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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Throwback Thursday: Trixie Minx’s “Cupid’s Cabaret” conjures images of the Orpheum Theater’s vaudeville origins

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According to historical reports, when the Orpheum Theater opened for New Orleans fans on Feb. 7, 1921, the focus was on vaudeville.

“Jewel and fur clad women and dapper gentlemen filled the Orpheum Theater, New Orleans’ newest and most fashionable theater where ‘good taste reigned everywhere,’” one report said. “This auspicious evening’s main attraction was The Singer Midgets, who were to enter Hollywood immortality nine years later as the Munchkins of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’

“A bit of incongruous perhaps with the ‘dressed-to-the-nines’ crowd, but this was the heyday of vaudeville and the Singer Midgets was a class act – and so was the Orpheum.”

Just under 85 years later, this is music to the ears of producer Trixie Minx and the Orpheum’s Kristin Shannon, who, over coffee inside the nearby Roosevelt Hotel, are giddy with excitement over the historic theater playing elegant host to “Cupid’s Cabaret,” a mix of variety acts that celebrates Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. While Minx has made her mark as a burlesque performer and producer — she literally performed on both the East Coast and West Coast when not in New Orleans over the course of 2015 — she is emphatic about extolling her vaudeville influences.

And while she is quick to note the vaudeville influences in her monthly, decade-old “Fleur de Tease” show at One Eyed Jacks, she wants people to think of “Cupid’s Cabaret” as a nod to those more purely vaudeville instincts.

“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. “An interactive vaudeville presentation on a Vegas-size level … with a modern take.”

I’ll have more on that take soon, but first I thought it would be fun to present a little “Throwback Thursday” of historic photos, courtesy of the Orpheum staff, to remember a time when it was the likes of the Singer Sisters and Al Jolson who ruled the stage and not the silver screen that came to dominate as the theater entered the middle of the 20th century.

More on the overall show; for now, enjoy this little trip down memory lane. For tickets and more information, click here.

Read more about the return of the Orpheum and other historic New Orleans theaters in my Biz New Orleans piece.

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

1-Trixie Minx Cupid

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.

Check out the best in New Orleans burlesque, circus and sideshow for 2015

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I’ve looked at the New Orleans burlesque and circus scenes for 2015. This was capped off with a series of “best of” polls recognizing the work in several areas. The reasons for the polls were many. It seemed like a nice way to help put a cap on what became for me a year of covering a vital facet of New Orleans’ performance scene. It also seemed like a nice way to shine a spotlight on both the performers and productions throughout the year, both to provide exposure for the scene and to serve as an informal taking of the pulse on what fans were responding to.

The appearance, rollout, structure and even idea of the poll, however, made things more complicated than expected, and the rollout seemed to enjoy all the smoothness of the Obamacare website — a bit of excitement, a healthy dose of confusion, and some fairly heated discussion about its very existence. So there were basically two concurrent discussions — why do it, and why do it in the manner presented?

The first discussion was by far the most complicated, because for many in the scene it raised the possibility of turning what serious, artistic-minded people do into a popularity contest. (More than one performer told me privately it was like being back in high school again, with the prom queen title up for grabs. Some politely requested not to be listed in the polls.) This particular discussion inspired Bella Blue to blog about it with a post titled “Competition vs. Community.” In it, she set up the two notions as a false choice and argued that, in the real world — one that acknowledges that burlesque is also a business — competition can be just as beneficial as community. She went on to point out that burlesque can be about both the art and the commerce; that polls can be fun and motiving; that going for titles (or “crowns”) and striving to be the best doesn’t necessarily have to come at someone else’s expense.

(Indeed, when Bella Blue was voted the No. 16 burlesque performer by 21st Century Burlesque, and Trixie Minx didn’t make the poll, it didn’t seem to hurt her popularity or business or art at all.)

That’s all to say that, as Bella Blue noted, a discussion about polls in particular or competition in general is perhaps something that might have been needed for some time. On a personal level, I appreciate that ambivalence in spirit while firmly believing the overall benefit is invaluable. I’d add that New Orleans has not one but two awards for the music and theater scenes. When someone as legendary as former Meters bassist George Porter Jr. openly campaigns for votes on Faceook in Offbeat’s “Best of the Beat” awards poll, well, it helps put things in perspective.

