John Waters: “Make Trouble,” remote controls, and the crazy people in his life

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JOHN WATERS: “THIS FILTHY WORLD: DIRTIER AND FILTHIER”
WHEN:
Sat. (March 18), 8 p.m.
WHERE: Joy Theater, 1200 Canal St.
TICKETS: $45-$90
MORE INFO: Visit the Joy Theater website

Truth be told, John Waters can do these phone interviews in his sleep. What more is there to say after a career like his, which, fortunately for New Orleans, includes what feels like an annual pilgrimage to brush up on his “This Filthy World Tour” as he holds forth on the many things that landed him the title “Pope of Trash” and many other witty titles.

And yet, he always surprises you with a few curveballs and changeup pitches.

Some of that is captured in the feature in this week’s New Orleans Advocate article as well as in a podcast interview for “PopSmart NOLA.” Waters’ assistant was kind enough to also provide a “John Waters through the years” set of images for a nice photo gallery, so it seemed appropriate to provide a post of his recollections of the many crazy and special people in his long and colorful life, with some photos of him and the others included.

Enjoy!

Would you be game if I threw out a few of the names of the folks you’ve worked with over time? Would you mind giving me a first impression?

Sure.

I’ll start with Johnny Depp.
At the time of Johnny Depp in “Cry Baby” (1990), he was basically Justin Bieber. (At the time, Depp was the star of the TV hit “21 Jump Street.) He was a teen idol and he hated it. I think he made a wise decision to come with us because he could make fun of the whole thing. Then he moved on and made “Edward Scissorhands” and became a serious actor.

Debbie Harry.
I always loved Debbie. (Debbie Harry appeared as Velma Von Tussley in 1998’s in “Hairspray.”) She was from the very beginning, like a goddess to me. She’s a really good actress, too. I’ve seen her lots of different movies, independent films. It was great to have her. She was so excited to have Sonny Bono play her husband.

Ricki Lake.
Well, Ricki’s still a very dear friend. (Lake starred as Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray.”) She’s had tragedy recently over her last husband. I don’t know if you know about that. I didn’t know. He committed suicide. It’s in People magazine this week. Anyway, she is a dear friend. I wrote the introduction to her autobiography (“Never Say Never: Finding a Life That Fits”). We’ve stayed in touch from the very beginning. She was even in “Hairspray,” the NBC thing, and a cameo thing. Ricki’s a dear, dear friend I’ve known forever. When she came in, she was Tracy Turnblad. She was in college, hated it, wanted to be an actress. She always told me she wanted to be a TV star and she became one.

Kathleen Turner.
Oh, she’s great. I still see her. We just went over and recorded something for the new “Serial Mom” (1994) DVD/blue-ray that came out. Kathleen is a brilliant actor and she works constantly. She does a lot of theater. I don’t know. She’s got a great sense of humor. She doesn’t suffer fools, but I love to be with her when she doesn’t suffer fools.

Traci Lords.
A good friend. (Lords starred in “Cry Baby.”) She was only a porn star for, what, a year and a half or something. She’s been doing everything else for the rest of her life. Traci and I hosted a big punk rock festival in Oakland last year, called Burger Boogaloo, and I’m hosting it again this year. She was great because she said for the first time ever, you know how to meet and greet, which for her can be not a good. All the lineup was mostly all women. She said, “I’ll sign their tits but those guys? I ain’t signing their tits.’ They all had their haircut from “Cry Baby” and Traci Lords tattoos and everything. It was great.

Tab Hunter.
Tab Hunter is a friend. I certainly saw him. I’m in the documentary about him. If it wasn’t for him, “Polyester” (1981) would have never crossed over to what it did. Tab is somebody that you never can predict. He’s a Republican. He always makes me laugh. He does it just to defy me, too.

Mink Stole.
Mink and I are great friends. She moved back to Baltimore after living in New York and L.A. for years and years and years. We’re very good friends. She came up to the big Writers Guild, Lifetime Achievement Award I got. Mink’s a very, very close friend. She’s like family.

What do you think of the music album she put out a couple of years ago?
It’s so good! She could sing. (“Do Re Mink,” 2013.) I said, “Why didn’t you tell me you could sing?” She said, “I didn’t know it, either.” She’s like Julie London. She can really sing.

