~ Written by Paul O’Connell (POC Photo)
Last month I was excited to be part of Tassel Talk, a peer review of burlesque acts in the works at Annex Theatre that began in January and meets every month. Peer reviews like this in burlesque usually consist of a performer (in this case six performers) presenting acts they would like feedback on and an audience of peers giving constructive criticism. It was such a positive and fun experience because of the sense of community I felt (not to mention the very yummy brunch that was provided), that I decided to get the lowdown on the origins of Tassel Talk by the women behind it: Sara Dipity and Bunny Von Bunsmore. Both women have been performing and involved in theater years before they ever hit the burlesque stage. Sara, who moved to Seattle in 2009, holds a bachelor’s in Musical Theater with a minor in Dance and Human Sexuality. Bunny went to Cornell for Theater and Feminist Studies and moved to Seattle in 2010 after graduation. She is currently working at Annex Theatre as a staff member, actor, and director. Sara and Bunny got their burlesque start at Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
We conducted the interview at Bunny’s apartment while her lovely cat Sage kept us company:
POC: How did you get into burlesque?
Sara: Well honestly I had been fascinated with dancing naked since I was a little, little girl, like just kind of precociously loved that.
POC: That’s funny, a lot of people say that.
Sara: Yeah I had kind of been locked up in church ideals and stuff for a very long time and when I got to Seattle I kind of let go of that. I felt like I needed to go back to who I was and what I loved and it felt like a really good way to explore my own creativity and my body and my sexuality, so that is why I started doing it [burlesque], and then I just seriously googled ‘burlesque class’. Miss Indigo Blue. Perfect. Here, $600. There you go.
Bunny: Before I moved to Seattle I had watched the documentary A Wink and a Smile…I watched that and kind of just filed it away. Like…ha, this is really cool. This is a very cool part of this place where I’m moving. And it was actually with Cocktails at the Center of the Earth (a play at the Annex Theater) that I decided to pursue burlesque because Sailor St. Claire was in the show and I just asked her “How did you start this? How?” and she said, “Well I was moving here from California and it was something I had never done so I did it.” So I took the Academy class in 2012 and it’s been lovely.
POC: For the Academy 101 performance, did you have any feelings about how this was a different type of performance than what you had done in the past and was there any type of nervousness about getting naked on stage?
Bunny: I was nervous but it was kind of like normal performance nervousness for me. It was, “Okay I’m gonna go do this thing that I know I know how to do. I’m just gonna trust that I’m gonna do it. I wasn’t nervous about getting naked. It’s funny some of the other girls in my class put it really well. You’re busy doing so much stuff during a performance. Is this gonna come off the right way? Am I going to remember the right steps? Am I gonna give good face? You’re so busy with other things, thinking about your own nakedness is really the last thing on your mind.
Sara: You know I’d say that I still get that level of nervousness. Ugh, I’m going to perform and get naked, and the second you step on the stage that just goes away. You have to focus on doing your job and getting your stuff done. Self-editing and criticizing is completely unhelpful at that point.
POC: I guess that brings us to someone else helping you. So what is Tassel Talk?
Sara: Tassel Talk is amazing. Tassel Talk is a baby from BurlyCon where we were sitting around thinking, man, I have no idea if I’m making good work because I’m not getting a lot of feedback about that. And there was a peer review at the time but it wasn’t consistent…So we decided that we wanted to provide that. Tassel Talk is a morning where a bunch of community members sit down and get together and have brunch and drink mimosas and then six brave people get up on a stage – with full lighting and full sound and all the tech we can give them – and perform for us and then we give about 10 minutes of constructive feedback.
Bunny: We thought really hard about how we could make it the safest, happiest experience possible because it’s a scary thing to get up in front of…
Sara: People you respect.
Bunny: Yeah, it’s scary to do that so we wanted to take the bite out of it. Because BurlyCon peer reviews… I haven’t done one personally. But it’s like, oh so you go into a room, there could be people that you don’t know from other cities sitting there and you just kind of go in and you have your time.
Sara: You get feedback there and that is absolutely valuable but I wanted feedback from people that I am working with every single week. I wanted feedback from people that I’d performed with and understand. We wanted to make it as show-like as possible to benefit the people performing but also to benefit the people watching it. We figured if we added a stage, we added lighting, we added sound that wasn’t coming out of a boom box, you know sound coming out of big stage speakers, people would feel more comfortable performing and people would feel more comfortable to ‘woo’ and such.
Bunny: And Annex has been really generous. They’ve provided our space for free.
POC: So you asked them ‘can I do this thing?’
Bunny: Yeah I asked them and you know it’s half because I’m on staff, they know me. They want to keep me happy. And half because Tassel Talk really aligns with their mission, which is creating bold new work. So we stole a lot of our moderation technique from what Annex does from their progress showings where we have people come in to see a production that’s barely on its feet or hasn’t had tech added in yet, and give feedback.
POC: How do you choose performers to perform in a particular month?
Sara: To get the six, I post on the Facebook event page: “Hello we have open sign-ups.” And then on my own personal Sara page: “Hello we have open sign-ups. Please send me a message.” And generally within the first hour I’ve got six people. Then over the course of two weeks or so someone drops out. People drop out because they have other commitments. And that’s why we have alternates. Every single time, one or two alternates have gone. So that’s how we get the six. I’d love for it to be more but we don’t have that kind of time.
Bunny: We can get it done in less than two hours. We do about 10 minutes of talkback after each one, for a five minute act. It’s plenty of time to really hit everything.
POC: Plus you get to take home the notes.
