Oregon State University Libraries and Press

Leo Prowl Oral History Interview, March 19, 2022

Oregon State University
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Transcript

LAURIE KURUTZ: Today is Saturday, March 19, 2022. My name is Laurie Kurutz, pronouns she/hers. Would you introduce yourself, say your pronouns, if you care to, and tell us all the things you do.

LEO PROWL: Yes, good morning, Laurie. Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me this morning. My name is Leo Prowl. My pronouns are he/him. I am a Burlesque performer, I am a performing artist, primarily musical theater. I am a producer, director, and a lover of all things that are focused on dignity and respect for all humans.

LK: What is Burlesque?

LP: Great question. Big question! I think it matters a little bit for every individual, as to what Burlesque is for them. I'll tell you primarily, for me, 00:01:00Burlesque is freedom. Burlesque is the freedom to be yourself. It is the freedom to express who you are in a group of individuals who are accepting of who you are. It's empowering, freedom is empowering, right? We look around the world today at so many countries and individuals who try to take away freedom. And so for me Burlesque is almost a statement. It's a statement that we refuse to accept anything less than the freedom to express who we are as individuals, who we are as a society, and to be empowered in that moment.

There are some other things. I absolutely love that Burlesque gives us the opportunity to express ourselves in ways that might not be "normal" for society, but at the time that lack of "normality" gives us, in Burlesque, the opportunity to redefine what is normal. And in many instances throughout the history of Burlesque-and especially in Burlesque I would say right now-there needs to be 00:02:00work in redefining what normal is. It is an absolute privilege and honor, sometimes it's scary, to have that privilege, but that's what Burlesque is. Then on the other side of it, it's a lot of fun to take your clothes off in front of people. So it's both. Burlesque is a lot of fun. It's a great time, but there is that sense of the weight, of we're doing something very special.

LK: Can you just threw out some words about the "normal" and "anti-normal" that you're talking about?

LP: Yep. I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday and he said it is-he enjoys our conversations 'cuz we both get to be present in the moment. I think so often we need to, or we... because of societal norms, we try to present ourselves in a very particular way. We try to dress in a particular way, to think about "Well, this is the world around me. This is the way the world wants 00:03:00me to be, wants me to talk. Wants me to represent ourselves." But that's not normal.

And so Burlesque gives you the opportunity to redefine what normal looks like. Is it me coming out with feathers all over my body? Is it me coming out in Drag? Is it me coming out to demonstrate who I want to be with an elaborate costume? Is it me coming out and just wanting to be a Stage Kitten and just coming out on stage to interact with the audience and have fun? Whatever that is, I get to be me, and I get to be present as me and I don't have to strip that back in any way. If I want to, great, I can put on a show and put on a performance, but people understand that that's what I am doing. So that kind of normality, it comes back to one thing: I get to be me, and I get to be present as me in this moment.

LK: So you did just describe a bit about the kind of Burlesque that you do. But 00:04:00can you be more specific about what kind of Burlesque do you do?

LP: Definitely. So this is an interesting question. Several years ago when I thought about auditions-sorry... I went to an open audition for a Burlesque show and I had seen-this is in Bend, Oregon. I had seen a couple shows and I knew of some of the folks who were the owners and founders of Bend Burlesque Company. This was one or two years after they had started. I was trying to think morning... this was around 2017-18. I knew this group because I performed a lot of musical theater, some straight shows too, but of a lot of musical theater in Bend.

I had off and on been performing musical theater since I was 11 or 12 in community theaters etc. etc. And so, you know, my style-Okay, back up a little bit, I have auditioned for a whole bunch of different things, I auditioned for Disney once, you know different groups, and the comments have always been: "Man. 00:05:00Great actor. Beautiful voice. Just can't dance." Since the time I was in high school, just cannot dance. I have a really hard time dancing especially on stage and it's not because I'm nervous or-it's just, to be quite frank, I cannot move my body and have words come out of my mouth at the same time.

Which is one of the reasons I rarely lip-synch when I perform Burlesque, 'cuz I can't do it, it'll throw me off. So going into this Burlesque audition I thought, "My goodness, I've been told my whole life I can't dance, how am I going to do this, right?" I thought, you know what, I can A) move my body seductively. Done that before. I worked, not very often, but I've worked before as a male stripper. And then I thought too, I can tell a story with my body, right. It's funny because I did-I played Chef Louis one in The Little Mermaid-which was one of my favorite roles that I've ever played before-and I had the entire song choreographed. The song, "Les Poissons Les Poissons", had 00:06:00the whole thing choreographed and when I was going to pick up a knife, when I was going to chop the board, all of those things.