Patricia Hearst.
Patricia is certainly my friend, I hope. (Hears appeared in “Cry Baby.) She’s somebody who, it’s all over. She doesn’t care about it, she doesn’t think about it. Her life has evolved so much further. She’s got great kids. She’s something, that like from a time warp that that happened in. She really has no interest, or there’s no trace of it. She survived it. She was always telling the truth and that’s why she’s alive.

Iggy Pop.
Iggy Pop! He’s a headliner at the punk rock festival, Burger Boogaloo, this year, both nights that we’re hosting in Oakland. I saw Iggy recently. I did his radio show (“Iggy Confidential”) with him. We talked about scary Halloween music together.

Pat Moran.
Pat Moran’s my best friend in the world. She has cast everything from all my movies, then she went on to “The Wire.” She’s, I think, won an Emmy two or three times (“Veep,” “Game Change,” “Homicide: Life on the Street”). She’s been nominated (seven) times. She was also with me at the Writers Guild (ceremony). She and her husband are my closest friends.

What did you think about her as a talent? What made her special to you?
Well, because she could just recognize people that could do it, and were believable. She knew all types. You always believed the people that Pat cast. She went to different communities to get people that maybe wouldn’t have been actors and helped turn them into them.

Finally, Divine.
Divine, I miss him. Divine would have wanted to be in every single “Hairspray” that’s ever come out. He probably would have played many different roles. By the end, when Divine died, he was playing male roles. He probably would have wanted to play, I don’t know, Corny Collins.

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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 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!

With an encore, LadyBEAST begins looking forward to a busy 2016 in circus productions

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UDPATE: “LadyBEAST Cabaret” premieres Saturday, May 7.

INFO:
“Vaude D’Gras: The Encore!”
Fri.-Sat., April 8-9, 8 p.m.
Tickets $20 general, $25 VIP
Click here for tickets

When asked whether an encore presentation of “Vaude D’Gras” came from either people telling her they’d missed the first production or wanted to see it again, circus-arts producer-performer basically answered “yes.”

The show’s popularity, combined with a busy and distracting Carnival season, necessitated a re-launching of the delightful circus show, held in February inside the dilapidated but soon-to-be-renovated Happyland Theater in Bywater. The new shows run Friday-Saturday (April 8-9) at Happyland (3126 Burgundy St.).

(Learn more: Read my “Vaude D’Gras review)

“For so many people every Mardi Gras, for some it’s become a part of their experience,” she said of the show, now in its third year after changing its name this year. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s their Lundi Gras, or their Friday before Mardi Gras. And I’m stoked about that because that’s how I want to do it. I want to put on a ridiculous circus show. Some complain that they miss it each time, and they’re bummed. I want to show it to them so they’ll, ‘I won’t miss this next time.’

“It’s a show that people go to for more than one night, also. (Burlesque producer-performer) Bella Blue sat in the audience two different nights and said, ‘I fucking loved it!’”

The same basic cast will reunite with LadyBEAST: Clay Mazing, GoGo McGregor, Guglielmo, Madame Daggers and Sarah Stardust.

In a sense, LadyBeast — an aerialist and fire and escape artist when not producing — is taking one look back before vaulting forward. The following weekend (April 15-17), she will finally bring back “The YardBaret,” a backyard-style circus show in a private Bywater location. The show will include some of the “Vaude D’Gras” performers but also featuring frequent collaborators including The Lady Satine, Penelope Little, Liza Rose as well as aerialist Laughing Sky Diamond and drag performer Golden Delicious. Also: Marlo Winter, a Washington-based aerialist who’s working in New Orleans now. (And giving lessons, too.) And formerly New Orleans-based contortionist Sam Aquatic will make an appearance.

Guests also can enjoy a dinner from pop-up chef Louie the Greek.

LadyBEAST loves this show “because it’s not a standard venue – performers can take their work anywhere. This setting gives artists the freedom to do what they want to do, Plus it’s ambient. You’re outdoors in this lovely garden.” She said one performer from last summer’s presentation “described it as if she was playing in a secret garden party in Europe.”

