A Q&A with Rose City Shimmy as they prepare to shake it for Seattle.
Portland’s Rose City Shimmy will be the featured performers for the Winter Guest Series at Noc Noc this Thursday, January 26- if you haven’t seen these girls yet, they really will knock your knickers off. Rose City Shimmy lovingly refers to itself as a burlesque collective- the performers within coming from varied stylistic backgrounds while continuing to perfect their art in the uninhibited production environment of Portland. This weekend several of Rose City’s members took a moment to chat with Burlesque Seattle Press:
Burlesque Seattle Press: Rose City Shimmy is Portland’s best known burlesque collective. Would you introduce the ladies, and explain the back story of how you came to perform together?
Itty Bitty Bang Bang: Rose City Shimmy is made up of 5 of Portland’s veteran performers: Meghan Mayhem, Baby Le’Strange, Hai Fleisch, Charlotte Treuse and Itty Bitty Bang Bang. Shimmy was born out of our new-found friendship through burlesque and a common creative vision. At the time of our founding in 2008, a handful of fantastic performers had gained some notoriety in Portland, but most had moved on to other cities. The scene was basically building itself back up from scratch and was poised to really take off. The 5 of us first crossed paths after regularly appearing on the stage of a monthly variety show together. Some of us had some prior experience (Meghan was co-founder of Cherry Blossom Cabaret in Hawaii and Hai was a founding member of San Francisco troupe Kiss Que C’est). The rest were burlesque beginners (Baby, Charlotte and Itty all had 1 year or less under their belts). We all had big dreams for the Portland burlesque scene. We knew it would be a rough glittery road to travel alone – so Shimmy was formed!
Baby Le’Strange: We found ourselves performing together regularly on the circuit. We decided to start producing shows together, since we meshed so well and our styles differ, which makes us well rounded to the audiences.
What do you think being a “collective” rather than a “troupe” lends to your creative fusion individually, and then as a unit of like-minded performers?
Itty Bitty Bang Bang: From the beginning we all wanted to create something that would give us all a vehicle to perform and a support system, but also allow us to pursue our personal burlesque goals at our own pace. We wanted to produce unique shows together while maintaining a lot of flexibility for each of us to do our own thing when we need to. It allows us to come to each other with collaborative ideas when inspiration strikes us with a real passion and enthusiasm. As a group we find that our performance styles complement each other well, and we are able to put really dynamic burlesque experiences together. Although our busy performance schedules haven’t allowed us to produce together as much as we’d hoped, when we do it’s a blast because we see eye to eye on so many levels. Each of us brings a different strength and talent to the process so the finished product is a true representation of what we can bring to the table when we work together. We hope to bring more of our visions to life in the future. More than anything, I think we all define our “collective” simply as our burlesque family. We connected through our shared experiences in a young Portland scene and the obstacles that it presented… now we’re Shimmy sisters!
Baby Le’Strange: We are all free agents in the burlesque community; there are no rules per se placed on any of the Shimmy gals to always perform together. We are all so busy with burlesque and our real lives. I really wish Portland could support a weekly show of Rose City Shimmy like it does with Sinner Saint. It is really hard work to put on a weekly show with themes changing all the time. I ultimately would love to have that happen with Shimmy…alas day jobs are essential to being a burlesque performer in our town. We all also have different visions in some perspective.
What have been your performance experiences in Seattle so far? (I know I have seen Charlotte here at least once or twice…)
Charlotte Treuse: Yes, I love Seattle, and try to perform there whenever I can. Of course I have worked mostly with the Sinner Saint ladies, but I have also danced with Madison Moone and Orchestre L’Pow! at The Triple Door and Can Can, and when I was just starting out Ginger Snapz hired me to portray the color green in her Wizard of Oz Multicultural Cabaret. That was a fun night!
Baby Le’Strange: I have performed at the Pink Door a few times a couple years ago when there weren’t as many performance opportunities in Portland. I have also guested with Sinner Saint multiple times. I had the pleasure of doing one of their kamikaze shows and it was an amazing and challenging experience. I wish I could have more improv burlesque opportunities like that more often.
How did you get to know Sinner Saint Burlesque?
Baby Le’Strange: In 2008 Charlotte and I had the pleasure of being a part of the Tease-O-Rama Roadshow, Portland edition. Baby Doe reached out to us and wanted some Portland people to come up for the Northwest kickoff pre-party which was held at Sinner Saint that Thursday night. It was a great experience. I really had no clue what I was doing at the time since I had only been performing for a few months. So ultimately it was terrifying with big names in the audience and I was a clueless newbie on stage. Great experience though. So during this all I met all the Sinner Saint ladies and kept a great connection with them over the years. I have guested at least once or twice a year since then. They have had the pleasure of watching me grow as a performer and they gave me some great opportunities and friendships.
