Review: Showgirl Confidential

Dear Constant Reader,

Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage, And On The Road by Pleasant Gehman (2013).

Some of you might not recognize the author’s name, but if I called her Princess Farhana of Hollywood…

In this memoir, The Princess, that is, Pleasant aka Plez, shares many of her adventures as a member of an all-girl punk band, a jet-setting bellydancer, one of the original performers of the ground-breaking Velvet Hammer Burlesque, and all-around rebel and troublemaker.

Except for the first chapter, where she describes her formative years (and sets the scene for things to come), there is no order, chronological or otherwise to the tales that follow. And it doesn’t really matter. They skip around — a post-9/11 road trip that turns into a nightmare is followed by touring with her band in the mid-eighties. But it doesn’t matter. It’s one joyful chaos of storytelling.

And she’s a fine storyteller. She plunges into her crazy life with exuberance, frequently jetlagged or hungover (or both), and spares none of the details, no matter how embarrassing or outrageous. She’s like your wacky best friend recounting her adventures which you can relive from the safety of your couch (and be sorry or glad you weren’t along for the ride).

There’s plenty of sex (Them), drugs (The Austin Diet Plan), and rock ‘n roll (The Screaming Sirens), but also international incidents, psychic phenomena, romantic disasters (and I do mean *disasters*), and more. But what about the burlesque?

There are only two chapters about her time with The Velvet Hammer, one on the whip acts (yes, plural) in which she performed (with a guest appearance by the great Tura Satana) and one which is a humorous (but oh so accurate) schedule for a show day.

Like many small press books, it has some formatting issues, mostly extraneous hard returns that break up the flow of a paragraph. Occasionally a word (or even part of a sentence) is missing, but think of it as quirky charm.

img591And if you buy it directly from the Princess, she’ll sign it !

M2

Published in: on 30 July 2014 at 10:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pasties!

Dear Constant Reader,

We’re about to leave for our little Rust Belt tour (Susquehanna, PA, Cleveland, OH, and Pittsburgh, PA) and that means making sure we’re stocked up on merch. We were totally wiped out of pasties after our show in Portsmouth, so I made some more.

Ta da!

The sequins are hand-sewn, the tassels are tested for twirlability, and all pasties are lined with comfy ultrasuede.

The yellow ones with the pink sequins, by the way, are a genuine remnant of Betty’s over-the-top banana dance costume from A (Re)Movable Feast. They should probably be sitting next to the banana-patterned ones…

M2

Published in: on 29 July 2014 at 11:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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So Close

Dear Constant Reader,

Th Boston Babydolls are in a tight 3-way race for Best Theatre Group on The Boston A-List. Your vote could make all the difference! If a burlesque troupe won, it would go a long way toward continuing to have our art form recognized as legitimate theatre.

We’re in the last few days of voting and we need your help. Just go hare and cast your cote. You’ll need to make an account and then you can vote for us and other nifty businesses in the Boston area. Like B.A.B.E. for Best Dance Classes…

As always, thanks for your support! And to show my appreciation, here’s a picture of The Boston Babydolls playing Twister.

M2

Published in: on 28 July 2014 at 9:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip!

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Here’s your tip:

Sharpies are good for more than just writing.

You can use them to hide scuff marks on shoes. Black works like a charm, but I once used a gold Sharpie on the pumps I wear for my April March tribute. If you clip the tags out of your costume pieces (like you should), but there’s a little white stub left, color it in with a Sharpie. We’ve even used the markers to make white snap tape blend in better with the costum. It’s quick, it’s dirty, it works.

M2

Published in: on 25 July 2014 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip!

Dear Constant Reader,

I just realized that I’ve given you over 150 tips since I started this blog! And I haven’t missed a Friday yet. (I shouldn’t say that. Now I’m going to jinx myself…)

Today’s tip:

Set deadlines

Even if you don’t have a show on the horizon for that new act, costume, trick, &c., make a deadline anyway. Most of us work better with a concrete deadline instead of an open-ended “someday”. You’ll be less likely to procrastinate or get distracted with that deadline lurking ahead, even if it’s completely arbitrary.

