I first met Albadoro Gala (Producer of the Caput Mundi Burlesque Award) where I live, NYC, when she was on a US tour in the spring of 2014. We were performing together at Calamity Chang’s long-running show, Room 69 at Nurse Bettie – a charming jewel box of a venue with a teeny little stage and, I’m betting, the tiniest ‘dressing room’ in showbiz. When you share a changing area that small, you quickly get to know your fellow performers. Albadoro was just as I’d imagined a Roman burlesque star would be – alluring, glowing, and truly sultry and captivating on stage. Even though she didn’t speak a word in her performance, it was as if she was whispering Italian into the audience’s ears when they melted in her presence.
But I digress.
Let’s fast forward to the fall of 2014, after I had applied (fingers crossed!) and been accepted (yay!) into the 2nd Annual Caput Mundi International Burlesque Award (also unofficially known as the Rome Burlesque Festival).
Thursday October 16, 2014
I had never been to Italy before. Despite having recent relatives that were born in Italy and despite being a long-time Vespa owner, I had somehow not been. So, it was such an exciting feeling to be getting on a plane bound for Rome and to hear the flight attendant speaking Italian – a language which makes everything sound like a sexy adventure (even if you’re only being told how to use your seatbelt or to stay seated while plane taxis to the gate). I should also add that, until the Caput Mundi International Burlesque Award I had not performed internationally. So, aside from this being my first visit to Italy, it would also be my first time performing outside the United States.
The Rome airport in real life did not disappoint the version I had imagined in my head: lots of espresso stands surrounded by busy travellers in suits quickly consuming caffeine in tiny porcelain cups with tiny saucers; rhythmic and romantic-sounding announcements in Italian, trickling in sexy syllables from the loudspeakers; and a chaos of suntanned, tall, dark, and handsome livery drivers, smoking cigarettes and whistling for our attention as we waited for our ride outside.
This is where what can only be described as ‘the well-oiled machine’ of the Caput Mundi International Burlesque Award truly came to life.
It is important to note here that Caput Mundi is organised, curated, and run by one woman – Albadoro Gala. Sure, she has a team of very dedicated people who help her make all the magic happen, but she is the force of nature behind it all – and when I say all, I really mean all. Albadoro had everything handled, from our arrival to the airport, to our accommodations, to our ride to the airport scheduled and handled. It was truly impressive to witness.
Albadoro had gathered the flight details of all the performers who were travelling to Rome by plane and had made a detailed list of arrival times and passengers and assigned a driver to pick people up and to deliver them to the hotel. In many cases, Albadoro herself was the assigned driver.
The scenery was surreal as we approached the city: ancient ruins, stunning architecture, intricately carved statues, La Dolce Vita-esque fountains, and The Colosseum. The weather was warm and sunny and so Roman. As we turned down the narrow streets, Vespas zoomed by on either side, and tiny modern cars were parked in tight little spots, and soon enough we arrived at our festival-designated hostel/hotel, The Yellow.
The Yellow is a hip hostel located on a lovely residential block in a non-touristy neighborhood of Rome, but that is within walking distance (15-30 minutes) of many major Roman tourist attractions like the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon. Across the street from the main building of the Yellow is the check-in desk and some private hotel rooms, where Mr. Gotham and I stayed. Caput Mundi covered the cost of my accommodations (which I thought was absolutely wonderful of the festival to do for a non-headlining performer such as myself) and I was given the option of paying a very reasonable rate for a guest to stay with me (if I wanted), which is how Mr. Gotham stayed with me.
For those visiting from elsewhere, especially those from English-speaking places, The Yellow was like a little enclave of home. Everyone who worked the desk spoke perfect English and seemed to either be from the United States or Australia. They were super organised, had all of our paperwork and had received our payment for Mr. Gotham’s stay in advance, and were very friendly and welcoming. We would absolutely stay there again and would recommend it to others. They also seemed to have a very tight relationship with Albadoro and even had a sign out front of the hostel welcoming the performers of the Caput Mundi International Burlesque Award.
Mr. Gotham and I had the rest of the afternoon and evening to just explore Rome before I had to be at tech the next day for my performance in the first night of the festival, Friday October 17, 2014.
Friday October 17, 2014
All performers were given a detailed tech sheet with assigned times for when we needed to be at the performance hall – in full make-up, hair, and costume – for a run through of our performance. The venue where we were to rehearse and perform, Teatro Centrale, was not really close enough to walk, so I did what any New Yorker would do at home and hail a cab – only this time it was way more exciting! I walked from the hotel to a busy main road nearby, looking for available taxis until I found one and chased it down by running in the street till the driver saw me – just like in NYC. You know what they say: When in Rome, do as the New Yorkers do.
