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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Big Props: The Bench

Dear Constant Reader,

Burlesque Legends refer to something you could sit or lie on as a prop. This was inspired by a prop used by a Legend in the 1960s, who always referred to it as “The Prop”. We generally refer to this piece as “the bench”.

The main part is a nice solid wooden coffee table with legs that attach with bolts. Scratch cut the back of the table flat so we could attach a back piece to it. We glued some foam to the top of the table so it would be a little more comfortable to lie on and I sewed a drape for it. The drape is made of satin with a drawstring just under the table top to secure it. It has a skirt that hangs down to cover the legs, but leaves the back of the table open, so we could attached the back piece.

The back piece was cut out of plywood. The original was tiled, but I couldn’t find any vinyl tiles I liked and I wasn’t going to use glass or ceramic tiles because of the weight. I tried spray painting it gold, but it still looked plywoody. Scratch suggest I make a cloth cover, kind of like a cozy. At this point we diverged greatly from the original, but needed to do something in a fairly short time.

I made the cover from a cream colored fabric, covered in dimensional roses. Then I created a clever (if I do say so myself) system of Velcro to attach a cluster of ostrich feathers to the top of the back piece. The back piece is held onto the back of the bench with spring clips.

Eventually Scratch cut the back piece in half (the long way) and attached a piano hinge, so it’s much easy to store and carry. The bench, with legs removed, fits in a big cloth bag, which is basically an envelope I sewed from an old blanket. All the soft goods (bench drape, back cover, and feathers) live in a plastic box with some spring clips. Everything together easily fits in the trunk of a standard car.

I made two other drapes for the bench and we use it a lot on stage, though rarely with the back piece on it these days. It’s great for being visible while you do floorwork moves. Scratch also drilled a couple of holes in the back of the bench so we could bolt a flame effect in place for one of Betty’s numbers.

Photo by Cassandra Mia at The Great Burlesque Expo of 2011

Pros: Looks great, really sturdy, easy to put together and take apart, very versatile

Cons: We did have to irreparably damage a really nice coffee table.

M2

Published in: on 25 April 2017 at 11:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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Big Props: Spider Web

Dear Constant Reader,

Today’s big prop is Betty’s spider web. It was originally made for Out For Blood 2006, our second Halloween show.

The web backdrop is two huge pieces of black velvet seamed together. The web itself is silver sequin trim. When we first made the web we were under a time crunch (aren’t we always) and it was just safety pinned in place. Later it was stitched down. The whole thing attached to a frame with Velcro along the sides and elastic cord looped through eyelets in the corners.

The original frame was made by a blacksmith friend of ours and it was *huge*. The backdrop is about 10′ x 10′, so the frame was bigger than that and it had big feet so it wouldn’t tip over. They were easy to trip over, though. The whole thing sat at the back of the stage until it was time to bring it forward for the act, which I think was the show closer. The frame came apart into pieces, but it was still bulky when broken down and I think it had to go together just so. I remember strips of tape on the pieces to mark what connected to which.

The velvet backdrop had slits cut in it so the spiders could come out and grope Betty. I remember reinforcing them part way through that show.

The spiders themselves are made of sequin trim and fabric, stuffed and mounted on the backs of black gloves. Betty did the work and very nicely.

In summer of 2011 we presented Madame Burlesque: An Evening of Tributes featuring acts inspired by the great Legends. Betty, of course, revived the spider act in honor of Zorita. This was going to be a touring show (our first!) so the frame had to be replaced with something that could travel and be set up and broken down quickly.

Scratch came up with a clever contraption made of PVC pipe and some hardware that works sort of like an umbrella. There are two center pieces that bolt together. Each one has two arms that fold out and extend to each side, making a top and a bottom. The backdrop has a pocket in each corner and the arms just slide in. Voila. It breaks down into two sections that go into a carrying bag that fits easily into a car. The whole thing is attached to a wooden base that also provides a step for the spider manipulator for when she has to reach the top of Betty’s head (remember: Betty is six feet tall sans heels and none of the other BeauTease top 5’5″).

Pros: very impressive, lightweight, sets up quickly, easy to transport and store.

Cons: needs a certain amount of ceiling clearance.

You’ll get to see the spider web in action at The Big Time on May 19 and 20 at The Thalia.

M2

Published in: on 20 April 2017 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Show on the Road: Monday 8/4

Dear Constant Reader,

(Read about Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.)

We were all quite desirous of getting home as soon as we possibly could, so we decided to get up pretty early and avail ourselves of the not-very-good breakfast provided by the motel. Ah, for the Holiday Inn Express of Sellinsgrove!

