Thursday, February 28, 2008

News Post: And I Love Margaret Just a Little Bit More, Again

'Along with her identity as an Asian-America, Cho has struggled with her identity as a woman, particularly her personal struggles with eating disorders. As a young woman growing up in her family, Cho was susceptible to sexist messages that told her she had to be “small, petite, and skinny” to be beautiful. As a result, Cho developed a devastating eating disorder, and went through dramatic periods of anorexia and bulimia. After being told to lose weight while working on her television show All-American Girl, Cho starved herself for several weeks, eventually becoming hospitalized for kidney failure.

'A breakthrough for Cho came when she saw burlesque being performed for the first time. “I was so amazed when I saw the performance. There were women with all different body types, ages, races, and you could tell they were so happy and comfortable with their bodies,” she said. “I was crying when I saw it, it really cured me.” For Cho, who performed burlesque on her tour “The Sensuous Woman,” burlesque was not about sexualizing herself as much as it was about emancipating her from the idea that her body is a prison. “We are so conditioned to a certain look that models have, and people think that's the only kind of body that can be beautiful and sexual, and that's not true, everybody has that ability.” Cho believed that performing burlesque allowed her to see that ability. '

Margaret Cho provokes laughter and thought

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Long Long Post About Long Long Lashes

When I discuss costuming with my students, I often mention that it doesn't stop at the neck. Think like a ballerina or a drag queen: If your costume is fabulous and your face is drab, the fabulousness is sadly, utterly lost! False eyelashes do more than make you more photogenic--they help to give you the exaggeration of expression that an audience can see from the furthest row.

Mary Pickford. Image from
"Beauty legend has it that American movie director D.W. Griffith designed the first set of false eyelashes. While creating a motion picture in 1916, he wanted his leading lady to have lashes so long they graced her cheeks when she blinked or looked down thoughtfully."

Dr. Lukki Backstage at the 2007 New York Burlesque Festival. Photo by me.
When asked about false eyelashes, Dr. Lukki quotes Roland Barthes: "There is nothing 'false' about false eyelashes. In fact, they are necessary, concrete, REAL in a way that goes beyond the fabricated. Because without them we are completely naked, exposed; it is a component of what Roland Barthes identifies as part of the 'science' that 'clothes' striptease artists like a garment.' " (Footnote: Mythologies, 1972, p. 86)."

Angie Pontani by Don Spiro
Angie Pontani Photographed by Don Spiro.
Angie Pontani says, "I'd never go onstage without them."

World Famous *BOB* by Karl Giant
World Famous *BOB* on the Sex Workers' Art Show Tour Flyer. Makeup and Photography by Karl Giant.
According to World Famous *BOB*, "The difference between a boy cartoon and a girl cartoon is usually is a pair of huge lashes and a bow on the girls head. I like to look like a cartoon on stage so I LOVE to wear big lashes (&bows). "

Tigger backstage at the Slipper Room. Photo by me.
Tigger agrees: "What's not to love about false eyelashes? Go from barely there to a bold knockout with just a bit of glue and a steady hand. If only the rest of us was so easy to enhance."

Julie Atlas Muz by Karl Giant
Julie Atlas Muz. Makeup and Photography by Karl Giant.
Julie Atlas Muz believes in them: "False eyelashes are certainly a key to having big doey eyes onstage, but there are a few tricks that new eyelash wearers don’t do. One thing is to cut them to fit the shape and length of your eyelid. Of course I could go on and on about the horrors of wearing false eyelashes. The elastic goop that doesn’t resurface until the morning after...."

Dirty Martini by Karl Giant
Dirty Martini. Makeup and photography by Karl Giant.
Dirty Martini feels very strongly about false eyelashes for burlesque performers: "Do not go on the stage with out false eyelashes or at least a Tammy Fay Bakker type mascara application (which is much harder to achieve than fake lashes) or I will personally come to your apartment and slap you. I know they are difficult at first, but a seasoned pair of lashes ( at least three wearings) will conform to your eye and be easier to apply the more you wear them. You can trim your large lashes to fit your eye and then take that bit you trim off and glue it to the outer edge of a daytime lash for extra drama and fun."

