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.

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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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A New Teaser

Dear Constant Reader,

I’m so excited to announce the The Boston BeauTease have a new troupe member!

Meet the devastating Devastasia!

Devastasia started as a student at B.A.B.E.. She completed three of our advanced act creation courses and performed in student showcases and The Newcomers Showcase at The Expo. She also volunteered her impressive artistic skills during The Wrathskellar in 2015.

In 2016 she was cast as a maid (like a stage kitten, only creepier and with more responsibilities) in Wrathskellar Tales and she was a major part of making our set as weird and fabulous as it was.

Here’s some of her fine work!

Summoning Circle

Wall in the Contessa’s Seraglio

Left Luggage Room Sign

The Lost Girl’s Doll House

At the end of last year, she auditioned for and was invited to join our first crop of apprentices, dubbed The Irregulars, and appeared in Twenty Seven-Tease, The Great Burlesque Exposition, and The Big Time. She proved to be invaluable as an artist, a costumer, and a performer. We all had such a great time working together that we mutually decided to extend her time as an apprentice into the next term.

Since then she appeared at the Mini BurlExpo, in a group number with The BeauTease at The Pennsylvania Burlesque Festival, and in Cover Girls on tour. In light of her hard-work, dedication, and skill, and that we like hanging out with her an awful lot, it only seemed natural to invite her to join the troupe.

We’re so delighted to have such a multi-talented performer and all-around lovely person join our ranks!

See her on stage in Cover Girls in Cambridge on Saturday, September 30th and Bad Luck Burlesque on Friday, October 13th 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 14 September 2017 at 12:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Big Time All the Time

Dear Constant Reader,

Just to give you a quick rundown of what’s going on right now.

The Boston BeauTease welcomed our newest batch of interns and other volunteers last night, which also happened to be Betty’s birthday. We don’t usual end rehearsals with a large spread of treats, but it was certainly an auspicious day to start working with us.

They’ll be helping out on our upcoming show The Big Time in two weeks. You’ll be able to see our current interns, Cara, Devastacia, Jeannie Martini, and Ruby Foxx, on stage showing off what they’ve learned, alongside The BeauTease.

Everyone will be performing brand-new, never-before-seen acts, expect Betty and I who will also be performing a second, favorite number from our respective repertoires. I’ll give you a hint: one involves a spiderweb and the other a bathtub.

The show is called The Big Time because we’re all using big props, most of which have been built expressly for this show, and have mostly been built by the performers themselves, with a *lot* of help and guidance from Scratch. We’ve been working in wood and metal and plastic and fabric and papier mache. We’ve been using power tools and paintbrushes and glue and electronics. Everyone has been working very hard and pushing themselves in many ways not just in building the props, but in all aspects of act creation.

I can’t wait for you to see what we’ve accomplished! Tickets are pretty cheap right now, but they’re going to go up at the door, so do yourself (and us) a favor and get yours now.

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 8 May 2017 at 3:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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So Very Busy

Dear Constant Reader,

It feels like it’s very a very long time since I penned a missive that was not a Friday tip.

We’ve been very busy preparing for Twenty-SevenTease, our New Year’s Eve show at The Thalia, in its first use as an actual theatre.
It’s going to be a splendid show of opulent acts — some you’ve never seen before and some favorites — along with a little comedy, song, and magic, and appearances by our new interns! Please join us on Friday the 30th or New Year’s Eve!

We’ll also be appearing, early in the evening on New Year’s Eve, at Jazz from the Ashes at Aeronaut Brewing Company/Brooklyn Boulders Somerville. The party is shaping up to be a very interesting experience. I’m so intrigued to see it in full-swing! From there we’re running back to The Thalia for Twenty-SevenTease.

The Thalia is being built around us. We’ve basically been rehearsing in a construction site, but we can handle it! If you saw Wrathskellar Tales, you won’t recognize the space. It’s a work in progress, but so much progress has been made!

And to top everything else off, I’ve been moving out of the B.A.B.E. studio. We’ve been in that building for six years and it’s been a lot of work to return the space to its original state. Almost all of the B.A.B.E. and BeauTease paraphernalia is out, the dance floor is gone, and tomorrow the mirrors are coming down. I’m sad to leave, but exciting to be moving on.

See you at The Thalia!

M2

Published in: on 28 December 2016 at 3:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Costume in Search of an Act

Dear Constant Reader,

Before I was a performer, I was a costumer. Thus when I am creating an act, the first thing I think is “what will I wear?” and that often dictates the choreography.

Sometime I make or acquire costumes and I have no idea how they want to be presented on stage. Case in point, this beauty.

