Saturday, August 6, 2011

Heat Wave Burlesque!

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Rock Stars of Burlesque Performing in New York City
August 27, 2011 7-10 pm
Prepare yourself for record heat when sizzling West Coat Burlesque joins forces with the hottest Burlesque performers of the East Coast for a show that can’t be missed. It’s a rare and sultry opportunity to see a spectacular cast of New York’s biggest stars with some of Los Angeles’ most celebrated talent. It’s all about the clothes—and about taking them off!
Pinup Girl Clothing, the most popular retro and alternative clothing company in the US, joins forces with Jo Boobs Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, to present an irresistible show of sexy striptease, amazing acrobatics, and fabulous fashion at the gorgeous Highline Ballroom.
“Watch ‘em dress. Watch ‘em undress. It’s a hell of a show!” says Weldon. Featuring your host from the West Coast, the inimitable Lucky Day; Miss Viva Las Vegas, La Cholita, known for her relentless shimmies and Latin fire; Laura Byrnes, famous pinup star and clothing designer; The Diamond Betties, one of the most sought-after troupes on the circuit; Jo Boobs Weldon, award-winning stripteaser and author of The Burlesque Handbook; Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey, acrobatic burlesque super heroes; Julie Atlas Muz, international art star; and Dirty Martini, worldwide headliner, voted number 1 Burlesque performer in the world. Plus, a fashion show from Pinup Girl Clothing, featuring their exclusive lines of clothing and accessories.
Sponsored by Pinup Girl Clothing, Lucky 13 Clothing, and The New York School of Burlesque.

At the Highline Ballroom
Located at 431 W 16th St
New York, NY 10011
between 9th and 10th Ave
(212) 414-5994
Email contact: Jo Weldon at headmistress@schoolofburlesque.com
Heat Wave Burlesque website

Friday, August 5, 2011

"Keep Playing Till She's Naked" --An Interview with Ronnie Magri

[This article was originally published March 5, 2009.]

I have been extremely lucky to work with some of the best musicians in burlesque. I've been performing, or at least dancing, to live music all my life, including one glorious night with Spinal Tap, but most of the time I was just dancing along to the music. In burlesque with live music, there's real collaboration. The dancers rehearse their numbers with the bands, and the musicians watch the dancers to see if they need to give them a drum hit when a glove drops to the floor, if the music needs to be sped up or slowed down, or if they need to repeat a form until the dancer is ready to finish her number.

In New York we have live music at the Slipper Room every Wednesday night with amazing musicians including Brian Fisherman, with whom I've been performing for over 10 years, Le Scandal has featured The New York City Blues Devils and the Le Scandal Orchestra, Big Apple Burlesque features a live band every week, Brian Newman produces a burlesque show with his trio at Duane Park, and there's more, including pianist and arranger Albert Garzon, who seeks out old burlesque music and creates shows based on burlesque legends like Lydia Thompson, Georgia Sothern, and Gypsy Rose Lee. We have a wealth of live music in our burlesque. While most cities that have a burlesque scene have a swing band or two that will collaborate with dancers in some burlesque shows, and more and more shows are working with their own bands, in this city we have long had a wealth of extremely talented and devoted musicians that are specifically interested in collaborating with burlesque shows and doing music intended specifically for burlesque dancers.



At the moment we're fortunate to have our own native son, Brooklyn-born Ronnie Magri, in his hometown. While living in New Orleans, he helped to create a scene there that fostered dancers who would become The Atomic Bombshells of Seattle, who recently performed in Shanghai.

I know Ronnie from another life, when he was in a rock band called The Throbs.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kQc3QboVMs

I also showed my photographs in a group show about burlesque with his amazing and beautiful wife, painter Charlene Lanzel.