As for the structure of the poll, there was discussion primarily about which performers and productions initially were placed on the poll, and where everything and everyone belonged — which led to some unnecessary confusion. If this had been conducted in my previous position, it would have benefited from a larger team in place and perhaps a longer build-up and promotion. But being a “one-man show,” so to speak, I went with my knowledge of the scene or scenes — admittedly a work in progress — in creating a core group of nominees for consideration and added names based on reader suggestions. I also took the advice of some producers and divided the circus and sideshow performers into separate polls.

So I moved forward with the polls, with two clearly stated guidelines: Readers were welcome to add their own candidates/nominees, and readers should refrain from voting multiple times for their favorites. Readers were very good, often passionate about the former, but not so much about the latter. So the votes had to be analyzed, and multiple voting was tossed.

But taking that into consideration, I decided to present the results in a more inclusive fashion, with winners broken down into a “Top 10” or “Top 5” list, and listed alphabetically — along with an occasional “honorable mention” to make note of some pretty tight voting in some categories. A first-time poll, and a rather unscientific one at that, didn’t need to focus too heavily on the very top vote-getters.

For me, ultimately, there were few surprises. The balloting, with some notably obvious exceptions, reflects what in my mind is out there: a lot of talented performers who have made their mark, and productions that are establishing a legacy. As for the future, I might offer some thoughts in another post, but for now, let’s enjoy this informal take on the best of New Orleans burlesque and circus arts.

And once again, check out my overview of this landmark year here.

BEST OF NEW ORLEANS BURLESQUE, CIRCUS AND SIDESHOW

PERFORMERS
Best burlesque performers in New Orleans 2015
Bella Blue
Cherry Brown
Leo Danger Lace
Remy Dee
May Hemmer
Roxie le Rouge
GoGo McGregor
Trixie Minx
Charlotte Treuse
Angie Z
Honorable mention: Xena Zeit-Geist

Best circus performers in New Orleans 2015
Chatty the Mime
Guglielmo
Lady Satine
Magic Mike
Ooops the Clown
Honorable mention: Thugsy Da Clown

Best sideshow performers in New Orleans 2015
Kitty Kaos
Dr. Sick
Lydia Treats
Donny Vomit
Kali von Wunderkammer
Honorable mention: Eli Rose

Best burlesque/circus show emcees in New Orleans for 2015
Dante the Magician (Bustout Burlesque)
Chris Lane (Fleur de Tease)
GoGo McGregor
Dr. Sick (Big Deal Burlesque, Bustout Burlesque)
Rev. Ben Wisdom (Dirty Dime Peepshow)

PRODUCTIONS
Best burlesque/circus show in New Orleans 2015 — annual production
Cirque du Gras 2 (Feb. 13-16), St. Roch Firehouse; produced by LadyBEAST
New Orleans Burlesque Festival (Sept. 15-18), multiple locations; produced by Rick Delaup
NOLA Nerdlesque (Nov. 19-22), Frenchmen Theater at Bamboula’s; produced by Persé Fanny, Vincent Galliant
Snake Oil Festival (June 19-21), Howlin’ Wolf; produced by the Rev. Ben Wisdom, Ginger Licious and Little Luna
Storyville Rising (May 16-17), Café Istanbul; produced by Kali von Wunderkammer

Best burlesque/circus show in New Orleans 2015 – specialty
“CREAM!: A Night of Decadent Burlesque, Drag, and Cabaret,” at One Eyed Jacks (Bella Blue and Kitten N’ Lou)
“The Demon Boobs of Skeet Street: A Sweeney Todd Burlesque,” at Old Marquer Theater (Picolla Tushy presents The Bluestockings)
“Doctor Who-Ha: A Doctor Who Burlesque Play,” at Eiffel Society (The Society of Sin/Krewe du Who)
“Home: A Burlesque Tribute to New Orleans,” at Republic New Orleans (Remy Dee)
“In Wonderland” (Cirque Copine)

Best burlesque/circus show in New Orleans 2015 — monthly/seasonal
Big Deal Burlesque, at various locations (Roxie le Rouge)
Bustout Burlesque, at House of Blues (Rick Delaup)
Dirty Dime Peepshow, at AllWays Lounge (Bella Blue Entertainment)
Fleur de Tease, at One Eyed Jacks (Trixie Minx)
Fly Movement Salon, at Café Istanbul (Liza Rose)
Honorable mention: Bad Girls of Burlesque, at House of Blues/The Parish (Rick Delaup)

