Review: Growing Up Naked

Dear Constant Reader,

Scratch got me a copy of Burlesque West: Showgirls, Sex, and Sin in Postwar Vancouver for the holidays, but that’s not the book I’m reviewing. I’ll get to it. Eventually. Early in the book, the author mentioned a book I’d never heard of, I was intrigued, and found a copy. And here it is.

Growing Up Naked: My Years in Bump and Grind by Lindalee Tracey (1997).

Lindalee Tracey began stripping, underaged, in an unspecified Canadian city in the 1970s, a transitional time for burlesque. She worked at Eden with angry, artistic Emma, Ruby who would spread, elegant Yvette who was once on a bill with Lili St. Cyr, and beautiful, bitter Sugar. She discovered the joy and power of dancing on the club stage. She also dealt with backstage jealousies, sleazy management, and a trial for lewdness. After being forced into a humiliating publicity stunt, she left Eden to tour in the U.S. There she discovered some unfortunate truths about Americans, in the industry there and in general.

She returned to Canada in time for the Olympics and found a home in Montreal at the SexOHrama. Some of her colleagues from Eden had also made the move, but their lives and fortunes had diverged from hers. After a while, she began drifting away from stripping to concentrate on her writing. Before she left the business entirely, she founded the Tits for Tots strip-a-thon, which raised both money for a local children’s hospital and the esteem of the participating strippers. Her final project before leaving stripping entirely was to be involved in a feminist documentary, which didn’t quite go as she’d hoped.

Her writing borders on poetic (not surprising, since she also wrote poetry). It’s all present tense, which gives it a sense of immediacy, but it has a misty quality of looking backwards as well. Unlike some other burlesque memoirs, she often looks inward and describes her feelings and emotional experiences, not just events and actions. Her story is interspersed with letters from some of her fans and her own poetry.

One of the aspects I found interesting was the changes in burlesque during the author’s career. When she started in burlesque, features (strippers) were still performing 20 minute sets. Early in her career the author muses on themes and songs for an act. Also, the features never mingled with the audience. It was go-go dancers who hustled drinks for tips. Periodically the go-gos would come on stage for a “paltry” three-song set. Then the go-gos were being brought on stage en masse for what became known as “the meat market”. The features were trying to compete with twenty girls at once (many of whom would “spread”) but also with porn movies being shown in the clubs. Once table dances were introduced, some strippers chose to step down in status to become a go-go for the increase in income via tips. You can see the evolution into the present day strip club.

It’s clear Lindalee loved stripping and what it had been when she started. She felt it made her more, bigger, stronger. She fought constantly against being diminished and demeaned by her employers, the audience, and others who wouldn’t see the power the performers had on stage. When she left, striptease had changed completely and she mourned the loss of what it had been.

Besides her published writings, Lindalee Tracey also made films. At some point, I’ll review her documentary The Anatomy of Burlesque.

I filmed myself reading a short passage from this book, but only my Patrons can see the video. The rest of you will have to content yourself with this photo.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my 7 Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 12 July 2017 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Today’s tip continues the series on dressing room and backstage etiquette:

Respect other’s backstage rituals.

People prepare for the stage differently. Some are social and chatty. Some are quiet and meditative. Some listen to their music. Some stretch. Some work on costuming or other handwork. Some need to keep moving. Whatever you need to do to get ready for your performance is fine, as long as it doesn’t encroach on someone else’s needs.

So, wear your headphones. Keep the conversation to a moderate level. Find some space out of the way. Explain your needs in a clear and polite way. Everyone should be able to get their energy up and focused in their own way so you all can have the best show possible.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These 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 7 July 2017 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Big Props: The Picture Frame

Dear Constant Reader,

Continuing in my big prop series, The Picture Frame was built for the same show as The Paintbrushes, The Fine Art of Burlesque. We used it as both a back drop for the whole show and as a silhouette screen for my number “An Invitation”.

The base of the frame is sturdy metal pieces that bolt together. They are concealed behind decorative molding, painted with a metallic finish. The two frames are held together with tiny bolts, which allow the metal to slide under the molding to make corners that are neat and securely-attached. The whole thing is supported with wooden feet and braces, painted black for unobtrusiveness. The scrim is made from a king bedsheet and is held in place with Velcro. That was a bit fussy (I was the one who sewed it), but after I added some subtle clues as to which side was up, it became much easier to attach correctly.

Brigitte got this backstage shot of the setup (I’ve since gotten a better backlight):

Once broken down, the frame packs into The Big Red Box along with the paint brushes and would ride on the roof thusly:

In The Big Time Pearl used the frame without the scrim to portray a dancer in the vein of Degas, who steps out of her picture and into the real world for a while.

Pros: packs down fairly small, albeit long. Versatile — I can think of a few neat effects we can do with the scrim that we haven’t tried yet.
Cons: a bit complicated to put together if you don’t know what you’re doing.