Untitled

When I joined the costume presentation “Victorian Secret“, I told myself I’d have to reuse the corset in a burlesque costume (I decided the chemise and drawers were exempt). Since then I’ve added a bra, garter belt, and side-tie panties. A skirt is in the works. Possibly gloves. Maybe a headpiece. It’s going to be stunning, if I do say so myself.

Except I have no idea how to use it. Nothing is coming to mind. No concept, no music, no hook. Nothing.

Alas. I shall keep working on the costume in hopes that inspiration strikes. However, soon I am going to have to set it aside in favor of costumes for Wrathskellar Tales.

M2

Published in: on 23 August 2016 at 11:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Faerie Queene: Part the Last (for now)

Dear Constant Reader,

I’ve been writing about the evolution of my act, The Faerie Queene this week. You can read about the origins, the first iteration, and the revamp.

The act still needed work. March was “Nose to the Rhinestone” month for me and I started poking around at some of these issues.

Between balancing the headdress and trying to see out of the mask, I kept lowering my head, which is not a good look at all. Also, the mask was cheap looking compared to the rest of the costume and it hid almost all of my face, making it hard for me to project any emotion.

I started searching for a new mask and found a number of gold butterfly-shaped options. The one I bought is brass and even had a couple of gems on it. I discovered to my delight that Jewel Bond (a white rhinestone glue) worked just as well as E-6000 on metal without all the toxic fumes (I was always reluctant to use that poison, but now I don’t want to expose Albert’s little lungs) and added some purple rhinestones.

The new mask has much bigger eye holes, so I decided to take advantage and get some new eye makeup. With the old mask I couldn’t even wear lashes. I got a custom eyeshadow palette from Atomic Cosmetics with 3 shades of purple and a gold. I also picked up some deep purple glitter (I already had gold) and Dr. Jen threw in some fabulous white glitter that reflects purple.

Scratch pointed out how static the act was, especially during the fan dance. I’d just plant and gesture. Boring. He suggested that since the music was for dances I knew, how about incorporating some of the steps? Sadly, I discovered that galliard, salterello, and canarie steps are really hard to do in ballroom heels. However, I could do a piva step, but I couldn’t do it with my headdress on. A new headpiece would be great, but I just couldn’t visualize it. I kept trying to work with the one I had.

In frustration, one rehearsal, I fumed “I can galliard in a farthengale while wearing a French hood! Why can’t I…” Oh. Brain storm.

As sad as I was to set Whisper’s headdress aside (I’ll find another act for it — it’s too lovely to languish), I was excited to create a new piece. It had been a while since I’d done any millinery (I think my last project was the silk top hat I made for “Mackie Messer”). I made a French hood base and covered it in printed purple velvet. Scratch designed a twiggy crown with leaves and flowers of metal and I did my best to bring it to life.

He painted some twigs with a variety of metallic paints and I attached them to the crescent, then added a bunch of flower, leaf and butterfly charms and a few Swarovski butterfly beads. Instead of the traditional black hood, I stitched an array of colored organza ribbons to the back of the crescent. The entire thing is edged-beaded with gold Swarovski pearls (in Renaissance terms, a billiment). I’m so happy with how it turned out.

While in Los Angeles in February I bought a long red wig. It wasn’t cheap, but it looks great. It’s probably the best fitting wig I’ve ever worn.

As well as Cassie’s fan had served me, it was starting to soften around the edges. It was time for a new one, made out of more durable material. I had decided wood would work nicely after Brigitte brought me back a wooden fan from Spain. I certainly didn’t want to try cutting over 2 dozen staves myself, even out of something soft, like basswood. I went to danger!awesome and they laser-cut new staves out of birch veneer.

My student Devastacia is a talented artist (she’s the one who made The Lost Girl’s dollhouse so beautiful and creepy) and I asked her if she would paint the new fan. My biggest challenge was stringing the staves together. I had the original fan to copy and Cassie gave me a little advice, but for the first try I definitely used the wrong thread. It was only after Devastacia finished the painting that I figured out the right stuff. It was a remarkable pain to redo, I must say, but it was worth the effort. The fan looks beautiful now and it’s much sturdier and lighter.

I also wanted new pasties — butterflies that actually look like butterflies. I used wee lace butterflies and embellished them, which turned out lovely. However, even using skin-tone pastie bases, they looked like lace butterflies sewn to pasties, not like butterflies just perched on my nips. After a few attempts, I figured out a trick…

I’ve only performed the new act in public twice and I don’t have any performance photos yet. The best I can do for now is this backstage selfie:

What’s next for the act? Keep practicing, keep performing, keep improving. I might tweak the music, but other than that, I think this version is the one (famous last words…) I’m planning to submit it to the New York Burlesque Festival, so keep your fingers crossed for me!

