Evan Spigelman on “PopSmart NOLA”: Life with creeps, life in drag, and life helping queer youth with LOUD

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“CREEP CUTS”
WHAT: Cabaret and drag show from Evan Spigelman and Dylan Hunter with karaoke hosted by Kimberly Clark
WHEN: Thurs.-Sat. in March; karaoke 9:30 p.m., show 10:30 p.m.
WHERE: Mudlark Public Theatre, 1200 Port St.
ADMISSION: $10-$20 (sliding scale)

I first came across Evan Spigelman when he was a “draguate” of Vinsantos’ New Orleans Drag Workshop (which I covered for the New Orleans Advocate as well as here), and I was struck by how his performance in particular stuck out in an evening of incredibly varied performances.

It wasn’t until later that it became apparent that this was the first formalized drag training for Spigelman, despite his Big Easy Award-winning turn in the title role in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch back in 2011.

He wears many hats. Spigelman is a performer, light designer, co-founder of New Orleans performance collective Skin Horse Theater and of LOUD, the New Orleans Queer Youth Theater. (Breaking news: He received another Big Easy Award nomination for Best Lighting Design for The NOLA Project’s “Flood City.”

He bills his latest venture, “Creep Cuts,” as a “cartoon cloud of dada and drag.” In the show, Spigelman performs as Mz. Asa Metric opposite En Between (played by Dylan Hunter) as “New Orleans’ premier electro-cabaret-dada-freak-drag-extra-hyphenated-caffeinated- duo-from-out-of-the-blue-o.” They create a show filled with sketch comedy, lip synch and original electronic music to create a wholly new form of drag cabaret to confound the senses. Bonnie Gabel of the Pelican Bomb calls “Creep Cuts” ‘Virtuosic’ and says it ‘… challenges our perceptions of drag.’ I should add the show is preceded by a karaoke hour hosted by drag performer Kimberly Clark.

In this expanded version of the segment that ran on the March 17 episode of “PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3) — complete with new day and time, Fridays at noon! — Spigelman touched on all of this work, ending with interesting insight on his work with LOUD at a time when LGBTQ youth seem in particular peril these days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look for more on the site later this week.

 

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

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

Kedavra is nearly flawless.

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

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

“I actually have some notes for you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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