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.”

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.”