And I thought, you know what, that's what it is. For me, I wanna tell a story when I do Burlesque. So whenever I approach a song it's: What story am I telling with this? It could be an absolutely ridiculous story. But what's the story that I'm trying to tell with this? Everything else I build off of that. I don't think of myself as a dancer-now I've done one or two songs that were highly choreographed-but I think of myself as a storyteller. Now I do-I cannot do improv on the spot. If you ask me to try to come up with something, I cannot do that, I will freeze, it will not look good, it will become a lot more stripper-esque. 'Cuz that I can kind of makeup, but it's not what I want to present for Burlesque, and what that is is a real story. So it takes a lot of forethought, it takes a lot of practice for me, but that's how I approach every single number that I do.

LK: You just described a little bit of the difference between stripping in a 00:07:00club and Burlesque, and it's the storytelling in Burlesque. Can you break down more about being a male stripper and how that came to be and what kind of dancing/nondancing you did?

LP: Yeah, so I never performed in a club before. I thought about auditioning a couple times, almost did, didn't because it-okay, so I lived in Bend. There are no clubs for male strippers in Bend. I moved to Austin, where they do have male clubs for stripping. I wanted to do that there. Then Covid happened a week after I got in Austin. So I couldn't audition, there was nothing-I couldn't do anything. Moved to Seattle. In the strip clubs there, you can't have alcohol. So they're not very popular and especially male strip clubs, there aren't a lot of them there. Then I moved to Ashland, Oregon. Really no place for male stripper here.

So I've never performed in a club before, but when I was in Bend, I used to work with a couple different agencies. I knew a couple different people who would do 00:08:00parties. So I did a lot of bachelorette parties, a lot of parties for lifestyle events, different stuff. Would just go in and mostly just be some entertainment, just a lot of fun. Sometimes I would go out, you know, with a group of bachelorettes. They just wanted to go out on the town, so I would go out, dance with them, go get drinks, that kind of stuff.

To me it's almost more-what I did, wasn't so much here I'm going to get up on a stage and strip for you-that's been more my Burlesque experience. This was more, I'm gonna give you an unforgettable night as a entertainer. There are a lot of things that I love about stripping, but honestly that is not at all what I was talking about before, about being present and getting to be me. That's a fantasy and I like that too, so don't get me wrong, that's not me pretending to do something I don't want to be doing, I enjoy that a lot. But it's a lot different than Burlesque for me. So fun, but not the same experience.

LK: Right, right. And what is the difference in that milieu, in being an 00:09:00entertainer male stripper and a male escort? Is it similar -is it the same?

LP: No, I think that's-I think that-here's the primary difference. So as a male stripper, they know that you are putting on a show, they don't have any problem with that. It's part of what is fun about it, right, they know you're putting a show on for them. The key to being an escort-which I've done less of but I have done before-is: They don't want to know, in the moment, that it's a show. They know that it is, they know that it is, but they want to forget, right. And so it involves an excellent actor to be a good escort. You have to be an excellent actor, you have to convince them that every single moment-every single moment 00:10:00you're with them, this is real. This is real, so you can take them there.

That's the difference, that's where the real acting skills really come in, right. I've done everything from, look you pay attention to body language, you learn what somebody likes, how do they like how you carry yourself, do you need to change your voice for them. Do you need to change what drinks you have, all of those kinds of things. Do you need to change how you dress? All of those things go into being an escort, a good escort, right. So it's just different. You have to, in that moment, not only become their dream fantasy, but become their dream fantasy in a way you have convinced them that the entire thing is absolutely 100% real.

LK: Perfect, perfect. Do you think you're born knowing how to-I mean that's quite a skill set.

LP: Yeah.

LK: That intuitive ability to change, reading others-how did you-how do you think you came to have that skill set?

LP: Oh, that's a big question. That's a big question. You know it's funny 00:11:00because my-we'll have to go back a really long way-my dad was a pastor, so I grew up as a pastor's kid. Home schooled. My mom still tells stories about when I was one, in the very first-I moved to Salem when I was two, so I was really young, moved to Northeast Salem. But when I was young, my dad was a pastor of a small country church in Albany. Actually, that's where I was born in Albany, Oregon.

And my mom tells stories about how it was a really difficult church, difficult time for them, and she would tell stories about how they'd just sit around the living room at night and be in tears, just crying. She said I used to-at one years old-go in the middle of the floor and just entertain them. Just roll around on the floor, make them laugh, just change them-she said, "We would come home, put you in the middle of the floor, and we would all forget about everything and we'd just laugh."

So for a really long time, right, I have been tuning into people and 00:12:00entertaining people for as long as I can remember. And really changing who I was based on the setting in which I found myself. It's interesting my name is Simeon, סימאון/Shimon, in Hebrew, it's a Hebrew name, and it means "One who hears." That's what it means. And so for all my life, I've been the one who hears. But not just hears with my ears, right, but can pay attention and really see based on what I'm hearing from the other individual. It's funny because there are multiple different words in Hebrew for "hear" and this word for "hear" means "someone who hears and takes action based on what they've heard." That's what it means. So, for instance; " שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד" means, "Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is one." Which doesn't just mean, "Oh, hear this with your ears." It means, "Okay, if you know this, take action on it." Right.

