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.

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Published in: on 5 July 2017 at 3:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Big Props: Paintbrushes

Dear Constant Reader,

For the next installment in the Big Props series, the paintbrushes. A few years ago we designed a touring show called The Fine Art of Burlesque. The structure of the show was such that it could be presented by any three dancers plus Scratch plus a local special guest, so we only needed one car and one hotel room.

Betty created a jewelbox number in which could be done by any three dancers. Some of us learned just one part (that would be me), others learned two, so any combination of us could do it. And to make sure that the audience really got the Fine Art theme right off, we were all dancing with staves that looked like great big paintbrushes.

Photo by Rich Jarvis at the Coolidge Corner Theatre

The brushes are made from PVC pipe, a popular material with us, because it’s sturdy, light, and doesn’t need specialty tools to cut. The “bristles” were made from black feather trim. The “handle” was capped on the end, painted, and decorated with silver foil tape. I think they came out pretty nicely.

Scratch built a wooden box in which to carry them and also the picture frame backdrop (more on that in another missive). The box was perfectly designed to go on the roof of the car, but it took almost all of us to heft it up there and get it secured. That was always an amusing end to loading out.

Pros: Looks good. Exactly what we wanted. Easy to handle. Inexpensive to make. Pretty easy to transport. I think they’re about 5 feet and change long, so if we’re not transporting an entire show’s worth of people and gear, they can go inside the car.

Con: The only one I can think of is that they’re not very versatile. We’ve only ever used them for that one number. There’s not a lot of call for over-sized paintbrushes. It was the dance that turned out to be more versatile. We’ve since done it with something like five different designs of staves and it’s one of our go-to group numbers.

Published in: on 13 April 2017 at 2:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Show on the Road: Sunday, July 21

Dear Constant Reader,

Only 2 days left! It’s your last chance to vote for The Boston Babydolls for “Best Theatre Group” and B.A.B.E. for “Best Dance Classes“!

(Need to catch up? Read about Friday and Saturday.)

We had a great plan for Sunday morning: pick up donuts at the afore-mentioned donut shop, go be tourists for a bit, then hit the road. This failed when we discovered the donut shop was closed. A little more research showed that the entire chain was out of business. Oh well. On to being tourists.

One of Johnstown's claims to fame is the Inclined Plane*. We weren’t going to miss that, especially one we found out we could take the car up and drive down. Here’s a bunch of pictures that don’t come close to doing it justice:
Scratch took some video, which maybe he’ll post somewhere.

Having asked a friendly local to recommend a good place for breakfast, we went to Our Sons’ where we sampled the local cuisine, i.e scrapple**. After deciding against getting a gob (kind of like a whoopie pie) for the road, we piled back into the faithful Babydoll-mobile for the long drive back to Boston.

It was delightfully uneventful. Scratch mocked my music choices. Betty coded. Brigitte drove for the last leg***.

We got to rehearsal at around 8 where D.D. and Stella were waiting on the loading dock to help unpack. At that time on the last trip, we were still in Pennsylvania, convinced we’d never get home.

This was the last performance of The Fine Art of Burlesque for me, but it’s not done yet. You can see Betty, Devora, Stella, and Scratch on August 16th in Portsmouth, NH and August 17th in Denmark, ME with Special Guest Diamond DeVille. Hopefully one of the other Babydolls will chronicle the trip for me.

But next up we’re headed for The Ohio Burlesque Festival to headline on August 2nd, and teach on July 3rd. And we’ll be stopping at Posh in Scranton to perform on August 1st!


* The other being the *three* catastrophic floods that ravaged the city in 1889, 1936, and 1977. Hence, the name “Flood City”.
** And chocolate chip pancakes.
*** Don’t look at the speedometer when Brigitte is driving. Trust me.

Published in: on 24 July 2013 at 10:47 am  Leave a Comment  
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Show on the Road: Saturday, July 20

Dear Constant Reader,

Only 3 days left! It’s your last chance to vote for The Boston Babydolls for “Best Theatre Group” and B.A.B.E. for “Best Dance Classes“!

(Just joining us? Here’s Friday.)

Saturday began with the search for breakfast. We like diners, but Scratch had found a donut shop that sounded amazing. Then he discovered that we had crossed the IHOP/Waffle House line. Waffle House it would be*! And the donut shop had a location in Johnstown, so we’d save that for the next day.

