26 July 2008

My Big Burlesque Debut

"They're doing a Tarantino night at Monday Night Tease. What should I do?"

"We could do the twist contest."

And just like that, I committed to my burlesque debut:

What do you think -- did we nail it?

No "Artists I Love:Burlesque Edition" this week. I'm finishing up a second draft of my play Pin-Up Girls. So look for a "Twofer" next week!

22 July 2008

17 July 2008

Here is your second helping of "Artists I Love" this week. Last time the featured artist was Vixen Violette, one of the first burlesque dancers I ever took note of. This time it's one of the latest performers who was captured my attention, the lovely and exotic ...

Lulu Lunaris

photo by Bobby Plasencia, swiped from his Flickr site.

Before there was burlesque, there was bellydance. At least that was the case around Casa de Moore. Before she was Red Snapper, our favorite strawberry blonde striptease artist was known as "Melita" and danced with a local bellydance troupe. That foray into exotic dance was to be but a whistlestop on the way to bigger and more rhinestoney things, but for a short while there I got to hang out with bellydancers and check out that whole scene (and what a scene it is! Note to self: revisit the Perfume of Araby Bellydance Swap Meet sometime!)

There is a natural and historic overlap of bellydance and burlesque. They're not the same artform, to be sure, but it is no surprise to find bellydancers who have migrated to burlesque. One such performer is Lulu Lunaris, who offers a compelling fusion of the two styles with an emphasis on the exotic.

There are performers who excite an audience and bring on the hoots, hollers and applause. There are still others who seem to hypnotize an audience, and perhaps don't generate the same level of vociferous response. I would put Lulu in this latter category. The effect she creates is dazzling; watching her is like watching a tongue of fire dancing atop a candle. Mesmerizing. Her beauty and confidence as a performer contribute to this effect -- one understands how a Salome could convince a king to kill a prophet.

Last Monday night she brought a bit more of the burlesque to her act, as she performed a solo homage to the Robert Rodriguez film Desperado. This number had more of a flamenco influence to it, in costume as well as choreography, and it got me to thinking. There is a tremendous amount of charm inherent in folk dance, and it doesn't matter if it's bellydance, flamenco, square-dance or that German shoe-slapping-dance (it's called "schuhplattler" in case you're wondering).

In addition to being an accomplished hypnotist, Lulu is a charming performer.

You can catch Lulu Lunaris at the Monday Night Tease on July 28th and at Shimmy & Shake on August 24th. Her performance schedule can be found on her Burlesque 411 page.

15 July 2008

This week's "Artists I Love: Burlesque Edition" is coming at you in a one-two punch. (Since I missed last week, I figure I owe you, the reader, a "li'l sump'en-sump'en.") Let me tell you, I'm super-stoked about this first one. She's one of the very first burlesque performers I took note of, and she's a super cool gal ...

Vixen Violette

photo by Henry swiped from Vixen Violette's MySpace page

I'll never forget the first number I saw Vixen perform because it was a pole number. If you've been reading this blog for long, you may recall that my wife is a pole dancer. So I have a special place in my heart for them that do pole tricks.

Vixen Violette is cool. I was trying to think of the perfect analogy, and here it goes: She's Jodie Foster's character in Stealing Home cool. She's the babysitter you wish you had when you were a twelve year-old boy, giving you cigarettes and booze and driving you to the beach in your parent's convertible. She's that kind of cool. A cool that's kind of dangerous, just the right amount of playful, and alluring.

She knows how to work an audience (which, come to think of it, may be part of what makes her so cool). With wily confidence she begins her number. Her musicality is subtle but well thought out, and tended to with nonchalant grace. Each peel and reveal is executed with effortless fluidity. She builds her own costumes, and it's obvious to me that this fluidity is no coincidence. Are you getting the picture? Vixen Violette is the Fonzie of burlesque, and she's way sexier Henry Winkler! Seriously, it's no contest.

She can bring the comedy, as well. Last night proved that, as she appeared separately as Go Go Yubari in a Kill Bill Vol. 1 solo number and Vincent Vega alongside Lux LaCroix as Jules Winnfield in a Pulp Fiction duet. She is a natural comic on stage. Her knack for playing to (and with) the audience is a huge asset in this regard.

Oh ... and she owns Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive." Nothing compares with the live performance, so consider this just a taste of what you'll experience when you catch this fabulous dancer in person:

Vixen Violette can be seen on the third Thursday of every month at Burlesque-A-Go-Go, the show she produces with The Fierce Lux LaCroix at Mr. T's Bowl in Highland Park. You can also keep up with her performance schedule on Burlesque411.

11 July 2008

It seems I've missed the boat completely on my "Artists I Love" series this week.

Ah well.

Expect a double helping next week!

07 July 2008

The Building of a Mascot
How I built the Spike puppet

Earlier this year, I joined a few friends in starting a new theatre company. We settled on the name "Theatre Unleashed" and our brilliant graphic designer Jenn Scuderi put together a logo that included a little clip-art graphic of a scrappy dog:

I'm not sure where she found this, but purchasing the rights to it was one of our very first expenditures as a company.

We determined that our first production as a company would be a one-night only "introduction" fundraiser. This fundraiser would be a talent showcase, filled with song and dance and short-short plays and etc. I, as president, would host. Our artistic director, Phillip Kelly would co-host, and we would have "bits" throughout the night.