So all my life I've been the kind of person who hears or sees, or takes something in and then takes action on that. So I was raised very conservatively 00:13:00and found myself learning how to adapt into that culture based on what I saw and based on what I heard. The same thing in college, I went to a very private-I went to a private Christian college in Indiana. I studied ancient Near Eastern languages, which is why I know some Greek, Hebrew, and Egyptian and so forth. I went to grad school, same story. I learned how to really adapt myself to that culture. And it wasn't until after that-I moved back to Bend from Mississippi-I really started needing to break out of some of that, personally. But that's been most of my life, or most of my life up to that point was learning how to play off of other people. Learning what other people wanted to see. What they wanted to-how they wanted me to be, right, in order to really influence them.

So I've used that most of my life to be able to influence other people, based on what I observed of them. So, as funny as this sounds, growing up in a conservative culture, where you had to be a certain way based on the people around you, made me be a pretty good escort, pretty good stripper, and pretty 00:14:00good Burlesque performer. So not at all what my parents intended, not at all, but hey, it's a-I'm thankful for it, at the same time from where I am today.

LK : And so you're-are you from an artistic family? Are you-how did that all come about?

LP: So we-my family sang. I grew up singing in church, we would travel to different churches singing. I sang regularly in church, in the choir. My dad sings. My dad and mom actually met in choir at the University of Oregon, that's how they met. So singing has always been a huge part of my family's life. And in high school, I remember they gave me the option, I was homeschooled back in-actually in Northeast Salem-homeschoolers can participate in some public high school stuff.

So they gave me the option in high school, I could either go play football for 00:15:00McNary-which I love football, still do-or I could participate in homeschool band and choir, which sounds cheesy. But there are about 100 homeschoolers in Northeast Salem who got together for band and choir, so it was a really big deal. And, so homeschool band and choir/Theater, and it was just-I loved it so much. I love music, I love theater, that's what I wanted to do, so that was really the path I went down. Played trumpet for four years, my first show was at the Gallery theater in McMinnville. I played Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables. So that was my kind of first foray into theater, not musical theater and then-I actually... it's a funny story that I ended up here in Ashland.

I went to a Shakespeare workshop, for homeschoolers in particular, and the gentleman who taught the class performed here in Ashland-his name is Christopher [can't catch this last name] -and he would come-I remember he was this big imposing man with long black hair-and so we did Shakespeare. I played Macbeth 00:16:00and Bassanio from The Merchant of Venice and different parts, and I remember he really instilled in me and he said, "OK. You know, if you're going to do this, you're going to spend your time to do it well." Of course, he loved Shakespeare, but it was more about theater in general. If you're going to do this, do it well.

And so, I did some of that. I did a little bit of directing and producing some different stuff in high school. I did some in college, not very much. I went in as a music major so I did a lot of choir and so forth. Ended up changing my major to ancient Near Eastern languages. Didn't do so much in grad school, although-and we can get back to this later-but ever since high school I've performed in senior living communities. So assisted living, memory care, independent living, I've always been doing that. I love senior adults, which is why I work with senior adults today. But didn't really get back into doing theater and more performance until after grad school, moved back to Bend. You know Bend has a fabulous theater scene, ended up doing quite a bit there in Bend.

LK: What did you study in grad school?


LP: Same thing, ancient Near Eastern languages. That's what my degrees are in. So my primary languages were Greek and Hebrew, and in grad school it turned to mostly Hebrew. That's where I did-it's not really a dissertation, but final project, you know capstone project, on the significance and the influence of written contracts in the ancient Near East, right. And so talking about how contracts, specifically between different cultures, how that influenced-and then just a little bit-a little bit of time I spent on military propaganda in the ancient Near Eastern way.

I could talk about this forever, but it's interesting-some people of course would disagree with me-but from a literary standpoint, the story of David and Goliath, it's written to be literary propaganda. It's almost as if you and I were to watch Captain America, we know it's not real, the audience knows it's not real, but that doesn't matter, right. They're watching the story, and in this case they are hearing, because of course most people didn't read, so 00:18:00they're hearing this story about propaganda. Where they know that it's false, but this is a story that means something to them, the little guy defeating the big guy, right? So I love that, I love that aspect of that propaganda. And, then also the contract parts, because I'm a little bit of a nerd when it comes to formal documents and legal documents and so forth, but it was-that was my kind of capstone project in grad school.

LK: And you work with senior adults?