Fortified with pecan waffles, we tried to visit a vintage clothing shop, but failed. On the road again! The drive to Johnstown was pretty easy. And there was surprisingly little roadkill compared to the last trip through Pennsylvania. At that time (because we were mostly delirious) we had come up with a game that if you saw roadkill, you grabbed someone’s boob. Remember that Betty wasn’t on that trip. Also, she spent most of this trip on her laptop, madly coding the new Great Burlesque Expo website. So, I call out “Roadkill!” and from the back seat I hear a scream as Brigitte gropes an unsuspecting Betty. From then on, if we saw roadkill, Brigitte just screamed.

We arrived at Art Works, unloaded, set up our dressing room in an enormous room, and figured out how we were going to set some of our bigger numbers on the little stage. On the recommendation of our hosts, we repaired to The Phoenix Tavern for some dinner. There were signs all over the place reminding us that they had chicken balls. This was an intriguing mystery which I will explain later. Suffice it to say, it’s not something you want to eat before a show.

Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of the show to share. A photographer was going to be there, but he was in a massive car accident the day before. He’s okay, miraculously. However, that kept him from making it to the show. And he was the ride for Abbey, our fabulous stage kitten/merch girl from The Rex, so she couldn’t be there either. Much sadness. Fortunately, we got a volunteer stage hand, who did great, especially on no notice.

First up was the Whiskey River Panhandlers, so we got to listen to some awesome music while we got ready. The show went just fine. We didn’t have a Special Guest for this iteration, so Scratch did another magic trick to give everyone time to change and Betty took the SG spot in the Act II opener.

You can’t please all the people all the time. Although the majority of the audience had a really good time, I did overheard Scratch apologizing to an indignant audience member that we hadn’t intended to offend anyone. Uh-oh. What had we done? I feared Brigitte’s Still Life act was to blame.

As it turns out, it was one of the numbers I think is cute and (relatively) wholesome. Our finale involves artist’s canvases with only the blank backs visible for most of the number. When we finally reveal the paintings, the first 2 are the same (and always get a big laugh, but I’m not going to give away the joke here) and the 3rd is different (which gets a different laugh). It happens to be a painting of a Renaissance Madonna and Child**. And that was the problem. Not Brigitte deep-throating a banana. The Blessed Mother at a burlesque show. There’s a first time for everything.

After we packed up and loaded out (and thanks to everyone who helped out!), we went back to the Phoenix Tavern with some folks. All Brigitte could talk about was trying a chicken ball.

It’s shredded chicken and stuffing formed into a ball about the size of my two fists, dipped in batter, and deep fried. It’s served on mashed potatoes and covered in gravy. Brigitte & Scratch did let me have a taste before they devoured it. I’m told the banana split cake was pretty fab too***.

And then bed. Morning was going to come very early…

Tomorrow: home again!


* A new experience for me.
** Chosen because it was visually the best contrast with the other two. No other reason.
*** You know how I feel about bananas.

Published in: on 23 July 2013 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Show on the Road: Friday, July 19

Dear Constant Reader,

We’re down to the final days! It’s your last chance to vote for The Boston Babydolls for “Best Theatre Group” and B.A.B.E. for “Best Dance Classes“!

We were back on the road and back to Pennsylvania. The crew this time was your humble correspondent, Scratch, Brigitte, and Betty. We didn’t have a show on Friday night, so things we a little more relaxed. Nor did we hit the godawful traffic that we did on the way to the Jersey Shore. It was, however, unbelievably hot.

The plan was to stop in Scranton, PA for the night. We’d been hoping to book a show half way between Boston and Johnstown, but the timing didn’t work out, so we had some R&R instead. First stop, The Houdini Museum.

I’m still not clear on the Houdini/Scranton connection, but what the heck. It’s one of those tiny, crowded, labor-of-love museums, with some real gems. One room has items arranged roughly chronologically to illustrate Houdini’s career and the other has more eclectic artifacts. There’s a *lot* of ephemera (programs, posters, photos, clippings, &c).

The gems, in my opinion, were the personal items: huge gold-leaf frames containing photograph portraits of Rabbi and Mrs. Weiss (Houdini’s parents) that hung in Houdini’s house, one of Bess Houdini’s costumes (Betty examined it pretty closely and said it was finely appliqued and the beads were larger than she expected), a vest of Houdini’s with a card-raising gimmick sewn into the pocket, but the one that struck me the most was a tallit (a prayer shawl). It’s unknown if it was Houdini’s personal item or if it belonged to his father, but Houdini kept it at his house. I know that’s not very magical, but it’s very human.