If you're not yet convinced that false eyelashes are the cornerstone of every burlesque star's stage appearance, listen to the man all the seasoned performers look up to through their fluttering fringes: Photographer, Director, and Fantasy Makeup Master Karl Giant. Karl works for Debbie Harry, Marc Jacobs, Ami Goodheart, Jody Watley, and so many more. "However, no one personifies glitter or extravaganza more than Karl Giant, lead make-up artist for Smashbox Cosmetics," according to the insiders at L. A. Splash Magazine. And he was totally up for being interviewed about false eyelashes and burlesque--Karl is a man who knows the power of a glamorous eye enhancement.

Ultra Nate by Karl Giant
Singer Ultra Nate. Makeup and Photography by Karl Giant.
"Great makeup is less expensive than great costumes. You can be in great pasties, a great g-string, and great makeup and you’re done.
"With false eyelashes, you can wear less makeup and look fabulous. Everything should be custom--out-of-the-box just isn't enough. Trim and embellish! Sometimes it’s better to cut the length toward the end of the lashes. If they’re droop they give you stroke eye. You can get the length and the width. You need practice to glue them on right. And don't forget, use the black glue!
"I glue more than lashes to people's eyes: rhinestones, knick knacks, things from the kitchen. I love stickers around the eyes. They keep the right shape—you can cut them and people don’t know what it is. Sometimes they have teeny little circles or other shapes you can use.
Ami Goodheart by Karl Giant
Showgirl Ami Goodheart, founder of Dutch Weisman's Burlesque. Makeup and Photography by Karl Giant.
"My favorite thing about working with burlesque performers is that anything goes. Tthey’re so proud of who and what they are—they know how to live life, I tell you that. They’re better than other kinds of performers because they’re not worried about what people think—they can be outrageous and still be charming. Even when Julie is most vulgar she’s still charming and has a sense of humor.
"With burlesque performance can be more cerebral. It’s great to make it look easy and like it comes naturally and make it look effortles so that people don’t know to factor in the hours of pratice in front of the mirror. Burlesque performers work hard set the tone and knwo that makeup is a real part of setting the tone. You know Dirty does her research to create her characters.
Alan Cumming by Karl Giant
Actor Alan Cumming. Makeup and Photography by Karl Giant.
"I got well-known by creating these looks on burlesque girls and in the low light I had to attract every shard of light with glitter and effects. Now I’ve taken what I’ve done in burlesque and moved it into pop music working with singers. Look on Youtube for Karl Giant.
"Kevyn Aucoin’s books are great for stage makeup. You can create your own look. Find out what’s the best for your structure and work for that. You become a character and your face is your fortune, no matter what you look like. Be Ronald MacDonald in a pretty way! If you can work a blue lip, work a blue lip! Everybody’s afraid of looking like a drag queen.
"I love working with burlesque performers. I'll never stop. I like to make the burlesque girls into beautiful beings. *BOB* told me, 'After you do me all I have to do is walk onstage and I’m done.' "

On an aside, I have to admit that as much as I love false eyelashes, it still drives me nuts when they're used in mascara ads.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Blog Post About A Blog Post

When I was a stripper at the Cheetah III, we had a calendar on the wall that listed all the upcoming conventions so we'd know which nights the club needed extra dancers. Our favorite convention was "The Chicken Pluckers," a huge gathering of those in the poultry game (and ironically, I detest chicken), whose members, if one were to judge by their behavior, were not audited on their expense accounts.

