2019 in Review

Dear Constant Reader,

2019 was a year full of challenges. A hard, frustrating, often depressing year. A look back at my journal shows a lot of despair and desire to give up. I feel like we performed less frequently (not true — I performed as many times as in 2018 — but this year we had a number of shows that got canceled). I was not accepted into any festivals this year. On the other hand, I traveled a bit and performed in two new states.

January
I go to Los Angeles to perform at Burlesque Bingo: House of Knyle Edition and graduate from Egypt’s mentorship program. I regretfully turn down her offer to join her house. I get to spend time with Kitten Natividad and see friends. The only downside of the trip was that a class with Michelle L’amour was canceled. Everything else was wonderful.

February
We have a Valentine’s Day show at a new venue, Thunder Road in Somerville, where our newest apprentices help out. I get sick again, just in time to spend my birthday in bed with a bad cough. I also teach a workshop at a college for “Love Your Body Week”. It’s well received and a lot of fun.

March
We perform at the Mardi Gras Ball. I go to Costume-Con, which is local. Maybe someday I’ll even show you the costume and talk about its creation. I travel to Atlanta to perform in Coco Rosé’s anniversary show.

April
April marks 2 years that I’ve been on Patreon. Not much has changed there from when I started in terms of numbers of Patrons. I really need to figure out how to change that. We perform at a private club above a strip club with an interesting dressing room situation. Satan’s Angel dies. I still don’t have the words.

May
I teach a burlesque fitness class for a swanky hotel in Boston. We have a beach party show at Thunder Road and the apprentices, Electrix, Holly Go Harder, Kyra Lida, and Madeleine Minx, perform the solos they created with us. The venue likes the show so much they offer us a monthly slot. I also debut a new fan dance, which I love a lot. Despite performing it at 3 shows, there’s no video. It seems to always be the way…

June
I go to Topeka, Kansas to perform in a fundraiser for a historic theatre. This was probably my best traveling showgirl experience this year! The audience was great, the other performers were lovely, the producer was wonderful. And there was KC barbecue.

July
We have to leave The Thalia. Certain renovations have to be done and the city of Cambridge’s bureaucracy is making it nigh unto impossible to get the appropriate permits and licenses. We can’t use the space again until the work is done. We spend the next two months scrounging for rehearsal space. It’s very stressful.

August
Rust Belt Burlesque, a collection of photos from Cleveland burlesque shows is published and The Faerie Queene makes an appearance.

We’re still rehearsing in found space, but everyone is trying to make the best of it.
 

September
We have a new home! Welcome to The Arts Nexus, a space with multiple(!) studios. It needs a lot of work, but after a summer of traveling around, it’s wonderful. Also, we start our monthly show at Thunder Road on the second Saturday. We invite Electrix to join the troupe and she says yes!

September is also pretty terrible for me emotionally. I didn’t write about it at the time, because I was so badly wounded. Three former students (one of whom even taught for me) demand to have their presence removed from my school’s website. And a ex-troupe member tells me to kiss off when I reach out. Thanks, ladies, for reminding me just how inclusive and open-minded the Boston burlesque “community” is.

October
We do 3 shows in October, in Cambridge, Somerville, and Salem, with almost no overlap in numbers. It’s exhausting, but the shows are very good.

I win a contest for an incredible unique piece of art. The experience brightens my entire outlook after the soul-crushing events of September. I feel creative again. I host a spooky tea party. I record and edit a Halloween story (learning Audacity to do so). The day after Halloween I get to meet the artist herself in a graveyard in Salem.

November
I make my mostly annual pilgrimage to BurlyCon to teach and to learn. Scratch and I go to Miss Bonnie Dunn’s Le Scandal Cabaret for his birthday. I have a warm spot for this show as it’s where I made my NYC debut (although not in its current location).

December
A very disappointing month. We have no shows at all. Worse than not having any shows, we think we have three and for one reason after another, they don’t come to pass. Very frustrating. On the other hand, I don’t have to work New Year’s Eve.

A very mixed year. Mostly a low one, with a few bright spots. Here’s hoping 2020 is better!

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 January 2020 at 10:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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Teaching, Learning, and Relearning

Dear Constant Reader,

The BeauTease have a new crop of apprentices and we’re training them. Part of the way we do that is through exercises. However, all of us participate, not just the new kids.

It’s good for all of us. The troupe members can lead and guide and the apprentices don’t have to feel like they’re being flung to the wolves while everyone else watches. We all get to practice our skills and it’s valuable for the established performers to get back to basics.

