A Round Table Discussion on reProduction.
– Written by Madeline Rider (Contributor, Seattle)
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Heidi Von Haught, Randi Rascal, and Wiggy Stardust to discuss their upcoming “reProduction”, a benefit for NARAL Pro-Choice, one of Washington State’s leading pro-choice advocacy groups. In the current political and economic landscape, budget cuts loom around the corner of every legislative session and the presidential debates have just now gone underway. The producers’ decision to focus on a topic of much national contention appealed to me as an excellent juncture to examine the relationship between burlesque and politics.
Our conversation began slowly with details of the show’s inspirations. It was apparent as we progressed that each woman’s personal experience with “choice” fueled their desire to bring the discussion to a public forum. Their passion for the advancement of reproductive rights in this country incited the creation of this show and the sentiment behind that passion- the desire to potentially alter the political landscape- motivates not only this work, but much of neo-burlesque in general.
Madeline: So how long have you been working on reProduction?
Wiggy: The initial conversation with Sasha Summer Cousineau [of NARAL] was in February when I was given the opportunity to see the documentary “Twelfth and Delaware”. I was kind of busy so I kept checking in with her: “I’m still going to do this thing, I promise!” We really started working on it after Heidi and Randi did the Vancouver Burlesque Festival in May.
Madeline: I wanted bring up the fact that this is a political production. There’s a very clear agenda and it’s quite apparent what your ideas are. Part of why burlesque is appealing to me is its ability to communicate things in a way that other mediums may not necessarily be able to. I wanted to ask you your opinion on why you feel burlesque is an appropriate medium for this discussion. I know you, Wiggy, had mentioned in passing that you didn’t want to label reProduction as feminist, but…
Wiggy: But, it totally is. I think people have a hard time with the word feminist. I don’t personally but my sixteen year old sister was offended when someone called her a feminist. There’s this idea that you don’t shave your legs or shave your armpits, which is… whatever. I feel like as far as burlesque and politics goes, there is a humor in the way things are talked about which make them a little more palatable and light-hearted and funny, to which people can relate… [Normal political] conversation can get heated and angry and if you can use humor to diffuse that, you can more easily communicate ideas.
Randi: Burlesque is already a transgressive medium, inherently. We’re already doing something with our bodies that is, at a minimum, frowned upon by most of the people around us if not outright denounced as terrible. I think that this medium is particularly poignant to make statements about the body and about sexuality. Although burlesque is not always sexy, usually the stripping and the revealing of the body is done in a provocative way and that kind of makes it ideal. We are using our bodies to make statements about our bodies.
Heidi: I would say that neo-burlesque movement, not the burlesque movement itself but the neo-burlesque movement, has taken from drag and performance art which are two mediums that have always been pretty political and are about challenging social norms, certainly drag more than performance art… It’s about using your body but it’s not necessarily about dance, it’s not necessarily about stripping, but it is about sexuality, human relationships, and the relationship with your body which are all, especially as women in this society, like you said Randi, inherently political.
Madeline: You talk about in your press release “the legal redefinition of rape and incest, changes in legislation that encourage violence against abortion providers and allow for misinformation about birth control options” and earlier you spoke about how the potential defunding of Planned Parenthood inspired the creation of reProduction. What if any anything from the current political landscape can we expect to see on stage?
Randi: We specifically used acts that we already knew about or performers that we knew would be exceptional at creating acts that have to do with reproduction itself, reproductive rights, the body, and essentially everything that has to do with sexual health.
Wiggy: I think that Randi’s abortion act is kind of a take on the Westboro Baptist Church protesters, right?
Randi: I created the abortion act for “That’s Fucked Up” and there aren’t a lot of venues that I can perform it at, but it’s about a protester who gets herself into a sticky situation. It’s directly inspired by people like Sarah Palin’s daughter. Even in high school, I had friend’s that were Christian and Pro-Life, yet found themselves in a situation where they were unable to keep a pregnancy… The whole act is about the hypocrisy of this and the unwillingness to cultivate empathy for other people and imagine that other people might be in a hard situation. That it’s not an easy choice for anyone.
Heidi: We have this country where the people on the right are attempting to narrow the choices you can make about reproduction but there’s also no support for sex education. So it’s like not only do we not want you to be intelligent enough to make the decisions on your own, we also want you to have fewer decisions.
