Sunday, September 20, 2009

Where Did I Go?

I underestimated how many gigs I booked this past month and STILL have not finished transcribing my AMAZING interview with Miss Clams Casino. The good news, however, is I did manage to cram in my third interview! Last week I sat with the amazing Darlinda Just Darlinda, and hope to have both of those interviews posted in the next month.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Interview with Clams Casino to come!!!

Hey there, fancy pants!

A couple weeks back I had the honor of interviewing Ms. Clams Casino for this very blog and, foro the first time since then, had more than 5 minutes at home to upload the file to my computer! I hope to have it posted within the next couple of weeks!

For updates on when there will be new posts, you can become a follower of this blog, or friend me on facebook, where I will always link to this blog when a new interview is up.


Lefty Lucy

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Interview with Bonnie Dunn, Pt. 2 of 2

Bonnie Dunn, known as “the Godmother of Burlesque,” has been performing her cabaret and burlesque acts for over a decade. She sat down with me at her apartment in Manhattan and told me about her many unique experiences performing burlesque in New York. You can read the first part of my interview with her here.

New York vs. The World
LL: What have you noticed about how burlesque has changed?

BD: I think that the spirit of burlesque, the art form itself, attracts a certain type of personality. I would say a person that’s a little bit more edgy, a little bit more of a rebel, that doesn’t necessarily fit in to, say, the Broadway mold, or the typical body that you need to be in a dance company, for example. People come to New York to pursue a career in the theater or music or whatever, and they are really lucky now to have burlesque. We used to joke about the ads in backstage; The ad would say, ‘You have to dance, you have to sing, you have to do flips, you have to have classical training,’ and then at the end of the ad it would say, ‘NO PAY.’ So I feel like burlesque and circus and vaudeville—all of that has opened up all these venues for live entertainment that they really didn’t have in the early ’90s. You did have these underground clubs where you could do performance art, but I really wasn’t in that scene. I was more in the cabaret/midtown/singing [scene], with the gown and the piano and all of that, but they weren’t for pay. And I know people who make a living out of burlesque. Not the greatest living, but they do make a living doing it. But I would say that it’s still the same in that it attracts that type of person that would be uninhibited.

If you look at [burlesque] within the United States, I’ve noticed that every city has a different flavor, a different perspective on it. New York has a lot of very individual acts because it, as I said, stems out of performance art. We were doing so many shows, carrying our bags all over the city. So it wasn’t until we went to Tease-O-Rama that we saw, full blast, some of these costumes. We were like, “Look at these people from L.A. that have money, that do shows once a month so they have time to really work on their costumes”—I mean, I really felt that when I went to Exotic World, I was looking at the costumes going, “Oh my god!” They really concentrate on that in certain other places. And I think New York concentrates on the quality of the performance. And also, well, they’re original in a lot of places, but I think New York is grittier. Vegas is glitzier, it’s more packaged. New York is really that performance art vibe which is nice, because you don’t want all pretty, feathers—it’s a beautiful aesthetic, but that’s only one part of it.

LL: So have you done Coney Island?

BD: I’ve done Coney Island almost since the beginning of when they started doing burlesque there, at least 10 years ago. Coney Island is probably my favorite. I think Coney Island is my favorite gig. Even compared to my own show, because I can be really creative. I have this big place in my heart for Coney Island, definitely. I like all the people that run it, and admire what they’re doing and what they’ve been doing all these years to revitalize it. Dick Zigun and Fredini—those people are really wonderful. I would say that Coney Island’s been a huge inspiration to me. The Blue Angel was great—I started there—but as far as the inspiration you were talking about, Coney Island is probably my biggest inspiration.

LL: What is it about Coney Island, for you, that makes it so special?

BD: The whole history of the freak show, of the circus, of carnival—that whole thing about kind of being on the edge. Just the showmanship, feeling like you’re really transported back to another time, and it takes skills! A lot of those circus acts take a lot of skill. And the originality of it. Just thinking of going in to a ghetto and taking a lost art form and dedicating his life to revitalizing that, I really admire that.

