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Rummy Rose Oral History Interview, January 20, 2020

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LAURIE KURUTZ: Today is January 20th, 2020. My name is Laurie Kurutz, pronouns she/hers. Would you please introduce yourself? Say your pronouns if you care to and tell us all the things you do.

RUMMY ROSE: I'm Rummy Rose. I am a Burlesque performer, pronouns she/her. Besides Burlesque, I also am a costumer, a fulltime professional hairstylist, a cat mom, a wife, vegan. Those are some things I do.

LK: Okay, terrific. We'll start off with the big question. What is Burlesque?

RR: I feel like that can be answered in a lot of different ways, but I guess the general answer would be that Burlesque is the art form of striptease. I mean if you're going to put it simply.

LK: And what's the difference between stripping in a club and Burlesque stripping?

RR: Well, I don't strip in Burlesque clubs so I feel like it's hard for me to fully answer that question. I would say there's a lot more similarities with Burlesque shows and stripping in a strip club than people would generally think. I think a lot of people think they're very opposite, but Burlesque, being the original striptease art form, stripping in a club came from that, you know? So, I think they are very, very similar.

I would say you kind of have to look at it from state to state. Laws are different everywhere. So, I would say, looking at Oregon, stripping in a strip 00:01:00club, people do get fully nude. At a Burlesque show, you're going to end up going down to a G-string and pasties being the most naked that you would possibly get. So, I would say that would be one big difference. But then in other states, you can't get fully nude at strip clubs, so they're going to seem a lot more similar. Also being that stripping in a club, that is a place that's open every day. There's going to be dancers there working every day at the club that it's open, where a Burlesque show is going to be at a venue like a one to two hour-long show that you're going to go pay to see and attend.

So, I would say the structure is different, but you can see some wild stuff at a strip club and at a Burlesque show. And then see something that's a lot more 00:02:00classic-style Burlesque, you'd see that at a Burlesque show and at a strip club. And I know there's certain Burlesque strip club places in Portland, so there's ones that are based off being more 'Burlesque", so you'll see a future performer at a strip club doing a Burlesque set. So, they're very intertwined, more than people that are in the scene, you wouldn't think as much.

LK: What are the strip clubs that are maybe a little bit more Burlesque-based?

RR: There's one downtown Portland called the Kit Kat Club. A lot of my friends dance there and a lot of those people are Burlesque performers, too. So, they're very intertwined.

LK: How do you describe the kind of Burlesque that you do?


RR: I am a big lover of rock and roll and metal [music.] I've always been into the more darker, weird stuff in general, like my whole life. So, I think that that really shows when I'm performing. I tend to perform to more metal and rock and roll and alternative music just in general. So, that comes out also in my costuming, I would say, seeing a lot more of that influence, too.

LK: Where were you born and where'd you grow up?

RR: I was born in San Francisco and I grew up in Pacifica, in Concord, which is the East Bay. Then when I was eighteen, I moved to Oakland and lived there in my early teens, early twenties.

LK: Are you from an artistic family?

RR: Yeah, I would say that my parents are pretty artistic. My grandma was really 00:04:00into sewing and so when I was very young, I grew up sewing Halloween costumes. She and my mom would both sew all my costumes. And then when I was little, I remember my mom always making Barbie outfits for all my Barbies, and I thought that was really fun. And she would always say it's a good way to make fun costumes that were very tiny and required very little fabric. So yeah, I would say I come from an artistic family.

LK: What brought you to Oregon?

RR: In 2010, I met my now-husband. He was playing in a band and I was in a Burlesque punk rock can-can troupe called The Can-Cannibals. We were doing a two-week long tour of the west coast and we performed in Olympia at a festival. 00:05:00My husband's band was playing, so we met and did a long distance thing for about a year. And then I was down in Oakland and he was here, so then we're like, "What's going on? What are we doing?" I just decided that I wanted a change. I lived in the Bay Area my whole life, so I decided I wanted to try something new and I really liked Portland. So, that's what got me up here.