Teatro Centrale is a really cool, large theatre space with a big, fully stocked bar when you first walk in, with super high ceilings and an historic (yet somehow modern), airy feel. There are two floors from which the stage is fully visible – the ground floor and a tiered balcony, which had little cabaret tables and offered full waiter service. The stage is high and large and has wings on both sides with access from the main first floor dressing room – so performers can enter from backstage (which is wonderful and something that a New York performer like me doesn’t take for granted). Another interesting feature about the theatre is that it has a bar on the floor directly in front of the stage – so when you are performing on the stage, the bartenders are making drinks facing away from you, and the people standing at the bar waiting for their drinks are directly facing you. I have never seen a bar set up like that before. It was truly unique.
Once I made my way into the dressing room area of the theatre, I saw my first familiar US face: Lil Steph from Philadelphia. I have always loved how it feels when you travel for burlesque and see people you know in a completely different city (for example, BHoF), but seeing someone you know from Philly and NYC in Rome takes that feeling to new heights. It was so exciting. I think as we got dressed for our tech run-through, both of us felt like we were in a dream.
I had never had a tech run-through that involved being fully made-up and in costume before. In my experience with the festivals I have done before, the tech run-through has always been done in whatever clothes you wore to the gig (workout clothes, dress, etc.) with hair in curlers, and undone make-up. This was really a full-blown dressed rehearsal and there were huge, pro video cameras there to capture it all – to be used for press, as promo, and for a reel, etc.
Because I was in Friday night’s show I knew I wouldn’t get to see a lot of it, so it was nice to see a little bit of it during tech. That’s where I saw the Cheesecake Burlesque Revue for the first time, as well as Eva D Be, Sensu’Elle and Miss Vampfire, among others.
After tech, Lil Steph and I took a cab back to the Yellow where we saw BooBoo Darlin’ at a sidewalk cafe table with some local friends. We then ended up gathering Mr. Gotham to get something to eat on the block. We dined al fresco on spaghetti bolognese and salad, getting up to say hello to performers, like one of the festival’s headliners, Bella Blue, who happened to be walking down the street at that moment. We then all parted ways and I made sure to take a little disco nap before I had to be back at the theatre.
The first night of the festival was lovely. An alcove of the lobby of Teatro Centrale was filled with incredible merchandise for sale – not just burlesque stuff, but breathtaking antique art noveau brooches, fabulously chic millinery, drool-worthy vintage theatrical costumes, and sparkling jewellery (which came in handy when I realised that I had forgotten to bring my earrings for my act). The performers and guests who were mingling and browsing in the theatre lobby were in such a joyous mood and were all so beautifully dressed.
Mr. Gotham took in the scene in his suit and bow tie and had a blast getting to know some of the bar and waitstaff – who we both became friends with by the time the weekend was over. In fact, I went to visit him in the balcony after my performance and the entire waitstaff gave me applause and then brought me a celebratory glass of prosecco. I felt like I was in an old movie! It was grand!
As only an Italian could arrange, Albadoro had the dressing rooms filled with a smorgasbord of delicious little bites for all the performers. Being that I have, as many of you know, my own food blog, I feel that I must take a moment to mention the delectable little treats that were on hand for hungry performers: carrots and celery in tiny little glass jars filled with a little bit of olive oil for dipping, a colorful plate of oranges and black olives, tomato bruschetta, and (my favourite and something I am still thinking about) penne pasta with tuna and parsley. Oh – and did I mention that there were many free-flowing bottles of prosecco? If you know me, you know that gesture has my heart.
There were two dressing areas – one that connected directly to the backstage by a staircase (which was a long corridor with several dressing rooms on either side) and a very large room with lots of tables to put make up mirrors and costumes – and where most of the big gourmet spread was. Each performer was assigned to a specific area to dress and I found this a really nice detail. For example, I was in a large room with lots of performers, but each performer was assigned their own spot as indicated with their name on a piece of paper on a specific area of a table. This was great because if you had spent too much time browsing the vendors and socializing with the guests before the show, as I had, you still had a designated area where you could dress and put your things. Nice touch.
Because I was dressing and then queuing up backstage, I did not get to see but two acts of Friday night’s show, Domino Barbeau’s sultry noir, black and green strip involving confetti and fans, and fellow New Yorker and one of the festival’s headliners, Mr. Gorgeous, who is always a sexy, comical delight.
Mr. Gotham and I were really hungry after we got out of the show (around 1 a.m.) and we walked around the block of the hotel to see what might be open. Sometimes you forget that when you aren’t in NYC, places don’t stay open all night to feed you. But we did find a late-night pizza place that was still open on the corner. And we weren’t the only ones. The Cheesecake Burlesque Revue was there as well. While Mr. Gotham and I were sort of draggy and tired, the Cheesecake gals were energetic and singing to the song that was playing in the pizza place, I Don’t Care, I Love It by Icona Pop (which I had to Google just now to know the name of the song or artist). What I didn’t know is that this song (or a version of it, which I will explain shortly) would jokingly become a sort of anthem for this trip. I still laugh so hard any time I hear it.
Stay tuned for Part Two of the Caput Mundi International Burlesque Award Diary from Grace Gotham. APPLY NOW to appear at the 2015 Caput Mundi International Burlesque Award.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.