LL: What are other performers who you’re into now, or who you’ve seen develop over the years?

BD: I’ve seen a lot of people really develop. Tyler Fyre—I really saw him change and develop and become really great. He’s in Baltimore now, but he started in Coney Island. He’s one of the Coney Island people. I think he really learned a lot of his stuff from Keith. But there’s so many great people. Julie Atlas Muz—she was at the Red Vixen. That’s where we went from the Blue Angel. That was the interim period. I mean, she was always very good and very original, but to see her, to see Kate Valentine—she did the Va Va Voom Room. That was one of the first shows out there, too, a couple years after the Blue Angel. And Dirty Martini started with all those people. They were all pretty damn good. Tigger, Rose Wood—I think Rose Wood really developed. Rose, she’s the kind of person that will really rehearse her act very professionally. I can’t think of all the people that I’ve known that are in it.

LL: Are there any stories or costumes that you remember loving, or people or…

BD: Oh, there’s so many! I guess when you asked me how it’s changed, it’s much more accepted. People know what burlesque is. There’s so many more people that want to do it. And I remember Steve [Walter]—he was the owner of the Cutting Room, where I used to have [Le Scandal]—he was telling me to get some younger women doing burlesque, and I couldn’t find ’em! But now they’re just banging down the door.

When I [started] doing burlesque, there really was a stigma to it. We got a lot of slack about, “Oh, come on, it’s just stripping. You’re putting some artistic costume over it, but when you get right down to it, it’s still objectifying women.” That was an issue that was brought up by reporters very often: “What is the difference between stripping and burlesque?” And I would say that now, that question really isn’t asked as often. It’s seeped in to the mainstream culture, even in to advertizing. There’s not that stigma at all now, which I think is wonderful. You know, you shouldn’t be ashamed at a little bit of boobies.

I guess it is empowering because it’s a lot of women that run the shows, and it’s a celebration of all different kinds of body types and different ages. If you criticize that, then you’re not getting it. And if the act is good enough, you’re not going to be concentrating on, ‘Oh, that person’s a little heavy,’ or ‘That person’s younger,’ or older, or whatever, because you’re looking at the act. I mean, you’re looking at the body too. That’s very naive to say that you’re not looking at the body—that’s a big part of it, that’s your instrument. But, you don’t get it then—that would be a strip club if you’re looking for a particular body type. But we have to keep that perspective, otherwise it’s gunna become something else.

Le Scandal is every Saturday night at the West Bank Café on 42nd st and 9th Avenue.

Images from Le Scandal's myspace:

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Interview with Bonnie Dunn, Pt. 1 of 2

Bonnie Dunn, known as “the Godmother of Burlesque,” has been performing her cabaret and burlesque act for over a decade. She sat down with me at her apartment on Broadway in Manhattan this past May and told me about her many unique experiences performing burlesque in New York.

Bonnie Dunn

Not Just Stripping
Lefty Lucy (LL):
How long have you been doing burlesque?

Bonnie Dunn (BD): I started with the Blue Angel in 1994, if I remember correctly, but I had been in New York since ’86 or something. [laughs] Since 1925!!! But before that I was doing a lot of cabaret singing, and in my cabaret shows I had a lot of burlesque styles—maybe I didn’t articulate it as such, but I used that kind of costuming.

LL: What made you decide that you wanted to be in the burlesque community, instead of just doing cabaret?

