Che festa! Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann’s ‘Burlesco DiVino’.
Fearless production duo Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann have no shortage of arresting ideas. So when opportunity came knocking in the form of an invite to create a new work for the Triple Door’s Summer Of Riesling celebration, the pair rose to the challenge with their usual flair. Burlesco DiVino: Wine in Rome (debuting August 8 at The Triple Door) is a wine-soaked bacchanal of burlesque heavy hitters and rising stars carousing their way through the Roman Empire to the era of La Dolce Vita and the swingin’ Sixties.
Though up to their pretty necks in grape-stomping rehearsals and Roman holidays, Lily and Jasper took some time to email about their brand new “theatrical burlesque mélange”:
BSP: What have you both been up to this summer?
Jasper: Up to? No good, of course! No, seriously, I’ve been doing preproduction for DiVino and Alice most of the summer. I did manage to take a weeks’ vacation to Los Angeles (my first time, if you can believe it) and I attended a wedding in Minneapolis. But this summer has been mostly work on our shows, which is fine by me. Except for Independence Day, which was all about rum and ribs.
Lily: Corralling wonderful artists, being inspired through the consumption of wine and studying the mannerisms of Anita Ekberg and Sophia Loren.
BSP: Lily, you just did a little European traveling, and visited other places as well. Did you perform abroad? (I saw photos of you with Jamie Von Stratton striking poses around the H. R. Giger Bar in Gruyere, Switzerland…)
Lily: Yes, I performed at an event in Basel, Switzerland produced by my friend Auntie Sam. She booked some of my better-known acts, like Picasso. The show was quite well-received. I also performed this year in Christchurch, New Zealand and in Hong Kong for the benefit of The Hong Kong Cancer Fund. It has been an exceptional year for traveling and inspiration. The photo shoot in the H.R. Giger bar was a highlight of all my travels. Firstly, the art in the H.R. Giger museum is absolutely awesome and the bar photo shoot was fun, productive and caused a sensation in the idyllic little town that is Gruyere. J. Von Stratton is hands-down one of the most fun people in the universe to travel with.
BSP: What was the idea for this show, as the Triple Door presented it to you? As a creative team, how were you inspired once you were commissioned?
Jasper: Cortney Lease, the head of the wine program at Wild Ginger/Triple Door approached us and asked if we had anything in our rep concerning wine. Our answer was “No, but we’d be happy to create something for you.” So that’s kind of how it started. It was Cortney’s idea to attach a burlesque show to the Wild Ginger/Triple Door’s participation in the nationwide “Summer Of Riesling” event, and so she reached out to us. The concept from the start was “a show about wine”, and we asked if there was something specific they wanted to see, and they gave us carte blanche.
We went through all the classic (and by “classic” I mean the modern idea of that term) ideas and pictures that can be evoked by the term “wine”. Obviously, there was Caravaggio’s “Bacchus”, and Lucy & Ethel in the juicing vat, and things like that. We thought about doing an “around the world” sort of concept to all the places that grow grapes, but we realized that anything of this sort would be a pastiche and that’s not really our style. So we thought about doing 4 long pieces, and then we thought about 2 one-act pieces, and settled on that. But we were still missing a cohesive theme (something that our two other shows have). So we decided that in this show, the location would be the consistent factor, and that it would be Italy.
Lily: As I recall, they contacted Jasper and asked for a show that included a bacchanal. I was happy that he wanted to include me in the grand vision given how opinionated I can be. I was inspired by my Alpine adventures at the time and wanted to make a burlesque show full of yodeling and lederhosen for this event, given that Riesling is a grape that is grown primarily in Germany but Jasper insisted on Italy and I have to admit that it was truly the more glamorous locale. I also knew how close this idea was to Jasper’s heart (Italy) so I wanted to treat it as beautifully as I could. I hope that it comes off successfully.
BSP: You have worked together for so many years now- were you reading each other’s minds once the ideas started flowing for this production?
Jasper: We started working together in August of 2006. And just like that Beatles song, “it’s getting better all the time.” I don’t know about reading each other’s minds, but our process has become much more easygoing. We have gotten really good at bringing a bunch of ideas to the table and then being fearless in deciding which ones will work and which ones won’t. I think in the past we both had moments of wanting to see a particular flourish or picture in the show so badly that we couldn’t see that even though it might be beautiful, didn’t necessarily fit into the story, or would be too difficult from a technical standpoint. On the other side of that coin, we’ve also become a lot more exploratory. There’s been a lot of “what do you think about this?” followed by “I don’t know, let’s try it and see how it looks/works/feels.” And some really great moments in the show have come out of us being brave enough to try things that we might not have in the past.
Lily: Thank God that we were also traveling while conceiving of the ideas around this show. We do some of our best work in the car on long trips. Maybe it is our version of license plate poker.