We started with character exercises. The simplest version of this is that everyone draws a card on which is written an emotion. One by one, to the same bit of music, we walk across the floor and express that emotion. Then everyone watching tries to guess what the emotion was. We learn to be big and clear, to express emotion with the entire body. For some, it’s practice walking in time to music. This exercise can get more complex and involved, but we left it at the simple version.

The next one is Standing, Sitting, Kneeling, based on an improv game. We have one chair and 3 performers. Someone needs to be on their feet, someone needs to be using the chair, and someone needs to be on the floor. The goal is to work together and trade off positions while creating an improvised group routine. This exercise has sparked a couple of our group acts…

Factory Girls

Feelin’ Good

But no time for such things now. Our rehearsals are focused on our Secret (Santa) Show on Saturday, December 21. It’s a festive evening of seasonal burlesque at an undisclosed location only revealed to ticket holders! The apprentices will be making their striptease debut!

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 11 December 2019 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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New Studio

Dear Constant Reader,

For bureaucratic reasons to tedious to delve into The Thalia needs to under go major renovations and as with all things bureaucratic it involves much red tape. The upshot is, we haven’t been able to use the space since the end of June and we have no idea when they’ll even get the building permits needed, let alone permission to reopen.

For the past two months we’ve been moving from one rented studio to another to rehearse and discovered there’s a need for studio space in the Boston area. So many places we tried were booked solid! After intense searching, we found a new studio space and signed a lease on Friday!

It’s right in Kenmore Square, spitting distance from the T station and, if there’s no Sox game, there’s a lot of on-street parking.

The space is a former office and is going to need some (that is, A LOT) of work to be exactly what we want. Eventually, there will be two large studios perfect for rehearsals, lessons, photography, meetings, readings, whatever your artistic endeavor. We also have two small offices with their own entrance just right for a small business.

Here’s the space we’re calling Studio A before we did any work:

But a fresh coat of paint makes everything look better!

The next day we added mirrors. They still need to be hung on the wall, but tonight’s Introduction to Burlesque class can see themselves!

And then a few touches to make it feel more like home. Here’s Electrix and Scratch hanging some of our artwork.

Next project is to lay a dance floor! Right now the floor is carpet, which is serviceable, but not ideal. We also want to do something about the unflattering lighting. Eventually we’re going to have to tackle the major renovation in Studio B, which involves thing like taking down walls and putting in a kitchenette.

Follow along as we continue to improve!

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 9 September 2019 at 3:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Stripteaser’s Education

Dear Constant Reader,

I performed “The Stripteaser’s Education” at Hot in Topeka’s fundraising show in June. It’s an act that’s been around for a long time and seen some changes.

It’s adapted from Gypsy Rose Lee’s famous talking act. Rather than do a strict recreation, we changed and updated some of the wording. She references people and places that wouldn’t mean anything to our current audiences. Our version has changed over the years and we’ve thrown in a few New England references. For example, Gypsy used to say she’d attended Sweet Briar; I say Wellesley. Neither statement is true.

When I performed it in Topeka, I checked with the producer about using some local references. She gave me some suggestions and I worked them in. Instead of Wellesley, I used Washburn University plus a few other references specific to Topeka. From the cheers, they went over really well.

When I first started performing the act, I just wore gowns and gloves from my wardrobe, nothing special. In 2011, we gave the act to Devora for Madame Burlesque. We had a costumer for that show (our first tour!) and she made a lovely costume for D.D. based on a photo of Gypsy.

        

I used mostly the same costume when I did the act (we had to make a matching bra to fit me).

When I got the word I was going to do this act in Topeka, I decided to upgrade the costume, really make it match the photo. I had asked for advice in finding a hat like that when I learned, to my shock, we’d been laboring under a false assumption. That wasn’t Gypsy! It was Burgundy Brixx *as* Gypsy! Clearly our costume designed hadn’t done her research very well, but I admit, I hadn’t looked closely enough.

Well, there was absolutely no reason to recreate someone else’s interpretation of Gypsy. I went back to photos that I know were actually of Gypsy and picked out some of the hallmarks of her costumes — full skirt, modest blouse with a big collar, stockings, wide-brimmed hat.

The skirt came from The Wrathskellar. It was sort of inspired by a saloon girl look, with alternating panels of black lace over black jacquard and embroidered green lace. It has matching panties and a bra, so I figured I would use them. I also had a garter belt that coordinated nicely. The next challenge, the hat and the blouse.

