Recently I performed at the New York Burlesque Festival for the 9th year in a row. I missed the first part of Saturday night’s festivities because I was late – per usual. I had spent the later part of the afternoon when I should have been getting ready and rehearsing taking some of my new besties – Wild Honey and Ginger Kittens from The Cheesecakes (Victoria, Canada) — shopping for wigs in the Fulton Mall. I left them at Conway’s, pointing them in the direction of the cheap bra and panty sets and the stripper wear behind the cash register. If you don’t know about full fishnet body stockings for $5.99, well, now you know.
I was nervous this year as I had made a bold decision to return to the type of burlesque I was raised on: stupid, over the top, homemade, DIY burlesque. The type of burlesque that’s really going for it, that doesn’t apologize for but rather celebrates its amateurness. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, or that it’s not ultimately professional, but rather that it pokes fun at itself, that it’s parody. It’s burlesque, after all. I wanted to pay tribute to a time when it wasn’t all about gowns and gloves, the endless attempts to do the same fucking peel in a different way. Remember when the Von Foxies won best troupe at Exotic World? That’s what I’m talking about, people.
While most performers have the good sense to put their best foot forward by performing numbers at big festivals that are “in the bag,” meaning those that have been tested on the stage, are well known, tried and true. I went another route, and simply hoped for the best. I had done this number only once at a totally inappropriate show curated by Bambi the Mermaid called Toddlers in Tiaras. This show was wrong in every way possible, from women who were closer to middle age than they were to the children they were impersonating to the flippers to the spray tans to the cupcake arms. Our mothers and fathers – I was lucky to have two daddies! – encouraged us from the audience, adding another level of pageant realness to the night. Child pornography, racist stereotypes, stripping children – this show had it all!
Now, I’m not totally green. I understand you can’t pull a flag out of you vagina or crowd serf butt naked at the New York Burlesque Festival. (I have done one of those but will leave it up to you to figure out which one). They have standards. Besides, nobody wants to suck on stage, and I’m pretty sure Eatin’ Wood was pretty sucky. So I polled friends who were in the T in T show: what should I do at NYBF? 1) a glove peel number or 2) Eatin’ Wood, the number that won me Ultimate Grand Supreme Title Holder. (Oh, did I mention T in T was also a competition and that I WON? Tigger tried to rip the crown off my head, and I thought there was no way I could ever beat the baby cute realness of a very tan Trixie Little performing child pageant tricks to perfection.) Overwhelmingly, folks voted WOOD.
Despite all this stoic rhetoric, I remained a little reticent about bringing a stripping child pageant number to the fest. Right before I went on, one of the performers whispered to me in holding: “Good luck going on after Jett!” The producers had placed me right after Jett Adore, whose peacock number, if you’ve seen it, is show stopping, heart-breakingly beautiful, a complete and totally controlled, elegant, gorgeous piece of showmanship. Fucking man candy for the burlesque hungry for some show!!! I hadn’t thought about the lineup at all, but at that moment I cringed a little at my decision. I wish I had rehearsed. I wish I had put more rhinestones on my costume. I wish I had caved in and brought one of those “classic with a twist numbers” that wouldn’t make me stick out like a fucking sore thumb.
Perhaps it was adrenaline, perhaps it was the connection that comes from not really knowing what is coming next until it is there, but I had so much fun on that stage. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I took a chance and just went for it. Little Brooklyn played my stage mom, and I could see her in the audience, mimicking my moves and egging me on. “That’s my girl!” I heard her growl in a whisky-soaked voice that was pure genius character acting. At the after party, Leroi the Girlboi screamed at me from across the dance floor: “genius retard” (it’s not politically incorrect if it’s in quotation marks, after all, since it’s a direct quote and it counts since, as Bradford Scobie says, if you call yourself a genius you aren’t.) Cherry Typhoon, who I spent Sunday afternoon with at the Atlantic Antic watching the adorable and talented Gigi & Pop perform as well as my favorite faux French go band, Le Sans Coulette, asked: “What goes in your brain?” Which she answered definitively a few seconds later:” “You crazy; you crazy,” as she alternated between tapping her index finger to her temple and drawing circles with her finger in the universal symbol for insanity.
I saw some great Genius Retardness that weekend. I wish I was able to catch more than Friday’s and ½ of Saturday’s shows. But some moments burned into the retina of my mind’s eye. The trapeze artist from Seattle, Liza Rose, did some stunningly weird shit – anti-poetic movement that was strange and beautiful at the same time. Ekaterina’s ball work was gorgeous and fun loving, as she stretched those beautiful long limbs into incredulous angles. I loved the groundedness of the Dolls of Doom, though their stocky, strong bodies made me miss Gravity Plays Favorites something fierce. Honey Cocoa fucking tore it up, as did Lillian Starr who I seriously thought was going to literally bring down the Brooklyn Bowl when she fucked that cherry pie. Viva and her band sounded great, and Saturn’s three light up hoops looked other worldly. I wished I had taken mushrooms just for that set.
Saturday night’s lineup just kept getting better and better as the night went on. BB Heart gets my award for most promising of the newer performers, as she did a tongue in cheek number that was polished and stupidly silly at the same time. Kristina Nekyia is my new BFF, though she doesn’t know it, and currently one of my favorite performers. Her shit is fucked up and beautiful and totally hot, and when she did a back handstand onto that table with her legs spread wide eagle, I wet myself a little! Hands down the most jaw dropping of the night for me was MsTickle’s new Goddess number; when her tits turned to fountains, the whole audience lost it. Tickle has an uncanny ability to put a crowd into a spell-bound hush only to excite them into a wild frenzy the next second. Top notch performers from beginning to end: I can’t list them all – and I was too drunk to remember most of it – but I was proud to see I wasn’t the only sexy retard in the house.