M2

Published in: on 18 July 2014 at 11:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Small Steps

Dear Constant Reader,

First of all, happy anniversary! I’ve been sending you letters for 3 years now! Well, my first missive was 3 years ago yesterday, but who’s counting?

I bet you thought I had forgotten all about my 1933 evening gown. Not so! I’ve just been horrifically busy. I managed to carve out a little time to get this gown started.


Here you see the bodice all cut out. What’s with the hideous green fabric? Before I cut my lovely silk, I want to make sure everything fits properly. I learned my lesson with the Fit & Flair dress! The fabric, by the way, is left over from a Tinkerbell costume from many, many years ago.

Hopefully soon, I’ll baste them all together and we’ll see if the pattern needs tweaking. I’ll probably add some shortened versions of the skirts too.


This is my lovely fabric from Dharma Trading. Those neatly folded piles are silk charmeuse for the gown and habatoi for the lining. I’ll be turning them silver grey with the dye in the jar. The bottle is a textile detergent for both pre- and post-dye washing. Wish me luck! It’s been a while since I dyed silk.

M2

Published in: on 14 July 2014 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip!

Dear Constant Reader,

I’ve been a bad blogger recently. I feel like I’ve been doing a whole lot of nothing that’s been keeping me away from my correspondence. You deserve better, my faithful reader, and I’ll try to get back to my writing desk more frequently. But at least I still manage to send out your tips every Friday!

Today’s tip is about performances at parties.

Performers are not party guests.

Performers: When you’re hired to perform at a party, you’re there to do your show, not to join in the party. It may look like fun, but only mingle with the guests if it’s specified in your contract. Making a personal appearance is work, just like being on stage. Also, avoid the refreshments unless invited to indulge by your employer. Even then, it’s better to have the food & stuff in your dressing area rather than out with the guests. Be friendly & polite, but head out when you’ve fulfilled your obligations (and after you’ve gotten paid). You want to be remembered as professional.

Hosts: When you hire performers for your party, they are there to do a show, not join in the party. They’re not going to mingle with your guests unless that’s been prearranged as part of the gig. Being “on” off-stage is work too. It’s nice to offer the performers some food & drinks, but have it in their dressing area. Always have a private dressing area available. Being told “you can change in the bathroom” will make any performer’s heart sink. Lastly, pay them promptly. It’s never fun to play “hostess hunt” to get the money so the performers can go home.

Just a few simple courtesies and everyone will have good time!

M2

Published in: on 11 July 2014 at 2:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip!

Dear Constant Reader,

Here in the Northeast, we’re awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Arthur, which forced the Boston Independence Day festivities a day early. Despite the holiday, I would not neglect your tip!

Declare your independence!

No need to jump on the bandwagon of the latest trends. Don’t pattern you act after someone else just because she’s getting a lot of buzz. Just be yourself, your style.

That said, ruts are bad too. Don’t stay in the same comfortable patterns. Push yourself and expand your horizons!

M2

Published in: on 4 July 2014 at 1:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Madame Burlesque 6/20-21

Dear Constant Reader,

We kicked off our summer tour with two shows at The Music Hall Loft in Portsmouth, NH last weekend. This is our 4th year here and I think it’s the only venue we’ve hit every summer. Historically we’ve only done one night there, so we were pretty excited to have a two-show run. Our show this summer is Madame Burlesque, which is the first show we performed at this venue! We’re performing some favorites from the original version, a couple of numbers that have been entirely revamped, and some new acts.

Friday afternoon much of our time was taken up with load-in and tech requirements. I’m was told that the usual house lighting had been adjusted before we got there to add some of our usual requirements, like an MC spot stage left. It’s nice to have a long-standing relationship with a venue.