BSP: Lily, you’ve done an homage to French culture (with L’Edition Francaise), so this should be a fun departure for you. Does channeling Italian culture put you in a different sort of mood? As for you Jasper, you lived in Italy for a while as I recall…? This must have been a fun exercise for you…
Jasper: One of my degrees is in Italian, and I have traveled extensively there. So I dig Italy, I just never resided there. As to fun- well, it’s always fun creating something new with Verlaine. And I’m sure that this show is another in a string of many still to come. (Just as a side note, I think Lily’s L’Historie du Melody Nelson is one of the most brilliant pieces of dance/performance art I’ve ever seen.) But as far as Italy and the mood is concerned I think that, speaking with all due understanding of stereotypes, that Italian sentiment is much less self-serious than French. So this show has some real tongue-in-cheek moments to reflect that. We wanted to keep it lighthearted, even in the more “serious” performative passages. (And we got to include iconic images, like Vespa scooters and an orgy…)
Also, knowing the language allowed me to write a different sort of script because it is trilingual (if you count the Latin I threw in). Some characters speak English, others speak English as a second language, and still others speak English and Italian, so in a lot of cases I got to use language itself as a comic device. And I wrote a song in Italian, which I’ll obviously be singing in Italian, so that’s a pretty groovy change for me. It isn’t very often that I get to utilize my degree in a professional sense. (Mom and Dad will be so proud). So I guess this is where I get to say to all you liberal arts majors out there… “Stick with it!”
Lily: Well, the stories we told in L’Edition Francaise were primarily focused on youth culture, at least where women were concerned. I think that the female characters in this show might read as a bit more ambitious, fierce and independent. They all seem to be in possession of powers- be they mystical or professional and they are all in a position to effect change in their environments.
BSP: Lily, you mentioned to me in a previous conversation that this show has helped to stretch your mind as to what burlesque is, and think of how you feel about presenting material that makes even you blush. This reminds of the Picasso quote we’ve talked about before: “Art is never chaste” (which we both had taken note of when that exhibit was in Seattle). Can you tell me what your current mood and/or dominant thoughts are on this lately, and in pushing the boundaries of burlesque as a sexual art?
Lily: Well, I didn’t approach this show with any particular agenda, but as the material revealed itself, I realized that some of it challenged my own sensibilities, and that pushed me to stretch my mind into trusting the work. I think that it will help me grow as a creator to yield to the material from time to time instead of having to finesse and control every teeny detail. I think that it was good for the show to leave some room for spontaneity. And from what I understand, that is a very Italian thing to do. I think that we should in fact start the show a half-hour late just to be thematically consistent. (Joke.)
BSP: You have stated DiVino is a more production number driven show for you. Do you find these types of acts easier to coordinate, or actually more pressure due to volume and scale?
Jasper: I think the challenge for us has been that the format is not what anyone is really used to in “burlesque”, as it is for the most part a solo-based form. So while it is a departure from what most of us would call traditional, I feel like it is a natural evolution for our shows to head in this direction, becoming more and more ensemble-inclusive. I’ve always talked about the Freed Unit films and other musicals of the 30s-60s as being part of the canon that resonates with me, and it has been a great experience to work this way. Getting everyone together isn’t always easy, though. But I think that it will be exciting for our fans and supporters to see this development… it is really exhilarating to see so many talented performers on stage for 8-12 minuets at a time, depending on the scene.
Lily: You know, it is always hard and always a delight. The talent that has come our way for this show is absolutely fantastic to work with-they are great dancers and thespians and are used to taking direction. There are also several other creatives in the cast who have contributed tremendously to the choreography and this has been fun and liberating for me and really helped to diversify the show.
BSP: You’ve worked with many costume designers- Danial Hellman being one the most incredible (we’re so lucky to have him in Seattle). Lily famously worked with Danial on the Stargazer Gown. Can you talk about collaborating with him, and what he made for DiVino?
Jasper: Danial is amazing, and is coordinating the overall wardrobe look of the show, not to mention making custom couture for a number of the performers. We’re so fortunate to have him on board with us, he has been a great collaborator and has really helped to drive the vision of this show toward being fully realized.
Lily: Working with Danial is so incredible. He is so thoughtful- from concept to palette. It probably sounds like a cop-out to call him an artist, but he demonstrates a rare level of depth in thought and mastery of skill. I love him. Danial has made I would say…ninety-nine percent of the costuming for the show. Trojan Original is contributing some beautiful leather masks as well. Inga and I have custom-made gloves by Echo Boudoir and to bring the fabulous to an entirely new level, the whole show has been custom-makeup’ed by Atomic Cosmetics. (How fortunate are we to have these amazing people contributing 100% original design concepts to this show?!) In addition, Danial has a great staff of interns at the moment, all of whom have put in the necessary stitches and rhinestones.
BURLESCO DIVINO: WINE IN ROME plays August 8-10, 2012 at The Triple Door, located at 216 Union in downtown Seattle. For tickets, call 206-838-4333 or buy online at www.thetripledoor.net.