Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Thank you everyone who left lovely messages this week for my birthday! I had a wonderful day and will continue the celebration this weekend.

Here’s your tip!
Unscrewing another burlesque performer’s light bulb doesn’t make yours shine brighter. It just makes the whole world a little darker.

Tearing someone down does not make you a better performer; it diminishes our entire community. We’re all trying to create great entertainment with a very niche art. The more of us support our fellow burlesquers, the better we can accomplish that. Remember, a rising tide lifts all strippers*.

For more uplifting quotes and burlesque philosophy like this follow The Great Burlesque Exposition on Instagram: @burl.expo

*Thanks to Lili VonSchtupp for the great aphorism.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 21 February 2020 at 9:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen: Gingerbread from Hell

Dear Constant Reader,

Tomorrow is my birthday, so here’s a tasty treat for you.

At the beginning of January Christine McConnell held an all-day livestream where we could bake and decorate gingerbread cookies along with her. I gathered the supplies on her list (plus a Dremel, just in case) and got ready to break in my brand-new stand mixer.

I happily made the gingerbread dough and stashed it in the fridge, when I hit a major stumbling block. Christine started sketching the template for our cookie. I can’t draw. She had conceived of Gingerbread Man meets John Carpenter’s The Thing. There was no way I could draw that. What was I going to do? I couldn’t just give up. After all, I had all this cookie dough and several more hours of livestream.

Well, I told myself, surely you can draw a gingerbread man. Just make a classic cookie. And I discovered I could draw a gingerbread man outline. Then, how hard would it be to add in the splitting head or the rupturing chest. I can do that! Wait, I can definitely draw the snowman that one leg is morphing into. It’s just a couple of circles. And the other branching leg, yup. Okay, there’s no way I can make one arm into a rabid reindeer head. How about a tentacle…?

And with those little steps, I created my cookie template. I cut out and baked the cookie (and bunch of supplemental bits) and it didn’t look half bad! I especially like the 3-D way the chest is breaking open — one of Christine’s clever little tricks.

Of course, looking at other people’s cookies later, I could have just done any cookie shape I wanted to. There were lots of creative variations on the cookie Christine designed and some completely original designs as well. I’m glad I took up the challenge of trying to recreate what she was doing because it pushed me and I discovered I can draw a little better than I thought.

It was starting to get close to the time I would have to leave for rehearsal, so I mixed up the royal icing (does she own stock in that?) and stashed it in the fridge until I could get back to the kitchen. At this point the livestream took a lengthy break to adjust the cameras, so the timing was perfect.

When I was able to get back to my cookie two days later, I had the advantage of being able to watch the last two hours of the livestream as a recording and make a plan of attack for decorating the cookie.

The very first thing to do was get the cookie to stand up. I’m delighted to say that it was a success! I expected it to be more challenging, but royal icing makes a great glue. It stood up on the first try and stayed standing! I let the icing dry for several hours before I started adding decorations.

This was my first time working with modeling chocolate, which is what the snowman is made from. It’s a lot like working with a stiff clay, which periodically needs to be refrigerated as it gets too soft from the heat of your hands. It adhered nicely to the gingerbread and is easily shaped with fingers, since I didn’t have any sculpting tools.

I’m not a great piper (icing — not music), not terrible, but I need some more practice to get clean, even lines. It’s a good thing you can erase mistakes with some quick brush work. I made a lot (which you can see on a close up view of the cookie). As you might imagine, it’s harder to pipe icing on a standing cookie than one lying flat. One of the smartest things I did was set the cookie up on a marble lazy-susan cheese board. I could easily turn the cookie and not have to worry about messing up anything.

Instead of the classic piping cones, I have these great OXO piping bottles. However, I only had two and we were working with four colors of icing. I mixed up one bottle full of gingerbread-colored icing and left one plain white. After I piped everything that was white, I added food coloring to make the light blue, piped that, and then added more color to get the dark blue for the very last bit.