Before we left town, we had to make a quick detour.

Yup, we did a drive-by of Pennsic.

It was an uneventful drive. We were slowly working our way through the ubiquitous Pennsylvania roadwork when we saw….

Once the roadwork permitted, Scratch caught up with it, but I didn’t get a good picture. Sad. Probably my only encounter ever with the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile.

Soon, we stopped at a gas station and what should pull into the neighboring parking lot, but…

The good folks driving it saw us gaping and came over to say hi, ask about the nearby restaurant, and give us #hellonbuns keychains. How cool is that?

And just to prove that we really had a close, personal encounter:

We broke our trip in Wilkes-Barre where Scratch had found a deli/tchotchke emporium that seemed promising. They had an overwhelming number of sandwiches, excellent baked goods, and an array of knicknacks. I picked up a magnet for the filing cabinet at B.A.B.E. with a saucy redhead proclaiming “The boobs are real. The smile is fake.” Kind of sums me up.

Nothing more exciting to report for the rest of the trip, thank goodness, and there was minimal Babydolls screaming like goats screaming like humans. By 8:30pm we had completely unloaded the Babydollmobile into the studio and headed for our respective homes.

M2

Published in: on 14 August 2014 at 11:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Show on the Road: Sunday 8/3

Dear Constant Reader,

(Read about Friday and Saturday)

Before I start, I’d just like to point out that the restaurant of our Holiday Inn in Cleveland had a 16th-century Italian monastic secretary in the foyer. Seriously.

Some of my loyal readers will squeal with delight as I did.

We had a much shorter drive today, only going to Pittsburgh from Cleveland. We decided to have brunch at the Beachland Ballroom (where we performed the night before), having been told that it was the best brunch in Cleveland. The menu certainly looked interesting and the pickled veggies that garnished Scratch’s Bloody Ninja were so good we asked for more.

However, it took us almost an hour to get our food (and our waitress appeared to be avoiding us) and when it arrived it was clear that at least some of it had been sitting awhile. Scratch’s waffles were cold and my chicken was tough. The biscuits were, however, terrific as promised. Despite the massive delay, we were on the road only a few minutes behind schedule (probably because everyone was starving at that point). If we’re ever in Cleveland again, I’d give them another chance.

We were almost to the Rex in Pittsburgh dead on time when Dr. Nightmare (that’s the GPS) got confused and sent us well out of our way. We crossed bridges, went up steep hills, saw an amazing panorama of the city, and finally got back on track.

Chris Rickert of Rickert & Beagle Books was waiting by the stage door to help us load in. She’s a big fan and most of the reason we play Pittsburgh in the first place. We unloaded, set up, and did everything we could to get ready before the tech guys arrived.

This time we did take some pictures backstage. Here’s our dressing room:

And here’s a dark picture of everyone hanging out on stage, waiting for the next thing to do:

The next thing turned out to be dinner. We all wanted to eat at the place with the world’s most secure bathroom key from last year, but they weren’t open yet. Instead we went next door to a Thai(ish) place and I was still able to have stir-fried chicken & veggies. By the way, the photo to the right is the impressive garnish that adorned my plate. There’s 3 different vegetables in that confection.

The show was a lot of fun, despite everyone being tired and some level of unhealthy. We’re grateful to our special guests Lita D’Vargas (burlesque) and Sadi (bellydance), and Annie the Merch Girl. You might remember Lita as our Stage Kitten last year. I’m particularly grateful to Lita for doing a comedy bit with Scratch while I frantically changed for my fan dance. I don’t know how I managed Friday night with only about half that amount of time.

The venue wanted a certain number of tickets sold and I’m pleased to say we beat that number — on a Sunday! The reception from the audience was great — there was even a group trying to convince us to move to Pittsburgh. The Rex would like us to come back soon for a Friday or Saturday night.

I know you’re dying to hear about the condition of my screen after two days on the roof and a lot of rain. Well, not great, despite all the plastic wrapping. It was going to be okay for the show, but the frame was warped and the paper was still damp in places and flecked with an unfortunate murky color. And this is where it ended up after the show.

Poor thing! It’s served me well for many shows.

We had an hour to go to get to our hotel, so we bid Chris a fond farewell, eagerly accepting a bottle of mead that her finacé had made, and headed off into the night.

