Monday, August 30, 2010

A Quickie with Melody Sweets

Melody Sweets is one of the sweetest people in burlesque, and that's saying something! I've known her since the days when I hung out with The Toilet Boys (I appear in their videos for "Future is Now" and "Another Day in the Life") at Squeezebox, and used to watch her perform burlesque in The Bombshell Girls' show at Suite 16. She's a multi-talented lady--she not only, like most burlesque performers, creates her own costumes and routines, but she writes and records her own music as well!

On The Set of Gossip Girl
Melody, second from the right, on the set of the Victor/Victrola episode of Gossip Girl. Photo, choreography, and costume design by me!

How did you come to be a New York performer?
When I first moved to NYC I knew I wanted to sing & started singing right away. I started singing at open-mic nights, making my rounds in drag shows, lesbian cover bands & rasta metal nights... crazy combo, I know! That's NY for you. I QUICKLY got tired of being in the background, singing other peoples songs so, I created my own band with the boys of GOODFINGER a year of touring & finding our sound we decided to stop playing live shows to concentrate on the recording of our debut album, Killing With Kindness.
I missed the stage tremendously! I felt I needed to be up there, constantly honing my skills. I was afraid if stopped performing for any extended period of time that I wouldn't get back up there again. I thought I'd get cold feet. Luckily, I had a few friends who had me previously addicted to glitter & rhinestones who asked me to be a part of their burlesque show & it clicked! I wrote a couple songs that made we want to take my clothes off... & Voila! Slice of Heaven, Troppo Vino & Marry Juana were born.


I met you at Don Hill's in the 1990s! Then I saw you doing burlesque with the Bombshell Girls at Suite 16. Did you expect burlesque to become such a big part of your career?
Whoa! You must've met me when I first got here in 1999! NYC was a different animal then. I partied. It was 1999. ;-)I remember doing my very first burlesque act ever with the Bombshell girls. Back then I didn't even have a Burlesque name! This was pre GOODFINGER! ....Not that Melody Sweets isn't, of course, my natural given name. ;-)I loved the freedom. I loved collaborating & creating with friends who inspired me..... but my early days in burlesque with the Bombshell girls was short lived. At the time, I was dating someone that didn't approve of what I was doing & I allowed myself to believe the things he would say & to be honest, I wanted to sing & hadn't yet made the connection that I could do both burlesque & my own music... and, since I've never met anyone who has done this before, it was even more difficult to imagine doing this as a career.. or shall I say, way of life!.... & so, Burlesque took a 'time-out' while I concentrated on my "serious" band GOODFINGER. Little did I know Burlesque would come back to get me, and I'm so glad it did! It's opened up a world of doors for me. Personally & professionally. .... to my surprise.

Tell us a bit about what it's like to write your own music, perform to your own songs, make your own costumes, and create your own numbers.
It's AMAZING. I wouldn't trade it for the world. I'm a bit of a control freak so to be able to be in charge of everything from the ground up is amazing. It does seem to take me a bit longer to come up with new acts because I'm doing my own music. ...before I can even get to the designing or making of a costume or the act, I've got to get a song written, recorded, mastered & copyrighted. It can be very frustrating at times, but the pay off is worth it. It took me more than 2 years to record Slice of Heaven, (maybe even more), but it's one of my most requested acts still today. Slice of Heaven has been running at The Box now for over 3 years & is now a music video making burlesque herstory.

No performer has ever starred in, written & produced her own music video before! What are some of your other projects?
What else is out there?I'm looking to finish my debut album soon which features musical guests The Dap Kings (Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones) & hope to do a little more traveling this winter, hopefully surrounded by my band & fellow performers. You perform a lot at the Box. Tell us a little bit about that!I love The Box. I've been with them since the beginning & simply love to perform there. The lighting technician is amazing.... his lights alone are a show! The sound is always great, which means alot for a singer, & they treat me well. The Box has also been a big influence on me to push myself even farther in terms of performing, music & costumes. They keep me on my toes & keep me inspired by the many different types of performers they showcase.Oh, and the fact that I've been able to perform for celebrities who have inspired me throughout the years such as STING. He likes to give mojo bear hugs.