Charlotte Treuse: Baby and I had both been selected to perform for the Portland Tease-O-Rama Roadshow in 2008. Sinner Saint was throwing a Tease-O-Rama Meet and Greet, and asked Baby Doe if she could recommend any local performers that would also be participating in the Roadshow. She recommended us, we fell in love with the ladies of Sinner Saint, and have been performing with them a couple times a year ever since. Offstage, as well, the Sinner Saint girls are some of my personal favorites. Attending BurlyCon and BHoF these past few years has definitely cemented the friendship.
In 2012, more frequent “cultural exchanges” of performers between Seattle and Portland would be an excellent way to mix things up and keep everyone firing on all cylinders creatively, since both communities have such strong performers. It will keep everyone nicely cross-pollinated and inspired. How would you describe the feel of Portland burlesque currently?
Baby Le’Strange: I think it is more closely connected than most burlesque communities around the world. We all really know and support each other. I wish I had the time and energy to go out and support every show. Also being so close to Seattle has been amazing. Having BurlyCon in the backyard is really lucky for all of us.
A couple Seattle shows have traveled down here and I have had the pleasure of being a part of Strip Screw’s Disney After Dark- and Randi Rascal’s SpeedBump tour is coming here, featuring Charlotte and I. Even though I don’t live in Seattle, I feel really closely connected to their community as well. I consider myself a performer on the fringe of things, pushing boundaries and such. There seem to be more opportunities for that in Seattle. I also run with the Queer performance community here which is really open to my weird acts.
Baby, you always have a hand in some interesting shows- recently you and Hai of Rose City both performed in Black Lodge Burlesque (a night inspired by David Lynch), morphing Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rosselini’s parts from the film Blue Velvet. You and Hai also recently performed in Sign of the Beast Burlesque, which embraces metal and burlesque. It feels like Portland’s creative thinkers will take chances and go to some interesting places- would you say that’s true? (For one thing, Portland seems to incorporate a lot of live music….)
Baby Le’Strange: I am really glad this is FINALLY happening. Some producers are getting more edgy with their concepts which I enjoy. I love classic burlesque, but I really don’t have any traditional acts. I really enjoy the shows that Vera Mysteria and Rocket have been producing. They aren’t afraid to take risks and they let me be as crazy with my concepts as I want to be. Coming soon is Black Lodge Burlesque 2, and a Muppets themed show in the summer. I will be portraying my favorite hippie puppet, Janice.
Hai Fleisch: Yes, it’s true that we have performed with quite a few live bands; The Stolen Sweets, Sassparilla, Trashcan Joe, The Twangshifters, and Orchestra L’Pow for example. We feel that a live band really adds an extra punch to the show. The interaction with more people onstage is always fun.
There are a lot of themed shows popping up in Portland lately, which wasn’t the case for a long time. Rose City Shimmy put on our Wild West Burlesque Showdown the Summer of 2010 because we felt there was finally an audience for burlesque in Portland, and that they would like to see a comprehensive show. Once there were people to perform for theme shows it was the natural progression, especially with the way that the scene has been exploding lately. There are so many more peelers AND audience members. Performers get a chance to flex their creative muscles and people who might not normally come to see burlesque are drawn to shows because they are interested in the theme. Critical Hit Burlesque has put on several fantastic Geeklesque shows, which Hai, Itty and Baby have all performed in. Charlotte is bringing a little something to the next one, February 4th. Hai, Baby, Meghan and Itty have all shown their love for metal in the Sign of the Beast burlesque shows. Hai also did a Laura Palmer with her man in the David Lynch show and Charlotte has also performed in a few of Miss Kennedy’s themed shows. And there are more popping up every day. It has really been an exciting way of showcasing the variety of talent in town and the many different ways that “Burlesque” can be interpreted onstage.
Charlotte, you have a special affinity for New Orleans. Where have your performed there, and what is the special allure of New Orleans to you?
Charlotte Treuse: New Orleans really is one of my favorite places. My love affair with the city started in 2009 with The New Orleans Burlesque Festival, which was just an incredible experience. It was my first time traveling to perform in a big festival, and my first time in a city I had always wanted to explore. I know it’s incredibly cliché, but I was thoroughly seduced the minute I set foot in the French Quarter. The palpable history, and the way the city embraces every single one of your senses is both sexy and oddly comforting. I’d never been somewhere so connected with it’s past and yet still so alive. Yeah, I love it there.
Then add to that the fact that I have met some of my dearest friends in New Orleans, and it really is a winning combination. Rick Delaup is a fantastic producer, and I just adore the Southern burlesque girls. They school me every time I perform with them, and I love them for it! I’ve performed at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival all three years so far, and will keep applying. I’ve also guest starred with Bustout Burlesque at The House of Blues.
You’re keeping the stage warm for Sinner Saint this Thursday, January 26 (as well as February 23), at Noc Noc- what can we expect from the shows? Any clues?
Baby Le’Strange: Lots of energy, a mix of classic and comedy. A dancing hot dog. We will be without Meghan Mayhem in January, but she will be joining us for the February show where there will be more group numbers.
********* Catch Rose City Shimmy here in Seattle January 26 and February 23. For more information, you can find Rose City Shimmy on Facebook and at the sidebar, right.*********