LP: I do. Which is an interesting story. So I-in grad school I started working for Starbucks and I worked in Starbucks for three years, became an assistant manager, worked in Bend, worked in Portland for a little bit. And I just remember thinking, you know, I-you know, Starbucks is a great company to work for, but I wanted to do something that was more meaningful and rewarding for me, personally.

So I was laying in Bend one night and I thought if I could do anything in the world as a profession, what would it be? And it was to be working with senior 00:19:00adults in some capacity. Absolutely love it. My best friends growing up were senior adults. I'd go down the street to Grandma Katie's house, we'd listen to Elvis Presley records together, you know. Grandpa Jax, I worked on his farm growing up, he loved more Marty Robbins or Jim Reeves, you know, those kind of characters. But I remember, if I do anything, I wanted to work with senior adults.

So I was in a show-what show was I in? Don't remember the show, in a show, and the costume designer-I knew that she worked in senior living. I didn't even know what she did, but I knew she worked in senior living. So I went to her and said, "Hey. I'd really like to get started in senior living. What do you recommend?" and she said, "Well, you know-you have a lot of experience in entertainment. You have a lot of community connections. I really recommend you be an activity director, right. That's a great place to start."

So I said, "Okay, do you know of any openings?" And she said, "Well. Turns out I have an opening at my community. I'm the executive director, come work for me." So, next week I found myself putting in my two-week notice as an assistant store 00:20:00manager at Starbucks, walked into a memory care community, and walk down the hall-this storie is a little bit crass, but it's the reality of working in memory care.

First time walking through the community, this woman comes up to me-she has a memory impairment, right, so most of my profession I've worked with folks who have Alzheimer's or other dementias. She walked up to me and said, "Hey! You're new around here and you're good looking. How are you doing?" She reaches up and grabs my crotch. That was my first interaction with any memory-any resident who has memory impairment, and I thought "Oh my God. What did I get myself into?" Right? What did I get my-that was first day ever, but you know over the last-almost 5 years. I've done this for almost 5 years now-I absolutely love it. I love it.

Because you have the opportunity, every single day-I'll tell you this particular resident, right... let alone with that whole grabbing the crotch incident, that's just a funny part of working in senior living. It's an opportunity to change their day. Every single day. And for her, all she wanted to do was just 00:21:00be seen and loved as a human being. Just wanted to talk just one-on-one. Now, yeah, she channeled that inappropriately and folks with cognitive impairment often do, because there are things that happen in your brain.

But it's more than that, it's more than that. It's the opportunity to really change someone's life. And, you know, this kind of ties back to Burlesque for me. Which it's interesting that it does. You have the opportunity with senior adults, especially folks with cognitive impairment, to see people for who they really are. To not judge them for that, to accept them for that, to be with them in that moment where they are, and to be totally OK with that. And that is a really empowering thing for me to have-empowering is the wrong-it's a, it is a redeeming thing for me to do. To be able to have the opportunity and I like to think that, you know, I'm able to really change someone's life. They can forget it 10 minutes later, doesn't matter. A) There's been that moment of redemption. B) It is interesting-and I am going off on a tangent here-but it is interesting 00:22:00to see how five minutes, even if they don't remember, changes the rest of their day because of that feeling and emotion that comes out of it.

And, you know, it's-I will connect this back to the topic that we are discussing-you know, for me, I can do a Burlesque show and then the next week have a better week, have a healthier week, personally, and I might not know it in that moment but often times it goes back to that show. I had a moment where I got to be me. I got to be accepted by people and that's enough to get me through that next week.

LK: So earlier you said you started in Burlesque in about 2017-18.

LP: Yeah, 2017, 2018. I know it was January, February. I'm gonna say 2018. Pretty sure it was 2018.

LK: OK. How did that get started? How did you pick your stage name?

LP: Oh, good question. So I've changed my stage name once. It was-it's always 00:23:00been Leo. It's Leo because I am a Leo for one. Two, I just like the name Leo, and three, I have a large lion tattoo on my right shoulder. So I thought, you know what, that makes sense. I like it, easy to remember. It's a lot easier to say than my name, which is Simeon. But Leo's great, it works well. So I did that and it's kind of stuck. Originally, it was Leo Pryde; P-R-Y-D-E, right. Because of the whole play on the pride of lions type situation. but then I thought: you know what, that's a group of lions. I'm the only lion, so I should probably change it to something else, So I went about a year into it, I changed it to Leo Prowl, which I just thought that was cooler to say, and fit better from being one Leo. So that's where I've been Leo Prowl and it's been good, it fits me.

LK: And then getting started in Burlesque, I mean, how did that-how did that come about?


