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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Cirque Copine, the all-female New Orleans circus troupe, debuted its “In Wonderland” show with two performances Friday (Jan. 29) at One Eyed Jacks. Both shows were packed, and earned standing ovations.
I’ll have a more expanded look at the show, but the first impression is that this is the kind of anchor show that can help further establish the budding circus-arts scene in New Orleans. Co-producer LadyBEAST will begin her monthly “LadyBEAST Cabaret” in the same space, but this was a chance for her and co-producer Liza to showcase the Cirque Copine performers on a grander scale than they did back in 2015.
The troupe features Liza Rose and Sarah Stardust performing all manner of aerials; LadyBEAST alternating between aerial and escape acts; Penelope Little alternating between aerials and clowning; and the comic and sideshow antics of mistress of ceremonies GoGo McGregor. Opus Zeo provided a stunning musical soundtrack to each performance.
Stay tuned for that expanded look; in the meantime, enjoy these photos.
Ever since Lori Tipton and Andy Overslaugh took over the management of the Voodoo Lounge, the Rampart Street bar has turned into the host for one crazy dance party after another, blurring lines of sexuality, gender and genres. But sometimes the party can outgrow the venue, which is why “High Maintenance: A Celebration of Humanity” will find a larger home in the form of One Eyed Jacks on Sunday (Feb. 7).
The inspiration for this particular party came from Bobby Carrasquillo, who worked with Tipton at the now-defunct Lucky Pierre’s and approached her with the idea for a huge party where they could showcase friends and performers. Really, she said, the whole night, which will be hosted by Beverly Chillz and comedian Corey Mack, is a group effort.
“We also have a few other friends who have been instrumental in helping to create and contribute to the overall concept, which is a party that is all-inclusive, with performances that flow into the music as opposed to breaking up the dance party with separate, announced acts,” Tipton explained. “One Eyed Jacks has always been my favorite performance space in the French Quarter, and Ryan and Marcy (Hesseling) are nearly extended family to us, since Flanagan’s (which Overslaugh and Tipton previously managed) was around the corner from Fifi Mahoney’s for over a decade.
“We are creating a sensory experience, from the art displayed, to the music and the performances,” she said.
Beats will be provided by several DJs, including Carrasquillo (aka DJ Survibe) as well as DJ Rusty Lazer and Bennett Hendricks, with drag, burlesque, aerial and erotic performances woven into the party. Performers include Charlotte Treuse, Indica Torture, Athena, Nicole Lynn Foxx, Ilaynnah Eve DeLorean, Neon Burgundy, Wednesday Bonet Iman and Eureeka Starfish, and Dara Quick and Markus Davis.
Tipton also said the evening will feature representatives from BreakOUT!, whose mission is to support LGBTQ youth in New Orleans.
“Most importantly, we want all people to feel welcome and to have fun. This is a celebration of humanity. We are just very lucky that the humanity in New Orleans tends to be more debaucherous than other places.”
(NOTE: A complete list of upcoming circus-related events can be found at the bottom of the post.)
For LadyBEAST, the goal is pretty simple.
“I want to hit the big top with circus” in New Orleans, she says. LadyBEAST, an escape artist, aerialist and fire performer, is with fellow performer and producer Liza Rose, talking over coffee at the Who Dat Café in Faubourg Marigny. “And I don’t mean Barnum and Bailey circus or Cirque du Soleil.” She pauses and then says with a little laugh, “I want to be a big weirdo for the rest of my life and create a platform that will sustain us.”
For the circus artists, trying to create a sustained scene can be a fun but daunting challenge. At first blush, New Orleans would seem like a logical mecca for variety performers, drawn to the port city’s bohemian and creative spirit. There have been moments in the past where the circus arts has drawn attention, especially in the late 1990s, but it’s never made a consistent mark.