At the Ohio Burlesque Festival, one of the vendors, Bombshell Cupcakes, was giving the performers a cupcake. Big beautiful cupcakes, you just had to have a performer’s badge. We all took advantage of this, of course, but saved them for a little Sunday Social at our hotel. I got the “Junk in her Trunk” cupcake — chocolate cake with cookie dough filling, vanilla icing, sprinkled with something delicious, and garnished with a Reese’s cup, the full-size kind. That should give you some idea of scale. It was slightly the worse for wear, having rattling around in the cooler since Saturday night, but so delicious. Stella got the “Sugar Baby” and Scratch & Brigitte “Miss American Pie”, graced with a mini apple pie. We probably would have had the mead too, but realized we had no corkscrew. Must remedy that for the next trip.

Tomorrow, the long drive home!

M2

Published in: on 13 August 2014 at 1:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Show on the Road: Friday 8/1

Dear Constant Reader,

On Friday Brigitte, Stella, Scratch, and I hit the road for our latest touring venture. It was with a little trepidation, since our final stop was Pittsburgh and we had an interesting (in the Chinese curse sense) trip home from that city last year.

First things first, the annual picture of me looking like I’ve been run over while attaching the cargo carrier. We all met at the studio to load up and head off for our first destination: The Courtyard Theatre in Sellinsgrove, PA.

It was a little fussy loading up the car with all our crap. Although the plan was to have all 3 pink boxes (that’s one of them to the right) that we use in “Factory Girls” (and contain all our costumes) in the car, our Tetris failed and one had to ride on the cargo carrier. And my rice-paper silhouette screen got wrapped in a tarp and rode on the roof. (The reason I mention all these dull details will become clear later). The packing logistics plus some ugly traffic on 93 made for us being a bit behind schedule to start off.

The drive was fairly uneventful for a while and we even made up a little lost time. Then we hit the inevitable Pennsylvania roadwork… and traffic came to a dead stop. Now sooner did we finally start moving than the clouds began gathering and the skies opened up. Torrential rain! Like, Scratch stepped outside for about 75 seconds and was soaked to the skin. That kind of rain.

Remember the pink box and the screen on the outside of the car? I don’t know about anyone else in the car but I was now stressing about being way behind schedule and potentially having ruined a box of costumes (and the box itself) and my major set piece. I could see, when we stopped, that the wind had peeled the end of the tarp on the screen back.

We finally arrived at the theatre. Which is in a mall. Like, turn left at the JC Penney’s to get to the stage door, in a mall.

Two hours late, we began frantically racing to get set up. Fearing for the worst, we unpacked. The bottom of Stella’s trunk had gotten wet and a few items were damp, but nothing too bad. Whew! My screen on the other hand, looked pretty sad. Fortunately, a little packing tape (plus a little pastie tape) got everything back into usable condition.

It’s a pretty nice theatre: large stage, decent lighting, helpful staff, good dressing room with clothing racks, big well-lit mirrors, and a bathroom. And no microphones. We travel with a vintage-style microphone and had requested a stand and cables in our tech rider, but they had none of that. That is, not at the theatre. Someone had the audio equipment at home and forgot to bring it.

It’s not a big theatre and someone with a big voice could easily be heard in the back without amplification, but Stella really needed that microphone for her song. And Scratch had been sick for most of the week and was on the verge of losing his voice. Nothing to do but power through it and hope for the best.

Our special guest performer, Private Tails, arrived, as did Isaac and two kittens from Billtown Burlesque who were helping us out. And we all got ready to go on.

I wish I had thought to take some backstage pictures, but we were in such a rush from the minute we got in the door. The house was packed and the merch was selling fast before the show even started! The acts were all very well received. Stella solved her volume problem by wandering into the audience during the song and then dancing with one particular gentleman. They ate it up.

We got so many nice compliments afterwards. Much of the audience had never seen burlesque before and were just delighted by the show. Yay! That’s what we like to hear. Some of the more amusing comments we got included someone asking if Stella & Brigitte were twins and the fellow who chatted me up for a while about my perfect Irish looks.

Here’s a post-show shot of the cast and some of the folks from the Courtyard theatre on stage:

While packing up, the venue kindly gave us several large trash bags and some packing tape. We bagged & taped up the pink boxes and securely lashed all 3 to the cargo carrier (where they fit very nicely), then swaddled my screen and rewrapped the tarp in a more secure configuration.

Too tired to join the rest of the cast at Applebee’s, we drove down the street to our lovely hotel and passed the heck out.

M2

Published in: on 11 August 2014 at 12:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Madame Burlesque 6/20-21

Dear Constant Reader,

We kicked off our summer tour with two shows at The Music Hall Loft in Portsmouth, NH last weekend. This is our 4th year here and I think it’s the only venue we’ve hit every summer. Historically we’ve only done one night there, so we were pretty excited to have a two-show run. Our show this summer is Madame Burlesque, which is the first show we performed at this venue! We’re performing some favorites from the original version, a couple of numbers that have been entirely revamped, and some new acts.