Next comes the show LadyBEAST has been working on for months, a continuation of sorts from the “Cirque Copine” show she has brought with Liza Rose to One Eyed Jacks. Her monthly “LadyBEAST Cabaret” will make its debut May 7 inside the French Quarter club. The performers include Guglielmo, Liza Rose, Sarah Stardust and LadyBEAST as well as touring artists. There’s Gretchen in Motion, a popular touring hand balancer.

(Learn more: See photos from the “Cirque Copine” show here)

The hope is to make the cabaret a monthly show with “Cirque Copine” filling in one of those months on a quarterly basis, though a second production inside One Eyed Jacks isn’t expected until after the summer — a popular touring season for performers. Still, these productions underscore a more consistent presence of circus-arts productions in New Orleans.

“It means that us circus people are here to stay in New Orleans and we’re just going to keep going,” LadyBEAST said. “We’re setting a standard of quality of circus entertainment in New Orleans.”

With “Cupid’s Cabaret,” Trixie Minx goes beyond burlesque for Valentine’s Day

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If quantity was the watchword for burlesque in 2015, maybe the watchword for 2016 is quality. Because of the massive influx of performers moving to New Orleans over the past couple years, and the increased number of shows, there’s a sense that the scene might have become a bit saturated.

There might be only one way to go, then: up. That’s up, as in quality; up, as in production value; up, as in a sense of scale; and up, as in a platform to showcase the talent here.

That’s why it’s so fun watching Trixie Minx discuss her latest venture, “Cupid’s Cabaret,” a grand affair set for Sunday (Feb. 14) — Valentine’s Day — on the grandest stage since the burlesque renaissance, the Orpheum Theater. Minx is alternately excited and a bit wary as she explains her vision for the show over coffee inside the Roosevelt Hotel, opposite the Orpheum’s general manager, Kristin Shannon. Burlesque is too small a word to describe what’s on tap, she cautions.

“We want this event to be more than a show but an experience of what it was like to be in the Orpheum back then,” Minx said in a recent post with vintage Orpheum photos that reminded readers of the venue’s vaudeville roots. “An interactive vaudeville presentation on a Vegas-size level … with a modern take.”

That’s Minx, always harkening to the more classic style of burlesque but always with an eye toward the present — most often seen in her monthly Fleur de Tease shows at One Eyed Jacks. (Not to confuse anyone, but this month’s show, held the night before on Saturday, naturally will have a Valentine’s theme.) So call it what you will: burlesque, vaudeville, cabaret or variety show, but “Cupid’s Cabaret” represents a major step up and forward for the producers and performers in the scene in 2016.

The cast alone is worth the price of admission: Trixie Minx, Roxie le Rouge and Madame Mystere — all regulars in the “Fleur de Tease” show — but also Portland’s Angelique de Vil performing a number. But then comes tons of variety, including music from New Orleans’ own singer-songwriter Sasha Masakowski (flown in from New York City), swing dancer Bobby Bonsey, contortionist Sam Aquatic, and the New York-based aerial duo, Brian Ferree & Crista Marie Westley. New Orleans drag/cabaret performer Vinsantos also is on tap.

It will all be set in a dinner-theater atmosphere, which will allow the Orpheum to take advantage of its ability to raise its stage to accommodate dining lovers in the front, with sparkling wine flowing from bottles the moment guests arrive at the door. While this area is certainly for the lovers in the house, the upstairs balcony (at cheaper prices) will provide a fun atmosphere for single men and women, without necessarily the pressure of trying to impress a date but instead take in the entertainment.

“For the guests to experience it, we want the Orpheum and the stage of the Orpheum to allow and provide access to folks who wouldn’t ordinarily buy tickets to a show like this, like maybe even “Fleur de Tease,” said Shannon. “When you come inside a place like the Orpheum, you get to see a show that’s an elevated type of vaudeville or burlesque.”

For Trixie Minx, “Cupid’s Cabaret” represents a logical progression in a career that has taken her outside of New Orleans for bigger ventures, bigger stages and bigger audiences. Her guest performers represent a list of friends she’s made elsewhere, whether it’s from her regular trips to Atlantic City (most notably for this past December’s “The Burlesque Show” at the Borgata Casino Hotel & Spa); the Ink-N-Iron Festival in Long Beach, Calif.; or the “Fantasy” show she produces for Couples Cruise.

