The Shanghai Pearl: from Bastille Day to Valkyrie’s Sideshow.
The first show from Valkyrie Productions, Sideshow Sirens, was a smorgasbord of the absurd and unseemly. Playing with the notion of human oddities and hootchie-kootchie girls, the cast of seasoned performers (Iva Handfull, Trojan Original, Minetta Lane, Violet Tendencies) explored the intriguing world of peepshow lore with less well known burlesque artists (Kylie Koyote, La Petite Morte, Seraphina, etc). Trojan Original, known for his dancer’s physique and polished movements in productions like Lily Verlaine’s L’Edition Francaise, embraced straight-up comedy as The Strong Man, unable to open a jar of tiny pickles despite his bulging biceps.
Aside from the great and terrible, women were often a primary attraction at sideshows. Ladies with both real and imagined exotic traits allowed viewers an excuse to stop and stare- momentarily suspending their disbelief in fantastical creatures. Fannie Beaverhausen was an arresting Giantess, and The Shanghai Pearl was Valkyrie’s enchanting crown jewel as The Mermaid. (Is she real, or isn’t she?)
It’s been a while since I last caught up with Shanghai, but she took some time out from her busy performing/teaching/costuming/styling schedule to tell me what she’s been doing in “real life”:
What have you been up to these days, Shanghai?
Traveling, performing, and teaching! I recently returned home from shows in New York and Paris with plans to head back to New York for the New York Burlesque Festival in the fall.
Can you tell me about your mermaid costume and idea, and the work that went into it? You used an incarnation of this act for Seattle Erotic Arts Festival a few years back, with Twisted Monk…
I have always been more than a little bit obsessed with mermaids and the worlds they inhabit. The current incarnation of that particular mermaid costume started when I was booked to perform New Years Eve at the Aquarium with a seventeen piece jazz orchestra. I wanted to build a grander mermaid costume.
The Seattle Erotic Arts Festival triptych started when I read the call for proposals and the Cabinet Du Curiosities theme. I wanted to tell a story of a mummified mermaid, what happened to her before she was caught and put on display. Needless to say, the act morphed into something different.
“Sideshow Afterhours” (the version you saw Friday) was developed post-SEAF. The piece for Seattle Erotic Arts Festival was rather intense and dark for me, so I wanted make a lighter, happier story to balance it out.
What was it like working with Twisted Monk? Didn’t he tie and “manhandle” you a bit, all in a mutually permissive way of course?
Working with Twisted Monk was a great experience; it was such a departure from what I had done in the past. The collaboration and direction with Roger Benington and Monk was a new and great challenge. I love collaborating and I love challenges so I naturally had a great time. He did tie and throw me around quite a bit- I was leopard spotted in bruises in the months leading up to and throughout that weekend.
When can we see you perform next, both here in Seattle or out of town?
I will be at the NARAL benefit August 19th at Theatre Off Jackson, in Portland August 21st, and Monk and I will be bringing ‘Bondage Mermaid’ back September 18th for Dr. Sketchy’s. And then in September I will be performing in San Francisco and New York.
I am super excited about The Blue Velvet Burlesque Revue, which is something I have been working on with Highway 99 [Seattle], Inga Ingénue, Fuschia FoXXX, and Andrew Cloutier. It’s a burlesque show with one of the best bands I have ever worked with. The next show is October 14th at Highway 99 Blues Club.
Shanghai also recently performed at Café Campagne during the annual Bastille Day festivities in Post Alley. Photographer Christopher Bachmann, who has been amassing an enviably diverse body of work in the last few years, captured some dynamic shots of Shanghai working the room, as well as a few mysterious Atomic Bombshells performing as Les Filles Tournoires (“The Twirly Girls”). Check out Christopher’s full site HERE.
Besides instructing students in the art of the tease at the Academy of Burlesque, Shanghai also glamorizes the wild at heart on a regular basis with Paul O’Connell of POC Photo on modern pin-up shoots. Shanghai does styling and makeup, Paul minds the photos and lighting design. The shoots produce some gorgeous results- see for yourself HERE, and email email@example.com for more information.