Iowahawk, a non-burlesque blogger, posted pix from a conventioneers' guide to Chicago in 1959 that features lots of burlesque and makes me wonder if there was an equivalent guide for the conventions in Atlanta:

'Consider the week of April 3, 1959. Chicago was teeming with conventioneers ranging from the American Welding Society, National Automatic Merchandising Association, Music Operators of America, National Association of Waste Material Dealers, Life & Casualty Insurance Conference, International Council of Shopping Centers, National Association of Tobacco Distributors, and (I am not making this up), the "National Military-Industrial Conference" at the Palmer House April 5-8. '
Welcome Conventioneers

Click the image above to see more!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Sex Worker's Art Show Riles 'Em Up

Jo Weldon on Tour. Photo by Bridget Irish
Above: Me backstage with the amazing Reginald Lamar in San Diego during the 2007 Tour.

I wanted to go on the Sex Workers' Art Show Tour this year, as I did last year, but I withdrew my application because I also wanted to stay and work on the new space for the School of Burlesque. It was a tough choice because SWAS means more than a lot to me, but I've been getting lots of calls and messages from the road that make me feel almost like I'm in two places at once. Love is good stuff. I can't be there now so I'm really putting myself into this blog post to establish my undying affection and solidarity for my peeps on the road.

In case you thought there was nothing controversial about burlesque and performance art any more, think again! The heat is on. I'm told one article described the show, in an article illustrated mostly with photos of burlesque performers (including me), as "Beyond Offensive."

This USA Today blog post links to several articles.
Hiss, Boo, Bah
The amount of censorship that actually occurred is a bit shocking to me, and that' saying something from someone who's actually been removed from a panel about sex work because the producers of a debate were afraid I'd bias the panel because I had actually worked in the sex industry (yeah, figure that one out, the other side was allowed to have a former sex worker speak and yes I'm still pissed about it):

"10 minutes before the show the STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL of VIRGINIA contacted us ordering a ban on the selling of any of our merchandise - which includes books written by our stellar touring authors, pin up photos by some very smart & pretty ladies, my Mistresses of George W. Bush Bid Him Farewell 2008 Calendar -(available by the way at, along with the volume entitled Working Sex- edited by Annie Oakley which shares the many different tones of sex work and the experiences involved (please buy online!) Our fearless leader also was given a contract just days before our appearance at William & Mary College stating that we were to give up our rights to solely follow the obscenity laws provided by the State of Virginia and that while following them campus officials would have the final say in what was "obscene". Also the contract banned us from filming, even for personal use the show in any part so there would not be any record of what actually happened on stage. The campus officials could stop the shows at any time and/or refuse to pay. No one under 18 was allowed in and cameras were banned."
--From *BOB*'s Blog

And in case you didn't catch my rants last year when I encountered a taste of the same, you can read my tour blog here:
Jo's SWAS Tour Blog 2007

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Interview: Designer Garo Sparo

In a recent post, I described how many burlesque performers collaborate very closely with designers, and named corsetier Garo Sparo as one of our favorite collaborators. Happily, Garo consented to an interview and allowed me the honor of taking some photos in his studio while he fit me for the "Parade of Muses" in his Sparkle and Cinch Fashion Show coming up on February 6.

In Garo Sparo's Studio

Can you give me a little history about Garo Sparo? How did you begin designing? What do you like most about it?
I grew up around design. My grandparents were experts in bead-work and lace making. We always had sewing machines in the house while I was growing up. I began learning clothing construction from a Native American costume designer in Long Island when I was 11, which led to designing my first dress at 14. My teenage years were spent making hats that were sold in local shops and night clubs and making clothes for myself and friends. I think what I enjoy most about designing is that it allows me to make a living doing something I love, and I constantly get to work with inspiring and talented people.

In Garo Sparo's Studio
Photos on the wall in Garo's Studio.

You're in the East Village where so much of the current burlesque scene exists or originated. How is the East Village scene for you?
The East Village is an amazing place, I live and work here and I would not want to be anywhere else. I think it is the only place in Manhattan where I could really feel inspired. There is always a strong gathering of colorful and creative people here to work with.

How did you become involved with burlesque costuming?
It began with working with * BOB * in the nineties. I always loved doing costuming, especially that which is functional and involves layering and mechanics, which burlesque often does. It also made sense that I would do burlesque work because corsetry is one of my specialties.

Bambi in her shrimp costume at Exotic World, Helendale, CA.