More recently I've had the privilege of using his music on my instructional DVDs produced by World Dance New York, and of discussing a long term project I have in mind to promote appreciation of the music historically used in burlesque striptease, and the musicians who choose to collaborate with burlesque dancers today. Several months ago I interviewed him for this blog, and we decided to save the interview for the release of the DVD. So here it is, at long last, an interview with one of the legends of the burlesque revival!

First, tell us a little about the Throbs.
I joined The Throbs in the late 80s and we got signed to Geffen records, I suppose we were the hot shot New York band of the time. We were supposed to be the New York Guns N Roses, which was the kiss of death. It was a great band though. We got Little Richard to play piano and had Alice Coopers producer Bob Ezrin--we worked till ‘91 and we got dropped because we weren’t grungey. I kicked around New York a bit and ended up moving to New Orleans in 95. [The Throbs also played a reunion show at Don Hill's in January of 2009.]

How did you end up in New Orleans?
While I was making The Throbs record with Little Richard he was talking about New Orleans a lot and I moved there thinking I was going to play r n b, but that wasn’t happening. I kept going back and got into 20s 30s 40s type jazz. The first year I went all I did was listen, I didn’t play, I took it all in. I would just go sit and listen to people and would go watch my favorite drummers, I didn’t play at all, was just a fan, an observer of the music. That’s how I got into more jazz, which I wasn’t into in New York.
The thing about New Orleans is that music is a necessity there. It’s just not that important to people in New York now, but there were so many clubs and bands in New Orleans to play with, a real community, people willing to help you out. Tennessee Williams had a quote that New Orleans was the only city that ever loved him back. In New Orleans people care and want to help you. It was easy to just sit in with people and then the next think you're getting a call to do gigs. It just rolled. It was about helping each other out. Here a drummer would do a gig dying sick because he was afraid he’d lose his gig. It was a different vibe to get into the jazz New Orleans scene.


Above: At the Shim Sham Club

What was the Shim Sham Club?
It was a club in the French Quarter, operating under the name Maxwell's, and for years it was just a beautiful theater that was just falling apart. They would have bad music there. A friend of mine named Morgan Higby [associate producer of Shortbus] lived in LA and New Orleans, and he called me up one day and said he'd bought Maxwell’s Cabaret. He'd done a movie [Matters of Consequence] that featured the Pussycat Dolls in 199. When he moved to NOLA he wanted to do a burlesque kind of club. He decided to rename the space the Shim Sham Club after a place Louis Prima's brother Leon had owned, along with the 500 club where dancers like Lilly Christine had performed. Opening night we did a burlesque show with Sam Butera who had never played New Orleans even though it was his ome town. We did a show thinking it would be a one night only thing and when you put all that work into a show for one night it’s over so fast and you have the costumes and music and acts. Morgan decided to try it monthly, then weekly, every Sunday, two shows a night, and that was it. It just took off from there. New Orleans has such a history of burlesque. That got a lot of the press the media behind us. For better or for worse NEw Orleans has been known as sort of like a museum, where nothing was really about the future, it’s all about the past, so we’re recreating this, and the press ate it up, helped us get a crowd of locals, tourists, young and old. We couldn’t rely on any one type of audience. We got that it wasn’t a hipster underground thing.
We had the club owner behind us. We could use the space for rehearsals. He paid for the girls' costumes, paid the girls, paid for the band, the music that had to be written, so we had backing. I don’t think we would have been able to do it that long if it hadn’t been for him.

Who were the dancers?
Kitten LaRue and The Atomic Bombshells came from the Shim Sham dancers, I'm proud to see what they've done. There were about a hundred dancers that went through our revues and I think half a dozen of them stuck with it. There were still some burlesque dancers that were still alive, Kitty West the Oyster Girl, Wild Cherry, and Linda Brigette. They would come to give lessons. Those women would come down during rehearsals and give the girls pointers. I was there for a couple of those sessions and it was not pretty. They would tell the girls straight out, you’re walking like a truck driver. That was one of Kitty’s favorite lines. A couple of the girls really wanted to learn and listened anyway.
The show was open for five years till Morgan left New Orleans and the people from the shows scattered all over the country. Dita performed with us several times.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bckQisTELNU

