Ruby Joule presents her New Orleans Burlesque Festival Diary…
It is a long, nine hour drive from Austin to New Orleans, but it’s a drive I’ve got used to and now enjoy as I watch the Texas hill country give way to lush swampland and Spanish moss. We rolled into the Crescent City the night before the official start of the New Orleans Burlesque Festival, and there was a pre-party happening at LOA, just outside the French Quarter. It was about midnight when we arrived, but I instantly got a second wind of excitement when I thought of reuniting with some of my dearest burlesque friends!
I dropped my bags at the hotel, slapped on some lipstick and hustled my road-weary self over to LOA, where I was met with the beautiful vision of burlesque folk spilling out into the night-lit street. I began collecting hugs immediately – from ‘the bishop of burlesque’ stage manager extraordinaire David Bishop, the fabulous photographer Derek Jackson, and ravishing raven-haired stars Lydia DeCarllo, Charlotte Treuse, and Athena.
Once inside, I became part of a ‘kitten sandwich’ as I was embraced on either side by Kitten on the Keys and Kitten de Ville. The weekend was off to a marvelous start! I greeted the producer of this whole fine shebang, Rick Delaup, as the master mixologist bartender put something in my hand that was a blend of vodka, champagne, grapefruit, and… magic!
On Thursday, one of my partners in crime, Miss Jolie Goodnight, and I inaugurated the weekend with a trip to the famous Acme Oyster House. First opening its doors in 1910, this place has had over one hundred years to perfect its jambalaya recipe, which is out of this world!
Then we had to investigate a perfume shop we’d only seen before in passing, Hové Parfumeur. It is nice to acquire a lovely fragrance while travelling, as it will always remind you of your adventures away from home. Hové is a perfume boutique with a French Creole pedigree, founded in 1931 by Mrs. Alvin Hovey-King. We test sprayed a few fragrances on our wrists and upper arms, then stepped out to walk a bit and see how they ‘mellowed’. We stood on the street corner, sniffing ourselves, then each other, to get a second opinion.
Undecided, we returned to Hové to try a few others. You can imagine what we smelled like, walking down the street! There was no more time to delay, as Jolie had a shoot with photographer Kaylin Idora. I cannot say enough in praise of Kaylin’s work; she is a phenomenon!
I took my time getting ready for the first show of the festival, The Art of the Striptease, held at Harrah’s Casino Theatre. Kitten de Ville started the night off right with a dazzling golden gown routine and the moves that earned her the title ‘Queen of the Quake!’
Betsy Bottom Dollar won our hearts and laughs with her ‘dirty gardener’ act, and gorgeous GoGo McGregor made a bed of nails look downright luxurious! Bustout Burlesque’s resident chanteuse, Athena, cast a spell on us with her voodoo priestess act, and my own troupe-mate Coco Lectric, the 2010 ‘Queen of Burlesque’, brought exotic flair to a Ziegfeld Follies-esque fan dance, en pointe.
Perle Noire, the 2009 ‘Queen of Burlesque’, began her smouldering tease in a royal purple gown, slowly revving up the pace until the audience was in a frenzy, and 2011 Queen Ginger Valentine performed a stunning tribute to Kitty West as ‘Evangeline the Oyster Girl’, showing us that sometimes pearls are a girl’s best friend!
To cool off after such a hot show, we gathered down the road at St. Lawrence Bar for some delicious cocktails and excited chatter about the amazing show that kicked off the festival.
On Friday, Jolie and I ventured out for some fabulous crepes at Café Conti, then back to Hové Parfumeur to make our final selections, which wasn’t easy! It was going to be a very busy night, with the Mondo Burlesque show happening at Harrah’s, followed by the infamous Bad Girls of Burlesque show later in the night at the House of Blues. Naps were in order. Before the show, I met up with fellow Jigglewatt Coco Lectric and the charming Dan Whitsett of Secrets in Lace lingerie for a quiet respite before the craziness of the evening began. We sipped pinot noir and I learned all sorts of things about the manufacturing of fine nylon stockings, including the fact that there are only three factories in the world that make authentic nylons! Now that’s an endangered species.
I admit, I got rather caught up in conversation, but I made it to the Mondo Burlesque show at Harrah’s in time to see burlesque legend Stephanie Blake bring our Ferris Beuller naughty nurse fantasies to life. It was an epic moment as the clip from the film played on a screen behind her and she was illuminated in her famous nurse’s costume. She definitely has the cure for what ails you!