LK: What year was that?

RR: That was, I moved here in 2011.

LK: Great. And what did you do in your formative years, whatever those are, that led you towards performance?

RR: Well, I started performing... I mean I was pretty young when I got into Burlesque. It was in my early twenties, but before that I've been a dancer my whole life, since I was three years old taking dance classes. I've always really 00:06:00been into dancing and performing in general. I also started doing hair, working in a salon when I was eighteen, so I've been doing that for a while, too. I guess I had always been performing and dancing and creating and being artistic in those kinds of ways. Even when I was in high school, I would make all of my own clothes and sew them up, very punk rock. So, all those things kind of channeled me towards Burlesque I feel like, in a way.

LK: What kind of education or training certificates do you have?

RR: Just in general?

LK: Yeah.

RR: I'm a professional hairstylist. I would say that's probably about it with professional certifications.

LK: All those dance classes?

RR: Yeah, I'm not like certified in dance. I didn't go to college for dance, but 00:07:00I've taken numerous dance classes just in general. I still take classes at least once a week if I can.

LK: Here in Portland?

RR: Yeah.

LK: Where?

RR: My friend Evie owns a dance studio in Southeast called Vega Dance+Lab. I take Burlesque classes there, also hip-hop classes and just kind of cardio, good workout classes and stuff like that. I feel like that's important for me to continue learning new things doing Burlesque and just helping with choreography in general because I do include a lot of dance in my acts. Not everyone does. I have friends who will say, "I'm not a dancer," but they're amazing Burlesque performer. It just varies what your style is, but I would say I definitely include a lot of dance in mine. Taking classes for me is important just to learn new moves and when it comes to choreographing a new piece, I have fresh ideas in 00:08:00my head.

LK: In those formative years, was there someone, an influence or an inspiration to you?

RR: My formative years of dancing?

LK: Dancing, yeah.

RR: I guess a lot of my dance teachers, like the people who would train me dancing in high school. I did dance competition. I did hip-hop and tap competition. I feel like those teachers to me are people that I really looked up to just because they really knew what they were doing and they were really talented and I wanted to be more like them.

LK: What year and exactly how did you get started in Burlesque?

RR: I got started in Burlesque, I would say, probably around 2008 or 2009. I was 00:09:00in my punk rock can-can troupe, the Can-Cannibals. We were from Oakland. So, we were a dance troupe that did some can-can stuff, but just all kinds of different dance performance. We always danced to punk rock or rock and roll, alternative music, and we started performing at Burlesque shows. So, that kind of opened our eyes to like, "Oh, this is kind of what we're doing, but a little bit different because it involves strip tease." We weren't really doing a strip tease. We had the same kind of style, like we had our corsets on and our big skirts and everything.

The girl who started the troupe, Vaudie Va-Boom, and I, we both were like, "Oh, this is fun and interesting, like a little bit different," but we had always performed in large groups. We had never done solo performance and lot of Burlesque is performing solo. Sometimes there are troupes, but it's mostly solo 00:10:00performance. We were both terrified and we had both been dancing onstage our whole lives so we'd been on stage and performed, but never doing it solo. So, we're like, "Okay, I want to do this. You want to do this. Let's do it together." We started a duo and we called it the Dishrag Dollies because we wanted something that kind of sounded a grimy, like a little punk rock vibe, but at the same time kind of classic Burlesque and vintage sounding. We started doing our duet and doing that at Burlesque shows to kind of get more comfortable with doing strip tease in general, and then also not having a large number of people with you on stage.

LK: And then how did you develop your career from there?

