Music Portrait” series, Kruppa reflects on the personalities that contribute to the culture and lifeblood of the city. From quiet moments in the studio to carefully composed on-stage snapshots, Kruppa’s soulful portraits capture the broad range of musicians in New Orleans. Featured artists in the series include jazz luminary Delfeayo Marsalis, “Songbird of New Orleans,” Robin Barnes, Folk and Blues artist Luke Winslow-King, and the “Queen of Rare Groove,” DJ Soul Sister.
In addition to his personal portfolio, Kruppa also works in editorial, advertising and curatorial. His work has been featured in publications including: The New York Times, Town & Country, Les InRocktupibles (Paris), Travel & Leisure, EDGE Magazine (NYC), CUE (New Orleans), Scene Magazine (Louisiana), and St. Charles Avenue Magazine. Kruppa served as photo editor on the major biography “LENNON: The Man, The Myth, The Music,” published by Hyperion Press, and curated exhibits for the Louisiana Supreme Court from 2006-2011.

Fellow photographer Dave Rodrigue has watched Jason Kruppa work for a decade, and marvels at his focus on detail in getting the shot right.

“Over the past decade I’ve observed him perfect his lighting technique always with an eye for experimentation,” Rodrigue said. “Jason has some heavy-duty influences, such as (Richard) Avedon and (Robert) Mapplethorpe, and he has been able to use that inspiration to craft his own style. I believe his burlesque work comes from the personal relationships he’s developed with his subjects. He gets to know them as friends and that always lends to creativity.

“The subjects are comfortable,” Rodrigue said. “They trust him.”

For Vinsantos, Tuesday’s another “Draguation” day with the New Orleans Drag Workshop

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WHAT: New Orleans Drag Workshop Cycle 4 Draguation
WHEN:
Tuesday (May 10), 8 p.m.
WHERE: AllWays Lounge, 2240 St. Claude Ave.
COST: Tickets $15. Click here for tickets.
Cycle 4 class: Cate Swan (aka Tarah Cards), Dane Baxter (aka Kedavra), Rocharlotte Raphael (aka Bellagio Showers), Angie Zeiderman (aka Shebrew Internationale), Cory Greenwaldt (aka Slenderella), Sadie Edwards (aka Mx. Mystic), Evan Spigelman (aka Carrie Mehome), Logan VanMeter (aka Candy Snatch), Justin Gordon (aka Jassy), AJay Strong (aka Boy Gorge)

Kedavra is nearly flawless.

Working the AllWays Lounge stage to the sounds of “Bring On the Men” (from the Broadway musical “Jekyll & Hyde”) on a recent weeknight, the aspiring drag queen struts and preens and glares at the audience, shifting from the main stage at various times to the piano at left or over toward the right. When she’s finished, Kedavra’s audience — fellow students in the fourth iteration of the New Orleans Drag Workshop — applaud wildly both out of support and awe.

As the applause fades, a voice booms out from the back of the room, up in the sound booth.

“I actually have some notes for you.”

It’s Vinsantos DeFonte — aka the New Orleans performer Vinsantos — who oversees the workshop and never misses a detail. This is where the “nearly” in “nearly flawless” is revealed.

“I feel like you straight up stole two of Jassy’s moves,” DeFonte says, noting for starters a cartwheel that Kedavra did, almost as an afterthought. But it’s a move heretofore only done by Jassy, one of the other classmates, and DeFonte is clear about each act of the 10 students being singular and unique. No borrowing allowed. Jassy smiles, almost as if to say, no harm done. Still, DeFonte concludes with, “I’m just letting you know you stepped on some drag toes.” With that, and a note to use the main stage more, Kedavra’s last rehearsal before the class’ “Draguation” day on Tuesday (May 10) looks promising.

That Kedavra seems promising shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. Her creator, 26-year-old Dane Baxter, also happens to be one of New Orleans’ most popular and in-demand body-paint artists — a fixture at BUKU Fest, Voodoo Fest, Jazz Fest, you name it, whose social media presence includes more than 31,000 followers on Instagram. (He took his drag name from “Avada Kedavra,” or the “Killing Curse” from the “Harry Potter” series. He’s a fan, and has the shoulder tattoo to prove it.)

Several of the other classmates also are known as creative in other areas as well. There’s Angie Zeiderman, who as Angie Z was voted one of New Orleans’ most popular burlesque performers (and a talented vocalist) but in this workshop has created the hard-rocking persona Shebrew Internationale and will lip-synch to Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” And there’s Logan VanMeter, who as Danger Rockwell is one of New Orleans’ few regularly working boylesque performers.

Then there’s Cate Swan, an in-demand makeup stylist by day who on Tuesday night will transform into Tarah Cards, dancing a crazed dance to Diamanda Galas’s “I’m Gonna Live the Life.” And, perhaps most unlikely of all, there’s AJay Strong, a recently transgendered male who will revisit his previous feminine life onstage as a whip-cracking Boy Gorge performing to Marilyn Monroe’s “Teach Me Tiger.” This run-through is being done without costumes, but it’s their last time to get their act just right.

This Cycle’s class is a study in diversity: There are men, women, transgender, white, black, gay, straight, performers from other disciplines, and newbies. Like many drag queens, several tuck their junk, while others pump up their boobs, and yet another creates the illusion of junk — with a codpiece.

“My drag family was always a healthy mix of men, women and trans folk that were exploring their identities on and off the stage,” DeFonte says. “I’m glad I was raised in this kind of drag world. If there’s one thing that drag should not be, is narrow-minded.”

While there are plenty of complete newcomers to any kind of stage performance, the New Orleans Drag Workshop also gives New Orleans artists a chance to tap into something different, to add another arrow in their creative quiver.

But it’s also helped fill New Orleans nightclubs with fresh drag talent; “draguates” of the workshop over the past three years include Hannibelle Spector, Liberaunchy, Dasani Waters, and Neon Burgundy, a performer and producer known for such shows as the monthly “Gag Reflex” show at the AllWays Lounge.

“I’ve had many talented performers pass through the Workshop,” DeFonte says, but also notes, “The best thing about the Workshop is that it is completely transformative. It works for the people involved, including myself, on so many levels. It’s definitely a confidence builder. Whether or not a student chooses to pursue a career in drag, they leave the class changed.

“The group dynamic really creates a family style bond,” DeFonte adds. “Each of the cycles have their own connections, and most of them draguate having made life-long friends.”

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

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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

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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!