We had a great crowd, but the show was a little rocky. I had a massive wardrobe malfunction in a group number. The stage was slippery and Brigitte went down in two different numbers, once while supporting Evie. A comedy bit happened too early, which could have played havoc with the lighting cues. Fortunately, everyone handled everything with professionalism.

And after the show — the drinking. : )

Saturday started for us with an appearance at Roissy Intimates, a very exclusive lingerie shop, usually by appointment only. We might have also done a little shopping.

After the appearance we had a break for food before call, but it was too early for dinner for me. All I really wanted was a cold drink and some fresh fruit and Scratch knew just the place. We all converged on Popovers on the Square and I believe everyone got exactly what they wanted, whether that was coffee, a salad, a popover bigger than your head, or a mocha brownie (I don’t judge).

The show was a little more frantic for me as D.D. wasn’t in it. So, I went from being in 2 acts to 4, as I did “The Stripteaser’s Education” solo and took her place in the closing trio. Betty filled in for her in “Factory Girls” and Stella played the spider in Betty’s Zorita tribute.

Normally, in “Factory Girls”, D.D. does a backbend over a chair and Betty was picked to replace her because she could also do that move. However, we’ve replaced the chairs with small trunks. (So much better for touring. They’re props *and* storage! And besides, it’s so much fun to talk about stuffing things into our boxes — and they’re bright pink!) Given the new dimensions, plus the slipperiness of the stage, neither dancer could safely maintain the backbend. We quickly put our heads together and came up with substitute choreography which I think worked just as well in both cases.

The show went very well and afterwards we were besieged with photo requests. Not that I’m complaining! We’re happy to pose with our fans. Within reason. we did have to turn down the roller derby team’s request that we form a human pyramid with them.

Because everyone is wonderful and worked really hard, we had the show struck about an hour before our deadline for vacating the theatre.

Unlike the last time we performed this show, it will never be the same twice! The shows further from home will feature only 3 dancers (plus Scratch and special guests) and when we appear with all of us again in Cambridge at the end of August, we’ll change up some of the acts. It makes for kind of crazy rehearsals, but a lot of fun.

M2

Published in: on 30 June 2014 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip!

Dear Constant Reader,

Today’s tip is more serious than I usually get here.

Don’t touch the performers.

It sounds so simple, but you’d be surprised how many people just grab and fondle burlesque performers in ways they’d never consider doing to anyone else.

This was sparked because at the show this past weekend, Olivia, our stage kitten, talking woman, and magic assistant, was wearing a corset that gave her some major pushup. During intermission she was helping out at the merch table when a woman said some very flattering things to her and asked if they could take a picture together. Just before the camera clicked, the woman suddenly stuck her face in Olivia’s boobs. Olivia was stunned, to say the least.

Folks, this is not okay. I know we dress scantily, move provocatively, and some of us take off our clothes on stage, but it’s not consent to be touched.

There have been too many stories from showgirls and boylesquers alike about being groped, stroked, grabbed, licked, bitten, and fondled while interacting with the public. So often it happens in the split second before a picture is taken — the offender knows what they are about to do is wrong and times it for maximum surprise.

You may think that this is just the kind of naughty behavior we burlesquers should expect and I’m making a big deal out of a funny photo. I consulted Red the Lawyer and she says this is battery and possible sexual assault.

Get it? That “harmless” action could get you arrested.

If you want to take a salacious picture with a performer, ASK. She may be perfectly happy to let you motorboat her boobs or he might say no to letting you grab his junk. We all have different comfort levels.

And sad as it may seem, sometimes unwanted groping goes on between performers, particularly at festivals or big shows. For some of us, a casual boob-grab is the equivalent of a hug, but don’t assume that’s the same for everyone. Same rules apply: unless you’ve been given permission, no touching. Respect everyone’s boundaries.

I feel so terrible that Olivia, who’s brand new to burlesque, had to experience this behavior from a patron. But it shouldn’t happen to anyone.

And now to lighten the mood, here’s Albert wearing a feather boa:

M2

Published in: on 27 June 2014 at 11:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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