RR: We both kind of decided we wanted to start branching out to doing solo performance. So, we started doing that. I would say I started doing that around 00:11:002010, shortly before I moved up to Portland. I did start performing solo in the Bay Area, so mostly Oakland, San Francisco, and then moved up here. That's where I feel like I really started getting more involved in the Burlesque community and also getting more involved with solo performance in general. It did take me a little bit of time to start doing a good amount of shows and getting to know everyone up here. I feel more like 2012 was when I really started getting to know the Burlesque scene in Portland, just getting to know everyone in general.

LK: And then costumes: tell me about your costumes.

RR: I like to make my own costumes. I don't make everything, but when I do make my own costumes, I tend to repurpose a lot of materials. I'm not good at using 00:12:00patterns; they terrify me. That's one of my goals in life is to get better at using patterns in general. But I think this is how I've been making clothes since I was young in general, is going to the Goodwill, buying something, being like, "Oh, I can visualize that turning into this." So for example, I have a Mother Nature act where the whole thing starts out in this green robe with long sleeves and flowers that are all attached to it, lots of tulle, very flow-y. And that was originally a white wedding dress that I got at the Goodwill. I cut it all up and then I change it into a robe, dyed it green, and added all this bling to it. So, that's kind of my style of creating costumes just because that's what I more feel comfortable with and I do like that I'm repurposing, reusing something, too.

LK: What's your costume studio space like?


RR: I'm very lucky that I have a craft room in my house. We have the whole finished basement, being that we're in Portland and have an older house. I'm able to have a space where I can keep all of my costumes. My husband built, just from Home Depot, a really nice costume rack, so it's just out of old piping attached to the ceiling and I can hang all my dresses and everything. Then I have a table with my sewing machine and the little ring light that I set up because it's in the basement and it's very dark down there. So, I have a little makeshift studio. I have mirrors that I have gotten just from Craigslist that I have on the wall so I'm able to practice when we do group acts. In my troupe, everyone usually comes over to my house because I have a nice space and we can do it all there.

LK: That's great. So, you've done Burlesque in the Bay Area and now in Portland. 00:14:00What's the Burlesque community like in Portland?

RR: I would say style-wise it's pretty diverse, like we have a lot of different things going on. It's very saturated. I would say there's a lot of neo [Burlesque], there's a lot of classic [Burlesque.] Then me and my friends tend to do very alternative stuff. We have our metal Burlesque troupe. So, it's nice because it's kind of all over the place with different things. I feel like being a Burlesque performer in Portland in general, our whole motto of "keeping it weird" and everything, like whatever you're into you can find it in Portland. I feel like there's a lot going on, which is really neat because not everyone is into the same thing. It's easy to kind of find your niche and what you're into and there's probably going to be a show for you that's going to be a great match for you to perform at.


LK: And then the audiences: who comes to see Burlesque?

RR: I would say the audience tends to be pretty diverse. Looking at the audience, I tend to realize it is usually more women than men, which I guess people would think it would be the opposite way around. But a good mix of people. I would say, being that it is we are doing a strip tease, it tends to be more liberal leaning people in general. I don't think you would find someone super conservative at a Burlesque show, but it's a very diverse crowd with the people that are there, which I think is cool.

LK: Tell me about the heavy metal and Burlesque connection.

RR: In 2010 my friends Rocket and Vera Mysteria started Sign of the Beast Burlesque, which is the troupe that I'm in. And it had been just a show where 00:16:00they were like, "Okay, we're into metal and alternative music and we also do Burlesque. We want to create a show for that." So, they started calling it Metalesque, so that was just the group of friends performing and doing that. I joined it a couple years after they started it. I remember I went to my first Metalesque show because I had heard, "Oh, there's girls performing to metal doing Burlesque," and those are things that I love. So, I remember me and my husband went to it and he's in metal bands. And I was just like, "Oh my god, these girls are so cool." Like I just remember thinking this was the coolest thing ever and I was like, "They need to become my friends [laughs] because they're so awesome." And so, that's when I decided I wanted to get to know them 00:17:00and be a part of that.

