Review: Rust Belt Burlesque

Dear Constant Reader,

Although I still have a huge pile of books to review, here’s a book that’s hot off the presses!

Rust Belt Burlesque: The Softer Side of a Heavy Metal Town by Erin O’Brien and Bob Perkoski (2019).

Rust Belt Burlesque is a photo collection highlighting burlesque in Cleveland, specifically burlesque produced by Bella Sin and appearing at the Beachland Ballroom. However, it’s not just pages and pages of photos, there’s also extensive text.

Part one is a biography of Bella Sin, who was instrumental in creating the lively neo-burlesque scene Cleveland. She’s not a native of Cleveland, but has made the city her home and burlesque her passion. Part two is a history of burlesque in Cleveland, highlighting the infamous, and now demolished, Roxy theatre.

The bulk of the book is the section of photos taken at shows at the Beachland Ballroom. There are a few posed pictures and a few photos were taken backstage or of the vendors in the hallway, but most are shots taken during performances. They’re action shots with some of the issues that come from motion, but for the most part they are dynamic and flattering. The venue has had terrible stage lighting in the past and it shows in some of the photos, but mostly it creates a moody atmosphere. There a certain excitement at seeing a performer “caught in the act” and shots of billowing fabric and bodies in motion create that feeling. Bella Sin curates shows with a strong commitment to diversity, so you’ll see a wide range of performer types.

The majority of the photos seem to be from the 2017 Ohio Burlesque Festival, although there are some from other years and other shows. The photos that were taken at festivals aren’t necessarily of performers from Cleveland, but all over the country, but you can’t tell who’s local and who’s not from the captions. The captions do identify the performer and the year and often a brief description.

The pages of photographs are interspersed with writings about the burlesque experience — from the audience and performers backstage and onstage. There’s a discussion of candy butchers of burlesque past which segues into a look at the vendors at the festivals. There’s also an essay about the history of the Beachland Ballroom, where all this happens.

The last section of the is black and white portraits of five Cleveland performers out of drag and a short statement from each one about their relationship with burlesque.

Full disclosure, I was included in the book:

The title of the book is a bit misleading, as the Rust Belt is comprised of several states and this is just burlesque in Cleveland, or rather just the shows Bella Sin produces at the Beachland Ballroom, which draw performers from outside the area as well. However, the delight and pride of locals in the burlesque shows come through on every page.

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 27 August 2019 at 4:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Happy Birthday

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s my birthday today! The big celebration was yesterday when Scratch stunned me with a surprise party at one of my favorite restaurants. I thought we were just going for a quiet brunch, but when I walked in a huge group of friends were already there. I had no idea!

I wanted to give you all a birthday present, dear readers! I love the backlighting on this and the Delsarte pose.

Photo by George Ross. Robe by Catherine D’Lish.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 19 February 2018 at 9:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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Valentine’s Day Treat

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Valentine’s Day to those who celebrate it and happy Wednesday to those who don’t. And for those who were celebrating Mardi Gras yesterday, I hope your hangover has eased by now.

Whatever you celebrate or not, here’s a sweet treat for you from me.

Mina curtain
Photo by George Ross

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 14 February 2018 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Little Peek into the Rehearsal Process

Dear Constant Reader,

We’re currently rehearsing for our New Year’s Eve Spectacular and I’ve been sporadically documenting things with crummy cellphone photos that I post to FaceBook. Hopefully the photos will become more numerous, somewhat better, and more interesting in the coming weeks.

Here’s a teaser: What could possibly be inside that oyster, guarded by such charming nymphs in tailcoats by Vixens Ahoy?

If you’d like to see more, check out my FB album here.

And if you’d like to see the finished product in action, we have two shows on New Year’s Eve!

M2

Published in: on 11 December 2014 at 11:07 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Little More from the New York Burlesque Festival

Dear Constant Reader,

I was delighted yesterday to see that Burlesque Beat had posted some more photographs from the Thursday Night Teaser Party, taken by Olena “Photolena” Sullivan. I was particularly delighted that I was the cover girl.

All the photos are terrific and she summed up each act in about 30 words. You really should go look at them all. However, I know, Constant Reader, that you read these letters just to hear all about ME, so here you go:


V is for Vixen
A beautiful woman stands in her luxurious dressing gown, teasing with peeks of skin here and there. With a change behind a dressing wall, Miss Mina Murray emerges for a stunning feather fan dance to charm even the coldest heart.
*

In my original missive about Thursday night at NYBF, I mentioned the Scan-A-Rama, but I failed to note that Scratch availed himself of their services. And a few weeks later a package arrived and…

Li’l Scratch!