The beginning of 2016 offers some tantalizing glimmers of hope, building on the success experienced in 2015. LadyBEAST has confirmed a regular monthly circus show at One Eyed Jacks that will feature many of the performers with whom she’s collaborated over her six years in New Orleans. And there’s no better way to kick that off than with the return of Cirque Copine, her collaboration with Liza Rose, and “In Wonderland” on Jan. 29 — which will hold down one of those monthly dates four times out of the year to give the all-female troupe a quarterly presence inside One Eyed Jacks.
And then, in the spirit of Mardi Gras, LadyBEAST returns with her other, Carnival-themed circus and sideshow project that has been re-branded as “Vaude D’Gras,” to run Feb. 5-8 (ending on Lundi Gras) at the old Happyland Theater in Bywater. (The first two productions were called “Cirque du Gras.”) Other events include two fun affairs on Thursday (Jan. 21) — “Cirque di Pasta,” a gathering at Arabella Casa di Pasta on St. Claude Avenue featuring most of the “Vaude D’Gras” cast; and “Circus Darling,” the debut show produced by Darling Darla James at the Hi-Ho Lounge and described as a “sexy circus cabaret bizarre.”
Add to that Liza Rose’s monthly “Fly Movement Salon” inside Café Istanbul, several training spots around town like La Motion — and the desire for a permanent performance venue — and the seeds are there to bring the big top closer to the foreground of New Orleans’ variety scene. It’s a scene that’s created increasingly attended audiences for everything from burlesque and drag to cabaret and comedy.
“We are a movement of people who want to make regular work that utilizes our skills as circus artists, but one that is an all-encompassing theater experience,” says LadyBEAST.
Liza Rose has no delusions of grandeur about the potential of growing such a scene. She says she’s at a point where doing it for the fun is just as important as doing it for a paycheck.
“I want to enjoy the process,” says Rose. “If you don’t enjoy the process you have to quit. Ed Sullivan is not calling. It’s not a thing. You have to actually enjoy the work that you do.
“We want to get to the point where work is fun.”
Based on the description of these upcoming shows, it would be difficult to imagine any of this being anything but fun. With Cirque Copine’s “In Wonderland” — which premiered in 2015 — the pair hopes to create a turn-of-the-century atmosphere, with versatile entertainer GoGo McGregor serving as a kind-of hostess and Penelope Little performs as a clown. LadyBEAST and Liza Rose each will perform, as will Sarah Stardust. The whole production will be performed to a live soundtrack created by the local band Opus Zeo.
The co-producers try to keep details to a minimum, hoping for a surprise factor, but do say there will be local artists out front selling trinkets.
To underscore what they describe as the old Belle Epoque era from Paris, the pair are encouraging guests for the Jan. 29 show to come dressed for the period, hoping for an absinthe fairy here, and a Mucha girl there.
These monthly and quarterly shows in the heart of the French Quarter, especially inside One Eyed Jacks — home of the monthly Fleur de Tease burlesque show — represent a kind of planting of the flag for circus artists. Being able to work in a space where much of the technical aspects — hell, even having someone handle selling the booze — takes a huge load off the shoulders of organizers too often burdened by the “Y” part of a “DIY” existence.
“Every other space,” LadyBEAST says, “I’ve had to direct it from nada.”
The two separate shows will be followed by a late-night dance party with a DJ.
LadyBEAST’s regular monthly show,“LadyBEAST’s Cabaret,” will have a more mid-20th century feel, with a steady rotation of local and some touring circus artists. Live music will be provided by the G-String Orchestra and other musicians, and vendors again will be selling their wares at the front.
“We’ll be inspired by the old ‘big top,’” she said. “For me this is about being able to have more opportunity to be a producer and the best boss I can be to those people.”
The four-night “Vaude D’Gras” show will have more of a mix of circus and sideshow performances inside the old Happy Land Theater. So while LadyBEAST, GoGo McGregor and Sarah Stardust will be on hand, so will Guglielmo, the opera-singing clown; his wife, the knife-throwing Madame Daggers; Clay Mazing, the whip-cracking clown; and music by the Vaude D’Gras Band with “maestro” Sarah Jacques (of both G-String Orchestra and Opus Zeo.