Each of these shows, she says, have inspired her to try to take her work to another level, which includes a larger budget, more performers and a larger stage.

“I started ‘Fleur de Tease’ 10 years ago because from the first moment I was introduced to burlesque, I liked it but I wanted more,” she said. “That’s why ‘Fleur de Tease’ is New Orleans’ premier vaudeville revue. It’s more than burlesque. Burlesque is a beautiful art form, but I wanted a show. I wanted something big.

“My inspiration was the Moulin Rouge, the Crazy Horse and the Lido in Paris,” she continued. “I saw all of them 2005. Those shows are what inspired me. ‘Fleur de Tease’ workw with a humble budget, and a great cast. This is a chance to work my creative muscles.

“I have so many ideas!”

She’s executing only the ideas that work for her creatively, and not just to be a crowd-pleaser or dumb down the production value, she said.

“I’ve been pushed a lot times to do things that might cheapen a performance because it’ll draw more people,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘You should go a little raunchier, and what’s hot in the moment.’ I always keep to a performance that’s classic, that’s got comedy, that’s got that vaudeville spirit. I love that we can expand on that.

“My shows, I never want to bring down the quality to bring in more people.”

“Cupid’s Cabaret” is another indicator of burlesque shows going bigger and possibly expanding its audience. Last year saw more attempts to do this, including Bella Blue’s weekly “Risq” show at Harrah’s New Orleans Casino. (That show currently is on hiatus but might return soon.) After recently presenting her “Touché” show at the Joy Theater, she announced the formation of the Foxglove Revue, a troupe that will include such in-demand performers as Darling Darla James, Charlotte Treuse, Queenie O’Hart, Stevie Poundcake, Madonnathan, Angie Z, Cherry Bombshell, Miss Monarch M, Cherry Brown and The Lady Lucerne.

Elsewhere, Blu Reine announced this past December that she will expand her quarterly production, “The Roux: A Spicy Brown Burlesque Show,” into a full-blown festival Sept. 16-18 — which will showcase some of the nation’s most in-demand performers of color.

It’s productions like these that offer everyone a chance to up their game, including longtime “Fleur de Tease” collaborator and Big Deal Burlesque producer Roxie le Rouge.

“I think anytime a performer has the opportunity to perform their art form in a beautiful theater such as the Orpheum, it feels like an accomplishment,” she said. “I always feel a sense of relief when I can do an act as intended without limitations that come along with performing at smaller venues. I mean I love performing at hole-in-the wall dive bars, metal clubs, etc. But, it is a pretty great feeling to be on a big stage. In my head I’m saying, ‘Look at all this room I have to dance!'”

For Trixie Minx, expanding the form, and the audience, creates so many new opportunities in a city too often associated with the past. The Orpheum Theater, as I noted in a Biz New Orleans profile, is symbolic of a return of several historic New Orleans theaters, but it wants to celebrate both the past and the future for these types of productions.

“I honestly think that burlesque is an evolutionary art form,” Minx said. “To me, the art of striptease is not new. It’s continuously evolving. Each year it has upped. I feel people might be a little more excited about it right now, like as a buzzword. What I really like about this year and specifically working with the Orpheum, whatever you love, you’re going to see a show because you love it.

“Hope this will open the minds of someone who might not see a vaudeville show. It might open eyes and perspective to a whole new world, which is incredible.”

“Freakeasy” and “Vaude D’Gras” turn Mardi Gras into a weekend of circus and sideshow Carnival

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“We were all going to be here, anyway. These are people I just know and love. We figured we’d throw it all together,” says Noah Mickens, who as William Blatty helps run Wanderlust Circus out of Portland, Oregon. He’s speaking on his cell phone from an Uptown café, arriving in New Orleans on a trip that originally was supposed to simply be a Mardi Gras vacation.

But once he realized who else might be taking advantage of the Carnival season, and what New Orleans circus and sideshow performers were around and available, Mickens thought, why not just turn the weekend into another kind of Carnival?

