LAURIE KURUTZ: My name is Laurie Kurutz. Today is December 13, 2019. Would youplease introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
TANA THE TATTOOED LADY: I'd love to! I'm Tana the Tattooed Lady and I am aBurlesque entertainer and a Burlesque producer.
LK: What is Burlesque?
TTL: Well, for me, Burlesque is a place where I can culminate all my skills andall my training into one art form. So, for me it involves singing, wig construction, costume craft, dance and that's all aspects of dance that I've studied, as well as my theater background that I went to school for, and makeup artistry. So, it's a culmination of a bunch of different styles and ways of creating art, all melded into one art form.
LK: How do you describe the style of Burlesque that you do?00:01:00
TTL: I feel like the style of Burlesque that I do is always changing as I growas an artist. If I'm taking, for example, Senegalese or West African dance or I'm studying Hula, I love to take elements of those styles of movement and work them into the lexicon of my Burlesque vocabulary. Not necessarily in a way that would be derivative of someone's culture or to minimize anyone else's experience, but in ways that my artistry can be more full, based on the different dance styles that I study and at different cultural aspects of different communities that I feel very filled up and very inspired by.
LK: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
TTL: I was born in Amarillo, Texas, and I'm from little ole Houston, Texas.00:02:00[garbled] represent!" But I grew up pretty much in the ghettos of Texas and I went to what they called in the time a magnet school for gifted and talented students. We were shipped in from all over the rural areas of Texas and then in the inner-city area we all came together and did block scheduling dance and theater and music were my majors. That was 6th, 7th and 8th , and then that was feeding into the high school for the performing and visual arts that is known as HSPVA in Houston, Texas. And that's actually what the film Fame was based on, to my knowledge.
LK: Terrific. What brought you to Oregon?
TTL: After college, I was trying to figure out where I wanted to be in theworld. I was very involved with the theater arts community and with the dance 00:03:00community and I had started doing a lot of go-go dancing entertainment. A lot of times the worlds did not mix well. So, for me, I started doing Burlesque before I knew what Burlesque was. I was told at age 13, age 14 when I was going to school and we would do our dance recitals, "No, no, no, no, you can't remove the article of clothing during your dance recital." "No, no, no, no, you can't work in a chair." "No, no, no, no, it's too sexy. Tone it down, tone it down." So, I was always told that the style of movement that I was portraying and the types of characters I was portraying were too over-the-top for the art form and for my age. I would always hear, "You're going to love college, you're going to love college."
When I was in college, I left at 17, just about to turn 18, and went away to00:04:00Chico State University. I was just loving it there and I actually created my own major there. I started the musical theater major at Chico State University with a girlfriend of mine. We wrote all of the curriculum. We found a guy who had just transferred off-Broadway and had come to our school to try his hand at being an arts educator. And so we said, "Oh my god, Tim Herman, would you please lead our..." you know he was just so wonderful and had all this knowledge of Broadway and was just a wonderful, wonderful human. So, Tim Herman led our program and now it's a wonderful bustling community there, at the musical theater program at Chico State. And so I was doing theater and I was doing go-go dancing and I was doing all that, and I started to hear about the old styles of 00:05:00Burlesque. So, that's kind of where all these things originated for me. I don't know if I got to my point!
LK: That's amazing. Were there artists who were an inspiration for you duringthose formative years?
TTL: Back then, we didn't have the Internet. I come from a time where we wouldwatch old movies. I love old Hollywood. I was very inspired by, of course, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Page and all those kind of iconic, just amazing, classic Hollywood starlets and pinups. I was very inspired by pinups. I was really inspired by the women of musical theater like Julie Andrews and Liza Minelli. So, for me, those were the... a lot of my... I wasn't that inspired by 00:06:00people like Madonna. It just seemed too commonplace for me. I liked the very big, theatrical, like Some Like It Hot, the really, very stylized. It was almost as if those women lived the characters that they portrayed. And that was the type of artist that I was interested in being.
My mom was a punk rocker. She was really, really wild and she had a big purplemohawk and tons of tattoos. So, it is almost like going back to the music of my great-grandparents was a way that I rebelled against my mom, being such a wild child. And I don't know if that's okay for me to say, but for instance my mom's favorite T-shirt was her Dead Kennedy's Too Drunk to Fuck t-shirt. So, I was involved in all this punk community. So, for me to do this Marilyn kind of thing 00:07:00was so punk to rebel against the punk rock in my family.
LK: So, then Burlesque: what year did you get started in Burlesque and how didyou get started?
TTL: Like I said, I was choreographing routines and things like that. I wasalways exploring these kind of more classic styles of movement. And I'm a really big fan of the "Something Weird" videos that were coming out of Seattle, Washington. It was really cool because they eventually ended up being a sponsor for one of the Burlesque tours that I did. And the people from "Something Weird" would gift us these videos and we could give them away as prizes during the show, which was a really fun fast forward. But back in the day, you'd be lucky enough to get your hands on some of this old footage of Tempest Storm and these 00:08:00amazing, amazing entertainers and just seeing these women command the stage. And, of course, there were people like Lili St. Cyr who had amazing dance training and beautiful lines, and they were bringing ballet and things like that into that.
But I was really far more interested in these really bawdy, really just reallyovertly sexual and almost very funny ways that they moved. You know with the isolations of the grind of rolling the hips and rolling the shoulders and things like that. That kind of movement vocabulary was really intriguing to me. But there was, at that time, nowhere to study that and you couldn't just type in "Burlesque" into the Internet. None of us had computers. So, we could look at books sometimes and look at old films. Then trying to find women who had done the art form and connect with them, as well.
But that was very difficult because a lot of those women in the 1980s were kindof forced back into hiding, it seems to me. Like there was a big resurgence once 00:09:00the Republicans took back over the country in the -80s. Everything got really prim and proper and clean. And a lot of those gals who had done pinup, who had done go-go, who had done Burlesque, it's almost as though they got convinced that what they had done for a living back in the -60s or the -50s was shameful to them now. And it was no longer part of their legacy that they could be proud of, but something that they needed to almost cover up or hide or abandon. And so I feel like that was when we really started to lose Burlesque, was in the late -70s and definitely during the -80s. I mean I don't really know anyone who was doing Burlesque in the -80s, except Jo. "Thank you, Jo Boobs!" And a few of those other New York queens which were amazing, and Tigger. I know Tigger was doing Burlesque in the -80s.
LK: So, how did you get started actually doing Burlesque and develop it as a career?00:10:00
TTL: I was in a performance of "On The Town" and I was portraying the Ann Millercharacter, which is one of my favorite roles ever, like tap dancing with the paleontologist and it was so, so, so fun. I was getting ready to head to a wedding in San Francisco and I had been to all the box stores, the big box stores, and I couldn't find anything to wear to this wedding. I happened into this little shop on Capitol Hill in Seattle called "Agent X Clothing." I was in the dressing room and I'm having a conversation with the guy that I had been dating, but you know it's your 20s, and I wasn't dating anymore. And he had my tap shoes at his house. And so I'm singing along with the musical that she's got playing in the "Agent X" shop, and I'm the fitting room. 00:11:00
And I'm like, "Can you bring tap shoes? I need my tap shoes for the rehearsaltonight, and blah blah blah." And the shopkeeper, who I later found out was a designer, overheard me and she said, "Hey, I heard you were a tapper and you're obviously into vintage and pinup and retro style. Have you ever heard anything about Burlesque?" And I'm like, "A little bit. I know a little bit about Burlesque, but I wouldn't call myself a Burlesque dancer. I'm more of a go-go dancer and a theater actress and a musical theater dancer, I guess." She said, "Well, I know these gals that just moved here from the "Shim-Sham Revue" down in New Orleans. They're putting together their own Burlesque shows and they're going really well, but the girl who was supposed to do the tap dancing duet has hurt her back and now we're down to four members and we need five to make the show happen, but it starts in four days. Can you come audition for the part?" 00:12:00And I said, "Hell yeah, I'd love to do that. Once my show opens this weekend, I can come on Tuesday, Wednesday, whenever and I can learn the choreo." And she said, "Yeah, if you can learn it, then we'll put you in that number and you can do the show with us. And if you can't learn the choreo quickly enough then perhaps in the future, maybe we can add you or something like that, if it works out, if they like you."
So, I went to the woman's home over in Ballard, it's an area in Seattle, and Ilearned the choreography in 20 minutes and they said, "Okay, you're in." So, I kind of got scouted by this woman who later turned out to be J. Von Stratton, who is like one of my great friends. And we've known each other our whole entire Burlesque careers. And it was that's how I got started in the Atomic Bombshells back in Seattle. She was a founding member and they asked me to join. I just 00:13:00kept on with it from there and made a career out of it.
LK: About what year was that?
TTL: 2004? 2005? Somewhere around there, yeah.
LK: And so, just as a sidebar, what do you do outside of Burlesque, if anything?
TTL: I have been a professional performer for about 20 years. I produce showsand then I also love to work on more of the minutiae of things like wig construction, makeup artistry. I teach classes, as well. I love to help people to polish their Burlesque routines. Although I have been affiliated with and been a part of and helped to start a lot of Burlesque prep school, or Burlesque education societies, Burlesque academies, things like that, I don't really feel 00:14:00like people need those finishing schools to become a Burlesque dancer. All you need to become a Burlesque dancer is the desire to say, "I'm a fucking Burlesque dancer!"
I just feel very strongly that if you have the desire and the chutzpah to go andput yourself out there that anyone could be a Burlesque dancer. I feel like that's another really fabulous thing about this art form is that it transcends people's expectations and it opens up people's minds about who they find sexy. Because you'll see a particular style of movement on a body that you might not necessarily be attracted to you if you were just meeting them or knowing them in everyday life. But then you see them in this other light, in the stage lights with their costume and with the style of cool and the style of movement that 00:15:00they're portraying and all of a sudden it's like, "Holy heck, that is a hot person." So, that's another thing I love about this art form.
LK: So, you've moved from Texas to Chico to Seattle... So, Oregon: How did youland in Oregon and what did you do there?
TTL: Okay, so I had been up with the Atomic Bombshells and we had gone over tothe New York Burlesque Festival. I had been doing makeup artistry for Benefit Cosmetics and in Seattle and Bellevue, kind of learning that makeup artistry is a lot more about sales than it was about the artistry. So I was starting to feel like I'm 22, 23 years old or something, and I don't really like to be forced 00:16:00into sales. I would way rather be more so involved in the artistry and creation of things and do more theater. So I got the opportunity to go over to New York with the Pontani Sisters in their New York Burlesque Festival. I don't know how many years it had been going on at that point, but man, it was eye-opening and it was so cool. And from there we went and did a summer at The Vixen in Provincetown, which they call gay Disneyland, and it was fabulous. It was really fun. And then from there, I got plucked up to go to Spain with a band that I perform with called El Vez, which is the Mexican Elvis.
From then on, it was just a whirlwind of bookings and travel and I just neverstopped and never slowed down. I took almost anything and everything and oftentimes I would be triple booked. So I would hire someone to pick me up at 00:17:00the front door of one venue, drive me across town and help me get set up, get me in my next costume so that I could do that show. And then do the whole damn thing to again, drive me to another venue for a late-night, for a midnight or 1 AM showing at another venue. But things were becoming really, really oversaturated in Seattle, and things were also... There gets to be a bubble where it's like the same 30 people who are performing all the time and the same people are in charge of all these shows. I really wanted something a bit more punk rock and I wanted a little bit more wiggle room to be me. I had a lot of trouble being a part of a mega-troupe like the Atomic Bombshells because there was a lot of creative direction that went against the way that I wanted to 00:18:00perform. For instance, I was not allowed to have any tattoos. So I would spend, and this was before I had [tattooed] sleeves, but I would spend two hours in body makeup before every single show and then I'd have to wear layers and layers of stocking. I can understand they were trying to portray a very specific style and image of classic Burlesque, and the time the producers of that show were very anti-tattoo, which is hilarious because now they all have tattoos in the Atomic Bombshells, but at the time it was like "no, no, no, no."
So, I wanted to do my own thing and every time that I would drive fromCalifornia, where my family was living at the time, up to Seattle, I would just get a twinge in my heart that I felt like Portland was calling to me. So one 00:19:00day, I was 20 something, I kissed my boyfriend goodbye and I got in the car and I drove to Portland, and I decided, "I live here now and I'm going to start a Burlesque scene. There's nothing happening down here. I know Lucy Fur, but she's getting ready to move to Los Angeles, and I know a couple of Suicide Girls. I was affiliated with Suicide Girls, kind of pinup, sexy website for a while. And I knew Missy down in LA through a gal, Bettina, that I had met. And so we were all affiliated in that way, and I was really interested in going somewhere and just creating my own scene. So I did it.
LK: About when was that?
TTL: That was in 2007. And there were no Burlesque shows, there was nothinghappening at that point in Portland. There were no Burlesque academies. There 00:20:00were maybe three people in town that even considered themselves Burlesque entertainers.
LK: So, what did you create?
TTL: Well, I started putting on a lot of shows at the Bossanova Ballroom, whichis quite an undertaking looking back at it now. At one point, I did a show called "The Copyright Infringement Before Christmas" with a full orchestra and a set that had a spiral staircase that led up to the graveyard. I hired actors, movers, and people from the community, and we put together this amazing Burlesque-style, kind of Danny Elfman inspired... It was freaking awesome, but the people at the Bossanova at the time, they allowed me to come on as kind of an artistic director and to produce and create all of these shows. So I would 00:21:00write these shows, like I did a show called "Glitter and Gore," and then I did "The Copyright Infringement Before Christmas," and then several other like one-offs: "Kiss and Tell" which is like inspired by pulp novels, like a noir Valentine's affair. Just tons and tons and tons and tons of stuff. And then I was involved with a show called "The Royal Tease," where I would provide a live band and I would sing, and then I would also do Burlesque in "The Royal Tease," as well. But that was produced by another woman.
And then a lot of smaller shows, as well, affiliated with Dante's [Inferno], andthen Star Theatre, but that was before it was owned by its new owners which is Frank, who's a dear friend of mine. So, that's actually how I met Angelique Deville, was we were asked... I guess I can't say by whom, but some people who ended up to be some very nefarious characters, to come on and create some 00:22:00Burlesque content for them, [in funny voice] "To class up the joint." And so we were affiliated with them for a little while until the place got shut down again. But it was a very wild in there, and it was a very wild time. But no one was ready for Burlesque yet. No one was ready for Burlesque when Angelique and I were trying to....She was still living in southern Oregon and I was living in Portland and putting on these shows, and I was lucky if I could get 10 to 20 people to fill out the Star Theatre. I would have a full orchestra, I would be doing a bathtub number up in the crow's nest, and I hired an aerialist to come from Seattle. But it was like pulling teeth to get people to come because we 00:23:00hadn't built the audience yet. It took at least five to seven years to build that audience that now Portland is known for its Burlesque scene, but it there was nothing happening there. Nothing.
LK: How do you do that? How do you fund that? How do you explain what it is?What are the skills involved in producing and starting that?
TTL: Well, I think it's also right place, right time. I think there was becomingmore and more awareness about Burlesque as a movement, as a way of expression, and then with social media on the rise and whatnot, more and more of us were becoming connected. And so we were able to create networks and contact people in 00:24:00other communities that were doing Burlesque and invite them to come and perform. So, people like Havana Hurricane, people from all over the world, we were inviting them to come to Portland, and then inviting our audiences to come and experience people that they would never get to experience otherwise. So, there's a lot of sponsorship seeking, there's event planning, there's studying demographics, marketing... There's so much that goes into producing a Burlesque show, in addition to just being a Burlesque entertainer. You really have to have a very diverse skill set or hire a man, in most instances, to come in and do it for you. Which is what a lot of well-known troupes will do is they'll hire a manager or marketing person, you know hire someone usually with penis to come in 00:25:00and tell them how to run their business. But I have absolutely never been interested in working in any way, shape, or form with a manager or anyone who's going to A) take a percentage of my earnings or B) tell me what to do.
So, I was very lucky to get just really dialed in with a lot of other people inthe community and what we started to do was to create... It became very clear to me what my mission in Portland was, and straddling both worlds, I was a part of the straight stripping community, so working in the clubs, not as a featured dancer, but just as a house dancer. You know, lap dances, the whole shebang and the fully nude clubs in Oregon. And then also being a Burlesque entertainer of, you know some note, in the community. But the Burlesque community, I realized, 00:26:00had a lot of "hate-orade" towards our sisters who were exotic dancing. There was a lot of shaming and there was a lot of people who were doing similar things, like I don't think she minds that I share, Sandria Dore was also involved with Burlesque, but was also a dancer with me at Mary's Club. And would never, ever let people in our Burlesque communities know that we were strippers. So it became very clear to me that my mission was to create a marriage between those two worlds and to break down those stereotypes. So we started, in my classes, which were movement classes with the Rose City School of Burlesque, I would sneak in a little bit of catch phrases like, "It's just walking and stripping. It's just walking and stripping." "For me, and you may hear other things from 00:27:00other people at this academy, other teachers, and their points of view are just as valid as mine, there is no difference between peelers, strippers, Burlesque dancers. We're all one in the same."
So, that was really where I put my efforts toward in the last five years that Ilived there, was being kind of being a more outspoken person in the community. That was bringing light to the fact that there were so many of us that were living in both worlds. Because when I started at Mary's Club I wore gowns, and I wore heels, and I wore my gloves, and I would take a boa or feathered fans on stage. I would into a Burlesque routine to Sonny Lester or whatever it was, and then go to Nick Cave from there or something sexy and fun. It would tear the freaking house down. People would come up to the front of the stage and they were so respectful and so wonderful, and would say, "Oh my god, we haven't seen 00:28:00anyone doing Burlesque like that in 20 years. Here's a $50. Here's a $100." And so I think a lot of other dancers were like, "Oh, wow. Maybe people are ready for this kind of thing." And it showed me that I could put my money where my mouth was and put a lot of money that I was making in the stripping, from doing that work in my sex work career, into my Burlesque career, and to be able to fund these projects. But I find them both to be very, very valid forms of expression and things that have really shaped me as an entertainer. So, you asked before what type of Burlesque dancer I am, and it's always changing based on my experiences with both in the [stripping] clubs and then on stage in big beautiful theaters around the world.
LK: And so what you were just describing is what I hear other people talking00:29:00about, is respectability politics. Can you describe just a little a bit about what that means to you?
TTL: I think people are definitely aware of stereotypes and of who we desire tosee naked. Although Gypsy Rose Lee could tear the house down by removing a single glove, it's not just about the nudity, it's not necessarily about the stripping. It's about the confidence, the self-confidence, and I believe that every body has the ability to become a Burlesque entertainer because everyone can, even if they don't feel confident in their everyday life, they can learn a skill set that can that they can embody confidence, that they could then 00:30:00translate into this art form and take on stage.
I've had the experience of having wonderful entertainers who oftentimes areseverely disabled or have very, very extreme things that they are working through in their lives in terms of disabilities or physical deformity, and they are celebrated in these communities. And now, as I'm learning more about sideshow and getting more involved in circus and sideshow, I'm more so trying to extend the blanket of Burlesque to all of my friends who are involved in sideshow, as well. Because there's a lot of people who are marginalized in that community, as well, and they kind of see themselves as freaks, but there's a 00:31:00place for them in the Burlesque scene, as well. Because a lot of what they're doing is Vaudeville and is Burlesque, but there's kind of still a stigma that Burlesque is for pretty people or for a certain body type or for a certain gender or for people that specify their gender or for a certain age group, and it's completely not true.
As a 40-year-old woman, I'm going to continue, just like Tempest says, I'm goingto keep taking it off as long as people still pay to see it. I may modify the costume slightly, but I believe that Burlesque can be a very inclusive place for everyone and especially with what people are doing on the West Coast and in New York and in Chicago and in Minneapolis, it is that kind of a place. There are places where the Burlesque dancers are very cookie-cutter looking and it's very corporate, and they have affiliations with alcohol sponsorship and things like 00:32:00that. Where the entertainers that they have hired or in their troops, they have to look a very specific body type, or one very specific presentation of gender. But especially with the kinds of art that I want to create, I don't want to have any of those limitations. I want to be able to highlight and feature anyone and everyone that wants to entertain.
LK: That's great. Shifting a little bit, you talked about flying and travelingand being a traveling showgirl, if you will. Can you describe that festival circuit? How you apply? How you get into it? What that's like? Who pays for what? Just give us a little snapshot of what that is.
TTL: Well, there's a lot of festivals around the world and most of them are all00:33:00produced by different communities of folks, and they all do it differently. There's really no format or way of doing it. I think a lot of folks will look to the Burlesque Hall of Fame and the Miss Exotic World Competition as a way of structuring their event in a way of... I don't know if it's pay homage or if it's, "Well, that's how they do it, so that's how we should do. We'll have the big petition on Saturday night when we have the most people there and Friday we'll do this other thing and Thursday we'll do this other thing, and who knows? Legends on Sunday? I don't know?"
As this is such a new art form and there's so many of us creative types puttingin all this different input all these different ideas and whatnot. And then with venue limitations, even for me being a 10-year producer in the Portland area, 00:34:00it's still hard to get three nights in a row at a venue. But when the venue has a capacity of 350 or 400 people you've got to have multiple nights if you're really going to call yourself a festival so you can get enough people in there. So, everyone has different ideas of how it should be run. I was fortunate enough in the last year that I produced the Oregon Burlesque Festival that we were in the black and I was able to be a paid festival. I found out that my friend KiKi Maroon, who is in Houston where I'm from, she has the Circus and Burlesque Arts Festival down there, and I really wanted to try to emulate her formula, which was to make every act that was selected a headliner. So, every single one of 00:35:00those people is paid as a headliner and we do what we can, as well, to house.
The first year that we did the Oregon Burlesque Festival we set everyone up thatwas an out-of-towner with housing. They received tips and then they also received a small stipend, but it really wasn't enough for people who are coming from Canada and even from Japan. So, as a producer, it's my biggest goal to make sure that when I produce a show that people are really well taken care of. Whether that's in the form of I hire a massage therapist come backstage and give a little love to everyone or to help with makeup or hair at no cost to them. Just something to where the entertainers feel as though they are being heard, they are taken care of, they're being seen, and just that little something extra. But with festivals, a lot of that kind of stuff gets kind of swept under 00:36:00the rug. People are just interested in getting as many entertainers there as they can for as little money as possible.
Then it begs the question of if the venue is charging $20 or $30 per person foryou to come to witness all these entertainers who come from all over the world, then where is that money going? There's venue charges, there's advertising charges, of course, there's all the things associated with producing a production. You know, you have to pay the lighting designer and make sure you hire the best, "to put on the dog" so to speak for the out-of-towners and whatnot. But where is that money going?
So, it was wonderful for the fifth year [of the Oregon Burlesque Festival] to bein the black and to be able to offer people a pretty substantial payout for when they were coming. $100, which you know, when you're buying your flight to get 00:37:00across the country or around the globe to come and perform for free, $100 stipend is like "meh." But primarily, it's all the artists who pay to get themselves to these festival unless you are a selected headliner and you are contacted by the event and they will pay to bring you in and they will pay for your accommodation and you will receive a stipend for performing. I have my first headliner gig coming up in 2020 at the Mile High Festival in Colorado and I'm very excited to see who will be crowned the highest for the 420 Fest. It's gonna be a really good time.
LK: So, as a Burlesque creator, shifting to more artistic aspects, what's yourprocess for creating a new piece of Burlesque?
TTL: Oh my goodness. So, I issued myself a challenge when I moved to Portland00:38:00and I performed at the same venue, at the same cabaret every Sunday, at the Sinferno Cabaret. It's been going on for, oh my goodness, we just celebrated 16 years and I've been a part of it for, I don't even know, since I guess 2005 is when I started doing the Sinferno Cabaret. When I moved to Portland, I wanted to bring a different act every Sunday for a year. I issued myself this challenge. Costume has always been a very difficult thing for me because I don't have a big budget. I'm a self-made woman and I come from very, very humble beginnings. Often being homeless as a kid, I really learned how to take trash and make it into a costume, just finding objects and working them into a routine. 00:39:00
So, I decided to issue myself this challenge of creating, and I did it. Oftentimes during that process, I would be inspired by a color, by a film, by a quality of movement, by a genre of film, by something I was studying in the class somewhere, by a yoga pose. I feel like inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere, and as long as you kind of follow the basic, you have the Burlesque vocabulary of movement in there that's digestible for the audience, because sometimes I show up and suck. I get real weird. I get my art out there and people are like, "Yeah. Okay." But I learned very early on from my mentor 00:40:00Julie Atlas Muz, who I just think hung the stars, she said "Don't be afraid to show up and suck, and whatever you're gonna do, do it big." So, that's what I impart to my students and that's what I do. And I don't have a lot of fear surrounding failure. I'm not afraid to have people laugh at me, and I'm not afraid to do something and look very foolish or have it really not work.
So yeah, sometimes it's just a concept. I'm not afraid to do what they call "oneoff shows." A lot of entertainers won't do one off shows because they don't want to spend all this time on costume creation and choreography and all that just to do it one time, but for me I love challenges like that. So if someone says, "Okay, you've got two hours to come up with a complete routine and here's the music and here's the style, and you have to incorporate at least three freezes 00:41:00and an inversion and moving backwards at some point," or something like that, I'd say, "Yes, this is great!" And my colleague and one of my dearest friends in the community Ray Gunn, he's a very similar artist, and so we're always stoking each other's coals with these kinds of challenges. He'll hire me to come and do his Gisele Burlesque ballet and he doesn't teach me the choreography until 1:00AM on the day of the performance. I'm like, "Okay, Ray. Sure." And we pull it off and it's always fun, so the ideas come from anywhere and everywhere.
LK: Great. So, you've talked a lot...
TTL: I know. Chatty Cathy.
LK: No, no! What I mean is you have already answered many of my questions.
TTL: Oh, good.
LK: People talk about Burlesque as being a force for social change. What are00:42:00your thoughts about that?
TTL: I think that there is a place in Burlesque for performance art, but I feellike we have to be careful with this art form of making it subtle so that not everything we're doing becomes really performance art-y. I respect performance art, but it's not what I'm trying to do. Like I said, I feel like there is a place for performance artists within the wheelhouse and the realm of Burlesque theater. But I feel like people, especially in this day and age, need escapism. We just get bombarded with so much realness, whether it be in the HBO special we're watching where we're like, "Oh, god," or online. It's like we are 00:43:00constantly getting hit over the head with people's issues and the things people are working through and pain and there's just so, so, so much negativity that could be focused on in the world. But I feel like Burlesque as an art form, when it was started, was to be able to laugh, to burl. We need to be able to find the humor, so it's a very delicate balance because I do feel like if Burlesque gets too preachy or hitting people over the head with its ideals too much, it deviates from being Burlesque because it's not, in the sense, a comedy anymore. And I think it's a fine line because what is the difference between a comedy and tragedy? A comedy knows it's funny. It can be the same exact narrative, the same exact storyline, but if it's done with the intent to amuse, it's suddenly a 00:44:00whole different realm.
So, I'm definitely not one that tends to lean towards doing overtly politicalacts or anything like that. I think a few times in my career I have done some things like that and the lighting designer was so proud of me because people stood up and walked out of the theater, which I thought was really cool. I was like, "Oh, cool. I made a statement." When we were experiencing one of the Exxon Valdez crashes and all the animals... I'm a 20-year vegan. The feathers and the furs, well not fur, but the feathers and things like that that I have involved in anything I use are sourced second-hand, so I try... Leathers. That's what I meant. My brain.
I try to always make sure that whatever I'm supporting is also a political00:45:00statement because we do have to amass so much stuff. I don't shop Amazon, I don't buy cheap, crappy stuff that damages the planet or is going to end up in a landfill. I try to make sure that my political statement is thinking globally. With my little earrings, these are from a local artisan where I live in Las Vegas now. But yeah, I feel like there are ways to make statements and that instance was very overt. I had a gallon of, I think I took food coloring and chocolate sauce and I filled the stage and I brought out of baby Shamu and covered it. And I can't remember if it was "I'm Afraid of Americans" or what it was I was dancing to. It was important to me to make that statement at that time. But I feel like for women it's been a really radical movement and a really 00:46:00radical way of saying, "We own our sexuality, we can commercialize our sexuality if we'd like. We can be as punk rock about it as we'd like. We don't have to fit into your boxes because we've created this art form and we're inviting you to be a part of it."
LK: What are the challenges facing Burlesque as we move forward? Anything?
TTL: Oh, Miss Laurie. It is the "Netflix and Chill." They are coming to killBurlesque and vaudeville. It is a nightmare, and I also believe Facebook is the enemy. There is a war on women's bodies right now. People that I know in the Burlesque community who are trans or who are men or male-identified performers 00:47:00can post the same photos that women do, with the same amount of nudity I should say, nipples exposed and things like that. And their posts are not flagged or removed. I, for instance, have a poster that I tried three times to get Facebook to allow me to boost or to make an ad for and because my shoulder is exposed and it says the words "Award-Winning Burlesque and Circus," they denied me three times to be able to get my art out to people. So, there is no way to market what we're doing to people. So in a sense, all of this Trump administration BS and all of this... Basically, the way the media is controlling our art form right 00:48:00now is making it to where we can't get our voices heard. It's not really appropriate to go and hang posters around in towns anymore. Often times if your image is really PC, or pardon me, PG, parental guidance, I mean, "Ooh, it's a sexy shoulder," you can get your posters put up in certain small businesses. But larger business like Starbucks or places like that, they won't allow you to put your poster or flyer out because they deem this as not appropriate.
So as people are able to get more and more entertainment and more and morefilms, and more and more links people can click on to watch YouTube videos of people doing Burlesque or films about Burlesque, no one will actually go out and 00:49:00support the art form. So, I don't ever really allow myself to be videoed and I've never really allowed myself to be videoed because I don't want people to say, "Oh, the Tattooed Lady show? I've seen it. Click on that YouTube link and click on that YouTube link. I've seen her all over the place." But it's also a hindrance as an entertainer because now every time I will try to go out for a certain gig or a certain job, everybody always wants video or your YouTube or your social media or all the stuff. And if you're a visceral, in-the-moment entertainer who's really interested in creating an art form that people must experience by being there, it just doesn't... I'm not a social media wiz, I'm not one that's going to be posting a lot of videos on YouTube. Some of the things I do have up there are by people who just shot me with their cell phone 00:50:00cameras and refuse to take it down.
So, it's really, really difficult to get the word out. Being fully clothed inthe picture on social media, but saying anything about breasts or tits or buttocks or even making a joke, a sexual innuendo like, "Come on down to the show and watch us shake it," or something like that, all of a sudden it's flagged for removal, and even if there's no nudity or indecency. However, my male counterparts can get away with posting the same images and the same things, but women are not allowed to have a voice right now on social media and especially women that are deemed "too sexy." So, it's really enraging because I'm not sure how we're going to be able to continue in this art form if we don't have a place that allows us to market ourselves in a way that can be feminist, 00:51:00that can be inclusive, and can be radical. I would love to hear people's suggestions about how to get the word out.
LK: So, final question: What do you wish the general public would understandabout Burlesque?
TTL: Well, my first thought isn't appropriate, so let me think of my second one[laughs]. I wish that people could step outside of their preconceived notions of what this art form is about and allow themselves to be transported to another era, to another dimension at times, and come and allow themselves to be changed by this art form because I hear it over and over and over again. People 00:52:00comparing the experience of what it was like and how they felt in going to a straight strip with what their idea of what their idea of going to a Burlesque show was like. So, they won't step out of their comfort zone to come and be changed. And to have the experience of what it's like to watch people actually do the artistry of Burlesque. And to get to experience that with their community, which could be so healing and so amazing for them, and really redefine the way that they think about sex, the way that they think about sexuality, sensuality, and what it's like to experience those things with their community. And like I said before, seeing different body types, different shapes, different styles of movement than they would have ever been exposed to before. So yeah, I wish that if people had never seen Burlesque that they would 00:53:00just give it a shot. Check it out. Support your local Burlesquers. It's worth it.