LP: Yeah, so it's interesting, like I say. I knew of some folks who performed Burlesque, because of my connections with theater. I saw them post an open audition, and I thought, "Man, I would love to do this because I've seen..." I've been to a couple shows and I've just seen the energy that was there. That people got to be who they were, that everyone in the room... it's-when you're in a crowd, watching Burlesque even... it is crazy to see how everybody's shit, that they put on on the outside, goes down. Unless they want to put on shit, and then they're being real about the shit they want to put on, right. And so I thought, "Man. I want to be a part of that," right.

So I auditioned thinking, don't know how this is going to go, because I've always been told "terrible dancer." I spent two months-hours every single day-rehearsing for that first thing that I was going to do, and ended up getting second place. Got second place in the, it was like a, you know, a competition, 00:25:00right. So I got second place but the top two-top three actually-got invited to come back and be a part of the routine. So that's how I started.

I remember I did one song, I did Michael Bublé's-well, his version of "I'm Your Man." I don't know if you know that song, but great song, really lends itself well to Burlesque. I've always been good at picking songs, but I think that's the musical theater part, right, because I can see: This is the story that I want to tell, these are the natural parts of a song where I know there's going to be build up to taking off clothes and stuff, which, that's the part the musical theater part, I know. Because you can see the song when you approach, OK I get it. This is where that, this is where the crescendo is, this is what I need to lead up to it, different stuff. So it went really well, loved it, and then from there it just, you know, exploded for me.

LK: How did it explode? How did you develop your career from there?

LP: So I- for the first-up until recently I only performed with Bend Burlesque. That was it, that's all I did was perform with them. The next show actually that 00:26:00I did was to be a part of a Drag show, not in Drag, but one of my favorite, Miss DebAuchery there in Bend, she's fabulous and has a great-The Cult of Tuck there in Bend is a great company of Drag performers. And I remember she contacted me, she said, "We'd like you to be the token straight male in our next Drag show. Would you be willing to do so?" And I was like, ah Hell, this is my second show, but sure! Whatever, let's go for it! And so I talked to her, I was like, OK what do you want, right? Because I've never done Drag before-not like, I'm not against it but just because I know that Drag is an extremely serious adventure and I don't want to take that lightly, right. So this is my second performance, what exactly do you want? And she said, "We want you to be the most stereotypical heterosexual He-Man type person you possibly can be." So I was like, "OK. Fuck yeah. I can do that." So I did James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World", wore flannel, had an axe up on stage, the whole thing, and that 00:27:00was fun. That was really, really fun.

So, kind of got thrown into a lot of different experiences, ended up helping, 'cuz I produced and directed some, you know, theater performances. And so some of the other performers in Bend Burlesque said, "Hey can you help us with some of this stuff?" So I jumped in, both on the performing side and also some of the behind-the-scenes stuff.

I used to work in small businesses doing their digital marketing, so kind of helped brainstorm some ideas on how to promote and stuff, and ended up doing-you know I've never been somebody-up until now actually, recently just in the last six months-who does a ton of shows. I usually space them out, you know, two months, sometimes three months in between, because it does-believe it or not-it takes me a long time to get a number down. Because I'm never-I'm still not an incredibly talented dancer, right. So it takes me a long time to get it right, but then once I get it right I'm really confident in it.

So-at the beginning especially-when I was trying to find moves that worked for my body and how I wanted it to look, that took a lot of time to figure out. And 00:28:00so I didn't do a lot up front and then ended up progressing and growing kind of-sort of-I don't know if crescendo is the right word, 'cause I did a couple of shows after that-but one of the performances that I felt most comfortable and confident that "This is exactly what I want it to look like," was, we actually did a kink show in Bend that was the Alice in Wonderland story. So we did, "Down the Rabbit Hole" and I got to dress up as the Mad Hatter so I had all the theatrical parts, but I also got to have all the different props, at the end-as part of the kink show we did demonstrations of different kinks-so I got to do wax play, and teach about wax play, and how to do that safely and some different stuff. So that was a lot of fun, 'cause it was both the Burlesque part and then that performing part, that everything was there for me. So that was a big part of it.

But yeah, and then now, you know, in the last several months, so with Covid-and I know I'm kind of skipping ahead, I think, to where you wanted to go here but... I moved to Austin the week before Covid happened, and I worked in senior 00:29:00living. And so that first week-I remember I was there for one week, community of 80 residents with cognitive impairment, they've never met me, didn't know anything about me, families right, staff didn't know me. Next week I had to email everybody, "Hey, sorry, I know you don't know me, you're no longer welcome to visit your loved ones." In the middle of a global pandemic, right. Went to the staff members and said, "Hey, We have this life threatening virus that's going around, you've got to trust me. You've got to trust me." And that was a week into it, right, and, you know, that was-that was huge.