And so we have a handful of circus and sideshow performances this weekend, highlighted by the four-day “Vaude D’Gras” from New Orleans circus artist-producer LadyBEAST and many of the gang from last year’s “Cirque du Gras” (Feb. 5-8) at Happyland Theater in Bywater.

(Read more: Circus arts in New Orleans)

Then there’s “Freakeasy,” featuring members of Wanderlust Circus, Philadelphia’s the Squidling Brothers, Gale Force from Seattle’s Super Geek League, and New Orleans performers including Tsarina Hellfire — all coming together Sunday (Feb. 7) at Café Istanbul.

The weekend actually kicks off with the Squidling Brothers’ “Clowns and Queens” on Thursday (Feb. 4) at Mag’s 940 on Elysian Fields Avenue. The lineup: Jelly Boy The Clown, Matterz Squidling, Eric Odditorium, William Batty, Hermie the Clown, Velvet Crayon, Fibi Eyewalker, Helios, Shaina, and Princess Stephanie.

So yes, it’s safe to say the circus has come to town, which makes sense given the way the varying circus and sideshow scenes intermingle from around the U.S.

“There’s a real national community of underground, independent circus,” said the 42-year-old Mickens.

He’s watched circus and sideshow grow from the kind of ground-level street-performer scene of the late 1980s where he got his start as a 13-year-old into a more performance-art style in the 1990s, and then a growing, vibrant scene that found a home in nightclubs for indie performers.

This was pretty edgy, punk-rock stuff, evidenced nationally by troupes such as the Bindlestiff Family Circus and locally by such troupes as the Know Nothing Family Zirkus Zideshow.

(Read more: Alison Fensterstock’s 2001 profile of the scene in Gambit Weekly)

Now, Mickens says, it’s everywhere.

“All these aerial and circus schools started to pop up that made it accessible to learn how to do all this stuff,” he said. “I learned how to juggle from an old homeless man. To learn how to be an aerialist back then was your mother and father and your brother and your sister — you were in a circus. It was a secret knowledge you had to find from somebody.

“Then schools started popping up 2000 or 2003, then by 2010 it seemed like every city has an aerial school and has created an infusion of all this new talent of people who know how to do tricks and have skills of all kinds.”

Mickens is excited about performing again in New Orleans, and reconnecting with burlesque performer Charlotte Treuse, with whom he performed back in Portland with Cabaret Babylon.

“I’m not going to waste my time,” he said with a laugh. “Now I have three shows. I’m incapable if chilling out and just enjoying myself.”

For Tsarina Hellfire, the New Orleans performer, this represents a few different types of reunions both with the scene she left and returned to a few  years ago as well as reuniting with Mickens.

“I just got back home to years ago; I took break from performing for about 10 years,” she said. “It would’ve been silly trying to get back into my visceral gore whore burlesque sideshow stuff, and have known Noah Mickens on and off since Convergence 2006. I’ve always been a big fan of and have known a lot of sideshow circus people around, and want to just have a big family get together. I’m getting my paws wet, getting back into doing events backstage managing and performing and trying my hand at producing.”

Vinsantos: Cabaret and drag shows turn into fundraisers after French Quarter fire

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For weeks, New Orleans cabaret performer Vinsantos was looking forward to welcoming performer Kitten on the Keys to New Orleans for their “BACK2BACK” show Wednesday (Feb. 3) at the AllWays Lounge in a thrilling double-bill show.

And then came a very blue Monday, as a fire swept through Priestess Miriam’s Voodoo Spiritual Temple, next door to his apartment on the 800 block of north Rampart Street. The fire headed straight up and into an upstairs closet that held all the costumes and other belongings of friend and drag performer Hannibelle Spector.

“We live in a very special compound on north Rampart Street that consists of the Temple, Deity Arts, our home as well as the homes of five residents,” Vinsantos said. “Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to put the pieces of these people’s live back together, The Voodoo Temple suffered a huge amount of fire, smoke and water damage and will not be reopening in its long-standing location.

“Both Hannibelle and the tenant adjacent to her have lost their homes. This is painful to us as we had the best neighbors that we could ask for. This isn’t something that can be fixed with a little drywall and some paint. This mixed-use building will be out of commission for a long while.”