Armitage Shanks brought his world class dark vaudeville MC skills to the stage, and it was also thrilling to see Imogen Kelly, the current Miss Exotic World, perform. Awarded ‘Reigning Queen of Burlesque’ this year at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, Imogen performed the full-length version of her winning pink flamingo act. It was everything I love about burlesque: clever, funny, sexy, spectacular, and oh so glamorous!
There was a mass exodus from Harrah’s to the House of Blues, where the late show Bad Girls of Burlesque was on, and all bets were off. This has become a notoriously exciting showcase during the New Orleans Burlesque Festival, as it features many non-classic acts and you never know what surprises are in store! MC Cora Vette, diva of many flavours, had the crowd throwing devil horns within the first five minutes as she swaggered across the stage in her shiny black vinyl!
Gal Friday and Peekaboo Pointe left me speechless (but cheering!) with a tassel twirl duel to end them all…
Lydia DeCarllo did a marvellous tribute to another bad girl, burlesque legend Rita Alexander – ‘The Champagne Girl’.
The show was closed out by Cora Vette singing a rousing rendition of Pat Benatar’s All Fired Up, while Coco Lectric fiercely peeled out of her stars and stripes ‘Aunt Sam’ costume, down to a teensy g-string fastened with a padlock. ‘It’s about reproductive rights,’ she shrugged matter-of-factly, then gave one of her signature dazzling grins.
The party that followed in the Foundation Room, the private club above House of Blues, was boisterous with merriment and camaraderie. Sadly, I couldn’t stay till the wee hours because the BIG DAY – the QUEENS competition – was less than twenty-four hours away…
On Saturday, I tried to sleep in, but my eyes kept popping open of their own accord, like a child on Christmas morning! Most of the day was spent drinking tea and stretching, going over key points of my routine in my head, and trying to calm the nerves that rose like a swarm of razor-winged butterflies every so often. Tech rehearsal went smoothly, and before I knew it, it was time for the final preparations before the big show. I was delighted to be sharing a dressing room with Ginger Valentine, who was reprising her enchanting ‘Evangeline the Oyster Girl’ tribute act that night, but I was sad that I couldn’t watch her do it again. In fact, I was so nervous that I couldn’t watch any of the other acts that night!
When it was my turn to take the stage, all nervousness melted away (I love this magical part of performing) and I was simply ecstatic to be performing an ode to one of my favorite hues, ruby red, with a live New Orleans jazz band.
And then, all too soon, it was over and I was exiting stage right. Nothing more to worry about or fret over; I had done my best and now it was time for champagne! While the judges deliberated, all were enthralled by the amazing talents and antics of Russell Bruner, ‘King of Boylesque’ 2012, who defies gravity like an absurdly sexy cartoon.
Before the winners were announced, all contestants were invited back onto the stage for a curtain call and the infamous ‘interview question’ (which isn’t judged, thank goodness). When we were all lined up, Dan Whitsett, the festival’s presenting sponsor, came forth like a knight in shining tuxedo to say a few words. He called for a round of applause for all of us and for the hard work we all put into this dream, to entertain the audience and take the art of burlesque to new and exciting levels. In a competition setting where the stakes feel so high and that drive to succeed can carry some of us away, his words of acknowledgement for ALL of us were very much appreciated.
Then… the envelopes were opened. When they called my name, I was astounded! In a happy daze, I gratefully received my bouquet of roses and took a place stage left as they then called Medianoche as First Runner Up, and then… fellow redhead, Texan, and dear friend Angi B. Lovely as the 2012 ‘Queen of Burlesque’! Confetti cannons exploded! The air blast from one hit me in the back of the head and I jumped. It was an extreme honour to be standing amongst such fearless and talented performers from all over the world, but then to be recognised further was a huge privilege.
The Queen’s Ball that followed at the House of Blues was a flurry of gorgeousness and excitement. This royal celebration boasted one of my favourite performers and friends known for her cleverness and effervescent visage, Champagne Sparkles, who demonstrated her proficiency as a muppet… trainer.
And my dear troupe-mate Jolie Goodnight performed her dazzling pink routine with which she placed in the Viva las Vegas competition earlier this year. It’s always a crowd pleaser!
After some reflection and a good night’s sleep (finally!), it occurred to me that ‘Second Runner Up’ didn’t sound as, well, fabulous… as it felt. It seemed that ‘Princess of Burlesque’ had a much nicer ring to it, and was a title befitting this extremely glamorous and regal of festivals, so I unofficially adopted it. The 2012 New Orleans Burlesque festival was undoubtedly the best one yet, and I am beyond excited to see what the big fifth annual installment has in store for us in 2013!