So, it started out being Metalesque, just a show. And then in 2016, we changed it into being a festival. We have people that apply from all over the world that come to do the festival and the festival is the first weekend of October, so it's an annual festival that happens. We still do our local shows. That is just us members of Sign of the Beast in the troupe. Right now, for this year, we're planning to do quarterly shows and then we'll have a special guest who is not in our troupe, but they'll also come do a heavy metal Burlesque performance. So, it's a lot of fun. It's just basically metal and Burlesque put together [laughs].

LK: And do you help produce and plan? Tell us all about what goes on.

RR: Yeah, so I joined the production team of Metalesque Fest, I guess like a 00:18:00year and a half ago. So, 2020 will be my second year working on it. It's a lot of fun. I'd been in the troupe for a while. Once Hai Fleisch and Rocket starting doing the Metalesque Fest, I just saw all the work going into it and I had produced one show solo on my own before. I've done a little bit of producing, not a ton, just because it is a lot of work and it kind of stresses me out being one person doing all of this work. What I figured with them is it's two of them doing this huge festival. If I come on, I can help do work, but it's not me doing all of it. I like having other people to bounce things off of with something that's that big of a production. Also, Dee Dee Pepper joined the same time as me and Wanda Bones. So, we have five of us who are producers of this 00:19:00festival. And it's a lot. It's a lot of fun, but it is a lot of work at the same time, too.

LK: If I can ask about finances, how does one finance that? Upfront? Do you recoup your investment? How does that all work?

RR: I would say we try to start out with having a bank from previous years, previous shows, that we can use that money to start it with. It's very expensive to produce a Burlesque show or Burlesque festival in general because we have a headliner that we have to pay, fly them out to the festival. And then not all festivals are like this, but we guarantee that everyone's going to make a certain amount of money at our festival. So, you're paying for that, too. So, it's very involved with all that. What was the original question? Sorry [laughs].


LK: Just how you finance that what you put up upfront, do you recoup what you...?

RR: Yeah, so I would say doing that and then also having sponsors. We try to get sponsors that would make sense with our festival.

LK: What do they give?

RR: We try to get sponsors who will give us money [laughs]. And that will go towards our headliners and all our fees that we have for the festival in general. But also we do raffles, so that's a really good way to have incentives for people at the festival to basically donate money and they get something out of it. We don't have tipping out at our festival. Some people do. Instead of doing that, we have the raffles, so that's something that people can win things. And that's money that will go back to the performers. So, I think it is good to start out with some money. You need to have that in general before you start the 00:21:00festival. But then we do have an application fee if you do apply to the festival. So that is a big portion, too, of paying for the things that we need to pay for in order to put it on, as well.

LK: Do you travel to perform at festivals in other places?

RR: I have. I haven't done a ton of it. That's actually something that I'm working on for 2020, is that I do want to travel more and get out of the west coast area. That's my goal, is to prepare for that, get some really good videos of acts I have because you really need to have that before you go and apply to a festival and try to get into one. So, my goal is to do a lot more Burlesque festivals.

LK: How does one get those videos?

RR: Just from performing in general, you know? Some of the shows that we do, 00:22:00there will be a videographer there and then we will pay them to get a good professional video. Or sometimes I'll make my husband take a video of me on his cell phone, which is not the best. So, usually just you got to be preforming in general and have your act ready. Sometimes you could get away with something that's in your bedroom, like that kind of thing. But it's best to have professional video showing what your act is going to be like onstage became I think it's very different seeing it on stage with an audience as opposed to doing it in your bedroom.

LK: That's a lot to juggle. So, can you paint us a picture? Pick a week: describe a week in the life of Rummy Rose.