Well, I was doing go-go dancing in New Jersey. Then a boyfriend of mine said, ‘I rather see you dance topless and be safe in New York City,’ than going to Newark, where these go-go clubs were—it’s amazing, because you show so much more in burlesque, but it was the whole mentality. There were so
many of us that were in theater and dance or whatever that would go-go dance in New Jersey, and we felt like, “Well, you don’t have to take your top off, so it’s not as bad,” but it’s still the same mentality. I used to have this debate with my boyfriend (at the time) when I first started stripping. I’d say, “Look at a Vegas show—they’re in pasties.” And he used to argue with me, “No, it’s not the women, it’s the guys. It’s the vibe of the club.” And I think he was really right. I think that burlesque is one of the most empowering things, because stripping can be the opposite. It’s the energy that people are giving to you.

So I was dancing in New York, and I remember seeing a little ad in the paper about the Blue Angel, and I followed up on it, and I thought, ‘This is incredible! This is exactly what I do!”

The Blue Angel
When I got in to the Blue Angel, it was just a really natural progression. I had performed in New Orleans a lot because I l
ived down there, and the whole burlesque scene never really died, although it overlapped with the strip scene.

LL: So what was it that the Blue Angel was doing?

It was this woman named Ute Hanna who headed it. She had worked in strip clubs and she felt that it was a fun job, but it was run by really misogynistic men, and sometimes women. It wasn’t a cool atmosphere. So she wanted to bring in this German cabaret sensibility. She was having performances three nights a week, sandwiched in between the strip acts, and the rest of the week it was just strip shows. But I worked Thursday, Friday, Saturday—that was when she had performers. It was interesting because it was a night club, so it had acts all night long

It was just this cool avant-garde club. You really felt like you were going to something that was naughty and underground and New York. Sort of what the Box does, except it was rougher. It was really a part of New York that doesn’t exist anymore, with a speakeasy feel to it. You descended down these stairs, and it was very Fellini-esque, like Fellini meets Times Square. And on the right hand side was this sectioned off room, sectioned off only by these sheer, dark materials, so you saw shadows of people, and that was a lap dancing room. And I mean, really lap dancing—sitting on somebody, grinding, which is totally illegal now. The Blue Angel had this kind of seedy element to it, which was part of its charm.

You just sat down and you didn’t know what you were going to see. Anybody that walked in that door, Ute gave them a chance.
Somebody who was really bad could come out, and then somebody who was just amazing would come out, and it was good because we could work on our acts, so a lot of stuff developed. A lot of things that I do today kind of developed out of that show.

Who are some performers that left an impression on you when you were at the Blue Angel?

Well, I’ll tell ya, there was this magician, Tanya [Queen of Magic]—she was from Russia, and she got a facelift for $50 because communism had just fallen and they didn’t know what to charge because they were state paid positions. So when did communism fall? Like, in the 50s! I don’t even know how old this woman was, but she was really funny. She would do acts that had live birds and sometimes her birds would die—I know, it was horrible! She was onstage at the Blue Angel doing her act—picture this attractive but senior citizen woman, and just everything looks very handmade, and scarves and glitter and all these feathers, and just really gaudy. So this stripper comes in from the back room, and she’s holding the dead bird by the neck, and the head is flopping around, and she walks out in the middle of Tanya’s act, and she goes, “’Scuse Me! ’Scuse Me!” Everybody was just horrified, and she goes, “Ya bird’s dead.” [laughs] And Tanya’s just like, “Oh, OK, just put it in the back,” like it was no big deal. But that was the kind of thing you would see at the Blue Angel—you didn’t know what you were going to see. It was just really crazy.

There was a woman that was a performance artist who called herself Malaria. She really was genius, really stood out. A lot of performance art I don’t like because people just do things for the shock value and it doesn’t have any real substance to it, but she was really one of a kind. She inspired me to be a good performer, but my stuff is so different from hers. I wish I could think like that! [laughs] I don’t go that far out there.

Velocity was down there, Velocity Chyaldd. Dominic [Chianese, Jr.] used to MC the show; He was really great. Jo Boobs was on the tail end of it.