And I think that I will never forget that year, right, that I really shaped who I was. But because of that-you know especially with the responsibility that I had-you know in senior living COVID-19 can be disastrous to say the least, right. And so I just didn't go anywhere. Just didn't go anywhere. Ordered in sometimes. It was crazy. Been to Austin, lived in Austin for a year-until after 00:30:00I got vaccinated the last year-I never went out except to get gas. I went to H-E-B, which is a grocery store there, and I went to the liquor store. That's everywhere I went my entire time in Texas, until after I got vaccinated that next year.

So, I didn't do any Burlesque which was so sad because Austin has some great Burlesque. They also have some great strip clubs for males and females down there, so it was real-it was so terribly sad. Now I will also say that the community I worked in was very, very successful in limiting exposure to and transmission of COVID-19 so worth it, right. Worth it. But very, very sad that I missed-I want to go back and visit sometime so I can actually do something. My friends who I made there are like, "Come back! We'll go out and do stuff!"

So that was that. Then I moved to Seattle after Austin, at the beginning of 2021-I think March or April-ish. And I love Seattle, never lived in Seattle before I lived in Kirkland, which is just a beautiful area of Seattle. And-you 00:31:00know surprisingly, because like I said, they don't allow alcohol, their strip clubs aren't really much of a thing. But they do have some really, really good Burlesque troupes. That's where I got connected with a couple different kind of pillars of the Burlesque scene. Holly Dolly, is up there, and Linzi Louieez is up there as well, kind of more mid-eastern Washington. I got a chance to perform with them and some folks from Bend Burlesque. Because some of the folks from Bend Burlesque were performing their shows in southern Seattle and said, "Hey, bring him over, right. Let him do a couple numbers."

And I was nervous because it had been a little over a year since I had done any Burlesque. And I was pretty nervous, 'cause like I said, I need a lot of time practicing and I was-I was shaking for one, right, as a lot of us were. So trying to get my breath performing on stage, and two, oh my goodness, it's been a while. So I ended up actually-for confidence sake-I performed the same Michael Bublé's "I'm Your Man." I went back to a gold standard, different choreography 00:32:00but I'm confident, comfortable with the song, broke out the tux-side note it's the tux I got-I married my ex-wife in, so that's a whole 'nother story. But broke out the tux, got that, got the bowtie-which is really my look, right, if I think of-no, I have a whole bunch of different looks, signature look, tux, bowtie. That's what I do.

And then my second song called "Sexy Nurse" 'cause I really wanted to-was actually, you know it was meaningful, just coming to this time where I worked with a lot of nurses-so I sang a song about sexy nurses. Did a mock COVID-19 test in my nose for that performance, so just really brought it full circle in the last month. And then now-I mean it's crazy, I've never done this before but I'm looking at over the next month and a half, I'll be doing shows, I think four or five weekends, and have stuff booked out through June; here in Ashland, Bend, Seattle, Walla Walla, Prosser, Washington, Grants Pass, all over the place where I'll be performing.

And, you know, it is kind of daunting getting back into doing different numbers-and doing some repeat stuff. But I try to keep it fresh or at least if I perform that song at the venue, I'm probably not going to do that one again, 00:33:00I'll pull out from a different catalog. But it's been something that's become extremely meaningful to me. So having that-as big as this sounds-having that lifeline where I get to get in touch again, with Who I Am and What My Life Is, that's essential. That's essential, man. So, it's really an honor to have the opportunity to perform with all these different performers.

LK: So you just mention some smaller or medium size towns, Walla Walla, Prosser, you know, if we said to the general public, "Where do you think Burlesque is?" They would probably say "Big City, Big City. Liberal, blah, blah, blah." But, what's it like taking Burlesque to small towns in eastern Washington and eastern Oregon?

LP: You know, great, great question. Every single time, you don't know what to expect, every single time. And I will tell you-especially as someone who, and I 00:34:00will say this, I'm a heteroflexible male, not strictly straight. But the-the performances that I do look like a straight male 90% of the time. Every once in a while I put-like I did "Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy" recently and my entire outfit was rainbow, and I came on stage with a unicorn on a stick, unicorn briefs, you know, you would not have guessed that I'm a heteroflexible male at all with that one show, or with that one routine.

But it's a little bit striking to everyone else, 'cause most everybody-even a small town-feels great about when a woman comes out and takes her clothes off, right, great about it. No issue, females-especially-or males, right. But say Grants Pass, recently, and I've never performed in Grants Pass before. I went there and it was-it was so funny, because one of the-one of the-partners, I don't know if she was a spouse-but one of the female partners came up to me and she said, "My husband did not know what to do. He didn't know to look at you, to 00:35:00look at me, because he was clearly enjoying it but didn't want to enjoy it," and it was really, really interesting.