I didn’t want to use the hat D.D. is wearing above. It doesn’t fit me very well and it doesn’t pack easily. I wanted to do this trip with just a carry-on and I also wanted to be able to have my ubiquitous sunhat. After some fruitless searching, I was in Emporium 32 and they had the perfect hat! Big brim, black straw, good price. I decided I’d give my signature leopard-print sunhat a break (I’ve been wearing it every summer for almost 20 years) and make this my new everyday hat, as well as use it in this performance. If I’d had more time, I would have added some big white roses and a new hat band for the show.

I looked all over for a blouse with the right look and just found nothing. I ended up grabbing the blouse from my “Li’l Red Riding Hood” act, but while it has the right shape, it’s a sturdy white cotton and didn’t blend so well with the lacy skirt. Fortunately, I still had some of the two kinds of lace I used to make the skirt. I used it to make a big collar, like Gypsy had in some iterations of her costume. It helped tie things together, and since it was just pinned in place, I can easily transfer it to a more appropriate blouse once I find or make one.

Lastly, I upgraded the pasties. They had just been black brocade with a ring of green rhinestones around the edge. Good for The Wrathskellar, but not exactly projecting glamour. Some radiating lines of more stones and they had sufficient sparkle.

And here’s a bit of the act on stage at Jayhawk Theatre.

Photos by Sarah Kietzman

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 August 2019 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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Wrestling with Doubt

Dear Constant Reader,

I like to show you how glamourous my life is — that I spend all my time lounging around in a Catherine D’Lish robe, sipping champagne, while I scrawl my deathless prose with a fountain pen and Albert sits politely by my feet. Sometimes that’s actually true. But sometimes I have days like yesterday.

I’m not sure what exactly set me off. It might have been yet another burlesquer posting that they were going to a festival from which I had received yet another rejection letter. Perhaps it was creating yet another reward post for a Patreon level that no one subscribes to. Perhaps it was something else. Whatever the final straw, I was feeling ignored, overlooked, and snubbed.

This feeling that I was unimportant in the burlesque world, preyed badly on my mind. I began doubting my talents as a performer and as a teacher. Why should I bother working to improve my game if I’m never going to get booked? if no one is going to read what I write? if no one is going to see my promo? Clearly I’m no good at this whole burlesque thing.

Despite this roiling self-doubt, I did what I always do, pushed through and kept working. I shot off a promo photo for our upcoming show to Instagram and realized after a while that I’d been shadowbanned. It was the proverbial last straw. I really was being ignored. I was unimportant. I was shouting into a void. I should just hang up my g-string.

Fortunately, I have a supportive partner and some really good friends who soothed my wounded ego and frustrated soul with kind words and practical suggestions. Today I’m back to work, writing, teaching, rehearsing, and planning.

Dear Reader, when that snake of self-doubt coils around your mind, just know you’re not alone.

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 15 May 2019 at 4:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Act Creation

Dear Constant Reader,

The centerpiece of The House of Knyle mentorship was to work with Egypt on an act. This could either be an existing one or a new one. I toyed with the idea of seeing what Egypt would do with “Mina in Furs”, the number I workshopped at Stripper’s Holiday, but decided to create something new. This was late September.

I wanted to challenge myself, so I picked a song outside my usual style. Really outside. “Whole Lotta Love” by Hollywood Vampires. I like the Led Zeppelin original, but I love this cover. I think it’s the harmonica and the vocals by Alice Copper and Brian Johnson that do it for me.

But I just didn’t know what to do with it. I felt paralyzed with indecision. This song wanted someone to dance with wild abandon and flip her hair around. That’s not me. Act creation is so hard for me. Choreography is not one of my natural talents.

So, I put things off. October was crazy while Scratch and I frantically tried to get Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Burlesque Costuming ready for the printer. Then I got sick and spent about three weeks of November in bed. This was about the point where Egypt announced that we had the opportunity to perform at Burlesque Bingo in January. I knew I would have to get serious.

I decided what my costume would be (and that will be a separate entry) and grabbed a reasonable facsimile. I went into the studio before rehearsal and just moved to the music in front of a camera. This isn’t how I normally create a number. Usually I’m more in my head. I break the song down and make an outline. But I was trying to do things differently, break out of my usual patterns.

I kept working on it and feeling more and more despondent. I could picture how other people I knew would dance to this song, but not me. I was thinking I would just chuck it all and start over wth something more in my comfort zone. Maybe another gown-and-gloves strip or a fan dance. I announced my despaire to the other mentees. And that’s when things started changing.

The other ladies were very supportive and Egypt and I set up an on-line date to work on it. Then I showed what I had to Scratch and he said “It’s not as bad as you think”. All that gave me the boost to keep going on it.