One such bit involved bringing out a Spike puppet to talk about our educational program. The puppet would argue with Phil, barking "Executive decision!" at him. So I would have to build a Spike puppet!

As much as I complain about not being a puppet builder, I actually do build puppets. It's not my strongest ability, and I frustrate easy when it comes to sewing. Above you see the very first sketch of the Spike puppet, doodled out at my "day job".
I was also taking a film class at the time, and I sketched out the above during a lecture. I'm trying to get a sense of how he will look in three dimensions, and I'm working out his legs. Dogs (all animals, really) have very interesting hind legs. Their knees and ankles are in strange places. It's a very distinct look, and one that I wanted to emulate.
My final sketch, and an attempt to break down the head into a pattern. I abandoned the squarish direction I was heading in, opting instead to use the "wedge method" as explained by Andrew Young on his Bear Town website. Spike's head is a foam sphere. His muzzle is very much like the sketched out pattern above, but finagled a bit as I worked on it. (Here's a bit of trivia: While working on the sketch above and puppet below, I was watching The Dear Hunter for the first time. That's what we call multi-tasking around Casa de Moore!)

Pamela purchased the fabric for me down at the fashion district. I believe it's chenille. It's a stretchy fabric with a wonderfully low, yet scrappy pile. I cut the fabric to fit the foam, and glued it in place. I then stitched the seams together. Oh yes! I first covered the puppet with white fleece. The chenille was a bit see-through, so I had to have a white base underneath. Otherwise you'd see the green foam "skin" of the puppet. His teeth are cut from a sheet of white fun foam. The nose is a black pom-pom, and his toes are white pom-poms.

The spots and ears are black chenille. The eye spot and smaller back spot were sewn directly on top of the white fabric, but I cut a hole for the larger black spot. If you look closely, you can see that the eye spot and smaller back spot are raised and the larger back spot is flush with the white fabric.

His tail is not as long as the clip art (or as I had originally sketched). This was just an aesthetic choice. I think a shorter tail is cuter. There's a wire inside the polyfoam stuffed tail to keep it upright.
The head is much larger than the body. This was another design choice. Big heads are cute (see also Tweety Bird, Jerry of "Tom and Jerry", and Porky Pig).

I never did the hind legs for Spike, mostly because I ran out of time. Pamela assured me that the puppet works without them, but I don't know. I'd still like to make them and add them on.

Another last minute compromise was the collar. As you can see, the collar is made out of red felt and white pipe cleaners, with a black felt tag. I wanted to put a real collar on him, but I didn't have the time to run out and buy a real one.

Spike was well-received at the show, and even has his "headshot" on the Theatre Unleashed website!

01 July 2008

I am running out of adjectives! And this is only my fourth burlesque artist to write about. Maybe I can use more exclamation points! Nevertheless, there is much to be said about this week's Artist I Love. She's a triple threat, and always a treat, the delightful broad we know as ...

Vanity Flair

photo by Dan Hendricks, swiped from Vanity Flair's MySpace site

Vanity has one of those smiles that instantly transports you from the doldrums to good cheer. She has a buoyant, effervescent personality that bubbles off of the stage and into your heart. She has a Christmas cookie quality, a sweetness that is warming and joyful. Her numbers are inviting; strangely intimate in a way. You really get a sense that she's performing just for you. Perhaps it's her incredible stage presence or her well-polished chops as a performer, but she makes it look easy, and she makes you feel at home.

Have you ever seen The Sound of Music? I've seen bits and pieces. One part that stands out to me (for obvious reasons, if you've read this blog much) is the sequence wherein the von Trapp kids perform "The Lonely Goatherd" as a marionette show for their dad. That same spirit of joy, of playful creativity can be found in Vanity's burlesque work.

Take for instance Vanity's "Fan vs. Boa" number. She brings to the stage the classic struggle -- which prop should a dancer use, a fan or a boa? -- with excellent musicality. Burlesque musicality is like the old Warner Brothers cartoons, where matching the music is played up for comedic effect. She plays on this musicality like a virtuoso. Her asides are priceless, such as her reaction when she realizes she just hit an audience member with a discarded glove.

She also sings! Her rendition of "Good Morning Baltimore" caught me completely off-guard. Since I'm married to a burlesquer (the diabolically cute Red Snapper) I sometimes arrive at a venue with the dancers, and hang around until the show starts. The night I first heard Vanity sing was such a night, and I was able to sit in on her sound check. In civilian clothes and a picture of perfect professionalism, she ran through the number. That was incredible. A bit later when she took the stage in full costume, with an audience, it was more so.

And she acts! She's a legit actress under her "real name" (or as Red refers to it, her "slave name") but we burlesque fans get to see this talent at play when she -- excuse me -- when her mom, Eileen Flairowitz, hosts at the Monday Night Tease. Eileen is one half of a sister act, The Flairowitz Sisters (with Belle-Mort Baudelaire as Irene) and they recently posted their pilot webisode online:

Vanity Flair will be performing at Shimmy & Shake on July 13th, and in the "Burlesque Tribute to Quentin Tarantino" at the Monday Night Tease on July 14th. You can also keep up with her at her MySpace page, or through Burlesque411.com.