I tried string work on the non-snowman leg and it was successful. Eventually. The brown icing was pretty thick due to the cocoa powder that was coloring it and the strings kept breaking. I gave up trying to outline the cookie with the brown icing. It kept falling off the cookie! It was much easier doing the crisscrossing blue strings behind the open chest, since that icing was a better consistency. And doing the scalloped edging on the base was so much fun!

After a couple of hours I was done. Ta da!

I also had Scratch take some pictures of me and my masterpiece. Yes, that’s exactly* how I looked while decorating my cookie: Sophia dress by Angie Pontani for Secrets in Lace, vintage poinsettia apron from Betty Blaize.

And just for fun, Scratch made the Gingerbread Thing look a little more hellish:

Photo session over, I made some hot chocolate and we dug in! I knew if I didn’t smash it up and eat it right away, the cookie would sit on my counter growing staler by the day while I admired it until I had to reluctantly throw it away. I’m pleased to say it tasted very good! The recipe for the cookie dough made twice as much as was needed, so the following weekend I let Scratch’s nieces loose in the kitchen with my Halloween cookie cutters.

I’m feeling emboldened after this adventure. I think there may be more decorating in my future. Maybe I’ll have another tea party soon….

Here’s a short video. I’m having fun creating these little things.

* In reality I was wearing leopard-print pajama pants & a black hoodie with my hair in a ponytail. But don’t I clean up nice?

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 18 February 2020 at 12:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bad Girls Need Love Too 2/14/20

Dear Constant Reader,

This Friday was our Valentine’s Day show at the Speakeasy Lab at Deacon Giles Distillery in Salem. We’ve been performing there for three years at this point and at this point we’ve got a system to our set up. Want to know what happens before a show? Well, I’m going to tell you any way.

We drive into the distillery itself to unload our gear. I cannot emphasize how convenient this is. No schlepping from distant parking lots or making multiple trips or hauling stuff up stairs. After unloading, we need to set up both the backstage (in the distillery) and the theatre (the tasting room). Everybody helps out.

The guys at Deacon Giles are good enough to build us a stage. It’s two pallets stacked with a piece of plywood on top. It’s very sturdy, great for tap dancing on, but only 4′ x 8′. We’re used to working with those size constraints now — we used to have a space the same size taped off on our dance floor for rehearsals. We’re not stuck up there, however, we can go down on the floor or into the audience if we want.

We also set up some striplights behind the stage and a follow spot up near the door at the highest point in the room. The spotlight operator also runs the video camera. Sometimes we even get decent footage. We also set up the music and microphone for Scratch. Fortunately, there’s a house system we can use and don’t have to bring our own.

We set up our merch on and near the drink rail over by the stage and then set out tip envelopes throughout the audience. They have a slip of paper and a wee pencil inside, so the audience can leave us little notes if they like.

Backstage there’s already a table and some chairs for us, which becomes the makeup/snack station (Devastasia always brings snacks). We set up a clothing rack and hang up our costumes. Any set pieces (like our boudoir bench) get assembled and props set out. The glass door between the backstage and theatre is propped open and we put up a curtain rod and two curtains in the door way. We discovered early on that if the door is shut, you can’t hear anything backstage and it’s heavy to open — hard if you’re carrying something, like fans. We cover the glass walls with our banners. There are convenient hooks already in place and we just use some binder clips at the top of each banner.

Then Scratch has pizza delivered and we do hair and makeup in between warming up our numbers on the stage up until doors open — 30 minutes before the show starts.

We’ll do two shows because we can only seat 35 people. We get an hour break between the shows as people from the first show finish their drinks and close out their tabs and then the second audience is let in. We use that time to reset costumes, re-tape pasties, fix makeup, etc.

During the second show we’re also breaking down set pieces, packing costumes, &c. as they are no longer needed and generally getting as ready to load out as possible, so we don’t have to do it all at the end when everyone just wants to have a drink and relax before heading home.