Scratch, using his super-restaurant sense, picked Stirna’s (since 1908) for dinner. Everything was awfully good, especially the chive-parmesan salad dressing, and dessert was included. I could only finish one of the lovely little brownies, so I asked the waitress to wrap up the other. She slipped another one in the box, so it wouldn’t be lonely.

Scratch wanted to check out a potential venue (which turned out to have no potential for a burlesque show) and then we kind of lamely thought about going back to the hotel. Then we saw this mysterious light and decided to check it out.

It’s high atop the Electrical Building. The real thing is much less blurry, and blinks. After reading a plaque about why Scranton was The Electric City, we wandered around gawking at the amazing architecture. Downtown Scranton has some incredible buildings; the Courthouse looks like Hogwarts. Brigitte was sure that every elaborately carved stone edifice was the University of Scranton, so we kept walking and looking.

This is us under the appropriate entrances to a former school (they say “Girls” and “Boys”; I know the pictures aren’t great).

Then we walked past the Masonic Temple — heck, it was a Masonic Cathedral! It appeared to be the happenin’ place on a Friday night in Scranton. Someone overheard our wonderings about some of the buildings and gave us a little orientation, pointed out where the University of Scranton actually was located, explained that everyone pouring out of the Masonic Temple had just been to hear Lamas chanting, and recommended a nearby place for drinks.

We had seen Posh at The Scranton Club on our walk but figured we were too grubby for what looked like a classy joint. After being assured we were dressed just fine, we decided to go. The cocktails were fabulous — and you know I’m not a big drinker. I had a “Hemingwayish” of white rum, St. Germain, orange bitters, honey, muddled strawberries, and lime juice. Just lovely on a sultry evening.

Scratch had a long chat with the owners about performing there in the future, possibly even sooner rather than later. And then it was time for all little Babydolls (and Betty) to go to bed and be well-rested for the drive to Johnstown on the morrow.


Published in: on 22 July 2013 at 3:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Fine Art of Burlesque: Boston

Dear Constant Reader,

Vote for The Boston Babydolls for “Best Theatre Group” and B.A.B.E. for “Best Dance Classes“!

Saturday was the only local production of The Fine Art of Burlesque. We were at one of our favorite venues, The Coolidge Corner Theatre as part of their @fter Midnight program. It’s a lovely theatre. One of the drawbacks is almost no time to get ready — we get set up as soon as the last movie ends and try to let the audience in as close to midnight as possible. And this show is a touch more elaborate that most we’ve presented there. So, there were a couple of exciting moments. The joys of live theatre.

Many thanks to our Special Guest, Sweet Lily Bee from Minneapolis; our stage kittens, Mandy & Aubree; the tech crew at the Coolidge; and Hunter who planned just be an audience member but ended up helping with load in and load out anyway.

Here’s a couple of pictures from Mystic River Studios by Rich Jarvis Photography!


On Saturday we’ll be presenting The Fine Art of Burlesque in Johnstown, PA. Expect a report of another epic road trip!


Published in: on 15 July 2013 at 11:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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Show on the Road: Sunday 6/23

Dear Constant Reader,

Vote for The Boston Babydolls for “Best Theatre Group” and B.A.B.E. for “Best Dance Classes“!

Buy your tickets to The Teaseday Club on July 9th in my name!

When last we left our intrepid burlesquers, we had conquered Asbury Park and then Pittsburgh. Now it’s time for the long trek home.

This missive is going to be long. Appropriate as it was the longest day. Not really, because the previous day had been the Summer Solstice; this just *felt* like the longest day ever.

I have to supply a little backstory here. Part of the reason we played Pittsburgh (other than because Chris really wanted to see us) was that Scratch had to get some stuff out of storage near by. Early Sunday morning we were to pick up a trailer, load it up, get back on the road and have everyone snug in their beds by midnight or so.

Saturday afternoon Scratch got a call from U-Haul in some town in PA we’d never heard of asking why he hadn’t picked up his trailer at noon. Uh-oh. He called the place we were supposed to go, but they didn’t know anything and didn’t have a trailer for us. Apparently U-Haul thinks switching reservations without notifying the customer is okay.

Then there was a fruitless call to the local customer service which ended with the bitchy supervisor refusing to acknowledge that there was a problem and hanging up on us. Fortunately we reached Dee, a saint at the national customer service, who was bound and determined to make this right. The best she could do was a trailer at a place near our hotel (yay!) which didn’t open until noon (boo). Still, something is better than nothing.