RR: Okay. I would say every morning I start out with a very giant cup of coffee 00:23:00[laughs]. It usually looks something like this. [holds up a big coffee cup.] Maybe I'll have two. I start out with that and I would say the first thing I usually do is I get on my phone and I post to social media. That's a very important part of promoting yourself nowadays. Given that I'm also a professional hair stylist, that's my day job, that's another big part of it, too. I go on my Rummy Rose page, I'm going to post something that morning: a show I have coming up, or a photoshoot I just did, just engaging people with my page. Then I go onto my hair page and I'm going to post a picture that I took of one of my clients. That, to me, is really important too, because we don't really do ads in newspapers anymore. It's just doing social media. I get a lot of clients from seeing my social media page, friends of friends being like, "Hey, 00:24:00check her out. Look at this cool stuff she's done." So yeah, posting on there. And then on my posting days for Sign of the Beast Burlesque, going on there and posting on that page, as well. So, it's a lot to do. I like to do it in the morning. I find that that's best because when I'm working at my day job, I'm there for ten, eleven hours. I have a very long day. I can't be on my phone all day interacting with people on social media, so I like to do it first thing in the morning. That way I have some time while I'm getting ready for work to engage with people, get on there, do that.

Then I would say I go into looking at emails, emailing for Burlesque shows, emailing or texting my clients, so I do a lot of that. Being that I'm an independent contractor, I basically work for myself doing hair, so I'm always booking clients, I'm always on my phone working with people. I do a lot of that. 00:25:00Then it would be, if I'm going to work, going to the salon, working. On my days off, I usually like to go to the gym, get like an hour workout in, stretch really well after that, practice my splits and headstands and whatever else I'm working on at the moment. I think for me, trying to be active is really important with being a performer. It takes a lot of stamina to get through a four minute long set, even if you're not dancing or doing something really acrobatic. It's just a lot of energy you're putting out there and I find, for me, working out and going to the gym or dance classes or whatever really helps to build that stamina so I can be on stage and not feel like I'm going to die, and get through my set and just have more energy to put out there in general.

So doing that, working, costuming. I come home from work. If I'm inspired by a 00:26:00new act, I'll sit down and start working on costuming. If I have a show coming up, it's going to be running that act, getting ready for that show: rehearsing, practicing, making sure that none of my costuming pieces are falling apart because after a lot of wear and tear and ripping pieces off, things tend to fall apart and need some love and restitching. I would say with Burlesque and my day job, that's kind of what my week looks like and then try to squeeze in hanging out with my three cats and my husband, and having somewhat of a social life with my friends [laughs]. So, I'm a very busy person, but I think I like it that way. I feel very sluggish if I don't have a lot going on. I think I thrive off of having a lot going on in my life and keeping that momentum going.


LK: How many acts do you have in your repertoire right now?

RR: I would have to go and count, but it's funny actually; I just posted this morning on my Instagram that I counted and I am working on six new acts right now [laughs]. I know, I'm kind of crazy. This time of year, every January, I tend to be like, "Okay, I want to work on new stuff." And being in Portland, it's cold and rainy. I don't want to go outside, so I tend to go into my craft room and that's where I am for hours and I just get really motivated. I'm working on six acts right now that are either acts I've already had that I'm revamping or brand new acts. I feel like in the last year I've kind of realized that I have a lot of acts that I've done over the years since I've been performing for so long now that I'm like, "Oh, I have that act. I don't really 00:28:00like that act, but it's sitting in my craft room and I might as well do something with it or get rid of it." I'm kind of going through everything and either revamping it or tossing it out or doing something new, so that way I'm more having acts that are festival-ready, having things that I'm proud of, that I want to put out there, put on the stage. I would say, if I had to count, I would say I have about ten acts that are ready to be performed and everything.

LK: What is your process for creating a new piece of Burlesque for you to perform?

RR: It usually starts with the music for me. I really love music and I think that's where I tend to find most of my inspiration starting out. I'll hear a song and I'm like, "Oh, I love that song. I really want to perform to it." I'll start with that and I tend to really envision what it would look like onstage. I 00:29:00imagine myself onstage: What am I wearing? What kind of dancing am I doing? What is the mood? What is that character? And then sometimes it will start with a costume piece and I'm like, "Okay, I'm going to make this thing. I really want to make this." Then I put the music to it and put the choreography to it. But I do tend to start with music most of the time.