Best burlesque/circus show in New Orleans 2015 – weekly
“Blue Book Cabaret,” Saturdays at Bourbon Pub and Parade (Bella Blue Entertainment)
“Burlesque Ballroom,” Fridays at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse (Trixie Minx)
“Vixens & Vinyl,” Wednesdays at Spitfire Bar
“Talk Nerdy to Me,” Saturdays at Dragon’s Den (The Society of Sin)
“Comic Strip,” Mondays at Siberia (Chris Lane, Ooops the Clown)
Honorable mention: “Whiskey & Rhinestones,” Thursdays at Gravier Street Social (Bella Blue Entertainment)

No, seriously, check out my overview of this landmark year here.

A look back at New Orleans burlesque, circus and sideshow in 2015

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The year 2015 in New Orleans burlesque, circus and sideshow entertainment might go down as one of the more memorable in a scene that might be approaching a turning point. As producers sought more ambitious shows and performers sought greater exposure, the scene felt by year’s end like it was on the edge of something bigger.

Four of the top burlesque producers were emblematic of both the growth and challenges of the industry. Bella Blue, who in January was voted the No. 16 burlesque artist in 21st Century Burlesque magazine’s popular readers’ poll, was able to do the unthinkable and stage a weekly burlesque show, “Risq,” at Harrah’s New Orleans Casino. Trixie Minx, whose Fleur de Tease gave Bella Blue her start, launched her “Fantasy” show for an adults-only cruise. (She also ruled as the “Queen of the Insane” for krewedelusion and used the year to help promote the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic.)

Both Minx and Blue enjoyed notable performances outside New Orleans — Blue as the featured performer at the international Boylesque Festival Vienna, and Minx (with Piper Marie) in “The Burlesque Show” at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City in late December.

Roxie le Rouge continued to build on her reputation as the most consistent exporter of the form by taking variations of her Big Deal Burlesque across the Southeast while continuing to perform with Fleur de Tease. Her Big Deal shows enjoyed increased attendance to the point of sell-outs.

Rick Delaup’s two regular shows — Bustout Burlesque and the 2014-launched Bad Girls of Burlesque, at the House of Blues and its Parish room, respectively — continued to draw large crowds. (Stupid Dope tabbed Bad Girls as “the most dope show in town.”) He marked Bustout’s 10th anniversary in 2015, and his 7th annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival broke attendance records while crowning Miss Stormy Gayle as the Queen of Burlesque. It came after the Bustout Burlesque regular’s return to New Orleans after spending the past few years in Los Angeles.

Even Miss Exotic World, the competition held at the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend, featured New Orleans connections. Former New Orleans performer Perle Noire, who earlier in the year finished second in the 21st Century Burlesque poll, finished as first runner-up. (A former Bustout Burlesque regular and Queen of Burlesque winner, she also returned to New Orleans to perform at Bella Blue’s “Risq” show.) Dallas’ Ginger Valentine, a frequent guest performer with Bustout Burlesque and who’s recreated the famous “Evangeline the Oyster Girl” act, repeated her 2014 finish as second runner-up.

But there were some challenges. Bella Blue’s attempt to bring drag and burlesque together on Bourbon Street hit a snag when news of the dismissal of performer Ruby Rage (presumably over her weight) from the “Blue Book Cabaret” lineup at Lucky Pierre’s led to Bella Blue ending her relationship with the club. Lucky Pierre’s closed later in the year. “Blue Book Cabaret” wound up at Bourbon Pub and Parade and remains there. She was successful with another burlesque/drag mash-up with “CREAM!” at One Eyed Jacks over Southern Decadence, inspiring her to do a similar show, “Touché,” at the Joy Theater for this year’s Mardi Gras.

Her weekly “Risq” show was shelved at Harrah’s over the football season, though there remains a chance it will return in 2016. Also, she found a permanent home for her New Orleans School of Burlesque inside the Healing Center on St. Claude Avenue. And as popular as the New Orleans Burlesque Festival has become, one African-American performer, Chicago’s Jeez Loueez, expressed concern after her experience as emcee for the “Bad Girls of Burlesque” show at the House of Blues. In a YouTube video, she discussed everything from the traditional aspects of the festival to the use of such black-culture dance forms as twerking — and the lack of performers of color. (This was in keeping with related issues raised by New Orleans performers right before the festival.)