In keeping with the previous productions, there will be a distinct narrative feel for the show, this time featuring a meta-fictional “show within a show” scenario in which inner turmoil among the cast members will lead to shenanigans.
“Now I really feel that this is our part in Mardi Gras, our way to give to Mardi Gras, which is important if you a performer or artist in this town,” said LadyBEAST, who estimated last year’s attendance was as high as 700 over the four performances. “As for this year, it’s my longest-standing production, and it’s the thing I started in my head five years ago, and I want to keep having it evolve and having it become a bigger production.
“I see growth. I see evolution.”
INFLUX OF TALENT
That’s due in part to recruiting such game performers as Guglielmo, who moved to New Orleans in early 2012 after several visits from New York City, where he’d gained experience singing opera and emceeing circus and sideshow productions. When LadyBEAST offered him a slot in the inaugural “Cirque du Gras” in 2014, he jumped at the chance. (He and his wife, Madame Daggers, perform together and separately.)
“Anytime I’m asked to doing something ‘out of the box’ that I like, without question will give it a shot,” he said.“Risks are what I live for, and its been quite a ride! What I love about what we do is take a bunch of circus, vaudeville and sideshow and turn it into more of a theatrical experience.”
The growth of New Orleans’ circus scene overall has included a modest migration of talent in recent years, with performers sometimes put off by the larger scenes in which they’ve worked and intrigued by New Orleans’ free, creative and communal spirit. These aren’t just wandering souls, either; they come well trained. Sarah Stardust, who moved to New Orleans from New York City in January 2015, spent several years studying ballet and modern dance in Texas before switching to aerial performance and studying that and acrobatic dance at the New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro, Vt., beginning in 2007.
She spent about two years in New York performing and teaching before deciding to move to New Orleans, partly because she’d tired of the “sexy cabaret style” and “joke acts” that were prevalent in New York but also because she enjoyed visiting her brother in New Orleans and decided to move “on a whim.” She currently teaches at Ashtanga Yoga Room and aerials at LA Motion along with Liza Rose.
Stardust, who performs with Cirque Copine and in “Vaude D’Gras,” loves the collaborative spirit in New Orleans, whether with Liza Rose and LadyBEAST or musicians such as those in Opus Zeo — with whom they collaborated in last year’s first “In Wonderland” performance.
“We sat down together and developed a storyline based on Liza’s concept,” Sarah Stardust recalled. “We found our characters and mostly our own choreography, but had each other for feedback, which is important! The best part for me though is that Opus Zeo met with each of us to talk about what we envisioned for music and what they made was such magic.
“It just made everything come to life!”
While she embraces that collaborative spirit, Stardust says, she wishes the New Orleans scene had more cohesiveness, at least in the aerial community, and perhaps more dedication. Part of that challenge is the lack of a common venue to serve as the kind of hub that scenes in New York or San Francisco enjoy.
“I would love for there to be more opportunities for everyone to work hard and train together,” she said. “I think that’s one thing that’s really holding us all back from being better!”
Clay Mazing, a whip-cracking clown most notable for his appearances in “Cirque du Gras,” has traveled around the country and (more recently) overseas with his Emergency Circus, performing for Syrian refugees. He moved to New Orleans seven years ago, and also notes a growing and increasingly vibrant scene here after watching the burlesque scene become so big. But he still feels New Orleans is in catch-up mode to scenes in the San Francisco Bay area and Portland, partly due to those cities because of the training and competition going on.
But he also notes the downside of developing a scene in the wrong direction.
“I see the potential, and hope to be able to shape the scene in a positive way,” said Clay Mazing, who will host a benefit, “Emergency Circus Strikes Back,” on Feb. 13 at Castillo Blanco Art Studios.
“I can see a surge of circus coming and I hope our scene can remain cooperative and add to the magical charm and culture of this excellent city,” he said. “I don’t want to see some homogenous scene pop up equal to the Bay Area or Portland here. I’d hope that our circus culture will remain unique, accepting and adding to the vibrancy and even the grit that makes New Orleans so exceptional and alive.”