What was it like to make the cd?
There was so little burlesque music on cd. I had a seven piece band every Sunday night, and I had the best band in the city. The band was phenomenal. Of course at the beginning I didn’t think about doing a cd and people kept asking for one. The demand brought me to it. It was kind of tricky because I had all those burlesque records and they’re all novelty records. I wanted to make a record that could be serious jazz record but burlesquey, fun but real. Over the course of time I picked out songs. The good thing about it was being able to do these shows and songs over the years, to find out what worked. We had the guitar player from Dr John’s band, the piano player from Gatemouth Brown’s band, the trumpet player from Squirrel Nut Zippers, Ruth Brown's bass player! We took two days in the studio and laid down the tracks. John Polt did liner notes about the musicians in burlesque, and Rick Delaup provided a history of burlesque.
Historically the thing with the musicians, you got into burlesque on your way up or your way down. You got strung out and now you’re working at a burlesque club. I kinda wanted it to not be such a novelty, to be the thing itself. I put Blaze Starr on the cover, and a lot of the old timers in no recognized her and would pick it up in the club and I’d hear a story about how they saw her.



Were you at the first Tease-o-rama Convention in New Orleans [2001]?
It was good! We were the house band but not many of the dancers worked with us. The good thing about these big events is that people got to know each other. At that point that countrywide community wasn’t happening.

What has it been like working with women who did burlesque in the 1950s?
I’ve spoken to a number of the old burlesque dancers and the question I’ve asked a number of them, is there a time or event that you can tell me when burlesque died, and they all say the day they got rid of the bands. Kitty West told me this a number of times—burlesque died when they got rid of the bands.
She would try to show girls and they would say I can’t do it. I watched Kitty do the oyster girl to my cd with the shell, she knew the whole act and I’ve not seen anybody be that suggestive. On the cd I was able to record this music that had never been recorded, written by a New Orleans musician. I had the original sheet music dated November 1st 1954. The author of the music was still alive. I talked to him and said, "Herb, I'm redoing that song for Kitty." He said he was doing that burlesque shit in high school! He couldn’t believe I found the music. He said, "I couldn’t watch, I was too young, if I looked at her I’d start making mistakes." He’s 60-70 now, whispering while he’s talking to me so I know the wife is not too far away.
One of the things about my record was coolest was working with Kitty. While I was working with her she found the original music for her oyster girl act. I’ve seen her do her act and there’s no one who will ever come close to doing that act her way. It’s so raunchy. Everybody that she’s ever showed or wanted to teach hasn’t done it that raunchy.

[laughing]I'm a New Yorker, I'll do it raunchy.
You know the story? The story is that every hundred years her shell opens up and she’s got one chance to get it on with the pearl, and when she comes out of the shell she’s fucking the pearl, she’s gyrating all over it!

So that fuck has to be worth a hundred years!
[laughing] Right.

When did you come back to New York?
After Katrina, 2005. I played with the Blues Devils at Le Scandal and it was my first taste of the New York new burlesque scene, had to learn the wing-it thing, after having had more control in the Shim Sham shows where it was all rehearsed. In New York people change their numbers in the middle of the show! We had a couple of guest stars with no real rehearsal, and I would have to tell the band to keep playing—if I saw she didn’t have her clothes off. In New Orleans the musicians were these really straight guys that had never had a band leader yelling keep playing till she’s naked. They’d be reading the music, not looking at the girl. Every so often you’d have a new guy who had to read the music and I’d have to yell, "S,he’s not naked yet just keep going! Keep playing till she's naked!"


Above: Ronnie Backs Me Up at the New York Burlesque Festival

I want a live music burlesque version of Godzilla so bad, I’ve got to get hold of Blue Oyster Cult.
Every dancer should have her own special music!