Tell me about your relationships with two or three of your burlesque clients.
Bambi: I love working with Bambi because her costumes are always transformations of her own personality into some kind of creature; a character that represents who she is by being totally off the wall and quirky but still beautiful and elegant. Her personality is embedded in the outfit and the costume is used to portray it.
Bunny Love- The purpose of Bunny Love's costumes is, and the reason I love working with her, is that they are created to abstract her true motivation. I once heard * BOB * describer her as "a playboy bunny with rabies," which is absolutely true. We always design things that are very sweet and girly, super feminine and even prim and proper. It is always to counter the truly subversive and bizarre nature of her acts.
* BOB *: * BOB *'s personality is framed by her costumes. She is not necessarily transformed into another character, but they serve to honor and present her own beauty and character and represent her distinctive taste and aesthetic.

How involved in the process of designing the costume or act do you become?
I become very involved in the creation of the entire piece. I discuss with the performer what will happen in the act. I then break it down so that the costume completely works with the choreography, and allows everything that will take place to happen in the smoothest, most beautiful manner possible.

As a costumer and performer I often find that the costume dictates the choreography, or the other way around. Do you find yourself getting involved in the acts? Do you go to see them after you make the costumes?
I always dissect the whole act so that everything will happen in a gorgeous succession. I design the costume, but also work with the performer on the choreography so that everything works together as a whole. Usually the performers that work with me perform acts that are particularly "costume –centric," so the outfit and choreography go hand in hand. I am always busy but I do try to see my clients perform when I can.

Bunny Love

What has been your most challenging experience with creating a burlesque costume? Your most satisfying? Your favorite costume?
I think the most challenging outfit to date was probably Bunny Love's pink cake. It has to go from being a 5'8 tall cake to falling onto ground into a pile of ruffles in a matter of seconds. This was definitely quite a challenge mechanically.
It's hard for me to choose favorites but one costume that was very satisfying was Bambi's shrimp costume. It was very complete and extremely layered. It included something like over 10 elements of accessories and layers, and to top it off she had a lemon wedge that squeezed glitter juice all over her body! All the coordinating elements that created a beautiful whole made it very satisfying to design and create.
Another one of my favorites was Bambi's blacklight snail costume. I love it so much because she actually could get inside of it. It was beautiful on its own or under blacklight. It was extremely visually pleasing and also very layered and complex.

In Garo Sparo's Studio
A sketch in Garo's studio.

What's next for the fabulous Garo Sparo?
I am doing a fashion show in February 2008 that I am very excited about. I will be showcasing my recent work and many of my burlesque and drag clients will be present to show off things I have made for them. I am very happy in my career at this point and am working to keep doing what I'm doing but on a larger scale. I want to continue to do couture, and costuming for film, events, burlesque and all types of performance. I love doing all of these things and I want to keep growing and expanding.

More photos from Garo's studio
Garo's Website

Friday, February 1, 2008

Article Post: Aesthetics and Striptease

I recently got into a discussion about pornography on another website, unfortunately, and while I just don't have time I used to have to get into those debates, I did do a little research to see if I could find any of my old porn debate articles to which to refer. I got distracted from my search by another writer's article on striptease:

"I have argued that the female nude as she is represented in high art, is only rendered legitimate due to her framed nature. I have echoed the sentiments of Bourdieu and claimed that there is no objective basis on which to condemn objects of art or artistic expressions, which involve sensuous appeal. Part of my defence of striptease has been recognition of the activity as a legitimate form of artistic expression. Moreover, I have suggested that if a Marxist account of art is allowed, there are grounds for defending the notion that the art of striptease is good art on the basis that it might assist in the development and realisation of feminist sexual liberation."

Aesthetics and Striptease
by Patricia Petersen
National Sociology Conference - December 1998

Tangerine Jones
Above: The Fabulous Tangerine Jones. Art indeed! Photo by me, taken at Coney Island.

I'll get back to the porn debate another day. Those anti-pornies freak me out a little, they get personal and hostile so fast.