Egypt and I spent an hour in the studio via video chat and worked on the act. She gave me some suggestions, some of which I took, some of which sparked different ideas. I remembered Scratch’s advice to me during Stripper’s Holiday to expand my horizons, but stay true to myself.

Over the next month, I worked on the act constantly. Fear of looking terrible on stage is a great motivator. Scratch and the other BeauTease gave me feedback. I sent progress videos to Egypt. I took the floorwork section out; I put it back in, but now completely different. Scratch edited my music so the song had a stronger ending. I finalized my costume. I’m very thankful I had the time to devote to it without needing to rehearse anything else.

As for how it turned out, you’ll have to wait for a future missive.

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 21 February 2019 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Los Angeles: The Prologue

Dear Constant Reader,

I was in Los Angeles recently and there’s quite a bit of back story as to how I got there.

In the fall I applied to be part of a mentorship program with Egypt Blaque Knyle. Now, you may saying, “Mina, why do you need someone to mentor you? You’ve been doing burlesque for over a dozen years. You teach and you’ve even coached students through the creation of routines. Shouldn’t you be the one doing the mentoring?” While this is all true, I also want to improve my skills. This is why I take classes with other people whenever I can. It’s why I go to BurlyCon and The Expo almost every year and why I attended the New Orleans Burlesque Retreat and Stripper’s Holiday last year.

Egypt is a very different type of performer that I am. I wrote in my application essay that she is “almost the polar opposite of me – uninhibited where I am reserved, exuberant where I am stately”. I thought I could learn a lot from her. Dear Reader, just writing, let alone submitting, that application made me feel incredible vulnerable. And that’s not a side of myself I tend to show the world. Just writing the essay was a learning experience about myself.

In the end there were ten highly-motivated women with various levels of experience, scattered around the country, chosen to work with Egypt. We had to read books, research Legends, write essays, and create or polish a routine. I chose to create a new routine, about which I will write in depth. I’ll also share some of the essays I wrote. Our graduation was performing at Audrey Deluxe’s Burlesque Bingo in Long Beach, CA. Although it was not mandatory, everyone made it! I’ll tell you all about it later as well.

I’m not sure, timing-wise, it was the best choice for me to take this on. The mentorship began in later September. In October I was frantically trying to get Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Burlesque Costuming ready for the printer. In November I was sick for most of the month. I think I ended up having about six weeks to get my brand-new act from zero to show time. But I did it!

More to come…

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 30 January 2019 at 3:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Stripper’s Holiday: The Work

Dear Constant Reader,

I’ve been writing about my time at Stripper’s Holiday. It was such an inspiring and humbling experience and it’s been taking me a long time to find the right words. You can read about it here and here.

This is why we were all here: the work. For three days we spent four hours a day in the studio. We started two of the sessions with a killer warm up. I was grateful for my personal workout ethic so it didn’t actually kill me, because that was just the start of the session. We also worked on technique and choreography. On the last day we were treated to Michelle’s Pussy Confidence and Sensual Movement classes.

One of the things we talked about in the Pussy Confidence class was vulnerability and how vulnerability is strength. So, here’s some vulnerability. This stuff was really hard for me. I don’t pick up choreography quickly. I just don’t have a 5-6-7-8 brain and it’s hard for me to hear the beats of the music sometimes. I learn choreography by incessant drilling and really burning it into muscle memory. But like I kept telling myself, if this was easy, I wouldn’t need to be there. It was good for me to move *way* outside my comfort zone, but it certainly was frustrating. I wanted to work on refining details, but I needed to absorb the foundations first.

Here we all are after the first day:

Photo by One Chance Fancy.

Before I get to the centerpiece of the studio work, I want to mention a couple of related things we did at the house. One night after dinner we had “Idea Day” (I guess really “Idea Night”) where everyone went around the table and would share an idea they had for an act, usually just one element, like a song or a concept, and would get thoughts and feedback for a direction to go in. I was a complete blank and then I remembered my Hedy Jo Star peacock costume, which deserves to be back on stage. I’ve got some good ideas now; we shall see if they come to fruition. Also, if Scratch is willing to build some set pieces…

Also, before we went into the studio on the last day, Franky ran a meditation on beauty, which was also about imperfection. It was lovely and very pertinent to our work. We were supposed to consider a work of art and the first one that popped into my head was a Hellenistic statuette dancer, which I’ve loved for a long time. Kind of appropriate in many ways.