You know, I get that a lot, sometimes I get-as I did in Redmond several-I went to Redmond, Oregon-and this guy was wasted off of his ass, man. And I was backstage 'cause I started "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" from the back of the audience. I had already performed one song before that in the first act, and so I started from the back. This one guy is on his way out to get a drink, and he looks at me, and he's like, "Are you next?" And I say, "Yeah, yeah, I'm next." And he said, "Oh, ok, I'm going to stay at the bar while you perform next." I was like, yeah, no judgment man! Cool! Do you, right.

But by and large, it's interesting because heterosexual men will come up and be like, "Look dude, I could never do that, but better for you. You know, good on you." Those kind of things. So I have been surprised at the reception that I get. Now of course, most often-the women love it, you know, Drag queens, 00:36:00bisexual men-love it. So that's not a problem. But I have been surprised sometimes that even in the small cities that I go into, while they would tell me, "Oh I would never ever do that," I like to think that the more we work to normalize Burlesque, the more men there would be who would say, "Yeah man, I want that to be me."

And I think that there are more individuals who have that inside and Burlesque gives them that opportunity to say there is more-I have-I have the opportunity to be me and hopefully-I hope-not just for me, but for Burlesque in general, that we give people the opportunity, we empower them to do that. Whether heterosexual males, whoever it is, right, they have the opportunity to be them.

LK: And you ... in describing the audiences, you mentioned that the women, the response from the females watching other females strip, and you said, "Oh and of 00:37:00course!" But explain the "Of Course", why do you think the females in the audience enjoy this?

LP: You know, I work really really hard... so two different things. Every time I go to perform with a new Burlesque-a new group of Burlesque performers, it is always awkward at first. And I think for good reason, because unfortunately, but truly having a man who presents as a heterosexual male in the room with females, trans folks, non-binary Queer folks... it's awkward most often at first. Because they don't know who I am, they don't know how I'm going to interact with them, if I'm going to be judgemental, if I'm going to be inappropriate with them. So there's always a level of awkwardness.


So for me, especially going into a new space, I'm very very intentional about how I act. So I don't-especially if it's a new group-and this is some of the details of Burlesque. I will not strip completely with a new group of folks. I will find a bathroom. I will find a quiet place. 'Cause I don't want people to think that that's all I'm there for. A lot of times I bring headsets, not just because it helps me get to the space, but if it's a new group, I'm going to bring headsets and a lot of times I'm going to look at the floor. Focus on my routine, do different stuff, until I've had the opportunity to earn their trust. And that's huge. You know, you have to have trust between Burlesque performers to have a good performance.

But with the audience there's some of that too. You know, I would hope the way I present myself is always-I say gentleman and that's the wrong word-always as a 00:39:00respectful individual. No matter who you are, I'm there to respect you, I'm there to support you, I'm there to accept you as who you are, right. And so I think that I-especially at repeat venues, right-they learn to trust me. They learn to trust me, they know, hopefully they know, that I'm a safe person. That I am an accepting person, that I am somebody that's going to inspire them.

I'll give you a for instance. This is a really funny for instance. So in Redmond, the last time I performed in Redmond, one of the-one of the audience members-beautiful young woman-her friends called out from the audience that it was "Slut Night." That it was her Slut Night, and they asked "What does this mean?" Her boyfriend had just broken up with her. And so, at the end of the show, unplanned, they had me come up and do a strip routine for her on stage. So she sat on stage, I got to do a strip routine, we had so much fun with her.

And after the show she came up and she, you know, wanted to take a picture with me, great. We're talking different stuff and, you know, my response was really, 00:40:00"Hey look. I want you to know, you have immense value. Whatever happened in the past, you have immense value. So go out, be yourself, have fun, know that you are a beautiful person outside, inside, you got this." And that's what I would hope, as strange as it seems, yeah, I love taking my clothes off, but if I could give that message to anyone in the audience, that's the message. You're beautiful. Outside, inside, no matter who you are, go out, be you and have a hell of a lot of fun doing it. And I think that is absolutely essential to who I am as a Burlesque performer and what I think Burlesque should be in general.

LK: What do you think... what are the challenges facing Burlesque today?

LP: Alright I'll go a few different directions, right. One, just like in any 00:41:00theater setting, I think competition is a challenge. People want to be the best. People want to be the best, and some of that is healthy, some of that is healthy. Here's one of the other challenges and I see them all the time together. One of the other challenges is-and I say this being very careful not to judge anyone, right, because coming new into Burlesque is a very daunting thing. Being new to Burlesque is very daunting, and we want to be accepting, and we want more people to join the art form. But also, we want people to give it their best. Because we don't want the art form to be poorly represented. So if you don't show up and do your best, if you didn't plan ahead, if you don't have your costume, my question is, is it really of that much value to you that this is what you want to do? This is what you want to do?

