According to a recent press release: "The Michigan Burlesque Festival started in 2012 with the intent to bring some of the world’s most unique performers to Detroit in hopes of reuniting the traditional concepts of original burlesque theater, where dancers and vaudevillians shared a stage to provide well rounded and entertaining sexy comedic show. It has grown into a two-day festival featuring not-to-miss local talent and award-winning performance artists and world renown burlesque performers, such as past headliners: Lushes LaMoan, Bella Sin, The Weird Sisters, Red Hot Annie, Super Happy Funtime Burlesque, Russell Brunner, Roxi D’Lite, Dangrrr Doll, Ray Gunn, Mr. Gorgeous, Jeez Loueez, Satori Circus, Hank E Panky, Dirty Martini along with so many more phenomenal performers." We get the performer Cabana Macabre to discuss routines, influences, and much more...
1. Tell us a little about your latest developed routine. What drove you to choose the particular piece of music, create the costume, and pull together the specific moves in the routine? Are there any links between that routine and your “real life” that tie the two side of you together?
Lucy the Vampyr came about as an idea when I was in a production of Lucia di Lammermoor a few years ago. I made a joke about Lucia di Westenra would make a great opera, and that the Mad Scene ("Il Dulce Suono") would be better if it were her rebirth as a vampire, rather than a murderer. It turned in my head for a while before I committed to the idea, inspired by Eiko Ishioka's bridal costuming for Lucy in "Bram Stoker's Dracula." The music I chose, "The Diva Dance" from "The Fifth Element," which includes the first movement of the Mad Scene as an intro, was a great opportunity to show off my pipes. Lucy returns to her sepulcher as a vampire, and attempts to seduce her fiancé. Lucia returns to her wedding party, having slaughtered her lover, without realizing what she's done. I have a deep connection to both of these pieces, and it make sense to fuse them in this way.
2. What got you into burlesque, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a performer? Building on that, is there a specific performer or act that guided your performances in the beginning?
Old Hollywood movies got me into burlesque. I considered it one of many facets of vaudeville, but didn't consider it as a career option until I was in my late 20s. I have been singing professionally since I was 15, and when I started doing burlesque I really wanted to incorporate singing into the routines. Movie musicals were a big inspiration for me, especially Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Adelaide from Guys and Dolls.
3. Who would be your main influences or performers you admire?
My own performances are very much influenced by Mae West, Elvira, and Vincent Price. I find myself inspired within the community by performers like Vita DeVoid, Franki Markstone, Marcy Richardson, and Siomai Moore.
4. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a routine with, who would it be, and why?
Broody Valentino. He did an amazing Sunset Boulevard number at Burlypicks last year that I still think about regularly. I would love to see what Golden Age rabbit holes he and I would go down.
5. How would you describe your performance style to someone who’d never seen you perform before? What is one review from the media, an audience member, or a fan has made that made you cringe?
If someone has never seen me perform, I'd emphasize the singing. I am trying to bridge the gap between winking humor and shameless showiness. I want to sing all the songs rumored to be impossible, and do it while stripping. If it isn't a challenge, is it really worth doing? A cringey review from a fringe festival a few years back had them wondering if they were supposed to be laughing or crying over my character, and while I didn't write that show it still stung a little because I clearly wanted people to laugh.
6. When it comes to the musical component of your performance, is there a certain musical genre, artist, or specific song you have always wanted to use? What was the first song you ever used – and what does that song mean to you now?
My wheelhouse includes the Great American Songbook, Broadway, opera, and classic torch songs. This is mostly for practical reasons, as it's important to connect with the audience. If the tune isn't in English, it might as well be familiar. They may not know it's "Carmen," but they know how the song goes. The first song I ever did in a burlesque show was "In Dreams" by Roy Orbison, inspired by Dean Stockwell in the movie Blue Velvet. I dressed as a sexy lady Sandman and sang it an octave up for maximum creep factor, imitating a Theremin with my whistle tones. I haven't performed it since, but I'd love to do it again because it felt nice in my throat. It set me on the path of horrorlesque, and reminds me to keep doing things I like because people aren't going to know they like it too until you show them.
Audience members often compliment me on my talent, and I wish they knew it was NOT talent. It is hours a day of practice. Hours. Every day. For the last 18 years. I think if you can talk, you can sing. Talent is about 5% of it, but determination, education, and discipline make up the rest. As for misconceptions, I've never known anyone to say anything inaccurate about me. I'm a pretty open person.
8. When was the last time you were star struck by a burlesque performer and who was it?
I met Fancy Feast at the Savannah Burlesque Festival last year and she was absolutely sweet and amazing. I bought a dress from her once, and every time I wear it, I have to tell everyone "This used to belong to Fancy Feast!"
9. What is the best part of being a burlesque performer? Conversely, what is the worst part? If you could no longer be a performer for whatever reason, what would be your other artistic outlet?
The best part is creating art that is both concrete and ephemeral, with opportunities to improve upon both aspects with every performance. I make a costume, and I perform an act, and if I like it and want to do it again, I upgrade. The worst part is slaving over an act, getting lost in the details and then ultimately not liking what I've done. I've just wasted time. If I could no longer perform, I would probably be dead. I don't see any avenue in which I'm not performing in some way. If I lose my voice, I'm going to go back to swallowing swords. If I lose all my limbs as well, I'm still swallowing swords. I'll just need an assistant.
10. What is one question you have always wanted someone to ask you as a performer – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?
I'd love to be asked about something completely unrelated to performing and be able to give a thoughtful and eloquent answer. Like you ask me how to make chicken and dumplings, and I succinctly describe the recipe. The question I'm tired of answering: "Is it hard?" YES it's hard! Why else would I do it?
11. Looking back over your burlesque career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over”, even if it didn’t change your current situation?
I wish I hadn't stuck around with exclusive troupes as long as I did. I could only perform within themes, and only when we had shows. I much prefer freelancing and submitting acts I've already created.
12. What is one thing you still want to achieve in the burlesque world? At the end of the day, what contribution to the local burlesque scene do you hope you will be remembered for?
I want to be successful enough in burlesque to have a tour pay for itself. I want to travel all over the place and have it be financially successful enough to where I can have enough cushion to experience the museums and signature foods of everywhere I go. I want people to call out of work and cancel their plans because I'm going to be performing in their city. On the local level, I just want to elevate the caliber of every production I'm in. I see a $20 ticket and I wonder "if it was just me in this show, did I put on a $20 show?" If everyone asked themselves that, I think the scene would step up and everyone, especially the audience, would be more rewarded by the experience.
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