Oh, well, Flambeaux!—Flambeaux the Fire was with us and did all the business tips. Keith Bindlestiff used to put me in a trance watching the fire—it was really very beautiful. Yah, and then Flambeaux was just crazy—they were both crazy. I remember Keith Bindlestiff doing an act where he would hang himself and he had this fake penis thing. He made this apparatus that was like a fake penis, and you may have heard about people who masturbate while they’re hanging themselves—so it was like a play on that. So he’d hang himself, and then he had this fire penis thing!

LL: It’s outrageous! [laughs]

BD: [laughing] It is outrageous! It was really creative. The fire and stuff is amazing. ”

Did you do grou
p numbers there, or was it solo?

If we
wanted to do something with somebody else we could, but it kind of came out of the seeds of performance art, and there were a lot of performance artists who came in to the Blue Angel to do their act. We were the strip club rejects, you know? [laughs] This was the mid-90s, so it was a little bit different then than now. People didn’t even know what burlesque was.

LL: Is there a performance you remember where, “Oh My God, my music went wrong!” or “I couldn’t get this dress off”?

[laughs] Every performance! Oh gosh, there were so many at the Blue Angel!
I got food poisoning one time, and I just barely finished my act and then went in the back and barfed my guts out, and the paramedics and the ambulance came in to the club—people LOVED it though. They thought, “Oh, it’s just another night of craziness.” Then they took me away, and I had my burlesque costume on, and the doctor was all, “Oh my!” [laughs]

Le Scandal

So tell me about Le Scandal.

What happened was that Ute wanted to leave the show, she wanted to move on and do other things. She wanted to give me the show, which I was very grateful for. But she told me to change the name eventually. I really didn’t want to take the show without keeping the name, because the name is what people knew and that’s why it was packed. So it really hurt me, because she left me a very unorganized show of endless performers, like 15 performers, which works well in the setting that she was in, where she owned the club and it was running all night long. It doesn’t work well when you have an hour and a half. So it was a long road of fixing it and tweaking it and building up a new name. It was a lot of work and a lot of reinvesting my own money and really not making a profit. I made up my mind early on that I would guarantee people a certain amount of money so they felt confident when they’d come to work for me, though it wasn’t a lot of money.

I think that one milestone in there is when the band came in. It was the New York City Blues Devils, and they came to me and they said ‘we want to play for your show.’ That changed the whole style, which was good for me because I’m a singer, so live music is perfect because I mostly sing with all my acts. That’s what I’ve been doing since I started burlesque. Even at the Blue Angel I would come out and sing and then strip after that. I’d start out completely dressed, and I’d look really innocent and sweet, and I’d just end up getting completely naked! [laughs] Why? What was the purpose of this? Was I working something out? It was really funny.

Le Scandal has a little touch of chaos to it. Because it’s an intimate atmosphere and there’s a looseness about it. When we took the show to England, I realized the charm of Le Scandal was that it’s a little bit raggedy. Not that it’s a theatrical performance where everybody has certain lines.

How many performers do you usually have in a night? Is it a variety show?

I call it a variety show, and it has usually one or two burlesque acts a night, and the rest is variety and circus. But if it’s a circus act, the theme of it being risqué has to be there. It’s tailored down a bit because I moved from a place where we were really packing them in to a smaller room, and I’m just building it up again so I can only afford four to five acts right now.

Le Scandal is in its ninth year. I tout it as the longest running variety show. I could say the longest running burlesque show if I connected it to the Blue Angel, but I think the Slipper Room is the longest running burlesque show.

Le Scandal is every Saturday night at the West Bank Café on 42nd st and 9th Avenue.

Images from Le Scandal's myspace

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

First Interview Completed!

Hi Everybody!!!

I'm very excited to announce that just yesterday I interviewed the Godmother of Burlesque, Ms. Bonnie Dunn!!! I am transcribing and editing the interview now and hope to have it posted for your reading pleasure soon!

Also, if you've been performing in and around burlesque in NY over the last decade or so, I'd love to interview you and add your stories to this blog!


Lefty Lucy