Well, that was a lot about the behind-the-senes of a show. Here’s a short list of the acts, just for posterity:
Betty Blaize: Betty, It’s Cold Outside
Devastasia: “All For You”
Ava Fox: “Feelin’ Good” (a tap dance)
Mina Murray: “I’m in the Mood for Love” (a fan dance)
Scratch: Magic
Betty Blaize: “Sweet Child o’ Mine”
Devastasia: “Sunday Kind of Love”
Ava Fox: “The Man I Love”
Mina Murray: Whole Lotta Mina

One thing we tried for this show was that every ticket got a cocktail from the special Valentine’s menu. I don’t know how the other drinks were but I had the FWB mocktail (pineapple, hibiscus, lime, and maraschino) and it was amazing. I should have taken a picture of its beautiful purple foam.

Our next show is Taste o’ Burlesque on March 8th! I don’t know if I’ll be performing or not yet, but it’s going to be a great show no matter what. See you there!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 17 February 2020 at 11:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Some previous tips have given you advice about chocolate, champagne, and flowers, also a quote about love love. Today’s tip is another quote, a timeless piece of advice.

If you would be loved, love and be lovable.
–Benjamin Franklin, 1755

May you love and be loved every day of the year.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 14 February 2020 at 1:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Taste o’ Burlesque 1/26/20

Dear Constant Reader,

Back, back in the dim and distant past of 2006, Scratch created a show called Taste o’ Burlesque. It was an “open stage” (like an open mic, but for burlesque) where burlesque performers of any experience level could hit the stage. It was also a light-hearted competition with the audience voting for their favorite, who got a gold plastic trophy in the shape of a chef.

It was fun, it was often silly, it gave some new performers an opportunity to try this burlesque thing out. I remember one performer (never seen again after that night) showing up with an entire squad of fans in T-shirts emblazoned with her name. Another time a CD failed part way through the song and the audience began singing for the performers.

Scratch decided to revive the idea. I admit I was dubious. There are a lot more outlets for burlesque now than there were back then. I should not have worried. A bunch of diverse and talented performers signed up and the venue was packed with enthusiastic audience members, including a lot of B.A.B.E. students.

The BeauTease book-ended the competition to warm up the audience and then give the ballot counter time to tabulate the votes.

The show went a little like this… In some cases, there’s even video, so you don’t have to read my deathless prose to get an idea of the act, you can just watch it!

Betty Blaize opened the show with her down and dirty striptease to PMJ’s “Sweet Child o’ Mine” — always a crowd pleaser.

Ava Fox got everyone “In the Mood” with a sassy tap-strip

Our sweet Electrix opened the competition as the newest member of NH-based Lady Luck (She still loves us but the commute to and from Boston was just too much). She showed off her adorably naughty side and that it’s not just her smile that can light up a room!

Reno Banzai is a new performer to me. Unfortunately I missed most of this act, trying to find a good vantage point. It was very high energy and involved some killer lip synching.

Ingride Denise is a former BeauTease apprentice, turned independent performer. She’s got a lovely classic style.

Penny Rain is a current BeauTease apprentice and this was her burlesque debut! Usually we like to let the apprentices start with an appearance in a group number that we’ve created, but she jumped right in the deep end with her very own act.

Charlie was also making her burlesque debut! She’s a seasoned performer, but this was her first time stripping.

Jeannie Martini is a regular on the local burlesque scene. She’s well known for her comedic burlesque, but she showed she can sizzle with the best of them!

Jewess Prudence is also a current apprentice and this was also her first time stripping on stage, and with an act of her own creation.

The Guilted Lilly is famed for her skills as a stage kitten, but she’s also a very talented singer (and writer of new lyrics).

At this point the ballots were gathered up to be counted by our expert, and the audience got a little entertainment while they waited.

Devastasia performed a sultry chair dance to “Sunday Kind of Love”. You can see her do it again on Valentine’s Day at Deacon Giles.

I closed out the show with an unusual number for me. It’s to my favorite David Bowie song, “Life on Mars?” and this was only the third time I’ve performed it. I created it for Peepshow Menagerie’s annual Bowie tribute show. It was shortly after his death and also on my birthday — I have a lot of emotions tangled up in the act. I hope I did it justice.