Tell us about your show at Duane Park.
It's a blast! Every Saturday at 10:30pm my fabulous band, The Candy Shop Boys & I present the best in burlesque, cabaret and other Vaudeville-style variety acts. There is never a cover but we're always packed so I recommend reservations. The food is out-of-this-world good & a great place to bring a date, your family, your spouse, mistress or all of them together! ... we'll make it a party! We've got some amazing performers coming in the next couple months from all over .. Kitten DeVille from L.A., Tatah Dujor from Florida, Annette Bette Kellow from London. And, of course, you Jo! It's getting some great press right now.. Time Out calls it the "Swankiest". ...yeah baby. September 18th will be the start of an all new Sweets' Shop show so I hope to see you then!

You recently produced your video and DVD. What was that like? It looks like a big party!
It WAS a big party! (It better have been! We went through an UNBELIEVABLE amount of champagne that day! ...I figured I'd get 'em all drunk for breakfast, seeing as though we only had 5 hours in total to set up, record, & break down.) Everyone knew each other, it was a cast of about 15, plus tech & crew which brought it to about 25 people to organize. Everyone seemed to feel completely comfortable.. (which is good because it got pretty naughty!!) I loved every moment of it. I was overwhelmed by the feeling of community, love & support during the filming. Not only are the most amazing NYC performers in the cast - MsTickle, Julie Atlas Muz, Amber Ray, Stormy Leather & lots more.....we're all friends that have been brought together in this fabulously shiny world. Who knew there were others out there that felt the need to pile glitter all over their bodies and bare all to the world? A special breed, indeed.What is your ultimate fantasy show? That is a loaded question! I have so many different scenarios I'd like to see played out. Hopefully I'll get at least 9 lives to make it all happen. But, for a start, a common thread through them all is big props, big stages, big bands... maybe even orchestra style & BIG audiences. I'd like to see people leaving my shows inspired, with personal walls broken down.

What do you have planned next?
I have a big show coming up on Sept 9th at Le Poisson Rouge called Melody Sweets & the ladies of La Rouge Coquette! featuring some of my favorite burlesquers Angie Pontani, MsTickle & more! I hope to see you there Jo! We'll be showing a sneek peek of the UNcensored version of Slice of Heaven before it's official release in the fall.

Melody singing "Gold Digga" at The New York Burlesque Festival

Keep up with Melody at You can hear her music and buy the uncensored version of her DVD!

Note to readers and bloggers: If you use any of the material from this blog, please link back to it or earn my everlasting contempt. Thank you!

Jo! Where's your favourite place to buy g-strings? z

I make mine! But I love stripper stores, online and elsewhere. You can buy ANY g-string and decorate with wih rhinestones or fringe, or even add hooks on the sides to make it breakaway. Just remember that if you add fringe and the fringe doesn't stretch, you need to make sure you can get the garment on and off over your hips before you do your final stitching!

Here's a great base for a decorated g-string:

Ask me anything about Burlesque!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Quickie with Lily Burana

Lily Burana is one of my personal heroes. When I read Strip City, I felt like I had finally read a memoir that addressed the ambivalence most strippers feel about the job in a nonjudgemental fashion. Not long after I read that book, I performed with Lily in the video for Debra's song Take It Off, a video recorded to accompany the release of Jill Morley's documentary Stripped. Working with these three women has created one of the strongest support systems of my life. Lily's book I Love a Man in a Uniform is not only a fascinating memoir of the life of an army wife, told with Lily's characteristic candor and charm, but a deeply inspiring account of her personal struggles with PTSD and identity. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to choreograph a routine for Lily's Operation Bombshell, her burlesque school for military wives, and to have had her blurb my book! It's a treat to finally be able to interview her.

Me with Lily. Photo by Whitney Ward.
Lily and Me in Las Vegas for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender

You have such an amazing project in Operation Bombshell. How is that going?
It is beyond insane. I'm frankly startled. I started Op B as a little indie project, hosting the first class on the skating surface at the roller rink on Fort Hood, Texas. Then, my friends at Pin-Up Girl Clothing ( hosted a few benefits for me in LA, one graciously hosted by Diablo Cody, and raised a bunch of money for me to keep going. I added military installations here and there when I could. Then Op B ended up on the front page of the New York Times, on CNN and on Fox News. Now, military installations are sponsoring my visits. If you had told me that the military would spend money to bring a burlesque teacher to posts to teach, I never would have believed you in a million years.