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 5 July 2017 at 3:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! A happy Independence Day weekend for my US readers! I’m continuing with tips on home to be the sort of person with whom people love to share a dressing room. Here’s the latest:

If you’re going to use hairspray, loose glitter, spray-on stockings, &c, ask permission of the other inhabitants of the dressing room.

If your dressing roommates are okay with it, spray or dust yourself pointing away from people, costumes, and food. If someone has an issue, check if there’s some other place you can take care of this part of your beauty ritual.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These 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 June 2017 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Big Props: Evie’s Oyster

Dear Constant Reader,

I’d like to return to the theme of big props. I haven’t covered all the big props in the BeauTease collection, before I even get to the props we built for The Big Time. This is one of my favorites, because it looks great and the construction is so clever: Evie’s Oyster

Evie was our Oyster Girl for Madame Burlesque, so obviously she needed an oyster. We were touring with this show, so the oyster need to break down for transport, but it had to be large enough that Evie could fit inside with a minimum of contortion (she’s pretty bendy, but still…) Also, it needed to be light enough that the two sea nymphs who danced with Evie could carry it onto stage with her inside.

And this is how it appeared:

It’s very cleverly made from two papasan chairs. Betty sacrificed one for the cause and I think the other was a Craig’s List find. The two seats and one base were covered in fabric and decorated with “seaweed” and pearls, then securely fastened together with zip ties. We tried some other methods of attachment, but those proved the best, even though we had to cut them off after every show.

And when the oyster opened:

There’s Evie!

Behind Evie’s arms, you can just see the two golden cords inside that keep the lid from falling back when the oyster is open. What you can’t see is the wooden platform Scratch built for Evie to sit on, so she could just step out instead of clambering up.

Her pearl was made from a battery-powered accent lamp, so it gently glowed.

The only real problems I remember having with the oyster was a venue with a stage entrance that was so narrow the oyster had to be carried through sideways and Evie had to hop inside once it was positioned on stage and another one where the tiny backstage area had no room for it at all. For the most part it’s a good example of “packs (relatively) small, plays big”.

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 June 2017 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Here’s your tip:

Keep your dressing room footprint small.

Most dressing rooms are not large or lavishly appointed (oh, I could tell you dressing room horror stories) and a lot of people need to use them. You don’t want to take up more than your fair share of space.

Keep your stuff (make up, costume, hair tools, &c.) compact and under control, rather than sprawling all over. Not only does it make you a more pleasant person with whom to share a dressing room, it keeps your things from getting lost, damaged, or accidentally appropriated. Also, you’re ready to leave more quickly at the end of the night, if you re-pack as you go.

If there’s somewhere else you can hang out if you’re not actively getting ready, you should leave the dressing room for those who currently need it. If not, be as out of the way as possible, especially keeping clear of those performers who are going to come racing in for a fast change. If you’re one of those, warn everyone in advance. Not only will people stay out of your way, you’ll probably even get some offers of help.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These 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 23 June 2017 at 2:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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In the Kitchen: Asparagus Forced in French Rolls (1790)

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s been a while since I did any really historic cooking. This late 18th century recipe for asparagus bits in a savory custard sauce served inside a hollowed-out loaf of bread makes a delightful light supper or, as recommended, a side dish.

From The Housekeeper’s Instructor by William Augustus Henderson (1790)
Asparagus forced in French Rolls.
Cut a piece out of the crust of the tops of three French rolls, and take out the crumb; but be careful that the crusts fit again in the places from whence they were taken. Fry the rolls brown in fresh butter: then take a pint of cream, the yolks of eggs beat fine, and a little salt and nutmeg. Stir them well together over a slow fire till it begins to be thick. Have ready an hundred of small grass boiled, and save tops enough to stick the rolls with. Cut the rest of the tops small, put them into the cream, and fill the loaves with them. Before you fry the rolls, make holes thick in the top crusts to stick the grass in. Then lay on the pieces of crust, and stick the grass in, which will make it look as if it were growing. This makes a very handsome side-dish at a second course.

The original recipe makes three loaves, but I cut it down to one, as is my wont.

“Forced” (sometimes spelled “farced”) means stuffed.

Asparagus was well known in the classical world, where it was called “asparagus” by the Romans. The Emperor Augustus is reported to have said “celerius quam asparagi cocuntur” (“quicker than cooking asparagus”) to describe something done very fast. The vegetable didn’t become popular in northern Europe until the 16th century. The English, because they’re like that, mutated the perfectly good Latin name into “sparrow grass” or just plain “grass”, as did our author above.


I start with a small loaf of French bread (you don’t want to use a baguette for this — it’s too long and skinny) and cut a big rectangle out of the top crust. Be careful not to break it when removing (done that). Carefully scoop out all the bread inside without cutting through the crust. I just pull it out with my fingers and maybe use a spoon for the last bits. I save the innards for something that needs bread crumbs. Poke a bunch of holes in the top crust. They should be just big enough to hold an asparagus stalk.