What would you like to do next?
I don’t know where I’ll be living, here or New Orleans, but I have a continuing interest in burlesque as a fan. I’m into it, just seeing what people are doing. I’d love to do another cd. Katrina derailed me along with everybody else. I didn’t lose all my belongings, but I had to pick up the pieces and move. I was in Paraguay and didn’t board up anything. I would really love to see a burlesque show on Broadway, in the sense where if you want a purple curtain you get a purple curtain. And I’d like to see people who've worked hard make money from this.

What's your favorite thing about burlesque?
Burlesque is one of the few art forms where Americans can say we invented jazz, and we invented this form of burlesque. I want to see people take it for what it is, the art it is.

Ronnie's Website

Click above to hear Ronnie's CD


Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for burlesquedaily.blogspot.com.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Quickie with Gal Friday

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I don't know what I would do without the aptly named Gal Friday, burlesque star, pinup model, and Miss Coney Island 2009. She's a great girl in a pinch (and to pinch). You can take her anywhere and she can handle anything. She's charming, beautiful, and hilarious. And she's a fabulous performer with some fine, fine moves. She's saved my sanity in the middle of the night many a time, and I'm extremely fortunate to have her teaching at NYSB! I wish this was a longee instead of a quickie...

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Gal in the private NYSB space at the Slipper Room.

How did you learn to do burlesque?
I'm still learning to do Burlesque! That's the best part... I keep learning and evolving. I never want to grow up, I just want to keep growing up !

When did you start teaching within the burlesque community?
About 3 years ago, at NYSB.

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What are some of your favorite acts to perform?
This changes frequently. But at the moment I'd say Conquistadores, a newer act. I've just revamped it a bit, it's come a long way since I debuted it months ago. I like seeing how acts mature, like having kids. But kids you stuff in a bag at the end of the night when you're done with 'em.

Did you ever expect to be teaching regularly?
I actually figured it would happen at some point, though I didn't know it would be in Burlesque! Back in ye olde University my professors were trying to nudge me in that direction. I didn't want to hear it! For me it perform perform perform. But, I now see what an honor it was that they saw that in me. Teaching is hard work. You want people to trust you and what you have to offer... and sometimes you have to set aside your own opinions/feelings & let them take what they want out of it. You also have to be willing to give up a part of yourself and what you've learned... that's scary. Knowing how to be a good, fair, yet entertaining teacher is an admirable skill.

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What are some of the classes you teach?
Classic Moves, Chair, Glove/Stocking Peel. I'll step in for Peekaboo Pointe's Booty Class when she's off being famous somewhere! All are great fun! But I love any class where I throw in a small workout and make you sweat and curse my good name. You'll thank me later :)

What have been some of your favorite experiences as an instructor?
Teaching a Senator from Oklahoma to tassel twirl. She was 63 and a breast cancer survivor. She had a double mastectomy and be damned if we didn't figure out a way for her to twirl!! She wanted to learn and thrilled to find out she could. I always tell girls who bemoan about their breasts (too big, too small, etc) about Joyce. " If she can do it, you can too! Now take off your tops..."

What do you most hope people take away from your classes?
Confidence, solid practical advice, and maybe some sore muscles!

Final word of advice for aspiring performers?
Go to shows and support. You'll learn so much by watching your peers. Respect your fellow performers, a lot of them paved the way to make this a lot easier for you to do. Also, honor your art. Burlesque isn't just flitting around til your boobs are out... it's Strip Tease, it's telling a story! And whether you do classic, avant garde, etc... you want to entertain your audience. Remember, we all practice and rehearse our butts off to make it all seems so improvised and easy. We all have boobs, so the challenge is: what do I have to offer to make this entertaining for that crowd out there?