Operation Bombshell

You and I sat at a table together once and watched Kate Valentine's Vavavoom Room about six years ago, which was one of the first neo-burlesque shows in NYC. What was your impression of burlesque from that show??
My impression was that passion--for glamour, for performance, for feminine excellence, is what's really behind the new burlesque movement. It blends the best of the primal drive for self-expression with the elemental theatrical feminine essence. And it's a blast to watch. Seriously? I have an almost boundless appetite for good burlesque. I could watch it all night, no exaggeration.

In Strip City you describe going to feature dancing school. Did that remind you of burlesque at all??
It did! Because the class was taught by a feature performer, with a slant towards encouraging dancers to become features themselves. Today's feature dancers the true descendants of the old burlesque girls--I learned a lot about developing a persona, how to work with choreography (which I had never done as a house girl), matching costumes to music, themes, how to captivate an audience. I knew I would never have the energy to be a feature, but I loved pretending for a few days.

You've been to the Burlesque Hall of Fame events in both the original location in Helendale and the new weekender in Las Vegas. What are some of your memorable moments from both??
Memorable moments? My heavens, so many. Windstorms. Heat. Kiss curls and big sunglasses. Catherine D'Elish in a golden birdcage, stepping carefully down the runway and opening a huge fan of peacock feathers behind her. Tempest Storm, in her purple sequins, showing the world the true meaning of star power. Beautiful, loving Dixie Evans being surrounded by young women who positively adore her. And shoes, sequins, feather fans, pasties, glitter, headdresses, boas, gowns, gloves, stockings. Bumping horns and nasty drums. Humor. Glamour. Love.

What are some of the most memorable responses you've had to it? Memorable incidents in class or related to running the project??
Op B has really grown my heart. I don't know that I was a Grinch before, exactly, but since starting Op B, I'm certain my heart has leapt up at least three sizes. I'm deeply touched that the military sees the value in the program, and is willing to put resources toward sponsoring my travel so I can teach so many wives. On a personal note, I was moved when one of my students told me that she had recently lost her young son to a tragic accident, and that the day she took my class was the first good day she'd had since he died. I'll never forget that, ever.

And on broader a wife-to-wife level, it's just wonderful for me to meet so many strong, amazing, resilient women. Military wives have a ferocity of spirit that is nothing short of inspirational, and I consider it an honor and a privilege to sass up their lives for an hour or two.

What's next for Operation Bombshell??
We're headed to Germany in September, which is so exciting! Then, Fort Carson, Colorado in October, Savannah, Georgia in November and maybe a couple other places in between.

What's next for you? What projects are nearest and dearest to your heart??
Believe it or not, I'm trying to find another way to approach burlesque. I feel like there's still a new story to be told there. And, of course, I'll be at the NY Burlesque Festival showcase. Can't wait to see everybody there!

Lily on Fox News

Lily in the NY Times

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Quickie with Mr. Murray Hill, Burlesque MC

New York has an amazing pool of burlesque MCs, all with unique personalities and their own cults. Today we'll have a quickie with everyone's showbiz heartthrob, Mr. Murray Hill.

Murray Hill

The first time I saw you at a burlesque show was a Pontani Sisters show at the Slipper Room in either 2002 or 2003. What was your first burlesque MC gig? Did you expect to be MCing so many burlesque shows?
Ahh, the old days...and who can remember all the details! I don't remember my first burlesque hosting gig per se, but I was doing The Murray Hill Show in the late 90's and Dirty Martini was my first showgirl guest. How could I forget her. She is the first burlesque performer I saw in NYC uptown at the supperclub, I suppose it was true love right from the beginning.
Hosting burlesque shows seems like a natural fit (no pun intended) for me...I'm an old-school kinda guy, and burlesque is from the old vaudeville days. Back then, comics and burlesque girls were always on the same bill. I loved seeing the Don Rickles documentary and hear him talk about the Vegas showrooms. He got his start doing comedy bits in between burlesque performers.
I love the ladies, they love me, it just works. They also let me backstage...that keeps me coming back.


How did you develop the Murray Hill persona?
It developed me! Or maybe more accurately, it enveloped me!