Friday afternoon much of our time was taken up with load-in and tech requirements. I’m was told that the usual house lighting had been adjusted before we got there to add some of our usual requirements, like an MC spot stage left. It’s nice to have a long-standing relationship with a venue.

We had a great crowd, but the show was a little rocky. I had a massive wardrobe malfunction in a group number. The stage was slippery and Brigitte went down in two different numbers, once while supporting Evie. A comedy bit happened too early, which could have played havoc with the lighting cues. Fortunately, everyone handled everything with professionalism.

And after the show — the drinking. : )

Saturday started for us with an appearance at Roissy Intimates, a very exclusive lingerie shop, usually by appointment only. We might have also done a little shopping.

After the appearance we had a break for food before call, but it was too early for dinner for me. All I really wanted was a cold drink and some fresh fruit and Scratch knew just the place. We all converged on Popovers on the Square and I believe everyone got exactly what they wanted, whether that was coffee, a salad, a popover bigger than your head, or a mocha brownie (I don’t judge).

The show was a little more frantic for me as D.D. wasn’t in it. So, I went from being in 2 acts to 4, as I did “The Stripteaser’s Education” solo and took her place in the closing trio. Betty filled in for her in “Factory Girls” and Stella played the spider in Betty’s Zorita tribute.

Normally, in “Factory Girls”, D.D. does a backbend over a chair and Betty was picked to replace her because she could also do that move. However, we’ve replaced the chairs with small trunks. (So much better for touring. They’re props *and* storage! And besides, it’s so much fun to talk about stuffing things into our boxes — and they’re bright pink!) Given the new dimensions, plus the slipperiness of the stage, neither dancer could safely maintain the backbend. We quickly put our heads together and came up with substitute choreography which I think worked just as well in both cases.

The show went very well and afterwards we were besieged with photo requests. Not that I’m complaining! We’re happy to pose with our fans. Within reason. we did have to turn down the roller derby team’s request that we form a human pyramid with them.

Because everyone is wonderful and worked really hard, we had the show struck about an hour before our deadline for vacating the theatre.

Unlike the last time we performed this show, it will never be the same twice! The shows further from home will feature only 3 dancers (plus Scratch and special guests) and when we appear with all of us again in Cambridge at the end of August, we’ll change up some of the acts. It makes for kind of crazy rehearsals, but a lot of fun.

M2

Published in: on 30 June 2014 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Frantically Costuming

Dear Constant Reader,

This past weekend was the biggest event in burlesque, The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend (aka BHoF) in Las Vegas. Scratch usually puts in an appearance and plays in the poker tournament while I stay home and have a good time sewing something frivolous.

This year Scratch wasn’t able to go, due to some communication problems. I still spent much of the time sewing away, but it was far from frivolous.

Our summer tour of Madame Burlesqueis going to require that any 3 dancers be able to perform in the trios and duets. We’ve tried to make as many costumes wearable by as many people as possible (like an adjustable skirt that fits all dancers who know the #1 part in the duet), but sometimes that’s not possible.

devora as gypsyLast time we did this show, Devora did a Gypsy Rose Lee tribute and there are no changes to her costume. Yay!. Except she won’t be in all the shows and Scratch feels the act is important to the theme. So, I’ll be doing it when she’s not available. What can I wear? Hat, gloves, parasol are all fine. The skirt is somewhat adjustable and works fine. I have my own corset & garter belt. That leaves the bra. You might have noticed that D.D. and I don’t have a similar sized bust…

Here’s a crummy photo of my Friday night project. Fortunately, this came together pretty quickly. And matching fabric existed.

Also accomplished were a pair of tear-away undies, a new hip belt, and making a fringe skirt stripable. And now I’m onto the tedious project of making 6 matching bras. 4 of which have to be finished by our first show, which is in 10 days. And there’s even more to do. Fortunately, I’m not the only person working on all this. Marion of Vixen’s Ahoy did some, Heather, our production assistant is also an able seamstress, Devora is doing some hand-work, Betty, of course, is working away on several items, and Scratch has projects of his own.

Lest you think I spent the whole weekend toiling away on costumes, I also finished off these knitted wristlets, to fill the gap between glove and coat. Of course, I don’t need them until winter. I hope. You never know with New England. Alas, I never did get to the mock-up of the 1933 Evening Gown.

Back to the sewing room!