The votes were counted and all the competitors were called onto stage to receive their rewards. Third place went to Jewess Prudence! Second place to Charlie! And to no one’s surprise, first place and the coveted Golden Chef to The Guilted Lilly!

The venue was so happy with the show and the turn-out that we’re doing it again! The next Taste o’ Burlesque will be Sunday, March 8th at Thunder Road in Somerville. Sign up to perform here and buy tickets here.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 13 February 2020 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Here’s your tip!

“I don’t know” is an acceptable answer.

As teachers we are “the expert” and have a certain authority. Sometimes a student asks a question and the teacher doesn’t have the answer. It can be hard to give up that authority and admit that you’re not the expert after all.

There is nothing wrong with that! It is so much better to say you don’t have the answer instead of guessing or making something up (I’ve seen it happen!)

A gentleman-scholar of my acquaintance (may his memory be a blessing) used to say “Non scio sed invenire possum” — Latin for “I don’t know, but I can look it up”*.

You are doing your job as an educator if you say “That’s a really good question. I don’t know. Let me do some research/check with someone/try it out/&c. and get back to you.” And then make sure to get back to them!

* Yes, fellow Classicists, I would have used nescio too, but I’m quoting someone whose specialty was Icelandic literature, not Latin.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 7 February 2020 at 3:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

In the Kitchen: Fashionable Apple Dumplings

Dear Constant Reader,

You might remember from Queen Drop Biscuits that I’m very fond of The Victorian Way video series from English Heritage. When I saw the video for Fashionable Apple Dumplings, I needed to try it.

Here the original recipe from Modern Cookery In All Its Branches by Eliza Acton (1860):

Fashionable apple dumplings
There are boiled in small knitted or closely-netted cloths (the former have, we think, the prettiest effect), which give quite an ornamental appearance to an otherwise homely dish). Take out the cores without dividing the apples, which should be large, and of a good boiling sort, and fill the cavity with orange or lemon marmalade, enclose them in a good crust rolled thin, draw the cloths round them, tie them closely and boil them for three quarters of an hour. Lemon dumplings may be boiled in the same way.
3/4 to 1 hour, if the apples be
not of the best boiling kind.

The first thing I did was knit a couple of plain cotton dishcloths, which you can see on the photo along with some Cortland apples (my favorite), homemade blood orange marmalade, some flour and grated suet (i know, they look almost the same).

Following the video, I made a dough from flour, grated suet, salt, and water. From my years of making Christmas pudding, I knew that suet pastry can hold up to hours of steaming and was a good choice for boiling. I also knew that it was probably going to taste boring.

I peeled and cored the apples. The resulting hollow was filled with delicious marmalade and the whole apple encased in a thin layer of dough and sealed up very well.

I brushed the dishcloth with melted butter, although Mrs. Acton doesn’t say to do so, Mrs. Crocombe does and it seemed like a good idea. Then I put a dough-wrapped apple on a cloth and bundled it up. Then tied the cloth up tightly with a bit of cotton string. In to the boiling water it went for about 45 minutes.

And here’s the result!

The dough took the imprint of the knitted cloth very well! The apple, however, had kind of collapsed within the dough and made for a rather squat dumpling. Maybe I boiled it too long or maybe I should have left the peel on. I feared the crust might be gummy, but it wasn’t, and it didn’t even taste half bad. The apple and orange marmalade combination was quite delightful and worth doing again. Boiling the dumplings in the knitted cloths was rather fussy and utterly Victorian, but one could probably get an easier and equally delicious result by simply wrapping the marmalade-filled apples in pie crust and baking. The dumplings won’t be fashionable, of course…

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 5 February 2020 at 3:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Here’s your tip!

Before twirling, make sure your tassels are hanging freely.