You do more than burlesque MCing. What are some of your other frequent gigs?
I make sure to always work different scenes and to be in front of new audiences all the time. Keeps me fresh and challenges me. I do comedy clubs, call Bingo numbers, appear in plays, TV, movies, host annual events, holiday shows, homosexual name it, I do it! They don't call me the hardest-working middle-aged man in show business for nothing.

Murray Hill

How was the tour and the New Orleans event? Can you tell us about a few of your favorite gigs?
I really enjoyed all the shows and all the new cities I got to check out, but my favorite gig was with Dita Von Teese and the most hopping city was New Orleans. Oh boy, the audiences for those shows were off-the-charts...well-dressed, loaded, and gorgeous. They were so welcoming and were ready to be entertained. I didn't have to do any ice-breaking, it was all heat from the second I hit the boards. I truly admire Dita's show-womanship, it's a great thrill to see her dazzle and tease from the wings of the stage. Dita Von Teese is like UPS in two ways....she's a package and she delivers.

Murray Hill, Dita Von Teese

The New York Burlesque Festival is coming up this fall. You've been hosting at it every year since it began in 2003,correct? Is there anything about the Festival you particularly enjoy?
I look forward to the NYBF every year to see all of New Yorkers in one place together! It's like a high-school burlesque reunion.

What's next for Murray Hill?
Trying to quit eating Swedish Fish. Showbiz! I'll be announcing a debut Off-Broadway show in the coming months! Until then, I'll be hitting the boards all over the country and in the concrete jungle.

What is a gig you haven't yet done that you'd like to do?
I'd love to host the Oscars and and a late night talk show like Johnny Carson, the master!

What advice would you give to would-be burlesque MCs?
The most important part of MCing, in my opinion, is the audience. The audience is #1 in my book. They are the reason we are all there, and that is the essence of entertainment. First thing I do is engage the audience, put them at ease, get them involved in the fun and set the tone for the night. If this is missed in the first minutes of any show, it's an uphill battle all night, and I'd rather have it be a Murray Hill night!

Murray's Showbiz Website!

Photos used with Murray's permission. Photo credits pending.

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Jo! What are the best burlesque venues in New York City?

There isn't any venue devoted to burlesque while the Slipper Room is on hiatus, so you have to look for shows. The best source is Ed Barnas' Calendar:

Don't miss the Coney Island shows! Mine is tomorrow night:

And I'll be performing at the Oak Room this Sunday, at Galapagos on Monday, and at White Slab with the Slipper Room Crew on Wednesday. See the calendar for details.

I perform most frequently at Duane Park with Brian Newman:

Ask me anything about Burlesque!

Monday, August 2, 2010

I've been enjoying watching fan dances & am ready to try one. You have a pretty silk fan veil routine on your DVD but your clothes stay on. Do you have tips or resources or inspiration for using fan veils in a striptease?

People have been using these fans more and more in burlesque and in other forms of dance. As I say in the video, think about fans as items you use to reveal, conceal, and frame yourself, as well as to create a glamourous and sensual spectacle onstage. Orchid Mei does a fantastic job with them:

It's possible to do a very poor job with these, as they are a little tricky. Rehearse, videotape yourself rehearsing, and if you have someone whose critique is valuable to you, employ them to watch and help you find exciting and elegant things to do with them besides just move them around. You can do some really clever reveals and gorgeous moves if you take the time to discover your own style with them!


Ask me anything about Burlesque!

If you were a rainbow... What treat would you leave at the end for people to find?

You, Deelightful lady!

Ask me anything about Burlesque!

How would you deal with a jealous performer who is obsessed with being/doing better than you? She's a former student. This is taking the fun out of burlesque for me. :(

Just focus on your own business. If she does anything actually shady or cutthroat, call her on it publicly; but otherwise, her jealousy and competitiveness is really her cross to bear. And if it's REALLY taking the fun out of burlesque for you, if burlesque is only fun for you if it's free of any problems of business and social interaction, you might reconsider what you expect from burlesque.

Ask me anything about Burlesque!

What do you think of MC's that talk trying to gain more cheers from the crowd, during the dancers performance?

It depends. Generally I could do without it, since I want to focus on the performer and not the MC; but some MCs make it brilliant and energizing and funny; and some audiences really respond to it. So in theory I don't like it, but in action I've seen it both succeed and fail.

Ask me anything about Burlesque!