M2

Published in: on 9 June 2016 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Faerie Queene: Part 2

Dear Constant Reader,

I’ve been writing about the evolution of my act, The Faerie Queene this week. You can read about the origins and the first iteration.

I let the act rest for a bit after The Bod of Avon while I thought about what needed improvement. I mostly liked the costume and the magic, but I wanted new music, some kind of headdress, and some magic for the middle of the act.

Music
After puzzling about the music, I decided that I wanted to stick with the Renaissance. I asked Aaron M., occasional BeauTease photographer and Renaissance dance expert, to recommend some dances tunes. He sent me a dozen suggestions and the winner was “Celeste Giglio” by Renaissonics. I liked it for a bunch of reasons, including that Renaissonics are local and that the title means “Heavenly Lily” in Italian. Also, it incorporated several dance styles* in one song, so there were lots of interesting changes.

Costume
The basic improvements were easy. I made new pasties with the white ribbon flowers that decorated my bra and thong. I replaced the ribbon sash with a narrow belt than hung down in the front, medieval-style. Since the costume was purple and gold, I wasn’t loving the silver shoes, even if the heels were covered with rhinestones. I got gold ballroom shoes and added rhinestones (picture is pre-stoning).

I decided that untying the two ribbon straps was too boring — I couldn’t make them different enough from one another. I removed one set and went to a one-shoulder look that I like better.

A fabulous headdress was needed. It would give me height and presence and really signify “queen”. The problem was that I couldn’t come up with a design. I had been collecting little purple flowers and butterflies and also had a hair fall I never wore. At the Expo I commissioned Whisper de Corvo to make me a regal headdress, incorporating all those bits & bobs. She works with quilled paper, which has a very delicate look (and is made from recycled show posters). And she understands fae and fantastical design. When the headdress arrived, I ended up making a little padded rest to elevate the back and give me more height.

I don’t have great hair and my usual curled-and-pinned style doesn’t exactly say “fae”. The long red wig I wear as The Diva was pressed into use. It looked good, especially with flowers and butterflies randomly scattered in the tresses, but it’s slippery. I always felt like the headdress was going to slide off, despite trying combs, clips, pins, and a strap. It never did, but I worried.

Scratch thought a mask would be a good addition and gave me a large gold glittery one, which I detailed with purple glitter paint and purple rhinestones. I liked the look, but it was really hard for me to see with it on and it liked to poke me under the eye. Eventually I figured out a few places on which to stick some foam to make it sit better.

Magic
The biggest challenge was the new magic trick for the middle of the act. I decided I wanted the fan to be magic too, since it’s a major part of the act. The trick I wanted is a color-changing fan, but the ones you can buy are small, made of laminated cardboard, and cheap-looking, only really good for kids’ shows. I was going to need a custom-made item.


Scratch had been working with a prop-fabricator named Cassandra, who made the giant paint brushes for our touring show, The Fine Art of Burlesque. I gave her the sample trick, explained what I wanted, and let her get to work. I had asked that the fan be something sturdy (not cardboard), purple with gold decorations changing to the reverse. As it turned out, she had to use heavy card, because her plastic prototype failed when scaled up, but it worked perfectly.

On Stage
The BeauTease were invited to perform at The 2014 Ohio Burlesque Festival and Scratch was hosting. He asked Bella Sin, the festival organizer, if I could debut my revamped act there. Without even asking to see it, she agreed. It was great to have a performance date, but, of course, that meant that the pressure was on to get everything ready in time.

I was so nervous, but it seemed to go over well. I think this was the first time the act was introduced as “The Faerie Queene”. Scratch told me that the stage kittens were all clustered in the wings trying to figure out where the flowers were coming from. There is video, but it was shot from a great distance and I’m this tiny washed out figure on a great big stage.

Here are two photos from Eric Paul Owens from the festival.

When the act was accepted at the Vermont Burlesque Festival in 2015, I only made one change. I thought the pasties with the white flowers didn’t read from stage. If anything, they looked like I had a little whipped cream on my boobs. Nothing worth the dramatic reveal the music wants.

Just before the festival, I made butterfly-shaped pasties covered with purple rhinestones. Very sparkly, but ultimately I didn’t love them. They were too large — it was my first attempted at a non-geometric pastie — and because of the rhinestones I had available at the time, I made a poor design choice in shading and the details of the wings got lost. If I had it to do again, I would have used the lightest purple on the outer part of the wings and the purple velvet in the centers of the wings.

Of course I don’t have any photos of the pasties in use. I do have this artistic shot from Tim Stowe Photography.

The act still wasn’t really where I wanted it. What could I do to improve it?

Up next: take three and the present day.

M2
*A galliard, a salterello, and a canarie, for those that are wondering. Yes, I know how to dance all of them, but that’s a story for another time.

Published in: on 8 June 2016 at 3:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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