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 designer 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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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 Devastasia 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 Devastasia 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!


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.

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.

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.

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.

*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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The Faerie Queene: Part 1

Dear Constant Reader,

I’m chronicling the evolution of my act, The Faerie Queene (which I’m performing tonight at The Teaseday Club!)

Last time, I told you about the origins. Here’s the first iteration. The Faerie Queene, which I was thinking of as “Titania”, first appeared at The Bod of Avon in February 2013. I tried to write this as a narrative, but I think it works better as discrete sections.

When I create an act, I often start with the costume. Only natural, I’ve been a costumer for a long time. I had pretty firmly decided that it should be an ethereal faerie sort of thing and keep to the theme of flowers and butterflies. I wanted the costume to be simple, but regal, and have a nude underlayer.

AS561 - 18I got really lucky with the materials. The fabric store near my house carries fabulous re-embroidered and dimensional fabrics and they had a netting covered in ribbon flowers and gold cording in several colors. I bought some purple for a gown and white to decorate my underthings.

I found a flesh-toned bra that turned out to be more perfect than I expected and a similarly-colored thong. I decorated them with the white floral netting and scatterings of rhinestones in pale colors (more interesting than purely crystal).

AS575 - 23I decided to just let the fabric speak for itself and made a faux-Grecian gown by adding ribbon ties at the shoulders and letting the rest just drape. The flowers got some subtle sparkle with Purple Velvet rhinestones that were the same color. I secured the gown with a sash of gold-embroidered organza ribbon.

I wore my natural hair, with some flower and butterfly decorations pinned in. Pasties were kind of an after-thought. I used some crystal-covered ones in the same mix of colors as the undies. Silver ballroom shoes with rhinestoned heels finished it off.

AS561 - 30The butterfly trick requires a fan and Scratch found me a delicate cloth one in black and gold, which I used for the two preview shows. Later in the run I switched to an similar fan that was white with pink, which I thought worked better with the color theme.

No song was really speaking to me. I needed something to fit the theme — regal, magical, ethereal. After much agonizing, I selected “Greensleeves” as performed by the Musicians of Swanne Alley. I didn’t love it, but it was the right length and fit well with a Shakespeare show (admittedly a Shakespeare show that featured music from Firehouse Five and Joe Jackson).

My biggest stumbling block was the darn dancing butterflies. I could only make them work maybe once in three times, but worse still was that I didn’t know how to incorporate them into the act. I was sort of awkwardly shoehorning them in with no good way to start or end the bit. I finally took the writer’s advice of “kill your darlings” and cut them out. And heaved a sigh of relief.

I realized that the magic tricks were all stacked up at the beginning with flower productions and at the end with the big butterfly finale. Scratch suggested a different kind of flower production I could do, which involved the fan, about three-quarters through. That helped.

AS561 - 33

I first presented the act at Oberon, where we previewed The Bod of Avon. Then we did an extended run at Naga, which I wrote about here. The photos above were taken at both shows by Hans Wendland.

I thought the act was only okay and had a *lot* of room for improvement. It didn’t say “royalty” to me. I needed to command the stage and that wasn’t happening. There was still a big gap in the middle without any magic. I wanted new music. Back to the drawing board.

Up next: The Faerie Queene, take two.


Published in: on 7 June 2016 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Faerie Queen: Prologue

Dear Constant Reader,

If you come to The Teaseday Club tomorrow evening, you will see an act I call The Faerie Queene. I’ve been working on it for a long time and it’s gone through some changes, big and small, over the years.

I don’t remember exactly when I conceived of this act, but I know it was after I saw video of magician Jeff McBride‘s dancing butterflies. I was absolutely enchanted. I wanted to learn how to do that and incorporate it into a burlesque act.

Scratch encouraged me by buying me the magic trick, which came with all the equipment and an instructional DVD. I practiced and practiced, but wasn’t making much progress. I didn’t really have any concept of an act yet; I was just trying to learn to make those butterflies dance.

In May 2010 Dusty Summers invited us to Las Vegas for a preview of a show she was in called Play Dead, created by Todd Robbins and Teller*. While we were out there, Scratch arranged for me to have a private lesson with Jeff McBride (It was an amazing trip!). I told Jeff about my vague ideas for the act and he worked with me on the butterflies, but also taught me a flower production and made some suggestions on how to incorporate them. It was a very intense two hours.

I worked pretty diligently on learning the flower production and practicing the dancing butterflies for a while, but I still didn’t have an act to put them in. I wasn’t getting much better at the butterflies, which was frustrating me no end. And there were always other projects that were more important.

Still, it was always in the back of my mind. I was starting to think of the act as “Titania” and it was beginning to have a structure.

We decided that our February 2013 show would be The Bod of Avon, a Shakespeare-themed romp and that seemed like a fine time for Titania to have her debut.

Up next: The Faerie Queene, part one.

M2* I admit that I was an idiot because my first reaction was “Oh, no, I can’t take the time to go to Vegas, I’m going to Chicago for a wedding later that week.” Fortunately I came to my senses and realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity and “Yes!” was the only right answer. I have no regrets whatsoever.

Published in: on 6 June 2016 at 11:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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