Back to the studio now…

Everyone brought an act on which they wanted to work. During the first two days we each presented our act and got feedback. On the last day we all presented again, showing how we incorporated the suggestions (a couple showed different acts instead). I was in the first group to present. I was nervous, but glad to get it over with early. I brought my newest act, which had just debuted in December (photo by George Ross of me performing it at The Expo). I thought it was pretty solid, but needed some oomph. After I showed it, Michelle made some very good suggestions, but I felt like I had to burn the whole thing down and start all over. The element I was using as a hook to hang the whole act on had to go.

When I got back to the house, I made an alteration to one of my costume pieces and played with it a little. After studio time the next day, I brought the whole act down into the home theatre room and ran it again and again, trying out Michelle’s suggestions and working on some stuff for the weaker parts. I realized I didn’t have to burn it down after all. A lot of the structure could stay as it was; it was the details that needed to change.

I filmed my last run, as best I could with my tablet, and sent it off to Scratch, because I was filled with self-doubt. He didn’t give me any feedback, just told me to be true to myself, since I was the one who was going to have to perform it. And reminded me that I was good at this and to have faith in myself. That bolstered my confidence a bit (and maybe made me cry a little). Still, I was up early the next morning, working on it again.

On the last day we all presented our acts again. I know this was more nerve-wracking for some than the first time, because there were a couple of camera people there for a project of Michelle’s (no, you’re not going to see the footage). Once I started performing I just tuned them out — I was nervous for all sorts of other reasons! Michelle had lots of praise and more suggestions. I felt a lot better, but knew it wasn’t there yet. Parts were stronger, but I still had holes to fill. I’m still working on it, in fact.

On our very last morning, Michelle gave everyone handwritten cards. It was a sweet touch and made the whole time even more special. This is a treasure I’ll return to when I need encouragement.

On the whole, this was an incredibly challenging time, but challenge is a good thing. I learned a lot on many levels. I got to see a dozen other performers with very different styles (which was an amazing experience) and see them also be vulnerable and put their work out there to be critiqued. Hearing the feedback they received also gave me new ideas and insights. I know that other people were nervous and insecure, which gave me comfort that I wasn’t alone.

I’ve admired Michelle for such a long time and working with her on such a personal level was intimidating to be sure, but also kind of liberating. She’s a very honest person, which I think encouraged honesty in others. The experience was very intense, with a lot crammed into 3-plus days, physically and emotionally. I’m still fumbling for words, but I promised myself I’d send this out today no matter what, so these words will have to do.

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 31 May 2018 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Babydollmas

Dear Constant Reader,

The other day the troupe celebrated Babydollmas. We’ve thought about changing the name Beauteasemas, but we’re traditionalists. It’s a chance for us to get together and celebrate after the craziness of the holiday season has wound down. We go out for dinner or have a potluck and exchange small gifts — usually something handmade or burlesquey or tasty.

Scratch gave us all silver and rhinestone initial letter necklaces, for times we want to be more subtle than our classic rhinestone name necklaces. Devastasia, queen of snacks, gave us bundles of fancy treats, including some lovely dark chocolate. D.D. made everyone glitter-laden body lotion (and an unglittered version for the guys). Artemisia gave us very pretty bath bombs. Brigitte selected truffles from the oldest candy company in America. Betty made us all gorgeous matching fascinators (except the guys who got rhinestones ties). She made me a special one with a band instead of a comb like everyone else, since things tend to slide out of my fine hair.

I gave these useful little zipper bags with a travel-sized bottle of Atomic Cosmetics hand sanitizer.

Of course I couldn’t give one to Scratch as-is, being as he isn’t a girl, so did a little careful editing.

There’s a little piece of ribbon with new letters painted on which was sewn over the inappropriate letters. I was pretty pleased with the results. I guess I did a good job, because at first Scratch didn’t realize it had been doctored!

What were some of your favorite gifts, giving or receiving, this holiday season?

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 29 January 2018 at 11:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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New Apprentices

Dear Constant Reader,

The Boston BeauTease have new apprentices!

From L-R, Valerie, Gin-ni, Nicole, and Artemisia!

Valerie and Nicole are both B.A.B.E. students, and Nicole also studied with Don’t Blink Burlesque in Arizona.

Gin-ni Gelato began her burlesque studies with our good friend Corinne Southern and has performed in a few local shows, including The Mini Burlesque Expo.

Artemisia Vulgaris has been an apprentice since May and has renewed her contract with us for another term.

We are so excited to be working with these ladies, teaching them the fine art of burlesque, and learning from them too!

You can see all four of them in Cover Girls at The Thalia on Saturday. Artemisia will be performing her first solo striptease as well as charming you with her lovely voice on Friday, October 13th in Bad Luck Burlesque at Deacon Giles Speakeasy Lab in Salem.

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 27 September 2017 at 3:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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