Me N My Gal
Gal n me after our mother-daughter act. It's ok to be disturbed... ;)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stage Kitten Guidelines

Hey folks! A lot of my students are asking about stage kitten duties. I'm creating a handout, and one of our former students will be conducting a workshop. I'd appreciate your thoughts on what I've written. Most of the shows I produce are workshop showcases, so I've gotten input from regular producers and kittens who work for them.

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Ray Ray Sunshine kittening after my Godzilla act at Michelle L'Amour's Speakeasy in Chicago.

FOR THE KITTENS

It’s crucial to understand first of all that each producer will have their own guidelines, some of which may be different than these. However, these will let you know some of the things stage kittens need to think about, with the questions they most frequently ask.

Q: What is a stage kitten?
A: A stage kitten is the person who picks up the costume pieces and props after a burlesque number. They get lots of stage time! When you're kittening, be sure to watch the performers undress to help you know what to pick up and get every piece. Remember, there are usually two gloves! If one is missing, wait until after the show to find it rather than rummaging around in the crack between the stage and the wall during the show.

Will I also have to set up the stage for the act?
It depends on the show, but it’s very common for stage kittens to also set out props such as fans, chairs, and tables with props.

What should I wear?
Ask the producer, but if they don’t specify, wear something fun and flirty and sexy. Not a party dress, but perhaps a go-go costume with fringe and some high heels. Wear makeup and hair as if you were performing. You can often be a character if you like, but be sure to check with the show producer about that. Depending on the show, you may need to be lowkey.

What else will they need?
A stage name. Do a search on this blog for stage name tips. Remember, names like Kitten, Kitty, Kat, etc., tend to be taken and it will be hard for you to get gigs if you're getting confused with someone with a similar name.

Will I get paid?
It depends on the show and on your level of experience. Some shows just don't have a budget, and you can kitten for them based on how you feel about that--it's always fun. Most of the time you will not get paid the first several times you do it. After that, you will probably get something along the lines of tips, $20-$50. It isn’t fair for people to ask you to do it for free if you’ve been doing it a lot and they are making money. If you become a very good and adept stage kitten and highly in demand, you may get more, especially if you really dress for it and use your stage time wisely. If everyone else is getting paid, you should probably get paid too. If you are selling things for the show during intermission or before or after the show, you may get a percentage of sales.

What will I get out of it?
It’s one of the best ways to find out what really goes on in a show. You’ll learn a lot about costuming as you pick up the costume pieces and about staging as you handle the props. You’ll learn backstage etiquette quickly. You’ll get to network and meet a lot of people and get to know a lot of venues. There may be other perks as well--free dinners, free shows, swag, and other treats!

Also read my interview with Fleur De Lys about her experiences as a stage kitten!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Memorabilia: Dorothy Dorne

Last winter I spent some time going through paper archives in the Burlesque Hall of Fame collection in Las Vegas, with the help of Laura Herbert and Brian Newman. I was particularly interested in the sheet music and the notations on it. I intend to share more about the sheet music project later, but I got to see something so unexpected and charming and lovely that I want to share it with you. It's a collection of scrapbooks from an early 20th-century burlesque and cabaret performer who went by various names, among them Dorothy Dorne. I spent hours going through them, taken to another world, amused and enchanted by the way her scrapbooks brought her to life, and took a few snaps. At the time I was too busy dealing with the publication of my book and lost track of all the work I had in mind for those archives, but I did take some pictures of this gorgeous find and want to give you a glimpse. Be sure to click on them to view them larger and read some of the texts.

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This is part of our heritage as fans, as performers, and as women. No collection is guaranteed a museum, as we saw when Debbie Reynolds was unable to find a home for her collection of Hollywood memorabilia . But the Burlesque Hall of Fame retains its space in Vegas and this stored collection for lovers of this art form and the eras in which it flourished. I love watching the pageant and the performers over the course of the weekend, but these archives are what strikes me to the heart. I hope to see a great deal more, and hope to share more with you.

Find out more about the Burlesque Hall of Fame and its collection.