And by year’s end, some performers complained about a lack of work in town, which could either be a blip or an indication the scene might be hitting another peek.

Still, 2015 remained a year of major highlights. Other aspiring producers brought a flood of new and possible annual shows to the stages over the course of 2015. Blue Reine’s seasonal “The Roux: A Spicy Brown Burlesque Show” became so successful that she announced on Jan. 1 that it will become a festival in September. This underscores Reine’s reign as New Orleans’ main host for shows featuring performers of color. Another performer, May Hemmer, launched her first-ever New Year’s Eve party, “A Gatsby Affair.”

Kali von Wunderkammer brought two new festivals, the Southern Sideshow Hootenanny and Storyville Rising, to town, while the Rev. Ben Wisdom teamed up with Little Luna and Ginger Licious for the wildly popular Snake Oil Festival at the Howlin’ Wolf. (That festival will return in 2016.)

Von Wunderkammer and Remy Dee each produced Katrina-themed shows in August — Dee with her “Home: “A Burlesque Tribute to New Orleans” and Von Wunderkammer with “Broken Levees, Broken Hearts” on Katrina’s 10th anniversary, Aug. 29.

Both The Society of Sin (led by Xena Zeit-Geist) and Picolla Tushy presented a flurry of themed shows throughout 2015. The Society of Sin tapped into nerdlesque with narratively driven shows such as “Dr. Who-Ha,” and Picolla Tushy created such literary-minded shows as “Summer Lovin’.” (“Dr. Who-Ha” will enjoy an encore performance at this weekend’s Wizard World Comic Con, Jan. 8-10.)

As burlesque continued to establish its foothold in the scene, the circus arts enjoyed a stronger presence as well, most notably through the work of producers LadyBEAST and Liza Rose and their tapping into a wide variety of performers. They were notably featured in LadyBEAST’s Cirque du Gras 2 during Mardi Gras and Rose’s monthly Fly Movement Salon, an incubator of circus arts performers. The pair also formed the all-female troupe Cirque Copine, which presented the popular “In Wonderland” show in Bywater.

(Bella Blue wasn’t the only performer to go international, either. Circus performer Clay Mazing performed overseas for Syrian refugees, first with Clowns Without Borders and later with his own Emergency Circus. And Magic Mike, the Fleur de Tease regular, competed in the 2015 FISM World Championship of Magic, held July 6-11 in Rimin, Italy.)

LadyBEAST and Rose plan more larger-scale productions in 2016 as the circus-arts performers and producers stake out a larger claim of territory in the wide and often hard-to-define world of variety performances. Stay tuned for more from them.

So what else to look for in 2016? Bella Blue promised a big announcement at her “Touché” show on Jan. 28, so there’s that. Trixie Minx always has something up her sleeve, as does Roxie le Rouge. Rick Delaup’s New Orleans Burlesque Festival will probably continue to be the biggest show in town.

But what should happen for New Orleans’ burlesque and circus scenes in 2016? What would it take to get burlesque mentioned in the same breath as, say, the city’s venerable music and theater scenes? What defines a successful burlesque scene? Regular work for its performers, or at least enough to keep them in New Orleans, might be a nice place to start. Performers, while on social media, constantly question whether they can keep doing what’s fun when they’re faced with mounting bills. Only a handful of the city’s burlesque artists do it as a full-time concern, and a vast majority of them spend a lot of emotional capital on moral support for one another. Musicians face a similar challenge, but when you’re literally bearing your body along with your soul onstage, it seems somehow different.

I’ll save my thoughts on what might make for bigger and better burlesque and circus scenes for a future post — mostly, frankly, playing off what the producers and performers might like to see. But based on private and on-the-record interviews, it would be nice to see, among other things, a scene with producers and performers working more collaboratively, both outside and within. I was reminded of comments by J.D. Oxblood, co-creator of Burlesque Beat magazine and frequent New Orleans visitor: “What’s most exciting about the New Orleans scene is the crossover with the drag community and recent attempts to move into traditionally tourist-dominated spaces. But like many cities, New Orleans seems to be dominated by just a few producers — who may be amenable to out-of-town performers, but less welcoming to outsider producers.”

It would be interesting to see how the scene plays out in 2016, and whether it continues to grow or suddenly plateau, but one thing is certain — growing exposure of what’s happening in the city can only benefit its performers and producers. That said, here’s a look at the “best of” in these two scenes.

Read the results here.