M2

Published in: on 10 June 2014 at 11:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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Happy Birthday, Gypsy

Dear Constant Reader,

My apologies, this goes out a day late, but your faithful correspondent was at the dentist yesterday and her entire schedule went keflewie (that’s a technical term) as a result.

A very happy 102* to the greatest Lady of Burlesque, Gypsy Rose Lee!

For your pleasure, here’s a little picture of Gypsy:
gypsy inside
This is the program from her 1949 tour, from The Boston Babydoll Collection. And here’s a photo of her autographing one of those very same programs!

And just for fun, here’s Devora Darling, all dressed up for her Gypsy tribute act, “A Stripteaser’s Education” during the Madame Burlesque tour and the photo that inspired the costume.

devora as gypsy grlsmaller

For more Gypsy goodness, you could read her famous memoir, Gypsy: Memoirs of America’s Most Celebrated Stripper, her novels, The G-String Murders and Mother Finds a Body, or listen to her on the albums Gypsy Rose Lee Remembers Burlesque and That’s Me All Over. Not to mention all the movies inspired by her writings: Gypsy, Lady of Burlesque, and Doll Face.

There’s also her son’s memoir Gypsy and Me: At Home and on the Road With Gypsy Rose Lee (also called My G-String Mother: At Home and Backstage with Gypsy Rose Lee).

And then there is a plethora of other books about her: American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose, Stripping Gypsy: The Life of Gypsy Rose Lee, Gypsy: The Art of the Tease, and Lady of Burlesque: The Career of Gypsy Rose Lee.

Not bad for someone who described herself as “no talent”!

M2

*Probably. Her mother had a fluid relationship with the truth and thought nothing of forging birth certificates to raise or lower her daughters’ ages when the situation arose.

Published in: on 10 January 2013 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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2011 recap

Dear Constant Reader,

My friend Holly Rebelle of Burlesque Noir (New Mexico) recently blogged about her year past in burlesque and I thought it was a great idea. Let’s see how much I can remember.

January
The Boston Babydolls put on a light revue called Hot Dates with a calendar theme. Highlights for me are introducing my “Champagne on Ice” act and wearing my mink coat in the finale. Betty choreographs it such that at no time did the coat ever touch the ground, but was passed from hand to hand until hung up by the stage kitten.

February
Naked Girls Reading Boston participates in the chapter-wide theme of “Love Stinks!”, sponsored by Great Philosophers Who Failed At Love. We are the only group to have the (clothed) participation of the author.

March
Mr. Cupid’s House of Love brings us a couple of milestones. Evie Sphinx becomes an official troupe member. The sultry songstress Alissa joins us for her first show. I perform an aerial act. Scratch is in our finale, dancing.

April
The Expo! I finally perform my tribute to April March. I’m not sure I have ever been so nervous in my entire performing career, trying to do April’s act in front of her.
Also, the Boston Babydolls win “Best Burlesque” from the Boston Phoenix.
And we perform at the launch party for the new comic Teenage Satan.

May and June
We throw a victory party for our Best of Boston win from the Phoenix, but mostly we begin preparations for Madame Burlesque: An Evening of Tributes, our most ambitious show at the time. We launch a Kickstarter campaign, build a giant oyster, and have fabulous photos taken. But most importantly, we cast Brigitte Bisoux and Corinne Southern.

July
Madame Burlesque at home and on the road! It’s our first real tour and we have so much fun. 4 states in 4 weeks! Whose idea was it to bring a giant oyster? That thing doesn’t exactly pack small!

August
B.A.B.E. moves! A larger space, just down the hall, opens up in our building and we take it. Scratch spends most of the month turning it from drab industrial space to a lovely dance studio, including a new dance floor and storage room.

September
At long last The Wrathskellar has a home! After months of searching, Scratch finally finds a vacant storefront in which to build our creepy tavern. He and a very small team of talented carpenters along with a lot of very unskilled labor from the Babydolls do the impossible in about two weeks.

October
It’s all The Wrathskellar all the time. We come to see that dirty, chilly space as our second home. Also, the birth of Sunday Socials. We welcome Brigitte Bisoux as an official Boston Babydoll.

November
We win “Best Burlesque” from the Weekly Dig and arrive at their award party in Scratch’s 1956 Packard.
Scratch thinks it’s a good idea to hold the Burlesque Marathon again. Much sleep deprived fun is had by all.

December
Naked Girls Reading presents an epic marathon reading of A Christmas Carol. We had no idea it would take so long…

And what are we up to now? Getting ready for Unlucky in Love. Live music, live singers, partially-clad dancers!

Published in: on 9 January 2012 at 1:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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