Randi: Their answer to all of that is “Just don’t have sex.” And that’s worked 100% of the time? My mom had seven kids in a time that she had no money, yet she kept having children. Everyone was like “Why do you keep having kids, what are you doing?” and it was because sex and pregnancy were important to her and what made her feel human and part of the experience.
Madeline: An idea that I’ve been struggling with recently is that as a woman, am I suppose to associate my identity with motherhood? Is that my purpose in life?
Wiggy: Yes, you should be ashamed of your body and ashamed of your sexuality but you should very much want a baby. But you’re not going to enjoy the sex that makes the baby or the relationship with the person who helps make the baby.
Madeline: So we’re talking a lot about how burlesque and politics mesh so well together. Often what I fear is that I am just as evangelical in my leftist beliefs as the rights are in their conservative beliefs. I find it beneficial for me to be critical about what it is that I am saying and how it is that I am communicating. In producing a burlesque show, where is the line between entertainment and preaching your beliefs at someone? Is there a line and do you feel like it is ever crossed, or is what we do not enough? Should we be more vocal?
Randi: I’m a little bit concerned about that with my act. It’s kind of unpalatable. It’s pretty gross so I am a little worried about the potential for pushing people beyond their ability to identify with the act and with my character. With “That’s Fucked Up”, that was the point. Anybody who came to that show knew what they were in for. This is different so I do think about whether I’m going to gross everyone out and they’re not going to be able to listen to what I have to say.
Madeline: You’re bringing up the audience’s ability to identify with the performance. In previous discussion, Wiggy mentioned that you decided male performers would be beneficial to the production. So, in what ways can a man identify with what it is that you’re talking about? Obviously, us sitting at this table and many of women we surround ourselves with in the burlesque community understand and agree with your beliefs on reproductive rights, but there is this whole other gender that doesn’t take birth control and can’t get pregnant.
Heidi: Coming from working around HIV [in her day job at Lifelong AIDS Alliance], I think that potentially some guys don’t understand that the attack on women’s reproductive rights crosses into their rights as well. I think that guys have had the long struggle with condoms and how shitty condoms are and that being the only the birth control method they have control of and that being a crappy birth control method that nobody likes.
Randi: One thing that we did talk about when developing this and one of the reasons why we were seeking male performers is that places like Planned Parenthood do not just provide services for women.
Heidi: It’s interesting that many people are under the impression that Planned Parenthood is just for women. It’s indicative of the greater problem: the assumption that reproductive rights are just a “woman’s issue”.
Wiggy: With my birth control act, it’s like an inside joke for women and unless the men had personal experience with a partner who was on birth control they didn’t quite understand what was going on. That was something we took into consideration. We definitely wanted a male perspective because they have their own reproductive health issues.
Randi: In some ways, we are very different but I tend to think of men and women as not from different planets. We’re just two different physical manifestations of the same species and all of our health as it relates to our reproduction is interrelated.
Madeline: How can people contribute to NARAL and the campaign for reproductive rights? Are there going to be opportunities to donate at the event?
Heidi: It’s so simple to give them money. They were like “However you want to do it! You can write us a check, you can use PayPal, you can come in and give us cash, you can do anything.” All the proceeds from the show going NARAL so just by being there you’re contributing. Buy raffle tickets because all that money will go to NARAL. You can give money on both the NARAL and Planned Parenthood websites.
Wiggy: Sasha Summer Cousineau will be there from NARAL, we were also talking about doing some kind of merchandise. [This has been confirmed. reProduction t-shirts will be available at the show.] I do believe that there are lots of ways to contribute, however one of the most important is just to be educated and up to date on what’s shifting in our political landscape. Just be educated!
reProduction: A Burlesque Benefit for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington features Bella Bijoux, Evilyn Sin Claire, Heidi Von Haught, Iva Handfull, Jenny Penny, Randi Rascal, The Shanghai Pearl, Sylvester Stiffbreeze, Tiny Reedlet’s Sexy Puppet Parade, Wiggy Stardust, and Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2011, Miss Indigo Blue. Hosted by lover of ladybits everywhere, Ernie Von Schmaltz. Show is at 8:00pm on August 19th at Theatre Off Jackson. Purchase your tickets now at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/190010.