Chatty the Mime, a popular clown who blurs the lines between circus and burlesque performances, sees a growing scene for the circus arts.
“When I started five years ago, there was only one show that was a full variety circus show,” she said.“The scene back then was mostly burlesque shows with one variety performer. Now there are probably around 8 different circus shows happening at a given time. 2015 was my busiest year performing.
“So I do have high hopes for 2016.”
She participated in holiday play recently, “A Christmas Carol” at the Bayou Playhouse, and was heartened when the director wanted circus performers to add a new dimenstion the show.
“It was great to see an audience who may not have ever experience something like that have so much fun,” she said.
VALUE AND COMMITMENT
Liza Rose, who along with balancing herself with her aerial work, also balances a professional mix of teaching aerial work to others at La Motion and to students in the Circus Arts program at the International School of Louisiana. This is life for a professional who’s worked on both the East and West coasts before settling down in New Orleans, where she’s performed with such varied settings as the New Orleans Fringe Festival and “Freaksheaux to Geaux.” She’s seen other scenes compromised by producers hiring lesser-trained performers at cheaper rates, and doesn’t want to see that happen in New Orleans.
She wants to see value and commitment placed in the New Orleans circus scene.
“Everybody keeps saying to me, ‘Liza, let me know when there’s something going on that I can be a part of,’” she said. “I need people who will come and help me make the scene.”
She has a strong collaborator in LadyBEAST, whose creativity and energy complements Liza Rose’s talents as a skilled performer and choreographer. As long as they keep moving forward, together, they’ll be satisfied.
“The main idea,” LadyBEAST said, “is evolution. I come from visual-artist background, so without change, you’re stagnant.”
“Cirque di Pasta” Thursday, Jan. 21
Arabella Casa di Pasta Performers: Guglielmo, LadyBEAST, Clay Mazing, Sarah Stardust, Madame Daggers and GoGo McGregor
As one of New Orleans’ most popular burlesque producer-performers, Trixie Minx has been able to attain a special level of celebrity. We saw that most evident this year, when she was named Empress of the Insane for the Mardi Gras group krewedelusion, or even when she was recruited to be a celebrity judge during NOLA.com’s chicken-tasting competition.
With an engaging personality, she’s been able to leverage that celebrity to help others, most notably for her work (as empress) with the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic (NOMC), whose mission is to get affordable, comprehensive health care for vast community of New Orleans musicians. This will include “Splish Splash,” a party on Thursday, Dec. 3, at One Eyed Jacks. The party will feature DJ Rusty Lazer and Mermaids of Splish. There will be game booths, silent auction and, ahem, fish-kissing, all in service of the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic. (Laurie Herbert has been helping as a liaison between Trixie Minx and NOMC.) Members also can sign up for Musicians’ Clinic benefits. There will be a $10 cover for the 7 p.m. event; that cover also gets folks into the ’80s night dance party later that evening.
Minx’s monthly Fleur de Tease production returns for a Thanksgiving-themed show, “Burlesque Banquet,” on Sunday (Nov. 22) — with canned donations accepted for the Second Harvest Food Bank. (Performers will bring canned good to donate as well.) Presented by Trashy Diva and emceed by Chris Lane, performers include Ooops the Clown, Roxie LeRouge, Nikki Frisky, Madame Mystere, Natasha Fiore, Piper Marie, Mamie Dame and special guest performer Angela Eve of Chicago. Tickets are $25 for VIP reserved table seating, $15 general admission. For more info email email@example.com, call 504.319.8917, or visit www.fleurdetease.com.
This isn’t the only way Trixie Minx gives back; she also noted in a recent podcast interview that she donates a free VIP table to a non-profit for each of her shows — usually by way of an auction item or raffle ticket. Enjoy debut of my new podcast, “PopSmart NOLA,” below, but also the photo gallery from last month’s Fleur de Tease Halloween show.