To help out, Vinsantos is turning the “BACK2BACK” show at the AllWays Lounge into a fundraiser to help support the Hannibelle, who will emcee Tuesday’s “RATSH*T” show at the AllWays Lounge as well.

A GoFundMe campaign titled “Starting Over from Scratch” also has been started.

All proceeds from the shows will go toward Hannibelle Spector and housemates, said Vinsantos, who added a that a third fundraiser, “Rampart Is Burning,” has been scheduled for Feb. 13 at the Voodoo Lounge, organized by Akrum Salem and Daniel Ford.

“It’s really hard to put a price on loosing everything and having to find a new home and start all over from scratch,” Vinsantos said. “Thank all of you for getting involved, spreading the word, making donations, and coming out to these shows and helping us raise the money the old fashioned way.”

Here’s some bio info on Kitten on the Keys:

Suzanne Ramsey aka Kitten on the Keys is a world class burlesque legend and piano chanteuse. She’s toured the U.S. and Canada with Devotchka and Catherine D’Lish, opened for legendary punk band The Damned on the Twisted Cabaret Tour UK 2007, toured with the Teaseorama Roadshow, performed sold out shows in France, Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Edinburgh Scotland, Switzerland, played piano for Jazz Legend Little Jimmy Scott in Las Vegas, MC’d for Exotic World and the Burlesque Hall of Fame, played the Spigeltent at Outside Lands Fest in San Francisco, sang her original songs with a jazz band. Currently she is working with her latest band with none other than Dead Kennedy’s drummer Bruce Slesinger. Kitten on the Keys staked her claim in Europe co starring with Cabaret New Burlesque in the French film “Tournee” with award winning actor and director Mattieu Almaric (2010). The film was an official entry at the 63rd Annual Cannes Film Festival where it won a best director Palme D’or for Mattieu Amalric’s Directing and the Foreign Press Award. Kitten was pleased as punch to walk the red carpet with Mi Mi le Meaux, Evie Lovelle, Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz, Roky Roulette and Mattieu Amalric and the rest of the cast.”

Trixie Minx’s “Cupid’s Cabaret” show set for Valentine’s Day at the Orpheum

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Trixie Minx. (Photo by Jason Kruppa)

New Orleans burlesque star Trixie Minx loves to add a dash of Valentine’s Day to her February Fleur de Tease shows whenever possible. Now she’s taking that idea to another level and another venue in partnering with the Orpheum Theater for “Cupid’s Cabaret,” on Feb. 14 — “classic vaudeville show with a contemporary heartbeat,” as Thursday’s release stated.

“It’s going to be a whole weekend of burlesque (for Valentine’s Day),” Minx said, referring to the monthly Fleur de Tease show (Feb. 13) as well as her weekly shows Burlesque Ballroom at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse and Burgundy Burlesque at the Burgundy Bar.

“Burgundy Ballroom and Burlesque Ballroom have a lot of classic striptease, with the singers doing songs about love and stuff like that. And with Fleur de Tease, love is the theme. But this (‘Cupid’s Cabaret’) is more of a vaudeville show. It will be a dinner-theater show with lots of singers. I don’t want to give away too much because I want (the audience to be) open to experience it for themselves.

“I want them to walk in the theater and be surprised.”

The as-yet-unannounced lineup will feature burlesque dancers, aerialists, comedians and local singers. Dinner seating will be sold in pairs and tables will be provided for couples and foursomes. Cocktail packages also will be available, though there will be a limited number of dinner seats available. On top of that, single tickets will be sold in the balcony and loge areas.

Tickets go on sale Friday (Jan. 15) at 10 a.m. Dinner (which will include the seated dinner and champagne) are $225 for two, and $200 a pair for a table of four. Single tickets are $30 for balcony seats, $50 loge. Bar packages also are available. Tickets are available at tickets.orpheumnola.com or by calling the box office at 504-274-4870. For more information, visit www.orpheumnola.com.

Trixie Minx was voted as one of the top 10 favorite burlesque performers in New Orleans in my recent 2015 readers poll. Fleur de Tease was among the top five burlesque/circus shows for 2015 in the monthly/seasonal category. She recently performed in “The Burlesque Show” in Atlantic City.