The glitch in our plans wasn’t all bad. We slept in a bit Sunday morning and then went to Hugger Mugger Tasty Recipes for cinnamon groovy-cakes with warm hyrup (that’s exactly what the menu says! Why would I make this stuff up?). Then Scratch took us to Living Treasure Animal Park to make up for skipping Reptileland, Penn’s Cave, and all the other attractions we could only stare at longingly from the car window.

It was a fun little zoo. We fed and pet many baby animals. The picture shows Stella determined to feed a baby goat which kept getting shoved out of the way by its elders. But she stood firm and made sure the little one only got his treat. Everyone was quite charmed by the tiny deer and amazed by the horns on the Watusi cattle. And we got to pet a baby kangaroo.

I tried to get the ostrich to hand over just a couple of feathers, but it was having none of it. There was a gorgeous black leopard (one could see its spots in the sunlight!) that rolled over as though to have its belly rubbed, just like a certain cat we left back in Boston. We just had time for a quick pass in the gift shop before we had to hit the road again. You can see Brigitte trying on a new boa.

We were delighted that our trailer was actually where it was supposed to be. And then I had to get under the car to unhitch the cargo carrier, so the trailer could go on. Touring is so glamourous! After some tense moments when there were issues with the hitching, we were good to go! Off to the storage unit, where loading up was fast and easy, thanks to Stella & Brigitte who worked hard despite having no connection to the stuff in storage. The GPS said we’d be back in Boston just before midnight.

Midnight. Ha ha.

It was a long, long drive. We tried to keep the driver awake and each other entertained. A sampling of the frequently heard in the Babydoll-mobile:

“Hey, more roadkill!”
“Look at all the fucks I do not give.”
“I’m so happy I’m shooting my dick off.”
(sung)”We are never, ever, ever getting out of Pennsylvania.”
“We are totally trending right now.”
“Google, you two-faced whore!”

Late in the evening, still in PA (as we were for most of the trip), seeking dinner, we ended up in a biker bar. We feared this was going to be a big mistake, but the bartender was very welcoming, the kitchen was open, and the wings were quite good.

Under the super-moon we drove and drove.

At some godawful hour we finally got to the Pike, and even more godawful hours later everyone was home. I tumbled into bed at 4:30am. The drive was hellish, it was epic, but it was also fun. Stella & Brigitte are great traveling companions and I would totally do it again. And will — we’re playing Johnstown, PA in July and the Ohio Burlesque Festival in August.


Published in: on 1 July 2013 at 9:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Show on the Road: Saturday 6/22

Dear Constant Reader,

Vote for The Boston Babydolls for “Best Theatre Group” and B.A.B.E. for “Best Dance Classes“!

Buy your tickets to The Teaseday Club on July 9th in my name!

Saturday morning, we eagerly went to The Blue Swan for a real NJ diner breakfast. Although I live in Boston and was raised in CT, my family hails from New Jersey. There’s one treat that I only have when I’m in Jersey (which as far as I can tell exists nowhere else) — Taylor ham. I know the classic is Taylor ham on a hard roll with egg & cheese, but I don’t like my meat product adulterated.

The drive to Pittsburgh was most uneventful, except for a lot of whimpering (mostly from Stella) as we passed roadside attractions that we had no time to visit. We were 5 minutes from the venue, according to the GPS, when traffic… just… stopped. Kenny Chesney was to blame, we later learned. Still, we only made it to the lovely Rex Theatre about 20 minutes behind schedule.

The theatre was great! Big stage! Huge dressing room! Full bar! Wonderful staff!

We met our Special Guest, Smokin’ McQueen, and our wonderful stage kittens, Lita D’Vargas and Abbey B., then set things up, rehearsed a bit, met up with Chris R. (whom we met via The Twitterwife), and headed out to dinner. We went to Cambod-Ican Kitchen (noteworthy for the world’s most secure bathroom key). It wasn’t so much Cambodian as I’ve had it before, but the chicken and vegetable stir-fry was just the perfect pre-show meal.

The show went wonderfully. There were several photographers there, so expect to see more pictures! (Teaser photo by Colin Sheehy.) The audience was fantastic, enthusiastic, and begged us to return. And they bought a ton of merch. Abbey, who was acting as Merch Girl as well as Stage Kitten, was amazing! She refolded all the t-shirts, did an inventory count, and kept meticulous notes.