Then melt some butter in a skillet and fry the bread until it is toasted. There’s no butter in the above photo because I forgot it in the fridge. The lid is easy to fry, but the loaf is a bit awkward. I like to brush the interior of the loaf with some of the melted butter.

Cook asparagus until it’s just tender. This doesn’t take long (see the Latin quote above) If you don’t have your favorite method, you can see how I cook them here. Cut the cooked asparagus into small pieces. I think I usually cut them about an inch long. Reserve as many asparagus tips as holes poked in the bread lid.

Warm some cream in a small saucepan. I was using light cream, but you can use heavy cream for a creamier custard. I don’t like whipping cream because it has thickeners added to it. Beat an egg yolk in a small bowl. When the cream gets hot, temper the egg yolk by added a little cream to the egg, beating the whole while. Add the egg/cream mixture back into the cream. Season with salt and grated nutmeg (also missing in the picture — where was my head?).

Cook custard over low heat until it thickens a bit. Add the asparagus bits to the saucepan and remove from heat. You don’t want the asparagus to cook more, just warm up a touch.

Spoon the asparagus-custard mixture into the loaf. Take the reserved tips and stick them into the holes you poked in the lid. Put the lid on the loaf. Voila! It looks like a little grassy hill. Adorable!

I end up cutting this into very messy, but delicious, slices, because the custard oozes out as soon as the structural integrity of the loaf is breached. I suppose one could treat it like a bread bowl, where the loaf is primarily a serving vessel, but I like the combination of bread, custard, and asparagus in each bite.

Asparagus Forced in a French Roll
1 small loaf of French bread (should be crusty, but not a baguette)
Butter
5 oz. cream
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 bunch asparagus (about 30 skinny stalks)
Salt to taste
Nutmeg to taste

Cut out a lid from the top crust of the loaf. Carefully scoop out all the bread inside without damaging the crust. Cut several holes in the lid.

Melt a little butter in a skillet, about a tablespoon or so, and fry the bread until it is toasted.

Cook asparagus until tender. Cut the cooked asparagus into small pieces. Reserve as many asparagus tips as holes poked in the bread lid.

Warm cream in a small saucepan. Temper egg yolk and add to cream. Season with salt and freshly grated nutmeg. Cook over low heat until sauce thickens. Add the asparagus bits to the mixture and remove from heat.

Spoon the asparagus-custard mixture into the loaf. Take the reserved tips and stick them into the holes cut in the lid. Replace the lid on the loaf. Serve.

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 June 2017 at 1:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s Friday again and time for your tip again!

If you need to cut fabric in straight lines, a rotary cutter is your best friend.

If you need a lot of strips of fabric, like for can-can ruffles, corset binding, or quilts, a rotary cutter is the way to go. It’s fast, easy, and accurate. you will also need a special cutting mat and acrylic ruler, but the investment pays off in saved time. Use the lines on the mat to line up your fabric. Set the ruler as a straight edge and run the cutter along side it. Before you know it, you’ll have heaps of fabric strips (or squares or triangles). Just be careful — those cutters are sharp — and close the safety cover when you’re not actively cutting. And replace the blade (it’s easy) when it starts getting dull.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These 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 16 June 2017 at 2:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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And the Winner is…

Dear Constant Reader,

Thank you all for reading my review of Exotic World and The Burlesque Revival. Big thanks to those of you who shared your favorite burlesque Legends, living, departed, and fictional. I enjoyed reading your comments.

By random selection, the winner of the DVD is Caramel Knowledge! I hope you enjoy it!

Also, Red Tremmel, the documentary’s creator pointed out that one can rent or buy the film streaming right here. And you should!

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 June 2017 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Before I get to your tip, a couple of reminders and announcements.

First, I’m giving away a copy of Exotic World and the Burlesque Revival, just go to my review and leave a comment telling me who your favorite legend of burlesque is and why. I’ll pick a winner at random on Wednesday morning.

Second, applications to the first ever Mini BurlExpo close on Saturday! It’s going to be a fun and relaxed weekend. Join us in July!

And now, your tip:

Create info sheets for each of your acts.

It will make your life so much easier when submitting to festivals or working with a producer. I keep these files handy on my computer and then cut & paste the necessary information as needed. For each act I have the name, a link to the video, the song title, artist and length, a basic introduction, a short description, set up and clean up, lighting and sound notes, and anything else important.

I also have another sheet with my performer bio in various common lengths (50 words, 500 characters, 200 words, &c.). If you’re really organized, also have an mp3 of each song and promo photos in the same folder with the act info and the bio. Everything you need in one place!

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These 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 9 June 2017 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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