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 producer Mabel Syrup 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?
It has been a while since I have truly developed a new routine. I have been so busy being a producer, stage manager, and a full-time mom of twins, that I haven’t had the chance to get on the stage much in the past 2 years. But my newest creation, not just a revamped act, was featured at the Halfway to Halloween show this past spring. It was a more emotional dance number to “The Sound of Silence”. I did the routine as a ghost to fit the theme of the show, but I tried to tie that physical representation to a story line. The dance piece was to show the effects of human trafficking and objectification, and what it could lead to. I’m pretty sure no one in their right mind understood that message when watching that, but that was the emotions I manifested while creating its choreography. The only downside was the stage size was cut down substantially, so a lot of the moves had to be taken out last minute, but it still worked out pretty good and I am sure I will revamp it and bring it back out of the closet again at some point. It is one of those acts that no one believes I do, because I am clown (literally), so it is a treat to have these randomly laying around. ; )
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?
My roommate Jenna at the WAR Haus (an old punk house) in Ann Arbor in 2007 asked me to help her start a burlesque troupe. She used to do it in Mississippi, and felt Ann Arbor needed that same vibe going on. She had to ask me several times, before I finally agreed to help her out a little here and there. I wound up diving full-in immediately, and becoming owner/director of the troupe, as well as a performer and the class clown. We called ourselves The Tickled Fancy Burlesque Company. We were a large burlesque company (at one point we had 13 members!), and none of us knew what the hell we were doing. Maybe 1-2 of us actually knew anything about burlesque, the rest of us were just artists and punk rockers who were bored and this sounded like fun. We got to the point where we were producing burlesque theater, not just burlesque, and the people loved it! I performed with them for 5 years, before I took my performing career on a solo adventure, and joined up with my burly sistah Valencia Starling to produce other great things, like Venus Rising: an all women art exhibition, and the Michigan Burlesque Festival. Nobody really guided my burlesque career in the beginning, besides Jenna who made me start. But over the years, I have gained so much knowledge and still to this day get inspired by so many of the performers I have had the privilege to work beside. The world is full of talented people, and I am lucky to know a good handful of them.
3. Who would be your main influences or performers you admire?
I have huge admiration for so many performers, for myriads of reasons. As I stated, the world is full of talented people. My list is too long.
4. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a routine with, who would it be, and why?
My burlesque sistah, and partner in clowning, Valencia Starling. She is far more talented than she gives herself credit for, and she puts up with my clowny antics. We have done several pieces together over the many years we’ve known each other, and I love every one of them so darn much. They are all more vaudeville, and just a ton of fun to perform. She moved to Kentucky so I don’t get to play dress-up with my bestie anymore and I miss it.
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?
I am a vaudeville clown with big tits. I will give you the most confusing emotional rollercoaster of your life. Are you laughing? Are you scared? Are you turned on? Gotta watch me to find out! I don’t really let other people’s thoughts about me or my acts bother me. I try to be a decent person to everyone, and I perform for myself and just try and have fun with it all. There are always going to be people who don’t like you. But for every hater, there are a dozen fans.
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?
I use songs from all genres and eras. It just depends on the mood I am going for, or the particular show theme. I try to stay away from too many songs with words. I feel the lyrics can influence the act, and I’m not interested in making music videos. I’m interested in telling my own story. But again, it depends on the mood or theme I am going for. I performed with my burly troupe in a couple of group numbers before I had a solo piece. We did choreographed fan dances to “Sing, Sing, Sing” for a zombie carnival and some other random traditional songs. My first solo piece, I decided to break away from the traditional dances we were doing, and do a clown routine to “Fancy Pants” by Ween. It was a super silly act, where I took off about 12 layers of clothing, before I got to my birthday suit. It has since been revamped and now I perform a version to “Big Girls” by Mika. The song “Fancy Pants” will always hold a special place in my heart. It was only after doing that particular act, and all the laughing I received during it, that sparked my love for clowning around, and the clown character has stuck with me since.
I don’t always do clown. I actually dance, and perform to other styles of burlesque too. But nobody seems to know that, because I tend to get hired more for my comedy and clown styles.
8. When was the last time you were star struck by a burlesque performer and who was it?
Dirty Martini, always. I have worked with her, and have talked with her now, on several occasions and at many different places. And to this day, she still gives me butterflies. Once I actually started to do my research on what the heck burlesque was and where it came from (mind you, many years after I was already performing), she was one of the performers that truly stuck out to me. She is such a nice person, and is so talented it is ridiculous. She is pretty much the only person I have been star struck over. Can’t explain it. She’s just amazing.
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 of being a burlesque performer is being backstage with other performers. It is a whole different kind of a show back there. The worst part of being a burlesque performer is being backstage with other performers. It is a whole different kind of a show back there. I will always be a performer, one way or another. Before burlesque, I was in a band. I have acted in movies, plays and commercials. And you know, I am a clown. Literally. If I couldn’t perform at all, for physical reasons, I like to write. And I have one hell of a memoir going for me. And I have children, so my artistic skills will be cherished for at least a dozen or so years, while I finish their school projects for them the night before they are due.
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?
Surprisingly, nobody has asked me this in the 12 years I have been a burlesque performer - What does your mother think of all this? The answer: She is extremely proud of me, and used to buy clothes and art supplies for my burlesque troupe just because she saw them and thought of us. She shares and likes pretty much ALL of my photos on social media, and is probably my biggest supporter. The question I get the most and hate answering is - What is burlesque? Sure, it has its history and I could go off on where it originated and when it came to America and became over sexualized blah blah blah. Google can also tell you all that. What people should be asking is, what does burlesque mean for you? What it means to me might be completely opposite of the next performers view of burlesque. Everybody’s journey to, and definition of, burlesque is different.
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?
Not really. All mishaps are learning experiences and opportunity for growth.
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?
As a performer I still have not performed internationally, which is on my burly bucket list. As a producer, I would like to see the Michigan Burlesque Festival in a larger and more accommodating venue. We love our current location, but our production is getting larger and more upscale, and we would like to keep growing that momentum. I guess if I had to pick just one legacy, at the end of the day I would want to be remembered at the producer of the Michigan Burlesque Festival, and the clown that gave the burlesque community and fans a chance to connect and network with hundreds of talented burlesque performers from around the world.
MABEL SYRUP LINKS:
MICHIGAN BURLESQUE FESTIVAL LINKS: