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Lacy Knickers Oral History Interview, January 18, 2020

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LAURIE KURUTZ: Today is January 18TH, 2020. My name is Laurie Kurutz, pronouns she/hers. Would you please introduce yourself? Say your pronouns if you care to and tell us all the things you do.

LACY KNICKERS: My name is Lacy Knickers and my pronouns are she/her or they/them. And I'm a producer, a Drag artist, a Burlesque artist, sometimes a model, playwright. I'm a mother, a wife/partner, and I do lots of things.

LK: Great. So let's start off with a really big question. What is Burlesque?

KNICKERS: Burlesque is many, many things. I can just give a list of words, that's probably the best. Burlesque is parody, it's sexy, it can be serious, it 00:01:00can be theatre. It's just so many things, I can't even think of one word to describe it.

LK: Yeah. And how do you describe the kind of Burlesque that you do?

KNICKERS: I do a mix of Neo and Classic Burlesque, so it incorporates some old-fashioned things sometimes. It'll have Neo things other times; depends on the music I want to do. So, I like to mix it up. I like to do things that just kind of come to me, that I don't consider myself a Classic performer or a Neo performer. So, I surprise people I think a lot of times because I'll do something that's very cutesy one minute and then do something raunchy another minute.

LK: And, just to clarify, what's the difference between Classic Burlesque and Neo-Burlesque?

KNICKERS: I think for me, Classic Burlesque harkens back to the more traditional 00:02:001930s, '40s, '50s Burlesque Legends and that kind of style and that kind of music. And then Neo would be everything else under the sun. So, it could be nerdy, it could be hard rock, it could be metal, it could be anything. It's all out there for us to use.

LK: And when you say Legends, who are you talking about?

KNICKERS: Legends are the Burlesque performers that came before us. So, it would be all of those people who were performing from the '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s.

LK: And so, a lot of people think Burlesque is similar or the same as stripping in a gentleman's club. Some Burlesque people say there's a difference. What's your take?

KNICKERS: I think that they are sister art forms that have similarities, but the 00:03:00intentions are different. So, Burlesque to me is very theatre oriented and the intention is to entertain the audience. And for stripping in a club, that sort of thing, there's just different intentions. They may share similar styles in how they're doing it, but the intentions are different.

LK: Yeah. So, you do Burlesque and Drag performance. Tell me about that difference.

KNICKERS: The Drag performance I do is Draglesque or Boylesque. So, I do incorporate the stripping in the Drag, which is different than some other Drag artists that don't have a reveal at the end. So, mine is more of a mix of gender bending or gender fuckery, that they call it. So, I have a mix of both masculine 00:04:00and feminine together.

LK: And why did you choose this particular art form?

KNICKERS: The Burlesque or the Drag?

LK: Either one.

KNICKERS: Why? Well, I started almost six years ago and I saw... Well actually, seven years ago I saw my first Burlesque show and just fell in love with it and thought, "I want to be on the stage." And then I looked up classes and saw the Rose City School of Burlesque had classes. And I wondered if I could take the classes, but I didn't have the money at the time. So, I asked if Chris Stewart, who probably doesn't even remember, I wrote to him and asked if I could do some sort of payment plan. And so, he let me send half the money and then saved a spot for me. And then I couldn't actually take it the next semester, and so I 00:05:00had to wait a year and then paid the rest and then waited, and the next year I took it. And I thought this would be something fun to do that I could write about maybe later. I think it was a mid-life crisis sort of thing, too. So, I took it and then never stopped.

LK: What do you think it fulfills in you, in your life?

KNICKERS: I think it lets me explore who I am and be everything that I am. I'm such an eclectic person, that's always been buried deep inside me. I grew up very repressed and had parents that did not really want to know who I really was. So, I hid in reading books all the time and just being very quiet, that 00:06:00everyone would say that I was the quiet, shy one, which I wasn't really the shy one, I just wasn't in a space that I could let it all out. And so, I think Burlesque just lets me let it all out and so does Drag. And Drag lets me let it all out in a different way that's still a part of me, inside of me, because I think I'm gender fluid. So, I can explore it on the stage a lot. It just helps me. It's like therapy.

LK: So, where were you born and where did you grow up?

KNICKERS: I was born in Illinois, in a suburb of Chicago. And I lived there until I was twelve. And my mother, when I was six, came down with just an illness that she had a lot of pain all the time and had to be on a lot of 00:07:00medication and has a lot of mental illness, also. So, we had to end up leaving that area and moved to Southern California where it was warmer. It was better for her body. So, I lived in Southern California from age twelve, went to junior high, high school, college, and then got married after college and lived there for a little bit, and then moved to Oregon about 14 years ago.

LK: What did you study in college?

KNICKERS: To be a teacher. And I have a degree in liberal arts and teacher education. And I taught kindergarten, second grade, and third grade for over ten years, and taught pre-school for six years.

LK: So, you mentioned studying at the Burlesque Academy. Did you go to the Rose 00:08:00City School and the All That Glitters?


LK: Both.

KNICKERS: I did. I went to Rose City first, and then a year later I went to All that Glitters.

LK: And how are they different? What did you learn?

KNICKERS: Rose City was good for me to start with because it lets you explore any type of Burlesque, and I just didn't really know anything about it. And so, I wanted to just explore everything. And then, after a year of performing, I got to do [class level] 201 at All that Glitters, which was more of a Classic leaning, and I wanted to explore that. It helped to get both sides.

LK: And what other training in Burlesque, like have you been to BurlyCon?

KNICKERS: I have. I went to BurlyCon my very first year in 2014, and I've been 00:09:00every single year since then.

LK: Great. And what are Burlesque classes like? How do they start? How do they take you through it?

KNICKERS: Do you mean the one at Rose City when I first started? When I was there, ten weeks of classes and we met once a week for three hours each time. And we learned about the history of Burlesque, we learned about makeup, costuming, act creation, all that sort of thing, learned a group routine. And then we created our own, individual routine and got to show that and be peer-reviewed for that. And everything leading up to a recital at the end of the ten weeks, where we performed for family and for the public. It was wonderful. It was good to just get my feet wet.

LK: Did everyone in the class go on to be performers?

KNICKERS: No. We had a performer in the class already that was just there to 00:10:00learn some more things. And then a few of them kept going, but then others dropped out during the ten weeks. And then others that were performing after, they aren't performing anymore. So, there's about three of us that still are.

LK: And at BurlyCon, which is the educational conference in Seattle, what kind of trainings did you take there?

KNICKERS: A lot of trainings. They had a producer workshop, basically, that was two days and I think each class was about... It was an intensive class. So, I think each one was about three hours, and so that was really good to just really hone in on producing skills when I was first starting out producing. But they have everything from makeup classes to dance classes to learning from the Legends that they have there, and you can just go into everything.


LK: And what year did you start doing Burlesque? Did you say?


LK: 2014. And then how did you develop your career? You have a full life. And how does one develop a career?

KNICKERS: I was still teaching when I took my first class in the spring of 2014 and I kept teaching up until two and a half years ago when I decided that I just wanted to do this fulltime. And so, I quit teaching. I loved teaching, but I always knew that I wanted to do other things in the art world and I also have a master's in creative writing, so I knew that I wanted to be a writer, as well.

And I was writing manuscripts for children's books, picture books, middle grade 00:12:00and young adult novels and poetry. And I also started writing some scripts for an historical society twelve years ago. And so, that was my first foray into playwriting. And I knew I wanted to do that more than teaching. And then when I started Burlesque, I loved that so much and I liked incorporating, when I started producing my writing, into the Burlesque, too. So, I just quit teaching and now we're broke.

LK: And so, you've mentioned a lot of jobs you've had in the past; not jobs, careers. And what are you doing currently outside of performing?

KNICKERS: Just the performing, producing, and the writing. That's what I do. It takes everything now.

LK: So, the old stereotype of Burlesque is that there are male producers and 00:13:00exploited female performers. What's the Burlesque community like here in Portland?

KNICKERS: I think in Portland there's a lot of wonderful Burlesque producers and the ones that I've worked with that are male are very respectful, and I have not a problem with any of them. I think there are a lot of femme producers and non-binary producers, and so we have a wealth of all different types of people. So, I don't think we have that as much, but I've heard about it from other places.

LK: And, as a producer and as a performer, what's your observation about who is the audience that comes to Burlesque?

KNICKERS: That's interesting because for my audiences, I think they're different 00:14:00than other audiences from other shows. I think I've brought in all ages. So, older people as well as younger people. And I think that because I'm bringing in some older people, that's bringing in new blood to see the shows. For the Book Lovers Burlesque shows especially, there's a lot of literary lovers and a lot of academics that come to see it and they tend to skew older. So, I think my audiences just do.

LK: So, tell me about Book Club... Well, you're the founder and owner of Lacy Productions. And then under that, you produce many different shows. So, can we break those down individually? So, Book Lovers: what is that? What's the niche that that fills? How did that come about?


KNICKERS Book Lovers Burlesque was in April 2016, and it actually started before that, a few months before that. A writing partner of mine who is in my writers group had a book coming out. Her name is Amber Kaiser, and she won't mind me saying this. And she had a book coming out called The V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex. And she wanted to do a book launch for adults as well as for young adults. It's a compilation of young adult writers talking about their first sexual experiences. And she thought it would be very interesting to have a show where they had some of the authors of the essays would come and read the essay out loud and have a Burlesque performer do an act that matched it in feel, in style, emotion, that short of thing. And so, it was her idea to do it for her 00:16:00book launch, and she came to me and said, "Would you produce this for me?" And I said, "I've never produced a show. I've only been doing this two years." And so she said, "We'll do it together." And so, we worked on it together and it was actually a book launch and a public show. And so, we did it in April 2016. And it was wonderful and it had such a good response that people came up to me and said, "You should keep doing this." And so, I just never stopped. So, now we do it four or five times a year. So, that's how Book Lovers came about.

LK: And how did that go, just practically? Did you give the performers the essay ahead of time?

KNICKERS: Oh, yes. Amber and I figured out which essays we wanted to do. And I read the whole book, obviously, and then I thought of different acts and 00:17:00different performers that I thought would fit. And so, I would contact them, tell them about the show, and then send them the essay for them to read it. And so, that's basically how we matched it up together.

LK: So, that's Book Lovers. You also produce Burly Night Live, which is a Saturday Night Live-based Burlesque. How did that come about?

KNICKERS: That came about three years ago. I just thought it would be fun to do, basically, a show dedicated to Saturday Night Live, because I love Saturday Night Live. So, just after starting the Book Lovers shows, I just had lots of ideas for others shows, as well. And so, that was one of them. And then I've done that one. I've done Master Tease Theatre Burlesque, which is based on Masterpiece Theatre, and mysteries and basically any costume dramas. So, we did 00:18:00two of those shows and they were very popular. And all the shows that I do fit a part of me, so I've always loved Masterpiece Theatre and BBC and all of that, the costume dramas, and I've always loved Saturday Night Live.

And we did another show called Glitter Fever, which is a tribute to disco. And I grew up with a lot of disco. So again, it doesn't look like Lacy would do a show about disco, she likes the historical costume things, but I do love disco and know all these songs from it. And so, I really wanted to do a show that was based off that because that's a part of me, too. And we just did an Elton John show, which is for the same reason, that his music I grew up with, also, and 00:19:00just have always loved and thought that would be a neat base for a show, too. So, we did that in October.

And another show we've done is Cabaret des Arts, which I did last fall, which was the biggest one I've done. And that was also a show that had an art show component, as well as a Burlesque show. And so, I asked a lot of local artists to come that were feminists, sex positive, body positive, Queer, POC, just all different voices to come and to display their art. And so, we had an art show first for the first hour, and then the Burlesque show was based on great works of art. And so, we had a huge screen next to the stage that would show a piece of art, like a Mucha painting, and then the Burlesque artist would do an act inspired by the Mucha painting. And so, that was fun because I love art history, 00:20:00so it's another part of me. Lots of different types of shows.

LK: And so, producing: Can I ask you questions about finance?


LK: Do Burlesque performers make a living from Burlesque?

KNICKERS: It's hard. I don't by myself. My partner has a fulltime job that pays the mortgage and that sort of thing. But I do know other performers that make it work and they hustle and work very, very hard. Lots of times they do costuming on the side, they teach on the side, Burlesque, mentorships, they do other things that have to do with Burlesque, as well as perform and produce to really, really make a living. But for me, my partner helps a lot. He does most of the bills.

LK: So that people listening to this will know, can you give us a pay range per 00:21:00performance? If a performer is in a show, what would they get paid?

KNICKERS: I think it depends on the producer. I think that sometimes there's a flat rate that you don't get anything from the door and that's maybe $75, could be an average for one act, flat rate. And other times you can get a little less than that, but then you get part of the door to help and then you get tips on top of that. But it just depends on the show.

LK: And so, as a producer, how do you finance shows? How do you start?

KNICKERS: I use my own funds to pay for the show and then I get paid back, basically, from the ticket site that I'm using, but I have to cover the costs first.


LK: Do you travel to perform at festivals or shows in other cities?

KNICKERS: I do. I've been in a few festivals. I've performed at the Bohemian Burlesque Festival in Prague, and I did that last year. And I've been in the Oregon Burlesque Festival twice, and the Hollywood Burlesque Festival a few years back, too. And I've performed in different cities, so Los Angeles, San Francisco, Eugene, and just all over the place, Seattle. And I'm applying for other festivals, too. Oh, and I performed in Paris at the Wonder Cabaret.

LK: How did that come about?

KNICKERS: I have a brother-in-law who lives in Exeter, England, and my husband, who has to travel a lot for work, gets a lot of frequent flyer miles. And so, we were going to go visit his brother, and then go over to use some of the miles 00:23:00and hotel points in Paris. So, I wrote around to different producers and introduced myself and just got a gig there. So, I got to perform there. It was very fun.

LK: Were there any noticeable differences between performing in Europe and here?

KNICKERS: The language. So, the producer was also the Emcee and she spoke English and French. So, when she was talking to me, she would speak in English, but then when she was on the stage and she would talk completely in French, which I don't know barely any French. And so, she would be talking, talking in French, and all of the sudden I heard my name and I knew I had to go on. So, I didn't know what she said about me, but I think it was good. And the same in Prague: the producer was the host and she spoke English and Czech, and so, same thing.

LK: So, you've very busy. Can you just paint a picture starting on Monday or 00:24:00something: describe a week in the life of being this creative industry entrepreneur? What's your week like?

KNICKERS: It depends on if I'm working on a show, but I actually am always working on a show because I produce once a month pretty much now, sometimes two a month. So, in reality, I get up... I have two children. One is almost twelve and one is almost fifteen. And usually my husband's very nice and he will get up first and he now will see them off to school. It used to be that I would come and help with that, but now he lets me sleep in a little bit which is nice from being up so late. Then I get up and, after they're off to school, I'll have to 00:25:00sit at the computer and I have to do all of the marketing myself for whatever show we're working on. So, I'll decide what tactic I'm going to use, what I'm going to post for that day for the marketing of the show. And then I'm usually working on the show that's after the one I'm marketing to get it booked. It's always one or two steps ahead. So, I'm writing to other performers and working out acts with them and booking people for shows that are far ahead. And then if I have a script I have to write for whatever the show is, I'm writing scripts. So, that's all producing stuff.

And then if I have a show that I have to perform at, I have to make time in there to do some rehearsal. In my house, I can move all the furniture and then I 00:26:00put up mirrors from Target on my couch, and then I can rehearse with the mirrors in front of me. And so, I can save money by not renting a studio space, although I have rented dance space before which is really, really helpful. But it's nice to save money, so I'll just do it in my own place. So, I'll rehearse there and then try to remember to eat in between.

And then the kids come home. One comes home now at 3:45 and then the other one comes home at 4:15. And usually one of them has somewhere that I need to take them and my husband helps me, too. So, we go take one to ballet twice a week. The other one has usually theatre practice for a play that he's in or something like that. Sometimes there's Lego robotics. We're basically the Uber. We're taking the kids all over the place. And then we come home and we decide what 00:27:00we're going to have for eat. "What are you going to eat?" "I don't know. What are you going to eat?" "I don't know." And figure out what the family's going to eat and then we eat. Then make sure everyone's done their homework, everyone goes to bed, and then I go back on the computer and do more producing stuff or stuff for my show I'm going to be in to promote me performing in the other shows. And go to bed late. And I try to read in between. Just really hard when you're a book lover.

LK: How did you learn all these business entrepreneurial skills?

KNICKERS: Well, my husband has been working for himself for over twenty years from home, and so I think he has helped me a lot with trying to time manage and that sort of thing. So, I think I have a little helper there.


LK: So, shifting to more artistic aspects, what's your process for creating a new piece of Burlesque for yourself to perform?

KNICKERS: I think it's different for every act. So, one act that I created that's very close to me is based on my Italian/American heritage. And I think that came from me wanting to do it to feel close to my family because my family, as far as my family that I grew up with, because I don't talk to them anymore. I don't talk to my mom or my dad anymore and I haven't for many years. And I think that there's just something that drew me to create an act where I could still feel like this is my heritage sort of thing, and to have something that was just 00:29:00for me. So, even though it was inspired by my mother and Italian women that I grew up seeing and my Italian great grandmother, I am not even associated with them anymore, but it's still now I have a piece of it forever. So, I knew I wanted to make an act like that, so then I had to find the song. And then I found the song, and then I made the costume after that. So, that one was more an act idea then song then costume and choreography. So others, I've heard a song first and said, "I want to do 'blankity-blank' song because I love that song," and then made an act based on that. So, usually it's more act idea or song first, and then costume and choreography later.

LK: There's a lot of conversation on the topic of cultural appropriation. How is that applying in Burlesque or to your acts and shows?


KNICKERS: I think for me, I just make sure that what I'm doing is something that I can relate to, that comes from me, from my own culture or heritage, and I just don't do other people's. And I think that people that I know that perform always think that way, too, so I haven't had performers that I've hired or any problems with that because I think people are being very respectful, at least in my community. But I've seen it from others.

LK: On the topic of diversity and diversity in Burlesque, how do you define diversity and how is that playing out in the shows that you do?

KNICKERS: I think diversity needs to have as many voices as possible, and 00:31:00identities and colors as possible, displayed on the stage, body types on the stage, everything. And so, as a producer, I'm very intentional to try to make sure that all different types of people are represented on that stage, as far as people of color and body types and sexual identities and gender and everything. But I am very intentional about it, so I want to make sure that my shows are balanced and I just think it's very, very important to have that. And age, as well.

LK: People in Burlesque say it empowers them. What's your take on that?

KNICKERS: It does empower me because, like I said, I grew up in a repressed family. So, it empowers me to make myself heard on the stage, and so I can see that definitely with other people that I've worked with and that I've heard 00:32:00share their story, as well. It is. It just, being on the stage, and you can, there's a freedom there. So, you can definitely express yourself in ways that you may not feel comfortable doing in everyday life.

LK: People also talk about how Burlesque can be a force for social change. What are your thoughts on that?

KNICKERS: I definitely think that Burlesque can be a force for that. To have shows that are all PoC and have shows that are... Festivals I know that they're coming out that are all PoC festivals that show really a lot of social change. And then there's another festival called Fierce, which is an all-Queer festival. So, I think that that definitely demonstrates social change in having just those voices and people shown and heard and respected. So, it's wonderful.


LK: What are challenges facing Burlesque today?

KNICKERS: I think one challenge is people taking it seriously as far as in the theatre world and just basically in adult life, that it's a real art form and they'll just think it's taking your clothes off and being sexy and that's it, when it can be so powerful. And I just think that's a big hurdle to get over. I think it's a hurdle trying to get grants for it and just to spread it out to 00:34:00more audiences because I think they may hear the word and automatically shut down, not even knowing what it is. So, I'm trying to help that.

LK: Yeah. And maybe that dovetails into the final question: what do you wish the general public would understand about Burlesque?

KNICKERS: That it is a real art form and that it can really change your life. I've had people that have come to my shows that have written to me and say that seeing someone on that stage that looks like them or that they can relate to, just really made them feel good and powerful just watching it. And I know people who've had breast cancer that have gone on stage after the breast cancer surgery or other types of cancer, differently-abled bodied people going up on that stage 00:35:00and the audience members seeing them up there. It just really can change their life. And I just think people need to know how much Burlesque can be and not be so close-minded about what they think it is. So, I would tell them that they need to just come and experience it and then make a decision after.

LK: Thank you.

KNICKERS: Thank you for having me.