M2
*Amusing note: the original version of this act first appeared at the Boston Babydolls’ show V for Vixen, so Olena’s choice of a title is ridiculously appropriate.

Published in: on 19 November 2014 at 12:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Throwback Thursday

Dear Constant Reader,

There’s this game on Facebook — Throwback Thursday* (aka #TBT) — where in you post an old photo of yourself. I dislike Facebook intensely (I grit my teeth and use it because it is a marketing tool, although getting less and less useful every day… but I digress.), so I’m posting my picture here.

Anyway back to TBT:

That’s me at 17, all decked out for my Junior Prom. My first strapless dress! The discovery I was a D cup! The chance to wear an heirloom necklace! Something finally good done with that unfortunate perm!

I loved that dress. It was a Jessica McClintock (of course) and you can see a Mexican whore wearing it in the movie La Bamba. The bodice is covered in lace with a modest sprinkling of sequins and the tea-length skirt is a huge explosion of tulle. I wore it in a play the next year and caught the skirt on a stray nail in the doorway of the set and ripped off a bit of the tulle. You can barely tell.

I wanted to wear it to the BurlyProm last fall (how fun would that be!), but sadly, I discovered it will no longer zip up all the way. My ribcage is larger than when I was teenager, so there’s no hope. I wore a facsimile instead:

M2
* Amongst burlesque performers there was a penchant for “Butt Thursday” for a while. I think too many pictures were being reported and removed.

Published in: on 22 May 2014 at 12:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Late on a Saturday Night

Dear Constant Reader,

I mentioned yesterday that Brigitte and I were supposed to perform before a showing of Bettie Page Reveals All but the movie was canceled because of a snow storm. I had already done my makeup when the call came, so I decided to have a little fun.

Before we get to that… Boston is a great city and I love living here, but there’s a few ways in which New York has it all beat. Two words: costuming supplies. Every time I’m in The City I head down to the 30’s and pick up fabric or trim or beads or rhinestone jewelry. You name it, someone’s got it.

I was down for Thanksgiving and I had one thing on my mind — feathers. I have some gorgeous fan staves and I needed some equally gorgeous ostrich plumes. I was going to do a little comparison shopping, but The Feather Place was closed for the holiday, so I went to Dersh Feather. Oh my goodness gracious! What beautiful feathers! What helpful people! I highly recommend them (caveat: they’re wholesale only). And the price was less than I had budgeted.

So what does this have to do with my makeup and free Saturday night?

Scratch and I had a little fun with a camera…

I have to give Albert (the Manor cat) credit. He was clearly *very* interested in all those wonderful fluffy things on the floor, but stayed on the daybed through the shoot. Although he was poised to pounce, just in case those vicious feathers tried to attack me.

M2

Published in: on 17 December 2013 at 10:44 am  Comments (2)  
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Last Ohio Burlesque Festival Note

Dear Constant Reader,

I realized I talked a lot about our new costumes for the act we brought to The Ohio Burlesque Festival and only teased you about showing pictures someday. That day is now.

Thanks to Eric Paul Owens for taking these shots.

The opening. The camera has caught me just as I’ve turned (see how my skirt is still swirling) and am in the process of getting into the same pose as the other 3. The round things we’re holding which are covered in a curly fake fur are the “poodle paddles”. Similarly, we’re wearing “poodle hats”.


And here you can see the black & white/white & black bras on Stella and Devora. In another few seconds, you would have seen that Betty and I had the same configuration.

We’re planning to do the act again at “Boston Loves Dixie!” on the 31st, so you can see us in all our black & white, poodle glory!

M2

Published in: on 13 August 2013 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ohio Burlesque Festival: Friday, August 2

Dear Constant Reader,

(If you’re just joining us, the first part is here.)

This is going to be a long missive, as it was one long day… The drive from Rochester to Cleveland was easy, although there was a *spectacular* thunderstorm as we passed through Buffalo. We got to the hotel with enough time to rest up before we had to be at the Beachland Ballroom. We were at the venue promptly and had time to run our number twice on stage, figuring out the proper blocking. I’ll get back to this later.

Since we were in the headliner block at the end of the show, we could relax and enjoy the whole first half of the show. Scratch was one of the MCs and really kept things moving along, as is necessary with a festival show. There were about 25 acts, plus handing out half a dozen Golden Buckeye Awards in each half of the show.