LK: And does that process change when you're invited to do a show that's a theme show where the theme is decided by the producer?

RR: Yeah, I would say it does change that. I think for that, I would start with the act concept and then the music might come after that. It would be something that fits the mood.

LK: There's a lot of awareness right now about cultural appropriation. What are 00:30:00your considerations when you're putting together a routine or a festival or a show?

RR: Yeah, that's something that I am definitely trying to be aware of and educate myself just in general. Being that I am a white, cis performer, I try to really think about my act, any act that I'm working on, and thinking, "Am I appropriating anyone with this act in any way?" Being my costuming, movement, whatever. And just try to put myself in someone else's place and think, "Okay, would someone be offended by this act in any way?" and just being very aware of that. And I would say I'm always still learning too, and just trying to be aware in general. I think as a Burlesque performer, that is something very important to take a look at.

LK: And what about diversity in Burlesque in Portland, what are you seeing? How 00:31:00do you define diversity? And how are you achieving that in your work?

RR: I think that that is definitely something that is very important. In our metal Burlesque troupe, Sign of the Beast Burlesque, and with our festival, that's something that we've been looking at in general, too. We have our applications open up a week earlier for POC performers and that is free for them to apply because we realized, looking at our cast, like, "Okay, this is mostly all white, cis women. We need to do something about that and try to change this, make this more inclusive. And how can we go about approaching that and changing that? What can we do?" So, I think that's something we're definitely looking at 00:32:00in general that I think is important to do, especially being in Portland. In general, it's a lot of white people, to put in simply in Portland. That's something that we realize, so it's like, "Okay, how can we make our community more inclusive in what the shows that we're doing, and putting out there are more inclusive in general."

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

RR: Yeah, I feel like it's definitely empowering getting up there and being half naked on stage to an audience of people that are a lot strangers. You might not know a lot of people out there. It's just really being comfortable in your own skin I think is very empowering in general.

LK: Yeah. And so, people talk about Burlesque as a force for social change. How 00:33:00do you see that?

RR: Yeah, I think women in general in our society are taught to not be comfortable in exposing themselves in their own skin. So, I think just really embracing that is a very powerful thing, being proud of your body whatever your size, skin color is, whatever. Just owning that in general is a very powerful thing because we're not really taught that, especially as women. So, it is a powerful force.

LK: What, if any, challenges are facing Burlesque today?

RR: Challenges? I think the "being very inclusive" thing is very important. We 00:34:00just had a Sign of the Beast Burlesque meeting last night, talking about how we can be more inclusive with disabled performers. So, I think that's something that I'm noticing right now and I think other people are taking a look at too, being like, "Okay, what if someone is in a wheelchair? How are we going to get them the same opportunity to perform at our venue on our stage?" How can we tell people, "Okay, if you have some kind of need, this is how we're going to meet that." So, I think that's an important thing to be taking a look at in general. And it could be maybe a mental disability or someone can't handle certain lighting, just being really accommodating in general. I think that's a lot of things we take for granted, that we need to realize, "Hey, there's other people who this thing that I can do and I don't have an issue with is going to be an 00:35:00issue for them," and how can we be more inclusive and include them in our community.

LK: Yeah. And so, final question: What would you like the general public to know or understand about Burlesque?

RR: What would I like people to know? That Burlesque is a lot of fun [laughs]. It's just a really great art form. It's a very empowering art form in general, and people are coming from all different backgrounds to do Burlesque. Some people do work in strip clubs too, some people have all kinds of... you could be like a doctor or a musician or a hairstylist. It's a lot of people just coming together for that art. It's a lot of fun and I'm glad that it's something that 00:36:00still exists and is growing and evolving.

LK: Thank you very much.

RR: Thank you.