Sometimes, after being curled up in your bra, tassels can get stuck to a stray bit of adhesive near the edge of your pastie, caught on a rhinestone or other bit of decoration, or just sweat-glued to your skin. Give them a little shake or smooth them out (perhaps with a surreptitious, gentle yank) just before you start your twirl.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 31 January 2020 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Coffin Gift Box

Dear Constant Reader,

One of my sources of inspiration and creativity this winter has been Christine McConnell. As a Patron of hers, I get access to exclusive content and in November that was how to make the coffin-shaped gift box she packaged her aprons in.

Betty Blaize, although she famously doesn’t enjoy cooking, has been spending more time in her kitchen, cooking healthy food, so an apron sounded like a way to encourage her culinary efforts. I ordered her a cute one, but then I got an email that the seller canceled the order (it’s complicated). I panicked a little as it was getting close to Christmas, but Scratch pointed out that I could whip up an apron in no time flat. I found some cute pink cotton with big white polka dots and made her a chef-style apron that could actually be worn and washed without fear (and has pockets). Of course, the cute apron wasn’t actually cancelled and arrived the next day, so she got both.

Back to the box. I used the template pattern Christine provided Patrons at my level, which made things go much faster. I ended up using FOUR different kinds of glue on this project — spray adhesive, fabric glue, hot glue, and a glue stick. I’ll probably never work with spray adhesive again. I thought it would be easier and more accurate, but it was so messy. Since I wanted to keep the spray adhesive far away from Albert, I took everything into the basement and set up on top of the laundry machines. Not an ideal work environment, but needs must. Part way though I bemoaned the third-grade craft project look of the box and decided to give up. Scratch convinced me to see it through. And he was right. Once I starting decorating it, it began to look more polished.

I covered the outside of the box in pink satin and lined it with the same polka dot fabric I used for the apron. I had *just enough* of the polka dot fabric to line the box, but that meant I had to use a piece with a stain on it. I couldn’t gift it looking like that, so I glued a couple of white lace butterflies over the offending spot.

I trimmed it all with two styles of black lace, some black lace appliqués, and both pink and black ribbon. I had to buy the pink satin for the exterior and the narrow pink ribbon that covers the seams, but everything else came out of my stash. My only regret was that I couldn’t find the black silk roses I know are hiding somewhere in my atelier.

One of the finishing touches is to add a drop shadow behind the cut-out on the lid. I got a piece of black posterboard to make the shadow and discovered it was bright orange on the reverse! It was also too small to cut out the entire shadow, which serves to finish the inside of the lid. I glued the orange side to it a piece of larger white posterboard and cut the whole thing out as one. A little black Sharpie was needed to touch up one spot where I miscalculated the alignment, but you can’t even tell.

The final step was to add a window of thin acrylic, which makes the box more finished-looking and strengthens the lid. I could not find a piece of acrylic both thin enough and large enough at any store. I was starting to get concerned when I found a cheap poster frame lurking behind the door of the library at the Manor. Whatever purpose it was supposed to serve before, it was a coffin widow now. The edges were just a bit raggedy in places after I cut it (I probably should have changed blades in my utility knife at that point), so after I glued it in place, I went around the perimeter with cloth tape. It looks nicer and there’s no chance of damage (to the window or a person).

And voila! The final product!

You can get a closer look with this little video. I’m still learning iMovie, so I’m grateful to Scratch for editing help.

I’m very pleased with how it came out and I hope Betty is happy with it!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 28 January 2020 at 6:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! I’m pleased to say that the Burlesque Deck is fully funded! Thank you, if you were one of those who help raise it up. You can still order one until Monday and you’ll still get a free apllication to The Great Burlesque Expo.

This Sunday I’ll be performing at Taste O’ Burlesque with an act many of you have never seen! Don’t miss this rare opportunity.

And now for your tip…

Use the power of the personal invitation.

Sure, it’s easy these days to send out mass invites to come to your show, apply to your festival, what have you — and it’s just as easy to ignore those invites. Taking the time to drop a note to someone shows you are actually interested in them and their presence.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 24 January 2020 at 3:51 pm  Leave a Comment