Bunny: Yeah, we have everybody fill out forms so if they don’t necessarily share in the verbal talk back , they can still write down what they thought. And the performer can take that and they can burn them or they can read them. Whatever they want.
POC: So the first one was in January so now six months later can you share your experience on what it’s been like?
Sara: Honestly it has fed me so much as a person in a community and as an artist where every time I go, even if it’s early in the morning. Every time I go I see at least something incredible and often times many incredible things and it inspires me to go work on my stuff. And the Tassel Talk that I was reviewed in inspired me to make it [my act] better because I walked in thinking “I don’t know if this is good or not. I don’t actually know if this is a cohesive, good piece” but getting that kind of feedback made me think, “Oh OK, it’s alright. It’s a good place to start” and I can go much further with it.
Bunny: And you have a direction.
Sara: We create these things in just a little bubble, in our living room. Gluing stuff to stuff.
POC: Or you just have any idea in your head…
Sara: Exactly. And you hope it comes out cohesive. But then you do it [at a show] and you get a bunch of people saying, “Oh good job.” You don’t know if that’s real…
Bunny: Only in a peer review do you find out. And I’ve been surprised and delighted at the way that people have responded to getting very difficult critic of their work. They’ve been delighted and so excited to go and take it away and work on it. And there haven’t been too many hurt feelings, which is incredible.
POC: Well the idea is that there are certain rules on how you can critique someone, right? Let’s say someone’s on stage and the person watching thinks “I don’t like this at all.” They’ve got to find a way to articulate it, so that’s part of the process for the reviewer as well.
Bunny: We’re very specific with the questions we ask. We start with, “What did you like?” So then it’s love-fest,“Hello, these are the good things. Don’t make those good things go away”. And then we move on to “What was confusing? What was unclear? What do we want to see more of?” So that leads people to think very specifically about what it is that they were missing if they really hated an act or really weren’t jazzed about it. They have to be very specific about what it is that made them have that reaction. And that’s helpful because general negativity is just not helpful.
POC: So let’s talk about the hospitality aspect of it…
Bunny & Sara: Mini Bobbins!!!
Sara: She’s great. She got invited to the first Tassel Talk and wrote me and said, “I want to help. How can I help?” And she completely took over food. And it’s the best food. For Valentine’s Day she made chocolate dripped strawberries because she’s adorable. You were a partaker of the food. Did you enjoy it?
POC: I did partake of the food. It was very good. And there’s a jar for donations which goes to her for the food?
Sara: It costs about $50 for the food. So any donations go to her basically and then Bunny and I make up the difference out of our pocket. Which I look at it as a community giving thing.
Bunny: It’s really important to us that the event stay free for the performers because there are lots of opportunities to go and take classes, but they tend to be pricey and that’s fine, and they’re so valuable, but we wanted to have a place where people could come and show their work and not have to spend money in order to make their work better. Annex is donating their space which obviously is such a huge boon to us because space is so difficult to find in the city. And our technician, Alex King is an angel.
Sara: And he’s a professional technician who’s donating his time which is beautiful and I want to hug him all the time.
Bunny: Right. He’s wonderful. He’ll come and tell the performers, “Oh you can just tell your tech to backlight you during this part and it will look great.”
POC: So he’s giving feedback as well?
Sara: Yes. He designed a prop for me. He just gave me a sketch last time and said, “This is how you do that.”
Bunny: He’s one of the best people in the world. Anyway it’s because of donations that we’re running [this]. Annex is donating space, the donated tech, the donated Mini’s time and effort, and people who show up are putting in for food. But we want to make this a little more formalized as far as funding goes for the snacks. So we’re trying to put together a show in December (date and time TBD), showing acts from Tassel Talk that have been reviewed as a fundraiser for next year and to give some money back to Annex…so details forthcoming on that one. It should be a really fun show.
Sara: One thing I do want to say is I wish more people would utilize Tassel Talk. I wish producers would come and audition talent that way. I know I have. I feel like a few other producers have come and said “I’m casting that person now because I know they are fierce”.
Bunny: It’s a place where a completely new performer can come and show themselves and a producer could also come and see, and I think that is really exciting because often you know, the application process for shows is an idea online, but you’re not likely to cast someone that you don’t know or have never seen. So it’s a great opportunity because it’s free and because you just have to sign up. Anybody can get in and be seen.
POC: Well it was a wonderful experience for me… And first of all who doesn’t like socializing around food anyway? It’s people talking and enjoying good food and then they go inside the theater and watch the acts. So it’s a fellowship is what it is.
Sara: It’s burly church. It’s time to go and commune
Bunny: Yeah that’s what makes it less intimidating. You come and you have food and it’s relaxed and casual and you’re just chatting about ideas.
Sara: This a really great way to get to know people you don’t know. There are circles within our community of people that work together all of the time. And this is a good way to make those circles into Venn diagrams. 101 students that are just graduating, if you want to keep performing, come to this. You’ll see so much for free. I mean Iva Handfull did a review once….Crazy. So 101 students, come. Producers, come. Headliners, come give us feedback, if you wouldn’t mind donating your time…
Bunny: …There’s brunch in it for you…
Sara: There’s brunch in it and mimosas and if you gave us the time to tell us how to be better, everyone would get better. Rise all the ships.
You can see Sara Dipity next in Star Trek: The Sexed Generation in September. Visit her at:
You can see Bunny (Katherine Karaus) in Balconies opening August 1.
For info about future Tassel Talk sessions, like them on Facebook.
And… check Annex Theatre’s schedule of performances and go to their support page where you can make a donation to a wonderful theater.