Here’s a little behind the scenes tidbit: the big framed canvas is assembled with a lot of nuts & bolts of various sizes and we discovered that they kept vibrating apart in transit, making us scramble to find all the %&$*# washers. After I finished my fan dance/silhouette act (hence the framed canvas…), I picked up my fans in the blackout and the nut popped off the left-hand one, spraying washers everywhere in the darkness. I did manage to get it into some semblance of fan shape to screen me on my walk back to the dressing room. Thank goodness it happened at the *end* of the number. But lesson learned to check *all* bolts.

After the show we had many hands helping us pack up all our stuff so that it went super-fast. When we were finished loading stuff onto the car, lovely Lita, in her short leopard print dress & heels, tied a chiffon scarf over her hair, donned a pair of sunglasses and hopped on the back of a motorcycle. It was one of the most marvelous things ever. I wish I had a picture.

After a show, we like to have a celebrational libation or two. We hoped to find a quiet cocktail lounge to chat with Chris and her friend Steve, but such things do not exist where we were (plenty of loud bars, yes). Steve pointed out that we were mere minutes from his house and there he had mead and a nice backyard. After a quick stop at Primanti Bros. so Stella could satisfy a life-long desire, we were settled into a charming courtyard with our sandwiches and home-made lingonberry mead.

After too short a time, we had to say our goodbyes, as we had another hour to drive before we slept. We will definitely be returning to Pittsburgh!

Coming soon: Sunday and the longest day ever.


Published in: on 27 June 2013 at 11:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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Show on the Road: Friday 6/21

Dear Constant Reader,

First, a few reminders:

Vote for The Boston Babydolls for “Best Theatre Group” and B.A.B.E. for “Best Dance Classes“!

Buy your tickets to The Teaseday Club on July 9th in my name!

Bright and early Friday morning Brigitte, Stella, Scratch & I loaded up the trusty Babydoll-mobile with our trunks of costumes and props and headed south to Asbury Park, NJ for the premier of The Fine Art of Burlesque at Asbury Lanes. Part of loading up involved me sliding under the car to secure the cargo carrier. This amused Brigitte greatly: “Oh, the glamourous life!” she said “I suspect there’s a blog post in the future.” And then she regretted not taking a picture.

The plan was that we’d get to the venue around 3pm, get set up, meet our Special Guest and stage kittens, rehearse a little, have a meal, explore the beach a little. Our show wasn’t starting until 10pm.

Mann macht, Gott lacht. Just around Rye, NY we hit traffic. Oh such traffic. We crawled all the of the way to Asbury Park, subsisting on naught but carrot sticks. Despite the frustrating drive, everyone remained upbeat right up till the end when Stella couldn’t take it any more and suddenly bellowed “SCOTCH!”. I had visions of a St. Bernard with the little cask under its chin coming to save her.

We got to the venue just before 6pm and scrambled to set up our big setpiece — a framed canvas (Fine Art, get it). I was a little nervous because I made the “canvas” and the first try was too short, despite my careful measuring. I had made a new one just the night before, so it was untested. Fortunately, it was perfect. We were done before the Dr. Sketchy’s started, but just barely.

I have to praise the hospitality at the Asbury Lanes. They comped our dinner, which I hadn’t expected. Everyone was craving cheeseburgers and beer and they provided magnificently.

For this tour we’re using what we think of as “The Burlesque-A-Pades Model”: 3 dancers and Scratch plus a local Special Guest, and local stage kittens. The logistic of dealing with the entire troupe’s schedule (plus cast members and crew) could make one crazy, as happened last year. So, the show is different on each leg of the tour!

Our special guest for the show was Hayley Jane! She was a dream to work with! So professional, talented, and nice. We have an act in which the special guest has a cameo. It’s mostly a matter of posing and looking pretty as an artists model, but there are 2 little bits of choreography. We ran through it with her and she picked it up quickly. On stage, she totally nailed it. I was sad I couldn’t manage to see her act — that picture doesn’t do her stunning costume justice.

The show itself went well and seemed to be received well. After a post-show libation at the bar, we broke everything down, packed up, and loaded up the car. Fortunately the staff asked if we wanted one last check of the dressing room before they locked up, because we hadn’t finished carrying out all the trunks yet. It would have been quite problematic to have left our props in NJ. After all that time on the road, We were so glad our hotel was only a short drive away.

And that was the first day.


Published in: on 25 June 2013 at 3:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Home Again

Dear Constant Reader,

We have return from our triumphant tour of the South (NJ & PA are south of Boston…). I have so much to tell you, but I think it shall wait. 2 and a half hours of sleep do not make for fine prose.


Published in: on 24 June 2013 at 10:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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