Highlights for me:
*Getting 3 more performers to sign my copy of It’s All The Glitters (only 93 to go!)
*Buying a lovely fascinator from Holly Hock
*Bourbon Rose’s dramatic robe (I think we all coveted it)
*Vikki Fahrenheit’s sultry singing (and stripping)
*Red Velvet’s transitions from sweet to manic and back again
*Dangrrr Doll’s Sonic the Hedgehog act.

Before we knew it, it was intermission and time to get ready.

You know how when you’re close to something, you cease to see it. After working on this act for the past several months, I didn’t really think there was anything special about the costumes at all and I though our big hats were sort of dorky. Then the compliments started rolling in from the other performers and I really saw us in our matching/coordinated dresses. Yeah, they did turn out well. And we looked like a troupe. Two different people used “Dior” to describe us.

And here we are:

(Photo by Eric Paul Owens)

When we were done, we hopped back into our dresses and ran out into the audience to see Bazuka Joe in his Speed Racer act. It was almost as much fun to see the reactions of the Babydolls who hadn’t see him before. Drool City. And then we enjoyed the elegance (and powerful pectorals) of Donna Denise.

All did not go soothly, however, I’m sorry to report. One of the big problems was the lighting. Remember I mentioned we’d rehearsed on the stage to get the proper positioning? With 4 of us, it’s pretty important. As Bella was giving the performers some information for the evening, someone was on stage marking a rectangle with pink duct tape. This was the area the lights would cover. It was a *lot* smaller than the space we’d just taken up. If you left that rectangle, you’d fall into shadow.

The stage only had a few lights and they were all downlights, nothing from the front or the sides. And no follow spot. Downlights were a huge problem for us (and Donna Denise) because we were wearing wide-brimmed hats, so our faces were completely shadowed. It also meant that the hundreds of rhinestones we put on our dresses didn’t pop in the least. Scratch and the sound guy (whose name I’ve forgotten) did they best they could to focus the lights for maximum coverage, but the results were really sub-optimal.

The other problem was the other MC, Gilgamesh Taggert. At first he seemed a fine co-host with Scratch — loud, clear, a bit bombastic. And then the rape jokes started. I’m not sure why he thought that would go over well at a festival with a strong focus on advocacy for women and the GBLT community. Scratch told me that performers were asking if he would please introduce them instead of “the other guy”. The reaction was bad enough that after the festival Bella Sin (the producer) completely cut Gilgamesh loose.

After the show, we ran back to the hotel to change for the after-party. When the Babydolls go out together, we like to coordinate. Friday night’s theme was black & white and I have to say we looked awesome.

The after-party was not really our scene, but we stayed a while, chatted with some of the other performers, got chatted up by some of the other patrons. Then hunger won out.

I had thought maybe we’d get some pizza delivered to the room, but Scratch got a recommendation for a 24-hour deli from a local. My great regret was that we’d all squeezed into one car and so didn’t have room to bring Coco Lectric who was both hungry and rideless.

We got to My Friends around 1:30am and our wonderfully friendly waitress apologized for the limited late-night menu. Limited? I couldn’t make up my mind! After we had ordered, I noticed Bella Sin’s flaming red hair in the other room. Despite the chaos I’m sure it caused, we moved to the table next to her, Bazuka Joe, Donna Denise, and Eric Paul Owens.

That was a lot of fun, but it was very late (or early) by the time we got back to the hotel. And we had to teach the next day!

Tomorrow, The Buckeye Burlesque Academy, sightseeing, and night 2 of the Ohio Burlesque Festival.

M2

Published in: on 7 August 2013 at 10:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Good End to the Day

Dear Constant Reader,

Please vote for The Boston Babydolls as “Best Theatre Group” on The Boston A-List. We’re currently in 5th place!


I have a confession to make. I am not a night owl. Late nights are part and parcel of being a showgirl. Second confession: this contradiction sometimes makes me cranky. I was cranky last night.

Rehearsal had run long, then we need to pack and load out all the costumes and props for the DrinkOne benefit tonight. I also had to make a couple of trips up the stairs with big heavy bottles of water for the studio — it’s getting hot and the last thing I want is dehydrated B.A.B.E. students.

It was already well past my bedtime when we arrived back at Stately Babydoll Manor, but I still had to pack all my personal gear for the show, fix a plume on my fan, and perform my usual bedtime and night-before-show rituals. And tomorrow was going to be a long day which will include teaching chair dance and then rushing to the show.

Scratch called me to come to his office and look at something. I fear I was less than charitable in my response. I finished packing and went to see what was so important.

This.

And my cranky mood completely evaporated.

M2

Published in: on 6 June 2013 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment