POC’s TXBF Diary & a Queen pays Tribute to a Legend
~ Written and photographed by Paul O’Connell (POC Photo)
By now many of you know my excitement about attending burlesque festivals and events. Meeting new burlesquers and saying hi to returning ones makes me just want to jump into a big, naked burlesque hot tub with you all. And this year’s Texas Burlesque Festival was no different. Produced by Lynn Raridon and co-produced by Jigglewatts co-founder and 2010 Queen of New Orleans Burlesque, Coco Lectric, the TXBF – now in its sixth year keeps getting bigger and better. This was my third straight year attending and the second as performer Man Johnson (my perverted, absurd boylesque persona).
At times it’s a still a surreal experience for me performing burlesque. Like everyone else I have my bouts with nerves etc. and usually get along just fine. However the particular act I was fortunate to be invited to perform (at the Thursday night showcase “Nouveau Nuit”) would be the first time it would be done in public. Although I was pretty sure it would come off okay, there’s still that uneasy feeling…similar to when you’re climbing the ladder to the highest diving board at the community pool. Then just as they’re announcing your name, you say “this is it” and then you take the plunge.
My main concern though was my assels. (Assels for those of you who somehow don’t know, are just like tassels for boobs except you put them on your ass.) Not that they wouldn’t spin, because I in fact practiced my ass off thanks to Lady Drew Blood’s expert guidance in assel theory. But would the assels still be sticking to my butt by the time I hit the stage? After all, we’ve all seen pasties fly off.
As I watched the show in full costume I kept wondering to myself, “are they coming off???” and I would feel my butt to see if they were still attached. But it was all just silliness- the act went off without a hitch and I had a pretty good time up there, with both assels and front tassel (yes, that’s a cock-tassel) spinning beautifully. It was also nice to be Runner Up as Audience Favorite for the second year in a row.
The Texas Burlesque Festival is three nights with an Audience Favorite picked on Thursday and Friday that is invited to compete at the Saturday night showcase.
Here are the 2013 TEXAS BURLESQUE FESTIVAL details:
Thursday Night Audience Choice Winner: Lady Luck- Austin, TX
Runners Up: Man Johnson, Sherry Bomb and Ron Dez Vous
Friday Night Audience Choice Winner: Cruel Valentine- Chicago, IL
Runner Up: Ginger Snaps, Jasper St James, Mary Lynn Mayhem
Saturday Night: Best Costume- Tiny D- Brooklyn, NY
Best Use of Prop/Novelty- Bobbie Burlesque- Hollywood, CA
Best Ensemble- Queertini Time- Austin TX
Most Original- Crimson Skye- London, UK
Best Tease Factor- Franki Markstone- St.Petersburg, FL
Best Solo- Peggy De Lune- Columbus,OH/London UK
One of the best things about TXBF is Cora Vette as the Emcee. With her dirty jokes, powerful singing voice (she totally rocked “Barracuda”) and constant harassment of certain stage hands, it’s impossible not to have a constant ear to ear smile on your face. This year’s TXBF had ASL interpreters for the Thursday and Friday night show. I loved how Cora would start one of her jokes with “A man was jerking off,” and then she would quickly turn towards the interpreter to see how you would sign that.
The headliners for TXBF were current reigning Queen of Burlesque, Imogen Kelly, Dirty Martini, Camille 2000, current Queen of New Orleans Burlesque Angi B. Lovely, Ruby Joule (last year’s best debut at BHOF), two-thirds of The Stage Door Johnnies (Ray Gunn & Bazuka Joe), and Coco Lectric, who did a tribute act to Wild Cherry.
I asked Coco to elaborate on how her tribute act to Wild Cherry came to be:
I don’t really know where to begin when it comes to my Wild Cherry tribute performance. When Cherry and I spoke about it this past September, I immediately became thrilled and nervous! Hailing from New Orleans, Wild Cherry worked the touring circuit from the late 1950s through the 70s. There are no videos of her during her touring years, but her incredible performance style and before-her-time abilities made me want to share her career with audiences and fellow performers. She was such a physical performer, using tumbling techniques, balance and exotic floor work. The first day we met for her to train me she had abdominal isolations and foot work ready to go. The gracefulness of her arms was the first thing I noticed about her when I saw her perform for the first time, and there she was teaching me to do it! She was very sure to include her signature moves from her signature piece, a number in which she spun, gyrated, isolated her movements and traveled across the stage in the splits in a teal costume.
I met with Wild Cherry a few times, but each time was packed with so much knowledge that I had to take notes and run home to practice. Through the year I learned to invest in a good set of knee pads, a thicker yoga mat and some really good gel to keep my own signature Bettie bangs slicked back so I could wear Cherry’s signature ponytail. In my attempt to truly do justice to Cherry’s tribute, I did my best to maintain her style and personality. She didn’t smile often, she would zone out at times during this piece and really get into the music; she was tiny and tough. While I couldn’t quite pull off the “tiny,” I dug into that part of myself that is intense and serious…and physical. A photo shoot with Steve DeMent got me into character as we tried, take after take, to recreate Wild Cherry’s famous promotional picture and I went through her signature moves, hoping for one good frame. We were very lucky to get several pictures that capture her intensity and exotic feel.
Fellow Austinite, costumer extraordinaire, and producer of the Bat City Bombshells burlesque troupe, Sherry Bomb, was hard at work examining the Wild Cherry costume Miss Indigo Blue so graciously let me borrow, and studying images of Cherry online. After hearing about my concerns, Sherry was quick to adjust the costume so I wouldn’t trip over the panel skirt or fall out of the cape. When I picked it up a couple of days before the show, it was covered in rhinestones and sequins. I couldn’t believe how much love and care she put into it. It looked just like Wild Cherry’s in its original color, and it was perfect!
I don’t think I slept at all the night before I performed during our Friday Night: Night of Legends. I hadn’t been this nervous is quite some time. I realized that because I was doing my best to “be” Cherry and not myself that the techniques I use to fall back on when I’m on stage were no longer available to me. I couldn’t wink and smile to get the audience on my side. I couldn’t start into an improvisational dance to get myself out of a jam without feeling like I wasn’t doing as authentic of a job as I could have.
I spent a considerable amount of time in the trailer with Angi B. Lovely stretching, putting on our makeup and finding ways to relax and get into character. The wine helped. I spoke to 2011 Reigning Queen of Burlesque, Indigo Blue for some guidance and to share stories about Cherry. Her Wild Cherry Tribute performances are stellar and it’s also apparent how our different experiences with Cherry make for different performances of her signature number. When it was time for me to go on…I reminded myself to dig deep, feel intense and sensual.
The lighting and sound were just perfect and lovely. Of course, there are always things I want to improve in my performances, but I was content enough in my show that I could rest easy that night…even though the biggest night of the festival was still upon us.
*** (back to Paul…)
Speaking of Sherry Bomb, she graciously allowed me to stay with her during the festival and then some. She pretty much spent the whole time I was there, sewing, rhinestoning costuming. In fact she was still sewing the beautiful costume she wore on Thursday night right up until we had to leave for tech rehearsal. She also got me hooked on the Dr Who reboot series (thank you, Sherry).
The TXBF performers are naturally mostly from Texas but there are always participants from around the country and the world including Canada, England and of course, Australia. Many electrifying acts wowed the audience. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a crowd fully pumped up, and watching a performer mesmerize them all. Crimson Skye was one of many performers who certainly did that with her fabulous boylesque routine- and she picked up the award for Most Original in the process.
Those selected to perform in these festivals really bring their A-game, and it’s always apparent how hard they work back home bringing burlesque to the people, whether in a large dance hall/theater or the smallest of dive bars. It’s really an honor and a pleasure to be involved with such a vibrant community in Seattle as well as Austin (which may be my second burlesque home someday) and around the country. I’m always excited to meet new people and learn about their own unique burlesque histories.
On that note- I hope everyone attending and performing at the Kansas City Burlesque Festival and the New York Boylesque Festival this weekend and the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival the following weekend have a grand time.
What follows is a gallery of photos from TXBF 2013: