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Taylor Maiden Oral History Interview, September 15, 2021

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LAURIE KURUTZ: Today is September 15, 2021. My name is Laurie Kurutz. My pronouns are she/hers. Would you please introduce yourself, tell us your pronouns if you care to, and all the things you do?

TAYLOR MAIDEN: Hello, I am Taylor Maiden; she/her/hers. I am primarily a Burlesque dancer. I have also done some producing of Burlesque and then I have dabbled a very little bit, dabbled in Drag King as well.

LK: What is Burlesque?

TM: Oh that's a tough one. It's a... I've heard many things. Unfortunately a lot of them tend to disparage other forms of stripping and striptease and I don't like to do that. It is it's own art form. It's definitely an art form. It's a 00:01:00form of dance, but it's a formal dance that also incorporates any other dance style you want it to be. It is a form of striptease. Originally Burlesque mitt satire so it is a lot of times sort of poking fun at the upper class. That's where the feather boa came from. Nowadays there are so many genres. Burlesque is really a performance style, whatever people wanna make it, whatever they want it to be, that's what it can be.

LK: Can you tell me a bit more about the feather boa coming from upper class?

TM: Yes, I have not done a ton of research on this, but I've heard it a few times and just from friends... And costumes with the big jewelry, the rhinestones, again the feather boa, it was the "oh look at me I am this upper class lady, that I can afford all of these drippings and trappings!" And this was back from the very beginning of Vaudeville and Burlesque, at least in North 00:02:00America, that I know of, where it was for the underbelly of Vaudeville, the campy, either trashy, if you will. It definitely wasn't the Zeigfield Follies, but it was making fun of that. It was definitely punching up in society, if you will. It was not making fun of themselves or the lower class. It was definitely "we're gonna be sexy but we're also gonna we're gonna poke some fun. we're gonna have a little laugh at the people in their top hats and canes and their feathers."

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

TM: I use the term Neoclassic, which is something I started using and I have no idea if it's correct. I really love the look, the classic looks. You know the very stereotypical classic outfits: the rhinestones, the flowey panel skirts, the triangle bras, the hair feathers. But I also like to do a lot more modern 00:03:00songs or Nerdlesque, if you will, ... is becoming a big thing. I started to really get into that over the last few years. The troupe I was in when we started was a weekly show so I kind of had to get comfortable doing everything whether or not I was good at it. Then Neo-classic is kind of what I go with because it isn't a true classic, but it's not all Nerdlesque or modern or metal. It's a mix of both and I think a lot of people do something similar to that whether they call it that or not, because probably a million different names for that style.

LK: And Nerdlesque, what's that?

TM: Nerdlesque and Geeklesque, I've heard both. It's when you take something like a comic book or a video game or a Marvel movie or Game of Thrones or DC comics, anything really, And make a Burlesque number out of it. The first one I 00:04:00ever did was Mario number. One of the ones I really fell in love doing was Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy. I've seen somebody ... the log lady from Twin Peaks, she's phenomenal. That act is amazing. I've seen really anything. I have a Poison Ivy act, everyone has a Poison Ivy act these days. It can be anything you want and it's a lot of silly fun. People take references from their comics, from their movies. Whatever they personally kind of geek out about, they can then turn into a number and it's a lot of fun.

LK: Why do you do Burlesque? What does it give you artistically?

TM: Oh, why do I do it now versus why I started are very different. I started because I had not been able to do musical theater, which I love. That was my first performance love. But because of work schedules and things, I wasn't able 00:05:00to do it for several years. My sister took me to The Broadway Revue at John Henry's and I went "I wanna do this, this is amazing!"

I saw Kitty Katrina do her blue fan act to The Blue Angel and I just sold. I fell in love. I did the amateur strip-off. I took off my cardigan while spinning on the poles. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't win. Did not win. And a few couple years later said to one of the dancers "how do I do this?" And she said "this is your first stop. come to rehearsal on Sunday." And that Sunday I was in the show and then I never stopped. They said "you have three hours to come up with an act and we'll see you tonight!" Yeah. You can imagine how amazing that act was!

Why do I do it now? I guess it's the same reason. I fell in love. I absolutely 00:06:00fell in love with it. I found love with the people that are involved in it. I've made so many friends and family members, chosen family. I mean who doesn't like to sparkle on stage, let's be real. Then also just being able to come up with my own acts, to be my own choreographer, costomer, props master. I mean everything I love about theater rolled into one little three or four minute act. Is really a fun challenge. And also just being able to have that control over your own act, saying "this is what I want you to see. This is what I'm going to give you." It's a really amazing, amazing feeling to be able to do that.

LK: And where on the spectrum of sex work does Burlesque fall?

TM: Loaded question! I've personally... I don't know how much it actually falls 00:07:00on the spectrum at all. I feel like it's in the same... like if there were a Venn Diagram there will overlap. But I know Burlesque dancers who are also club strippers, who are also sex workers in the traditional term, be that in person or cam work or living in a brothel. So I'm not gonna say it's definitely not but I also feel that people like myself, who the closest they get to sex work is Burlesque, where I'm not gonna take everything off. I'm going to keep that border there.

For me, there's a lot of stigma and a lot of negativity that I will never have to deal with. So I hesitate in saying Burlesque is sex work. I'm not gonna tell somebody that says it is, is wrong. I think there's a lot of different levels there. I don't consider myself a sex worker. Not out of shame for sex workers. I 00:08:00don't deal with what they do and the stigma and the negativity. And the safety, honestly, that they have to think about all the time. I don't feel that I have that experience to share with them on that level.

LK: In Burlesque, in a theater or a club, do Burlesque performers go out and mingle and have people buy them drinks and so forth, like they do like in strip clubs?

TM: We do mingle. Usually drinks aren't necessarily offered as freely. Usually it is a lot more casual. I have had people offer to buy me drinks. Usually it's my friends that are at the show, however. We do out and mingle, but it's not required in Burlesque. I know at Drag shows, that's how you make your tips. In Burlesque, it is definitely a little bit more like a club scene where it's definite "Do No Touch the Dancers!" I really appreciated every club and theater that I worked at, that it is really a stickler for that. I've never really 00:09:00worked anywhere where they have blown that off. And if I have that was the only time I work there, so I've been really lucky with my home [theater troupe] just really being there for the dancers. You know, we do a curtain call at the end, there's no intermission or smoke break, for those of us who smoke.

There are times, definitely... something that I've run into that I didn't ever expect is people taking souvenirs. I throw a glove and it falls off the stage. Usually I get it back. A couple times I haven't. My favorite was when I was at the bar and the guy said "oh I love your show. I come every week. I have your earring from last week." I said "great, could you bring that back?" And he was shocked that I wanted it back. I said "those are expensive. they're not meant to 00:10:00take home." And he said "I'll bring it next time I come to the show show." He never came to another show.

So I don't really know what the thought process was there, but I also know that it's happened to other people. Maybe not as brazenly as somebody saying "by the way I have your jewelry and you're not getting it back!" I know so many people who had gloves go missing or a necklace or something gets picked up and taken, which I hope doesn't happen to many people. It hasn't happened to me super often, but I know that it does. That's always something I found a little strange, in people's comfort level with the dancers.

LK: Changing the subject a little, where were you born and where did you grow up?

TM: I was born in Montana. I lived there for all of about six months of my life. And then I grew up just south of here. I live in Eugene Oregon now. I grew up 00:11:00just south of here, in Cottage Grove, a suburb of Eugene. Now it's kind of a bedroom town for Eugene. You used to be a little more separate, but in the last decade or so they've definitely grown a little closer. But, yeah, I've been in this area most of my life, other than some travels and what-not, so this has been my home.

LK: Your family brought you to Oregon from...

TM: Yes I was all of six months, so I was not booking my own flights.

LK: What did you do in your formative years, whatever those are, that led you to performance?

TM: I started early. I started as a child. My Dad was a theater major and loved acting. And was actually with the Eugene Opera for about 16 years as well. Then my mom is a costumer. She was also a school teacher who loved sewing. Then in 00:12:00her retirement she realized that she adores historical costuming down to the last detail. Her work is just mind-blowingly phenomenal. When I was in kindergarten or so, or actually preschool, I always loved doing the little pageants, the Christmas plays.

Then when I was seven, my dad and my sister and I all auditioned for Oliver! together at the community theater there. I was an orphan [in the show] probably dang adorable. I was literally on stage for one song and the bug caught me. The next year, I was in Pirates of Penzance as the youngest daughter and I fell in love with performing.

I started learning tech when I was in high school. Started doing costuming. Some of my own stuff I started when I was younger and then I went to University of Oregon as a theater major. My sister went to the same school, so we actually got to be classmates there, which was really fun. Then I got a job as a stitcher 00:13:00with the costume shop there and running their costume storage. It's kind of always been part of my life, whether it was in a musical or a farce or a Shakespeare play or a school choir. That's just kind of been part of everything I've always loved.

LK: Part of the Burlesque training you talked about, being thrown into it... have you had any other training or classes or sessions at BurlyCon or training?

TM: Yes! I've been to BurlyCon several years. I love BurlyCon. I miss it, I miss it a lot! There's been years when I went and did all physical, all dance, that's what I wanna do, this is why I'm here. And there's been years when I'm like "my back hurts, and I'm gonna do costuming classes and emceeing classes and take it easier." The best thing about that festival, or conference, is you can, You can 00:14:00shape it however you want. You can take a mix of those classes. You can take all of the physical classes. I took a class that was movement for people with physical limitations. And while I wouldn't consider myself someone who was disabled, I do have multiple injuries, I have chronic pain. So it was really nice to learn like "oh I can do floor work and use a chair to help myself get up." Just things as simple as that but it also went a lot deeper.

I also took the 201 class at the All That Glitters Academy in Portland with Holly Dai and Tana the Tattooed Lady. We all worked on an act and then a group number. We got to perform those together. I learned a ton from that class, just those little details that you don't think about until somebody else sees you and says "why don't you try this here?" Then you try it, and you go "that's real smart!" So one of my favorite acts came out of that class. That was a really 00:15:00great experience.

LK: In what year did you start in Burlesque? When did you take that course at All That Glitters?

TM: When did I start? 2009! Good golly, that's a long time ago. I know it was June 14, but the year took me a second. Yeah, a really long time ago at this point, almost 13 years. Then when I took the class at All That Glitters... I was doing Circus Church at the time as well. Because it was a Sunday afternoon class in the morning. I don't remember if my home troupe was at which venue. I honestly can't ...it was the first year they did that class. I couldn't tell you 00:16:00when it was new... it was several years ago, I know that much. Wow!

LK: That's alright. And what is Circus Church?

TM: It was a Burlesque brunch that I used to do. Miss Chaos was one of the producers, and she and I had met doing other shows together. She invited me to do it. It was in Portland. So, a two-hour or hour and a half drive. It was a lot on a Sunday morning, but I made it to several of them. Then when I was in the 201 class, since I was already up in Portland in the afternoons, I said "hey, let me be part of Circus Church as much as I can." It was Burlesque and Drag and flow artists and singers and arial, and it was anything and everything goes at that one. It was a lot of fun!

LK: What was the venue?

TM: The Analog [Theatre & Cafe.] It was in Portland. I don't know if they're still open or not?

LK: How did you pick your stage name?

TM: Taylor was my grandmother's maiden name. I always said that if I had a stage 00:17:00name it would be Taylor. And the very first time I was at The Broadway Revue rehearsal, the Stage Manager and Producer at the time said "hey, do you have a stge name?' I went "oh yeah Taylor." And I was just Taylor for two, maybe three years. I thought of many, many options for a last name, I just couldn't straight-up couldn't think of one I liked. One of the bartenders at John Henry's, where The Broadway Revue started, and he was also one of our main MC's. There was a drink I always ordered, which I'm pretty sure was just basically Red Bull, and he started calling it The Taylor Made. And I thought "Taylor Made, OH, Taylor Maiden! That's brilliant!" Then after I figured out the last name, I was like "oh it was my grandma's maiden name." That should have been obvious. Totally didn't click for years, but that's how that came about eventually.

LK: You talked a little bit about your beginning. How did you develop your 00:18:00performance career behind that beginning? You talked about a weekly show and at the Revue. Can you give us some history and info about The Broadway Revue? And then a weekly show?

TM: Yes. The Broadway Revue started in 2003. I was not part of it at the beginning. It was before I would've legally been allowed in the bar. It was started by a dancer named Kitty Katrina who also goes by The Southern Slasher. She knew a lot of the guys that ran that bar. The guys that ran that bar were also very integral in any of the performances that happened there at the time. It was really this big family.

She [Kitty Katrina] said "I want to do Burlesque. I want to do a Burlesque show." And they said let's try it. As far as I know, I wasn't there, this is the story I've heard. They put it together, they did a couple [shows] where it was 00:19:00invite-only or just for the Christmas party and staff. Then they made it an official public thing. I believe ... don't quote me here... but I believe it became weekly almost as soon as it became a public thing. It was every Sunday night for... I think 2003 is when it officially became public, so it was every Sunday night for six years before I started. Then 5 to 6 years before the venue got sold and we had to move. Then we were every other week, and then we went back to weekly, and then we switched to monthly.

Then Covid. We are working with the venue that we moved to, when John Henry's shut down, which is Lucky's. Which, oddly enough, is actually Eugene's oldest bar, so it kinda fits. We are working with them and hoping to get that started up again as soon as we can do that, where it's gonna be a safe and good experience for everybody.


LK: Talk about doing a weekly show. Do you do the same act or a different act ...?

TM: Three! Three acts a week. Yep! 1-2-3 a week! I will tell you right now, my very second week was some of the worst performing I have ever done in my entire life! I didn't know what it entailed, I didn't know what it took. And it was absolutely painful. I remember being on stage thinking "what am I doing? this is bad!" Because you didn't want to do the same acts every week. You want to give ...but also don't do the same three that you did that month, the next month. Pardon me, I'm gonna have to plug this cord in. I hope it doesn't block my camera too badly, but my phone just told me it [the computer] was gonna die down. Sorry about that! And now you can see part of my background, great.... 00:21:00Resume! Sorry about that!

LK: This is live theater, live, yes!

TM: We were a weekly show. We weren't required to be in it every week, but there were times where there weren't that many people in the troupe, where... The girl who I first asked "how do I get into this?" and she became one of my Burlesque Mamas. She said to me "unless you're fainting, vomiting or bleeding, you're in the show." So, OK!

Usually it was three [acts per] week, sometimes it was two [acts per week.] Sometimes it was "hey, do you have a fourth [act] you can throw in?" I remember there was a night where there were four performers total, and we had to do the full show. We were sprinting back-and-forth. Cuz one end of the bar is the stage and the very far back kitchen was our dressing room. I mean it was nothing but just a marathon of the night. It was a blur, but we pulled it off. We did it! It was a lot of fun!


LK: How long were the shows? The shows, how long were they?

TM: Shows, how long? Long! We started at around 9:30 pm or 10:00pm. We sometimes had the lights turn on on the final dancer because legally they had to kick people out. I remember Cindaville was up on the catwalks finishing her number, and the lights were on, because they literally legally could not keep people in the venue any longer. It was that late. So, at least 2:00am, probably pushing out a little, because they're done last call. Then getting people out. So really long shows.

I was lucky, I had Sunday/Mondays off for several years, so I didn't have to worry about the late night on a Sunday night. But you know some of my favorite memories were still from... it kinda... that show, I hear people refer to that show and that bar as it was for "the wild west of Burlesque." Anything goes! A 00:23:00little extra weirdness sometimes, and some questionable things happened, and just great memories! Still, my two big brothers are people I met working that show, and they're still family to this day. Nothing I could say or do would make me want to change doing all that crazy for that many years.

LK: It sounds like a lot! You were working full-time and doing shows with multiple numbers. Can you just describe a week in the pre-Covid life of Taylor Maiden?

TM: It was a lot! So working full time; working full-time, usually 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday, depending on what time of the year. I also teach a musical theater and/or a vaudeville class at the school that I work at, so sometimes I work a split week where it is Monday-Tuesday, and then Thursday- Friday-Saturday. Then if I'm in a musical, we have rehearsals from 5pm or 6pm 00:24:00till 10pm or 11pm every night. If I have a day off that day, I sleep as late as I possibly can, which unfortunately my body won't let me sleep past about seven or eight anymore. I just can't do it, which was really not fun when you were at a show until 1 or 2 in the morning.

On my time off I'm usually binge watching Disney movies on my phone while I'm working on costumes and sobbing while Coco is playing while I"m trying to rhinestone things. That is pretty much my days off. Then if I have a show, that whole day is basically devoted to that show or as much of it as possible. Sometimes I work that day and I get off and I slam in the show mode. You know we got an hour and a half or two hours to do the hair, the makeup, the costume and everything. So, you're pre-packed, your makeup is in your bag and if we have to do it at the show.

If I have the show day off, I try to take it easy. I look at any last minute 00:25:00things, like oh, I could use a couple more [rhine] stones over here. Or, I'm going to run my act a couple more times. When I am in a musical, I try not to do as many Burlesque gigs.

There was definitely a time where I was just so burnt out, I didn't even realize I was burnt out. I just couldn't not do it all. It's kind of... actually I think COVID made me take a step back and realize breathing is OK. Resting is allowed. Don't feel guilty for saying no to something, when even if yes you don't have anything booked during that two-hour section, it might be your only free two hours that week. So you're allowed to take that for yourself. It's been a really nice thing. I kind of... I used to glorify how busy I was and now I'm realizing... not practicing self-care maybe shouldn't be glorified as much as it 00:26:00was. So that I feel like I'm not the only one who's kind of realized that about how we all we're just ... hustle life, if you will, just because it was go-go-go. I don't envy my past schedule.

LK: And was there any room to be performing anywhere else? I saw that you performed at a show called "Unveiled?"

TM: I performed at several other troupes in Eugene. I always joke that the troupes in Eugene are a very close to full circle Venn diagram. There's a lot of overlap. At Unveiled, I saw many, many of their shows.l I was never one of their core troupe members but I was invited to be a guest performer at their Broadway theme. I think they knew that I did musical theatre, and they figured "hey, she's probably got something!"


It [Unveiled] is Eugene's premier Queer troupe. While every other troupe in Eugene is made up primarily of Queer performers and is very welcoming to Queer performers, Unveiled said "This is us. This is who we are. Love us or leave." And I admire that, so much. They just stood up and said "We are a safe space. We are welcoming. We want the outcasts. We want anybody who doesn't feel comfortable in a straight bar because, while the troupe might be welcoming, they may not- as a performer- feel the audience is as welcoming. I feel that. I can understand that. I definitely had to deal with or ask the MC or the bartender or the security person to deal with somebody who wasn't so awesome and understanding.

So Spectrum, the venue that Unveiled performed at, is Eugene's Queer bar. It is such a safe space. It hosts Drag shows and it actually does an all-ages Drag 00:28:00show, or at least 18 and up. I'm not sure which. But they do one. They have ways of doing performances and shows during the daytime where you don't even have to be 21. So, it's become a safe space for Queer youth as well and it's a really wonderful, wonderful place. And the truth has been it's just a really great introduction to Burlesque, especially for a lot of people who may love Burlesque and may want to try it, thinking "maybe I'm a little too on the fringe to join a troupe. Or something like... I have an idea in my head of what it is and they'll come join us." And Unveiled said "We want you, you're different, you're fun, we want you! We will accept you, we will love you!" I think that it's a niche that needed to be filled. I'm really glad that they were able to do that.

LK: You mentioned earlier how Covid the pandemic has affected you with maybe 00:29:00your life work balance and so forth. How does it affect Eugene-Corvallis Burlesque scene?

TM: I mean there was, just like everywhere, there was a solid year to year and a half where almost nothing happened at all. It just... I remember we did our Broadway Revue show. We had gone monthly by that point for some time. We did our show, we were the first Sunday of every month, and we did our March show. Then Covid hit about a week and a half, or two weeks later. Or hit officially, I guess it had been here for a while and nobody really knew how big... or that was back when everybody kinda thought "oh, in three weeks we'lll be fine!"

We were all very wrong. I remember posting in our Facebook group, you know "hey sorry, it looks like the April show is not going to happen, but we'll be back next month, no worries!" Then all the stuff hit the fan, as we all know. And 00:30:00being inside, being in a group, just wasn't safe. There was no way to do it safely for live shows, even outside. Plus in Oregon you get only three months of good weather anyway!

There were some Zoom shows. There were some online in a pre-record do what you can, but it's not the same for the audience or the performer or anything. I'm really thankful to The Wax Poetry Revue that they were able to put together a Halloween show in 2020 that was completely outdoor, with the band High Step Society. Dame Peaches von Killingsworth is the producer of Wax Poetry. She's also the vocalist for High Step Society. That band was actually on top of a bus, so they were super up high away from us. We were on an outdoor stage and the audience was all spaced out in their own pod tables and it was... if you weren't sitting at your table actively eating or drinking, you were masked. It was all 00:31:00very safely done, other than the fact that it was Halloween outside in Eugene so we might've gotten ammonia from the cold! But we were really lucky it didn't rain and it was the only show that I was a part of that entire year.

Then just recently, about a month ago, we have been able to start figuring things out, doing some shows again. All the places... that I've been really lucky... the last when I did... performers had to show proof of vaccination. We had to wear masks when we were on stage. The stage was very high up and away from the audience. The audience has temp[urature] checks, and in masks and so it's been really great. Most of the venues have gone along with masks and vaccinations. They aren't all doing the same thing, but they are all doing what they can.

It's been really heartening to see that people all really want to get back into 00:32:00it. And for me, it's something I love to do. It's a huge part of my life. I'm really lucky in that it's not my entire livelihood. A lot of performers it is their livelihood. Very lucky that I also work at a school. I teach, I'm an administrator. It's not my main source of income. It's not my livelihood. It's not... I'm going to lose the roof over my head if I can't dance. I might get a little extra depressed and not love it, but I know that there are a lot of people who either own the venues or work at the venues or performers... the crew. So many people ...you think of New York or Chicago and LA but it's also in Eugene with people who are IATSE or venue owners or performers with bands and Burlesque dancers and drag queens in every genre have lost their livelihood. It's really nice to see that venues are finding ways to bring that back in. To 00:33:00say "let's make this happen, let's bring it back. We realize how important it is. Let's make it happen again."

LK: Did the pandemic... you mentioned livelihood and mental health. Did the pandemic affect your creativity?

TM: Oh yeah! There was a... When it very first happened, I said "hey, fun project for me! Everybody in my troupe- send me your favorite colors and I'll make you a pair of pasties to be delivered after the pandemic!" I still have not made those pasties.

There was a solid year where every time I thought about working on a costume or repairing or working on it ...I just thought "what's the point?" What if I don't get to do it again? Why should I spend all this time and effort on anything when.... I would think about rhinestoning anything, usually that's kind of what I call my "Zen moment." Sorting through and gluing the little rhinestones. 00:34:00That's my meditation, my calm down and get in my own head space or out of my own headspace half the time.

During the pandemic, during that first year of it, it almost sent me even more into a depression when I thought about trying to do it and I just didn't for a good year. I didn't do any costuming or choreography. Even thinking about finding a new venue. I was in one artist...two... I was in two shows online. One I sent in a pre-recorded video from a festival several years previous. And one I did a live reading of an Edward Gorey poem. So it was a close-in frame, reading a poem.

I'm really thankful for those two shows that reached out to me but you know it wasn't until I had a reason. Until Peaches and The Wax Poetry Revue reached out 00:35:00and said "we have a gig." I said "oh my god, yes! Please, thank you!" I tried all my costumes and nothing fit anymore, which there is no right size for Burlesque. But it's really tough when you've got all your acts planned with specific costumes that you've spent time and money and effort on and nothing fits.

I went into a bit of another spiral there. Then I finally said "OK I can do this, I can make this work." I found two costumes that fit the theme, I did it and it just... That was that Halloween show, and something clicked. I said this is it, this feels right, this is what I need to be focusing on again. Then it was another nine months, at least... it was August again, so 10 months, till I had another gig, but I knew they would be coming again.

So I started buying some new clothes and altering some old ones and figuring it 00:36:00out again. Sort of... not rebranding that's kind of a cliché thing to say when it's not the truth especially... but more just figuring out..."OK I have these three things of this color, they kind of match. And it was like, well, I'm buying all this new... and I had to buy bigger corsets. I had to buy different tops and everything. Everything just fit differently, which I think every one of us experiences. Some things are bigger or some things are smaller. Everything's different and I went "what if I plan all of these costumes?" And that got me excited again.

It wasn't building over time, which was how most, most of my costumes came about. Doing a weekly show, you sort of slap things together when you can. I had that time to really sit and work. I was joking with a friend, I said "hey, my 00:37:00dream of really looking like a vintage circus performer is finally coming true!" So it's really been... I've somehow been able to flip that switch and make this off-time into a positive again. Where it did take me a good year to really want to do anything with it again. It was really a mental hit for me and I think for a lot of us

LK: You mentioned putting together acts. Around the topic of some cultural appropriation, what are your considerations when putting together a routine?

TM: For me, my main things...there's a lot of characters and characters that I just won't play. I mean, my basic rules are if I have to question it, I won't do it. If I have to think "well, maybe if I change it in this way..." I won't do 00:38:00it. I'm not gonna say I never have. We're all learning. We're all educating ourselves. We're all doing... trying to do better every day. I've definitely done some numbers that I would not do again. Not to say I've ever done black or brown face, that's something that is obviously bad and I will never, ever, ever, ever go there.

But I used to do the song Bali Ha'i from South Pacific, which I love, and I did the Peggy Lee version. I did it as a classic fan number and I thought "no big deal." Nobody ever said I shouldn't. But I started thinking that that character is the only person of color in that entire musical. It's also usually done either as a bad caricature, or as a white woman in brown face is how it used to be on Broadway. I thought this is not a song I wanna portray. It's a beautiful 00:39:00song sure, but I can find other ones to dance with red fabric fans. There's nothing about this song specifically that makes it this act. It was a song I knew 'cuz I was a musical theater kid. And the second I started to actually think about the song and the role, I went "no this is retired here and now."

Basically if it's a character that I think I have to modify anyway, or if it's a song that I feel even remotely questionable about, or a style of costume that is... I think "Is this too indicative of this culture, that I may be stealing it?" Then it probably is. If I'm even having to question it, there's a reason I'm questioning it. I would rather be on the safe side. If somebody decides to call me boring because all of my stuff has panel skirts and rhinestones, then so be it. I'm never gonna feel bad that I didn't think to do something that has a 00:40:00very traditional feel for another culture that's not my culture. The closest I could do would be clogging. I'm half Dutch. If you can find a way to make clogging sexy, I would love to do that. But other than that cultural acts are just ones I personally as a very, very white woman, I just not ever gonna touch them.

LK: Great. And as well speaking of diversity, how do you deal with diversity in Eugene, Corvallis? Do you do outreach?

TM: I wish there was more! Anybody who's been to Eugene, Oregon knows it's pretty White. Pretty much all of Oregon knows it's very White. It is very White. I do know some performers who are not White and they're amazing and they should get booked more often and they don't. I think that every producer in this town, 00:41:00in every town, in this state, and a lot of other states probably, we need to work harder on seeking out those performers. Not to have our token brown person or our token black performer, but actively searching and saying these auditions are open. Finding ways to make it more accessible to those communities. Reaching out to our friends who are a part of those communities, and just finding ways to make a show more diverse.

Because I have heard so many times "Well it was only White people that submitted [to be in] for my show!" OK, what is it about your show that's making only White people apply for it? That's not on those communities to make the effort, that's on you as a producer to make the effort to make your show welcoming to all of those communities. I'm not gonna say I'm perfect at it, I'm not great at it. I'm more... trying to do better every day. And I have a long way to go too. And 00:42:00everybody does.

Again Eugene is very, very White and it is tough to find performers on the fly, like "oh, I'm producing a show in a month, who's in?" It's really a struggle to not go to the four performers I always work with and say "hey, let's do a show!" There is in the back of my mind that maybe you should reach out and open it up more. It's so easy to ignore that voice and I try not to.. again I haven't produced anything in a year and a half... but next time I do I'm gonna do everything I can, and probably make mistakes along the way, to make sure that my cast is diverse. Be that with skin color, background, ethnicity, LGBTQ performers, male and female performers, every form of performer I can find I 00:43:00want. As I said at the beginning, Burlesque isn't just one thing. It's an art form, but it's not a specific dance style. It's not a specific costume style. It's not a specific body type. It can be anything. There's always something for everyone. As a performer and as an audience member, and I think everything I do, I just need to tell myself to focus on making sure that it is as inclusive as you can possibly make it every time.

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

TM: I used to think that was the cheesiest line I ever heard in my life. I used to always just laugh at that. Now I will be one of the biggest champions for saying that is absolutely true. It gives you so much freedom because not only are you coming up with your own acts, you're choosing your own music, you're thinking of your own themes, your own costumes, your own props... all of it. 00:44:00You're doing your own.

Also in the terms of sexuality, where a lot of people say "oh it's degrading, it's making mockery of women and it's degrading" ... it's absolutely not. In my opinion, it's a hundred percent the opposite. Where the woman or the man or the person on the stage is saying "yes I am sexy, I am going to tell you why I'm sexy, I'm gonna show you about me what is sexy, I am going to give you my favorite version of me. Not what you want to see, not your dream person, I need to show you what makes me special and sexy and gorgeous and amazing and enthralling." I don't think there's a single performer out there who doesn't do that. Who doesn't come on stage and say "I'm gonna show you what it is about me that is so amazing!"

And that's something that I find really intriguing, that's different from 00:45:00musical theater and from any other form of theater. Because a lot of times in theater you get told "that's a really selfish piece or experimental piece of theater." "Oh, that's really selfish theater because it was for you not for the audience. Yeah, you hear weird stuff in college theater. They're all kinda... I'm joking... I love my Theater professors. I would say the same thing to their face.

But one of things about Burlesque is that, while it is there for the audience and it is there to entertain them, it is also there very much for the performers. I don't go up there [on stage] thinking well they're gonna love this but I feel kind of half assed about it. No, it's "I love this and that's why they are going to love this." So it is very much an empowering feeling. There's a feeling of strength there in that sexuality, that I would actually outside of Burlesque I would not call myself a very sexual person but on stage, hell yeah!


LK: Great. People also talk about how Burlesque can be a force for social change. Do you see that?

TM: I do. I think that on its own... probably not... but I don't think that any art form on its own can make all the changes. I think that it's got the makings of some really great platform for that. I think that acts, and there's just personal acts for myself or other performers, messages can be said, either vaguely or very blatantly. I've seen some really blatant stuff, where I've done an act where "Stop War" is across my boobs in electrical tape. You can't get much more blatant than that.

But also just the fact that the troupes and the shows are becoming more open and more welcoming to the Queer community, which is ridiculous to me because it's an art form that was started a lot by People of Color and the Queer community. And 00:47:00now all of a sudden it's like we're welcoming you in. No it's ...they were always welcome, we were just gonna try to take it over for a while and now we're realizing that was bad. But the fact that it is welcoming to all walks of life, everybody, anybody, doesn't matter your ability, your looks, your age, your gender... None of it matters. It matters in the fact that it should matter to us and who we are and that we're proud of who we are. But it doesn't matter that nobody's gonna say "oh you look like this, or you are like this, so you can't do it." That's where it doesn't matter. I think that coming together and that acceptance can really be a great vehicle for change.

Also just those different communities coming together, when you're in a production meeting, or just the parking backstage, you may not have a huge crazy political debate but it does open you up to meeting people of other walks of 00:48:00life that you may not have met before. And opening up some discourse. As much as people hate Facebook, I mean there's a lot of things that I learn from performers that i"ve never met. That they'll post about an issue that I've had never heard of and I go "Oh, hey, that's important. That's something I should do something about." I think absolutely, but again as an art form by itself, I think it's limited. But again I think every art form by itself is limited. I think we can start it with those acts that are political, that have the message. But we need to take it further beyond that to really make the change, other than planting a seed. I think the seed can be planted, but actual change needs more.

LK: And so what are the challenges facing Burlesque today?

TM: That's a really interesting question. Obviously the first thing that comes 00:49:00to mind right now is Covid, just because that's a challenging thing for literally everything right now. I think part of it is oversaturation. Not in the fact that there are too many shows. I don't think there can be too many shows. I've done shows on nights where there were two other shows in Eugene and they were all over-booked with the audience. But I think that the people who want to go regularly can't make it to all of them as much as they want to. Then you also get some of the audience members who go "well I could go tonight but I could go next weekend instead" and then they never go.

When you get to more different aspects of challenges, I think people see something and they go "well, but I've seen that before." But you haven't seen it in this exact way, it's always changing, it's always in flux. There are no new ideas anyways, there haven't been for decades or centuries probably. Everything 00:50:00is inspired by something else. Not saying you should copy somebody's act, but... I'm not the first person to put rhinestones on a glove, that's for sure. I think it from an audience point of view, I could see people go "well, I've seen that, I've seen that." When they really haven't. Even though I can perform the same act three times, it's not gonna be the same every time.

I think also... it's tough because there are a lot of things I think could be challenges that I've seen people overcome them, stunningly. And so something that's a challenge to me is not to someone else. In different parts of the state, or parts of the country, there are different challenges. I think we're kind of lucky in Eugene in that all the different troupes, there's a really copacetic relationship. There's no [judgemental] "oh you work with that troupe!" 00:51:00There's none of that. Obviously some performers are going to get along better and there's gonna be... not everyone's gonna be best friends. But there's no... there's not a single troupe that says you can't be other troupes if you're going to be in ours. There's not a single troupe that says "avoid that one." There isn't that.

I was kind of joking that it's a very circular Venn diagram with a couple bumps. But we're also really lucky that we're close enough to be able to do shows in Corvallis or Portland. We're close enough to be able to do shows in Southern Oregon or on the coast or Eastern Oregon. I've been lucky enough to do all of those. I once did Southern Oregon, and Portland, and Eugene all in two days. Yeah but I really feel that it's... every community has its own challenges.

I think for Eugene, it can feel a little oversaturated just because it is a 00:52:00smaller audience space. It's not... as much as we love to pretend it is...it's a very small city. It's a very small city with a very small demographic of people who were going to go "hey! It's Friday night, let's go to a Burlesque show!" Most people don't even know what it is, except for Christina Aguilera. Or they think "Oh, is that the sparkly stripping?" Sure. There is more glitter involved in Burlesque than there is in a strip club, sure.

But yeah, it's a really... that's a very tough question I think. It's, I think, what could be the biggest challenge for a lot of people and places, and a lot of troupes and communities, individual people, is an unwillingness to change and grow as society does, as the art form is wont to do. All art forms are constantly changing. I think that there are ways that we can change but still keep the history and know the history. I think we're people stuck if they say 00:53:00"this is how it is. this is where it needs to be." This is a very rigid view and they're not willing to have that adaptability. I think those that have that adaptability are going to find a lot more options and a lot more opportunities going forward.

LK: Final question: what do you wish the general public would understand about Burlesque?

TM: A couple of things: one, it's not easy, it's not. Two: it is not degrading. It is not. It's not dirty, it's not debauched, well, it can be, but only if you want it to be. It's not seedy, it's not gross. I feel everyone should try it at some point, every person in the world should do it. And this isn't really what I 00:54:00wish they would know about it, but I wish they would stop comparing it to club stripping. Just too often I hear "Oh, it's classy stripping." That infuriates me more than anything. I have seen some of the classiest acts done on a pole at a strip club. And I have seen some, and have been in, some very raunchy Burlesque acts. So all said and done, I guess in a nutshell, it's it's own art form. It's a very fabulous art form. It's a fun art form. And, yeah, do use that cliché: it's an empowering art form.

LK: Great, thank you.

TM: Thank you.