Now on the flipside of that, I told a performer recently, it was her second 00:42:00performance, wasn't great, but you could tell that she had spent a lot of time planning out her routine. Very intentional. She missed some moments, it look like it was in her head, but I told her at the end, "Look. Good on you for taking so much time preparing for this, and you've got this." "Relax a little bit, here are some pointers, don't move too fast, give yourself more time to take your clothes off." All of those things that we can talk about to get better, but it was very evident that she spent a lot of time and I respect that, right.

That's all that I ask from somebody who's doing Burlesque. Give it your best, right. But, the other part that creeps in on that, is that competition part. That's the other part, am I better than this person, am I better than this person. For me it's always one thing-and this is the thing in life for me, at work or wherever it is-did I give it my best, right? I'm competing against myself, truly, I never want to have a performance where I give it less than my 00:43:00best. I've had some performances where I messed up some parts, but I know looking back that I gave it my absolute best and I'm fine with that. I'm fine with that. I'll work on those parts that I messed up so it doesn't happen again and I'll get there, you know.

So I compete against myself, but at the end of the day, Burlesque is way too important to compete against other people. Now we do have folks who have differences in opinions. There are folks in Burlesque who choose not to perform with each other, for whatever reason. But I also think that it's extremely important for me to say, while I'm choosing not to perform with you again, for whatever reasons, most most times it comes back as business. People have different business philosophies. There should always be the sense of "I appreciate you. Respect what you're doing. Want nothing but the best for you." So I don't want to perform with you, that's not my gig, that's not how I roll, whatever that is, I appreciate you, I respect you, I want the absolute best for you and the group of folks you perform with.


I think that's the culture that we need to get to and 90% of the time I think that's where we are. So there is a sense of healthy competition 'cause it helps us be our best, but at the same time, at the end of the day, we need to be able to say to those folks that we perform with, who are apart of the Burlesque community, Appreciate you, Respect you, We want the best for you.

LK: And so, final question: What do you wish the general public would understand about Burlesque? Why is it important?

LP: As I look around the world today-this is a really big response and then we'll bring it home. As I look around the world today there is a lot of shit that needs to change. A lot of fucked up shit. And it's going to take a great 00:45:00deal of work to move forward as a global, as a country-as a global society, as a country, and as a local community. Whether that means, here in Ashland, or the state of Oregon, whatever it is. We have a lot of work to do, we have a lot of work to do. And it is not just from one avenue that that work will be done: political activism, voting, holding people accountable, spending money as you can to support those things that matter, speaking up when you need to.

All of those things that I just mentioned, those are all inherent to what Burlesque is. So while Burlesque is obviously not the magic pill to solve the immense problems of the world that we live in, it is a part of that remedy.


What do I mean by that? Burlesque-I'll tell you, we'll make it serious real quick, just for a moment, OK. My favorite Burlesque performance that I have ever done was a very very difficult time in my life, very difficult time. And I performed to "Angel of Slow [Small] Death & The Codeine Scene." It's a Hozier song. The whole idea, came out with a shovel and my shirt said-that I revealed-my shirt said that "You are not alone." And which-had suicide hotline prevention line on that shirt, right. So that was the most meaningful performance I've ever done. A friend of mine who watched the show and said, "I didn't know if I supposed to get turned on or cry." And I said, "Both. Why not both? Why not both?"

You get a chance to be intensely human with Burlesque, in a way that you can 00:47:00tell a message. Not every performance-look man, when I did "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" there's really no message there, other than the fact that I, as a heteroflexible male, can go out on stage and wear unicorn briefs and a rainbow shirt be totally fine with that and there is absolutely zero wrong with that, right. So you get a chance to tell a message and that's why I think when I talk about you have to take Burlesque seriously to do it, that's why. Because the-the voice that you have is too important to not do it justice. Too important not to be intentional, not to do it perfectly, too important to not care about what it is that you are doing.

So I like to think that in a very, very small way that every single performance, every single show, that I have the opportunity-every single picture that I post on social media, I am a very, very small part of that remedy that we need to be 00:48:00a part of a society that accepts people for who they. That supports others in what can be a very difficult life, supports whatever that means with your words, with your money, with creating a society that enables folks who are under-privileged to live life to the fullest, that champions people who are accepting and loving for others no matter who you are.

No matter how do you present yourself, not just-not just sexually, but where do you live? What's your socio-economic status? Where are you from, right? What languages do you speak? No matter what that is, that we accept you, that we love you, and we do so fiercely. At its best, inherently, Burlesque is fierce. 00:49:00Burlesque is fiercely committed to all of those things that I just mentioned. And we get to be a voice, a physical representation, of where we need to go, as a community, a country and a global society. And I like to think that I have the opportunity to be a very, very-but meaningful-part of that.

LK: Leo, thank you.

LP: It's a pleasure.