Co-producer Sweetpea reports on the delightful Diversi-Tease, which took place in Minneapolis earlier this year…
The Diversi-Tease Showcase was a celebration of beauty in diversity. January 30th – February 1st brought a welcomed mid-winter heat wave to Minneapolis with a five-show bash at the historic Ritz Theater. ‘An Extravagant Weekend of Burlesque in the Twin Cities’ featured live music, novelty acts, aerialists, comedy, drag and, of course, burlesque from forty local and national performers.
This new event was the brainchild of Burlesque Dolls, a new partnership made up of Ballet of the Dolls artistic director Myron Johnson, burlesque starlet and Naked Girls Reading Minneapolis producer Queenie von Curves, and myself – Sweetpea. With Diversi-Tease, we focused on supporting and promoting our beloved art by offering high-calibre performances and highlighting cross-genre collaboration, marrying the grand spectacle of earlier eras with innovative entertainers of today. We wanted to thrill existing fans of burlesque while inspiring a new generation of variety show fans! So we invited a world class emcee to host, award-winning headliners to thrill, a living legend of burlesque to awe and inspire. And then we asked for submissions: ‘If you’re the best at what you do, we want to hear from you!’ What resulted was crazy, sexy and wonderful!
We know we didn’t invent the g-string; It’s a tried and true structure. As performers, producers, and just all-round lovers of burlesque, we’re already aware that this art is particularly special because there is no one way to be, to look, to strip, or to tease. For showcases, festivals, or expositions, we bring our different dishes of succulent sexiness and lay out the tastiest pastied-potlucks ever, full of enough flavours to appeal to every palate. For Diversi-Tease, we just happened to focus on the quality of the medley. (Okay, enough with the food metaphors for a moment.)
Opening night kicked off with ‘Off the Cuff: Improv-a-Tease!’ where we improvised burlesque performances backed by a live jazz band. Tessa von Twinkle brought this format from Indianapolis, and the element of surprise was real; we knew of the dozen possible songs of the evening, but pulled our number out of a hat only an hour before the show! Audience members (and we) were amazed by the results, as it seemed that every song was perfect for each performer’s costume and style. Legend Toni Elling sat at a VIP table with my fiance Seven and Dustin Wax, the Executive Director of the BHoF Museum. She clasped their hands in delight, approving of the sassy and gorgeous ladies moving and peeling to the live music – ‘How it used to be done’ – and singing the lyrics to songs she hadn’t heard live in decades. The evening was finished off with St. Louis class: Sammich the Tramp dished out slapstick complete with a dance done with hobo fans made of newspaper, and Lola van Ella graced (and thrusted) the stage with her rendition of, Let Me Entertain You, where she sang and stripped in the exquisite way that only she can.
‘Workshop Wonderland’ happened during the day of Friday and Saturday. Continuing on the emphasis of assortment, classes offered everything from the art of miming to costuming. I had the pleasure of assisting World Famous *BOB* with her ‘Ultimate Self Confidence for Women’. I experienced it from two perspectives – first as a woman, second as a coach. I was moved, cracked open, changed. For those of you who know… you know. For those who don’t yet: if you get the chance, take the class! (That’s all I can say as we are sworn to secrecy!)
The Friday and Saturday night ‘Snowflake Showcases’ were solidly packed with more uniqueness than the snow banks outside and more talent than you could take a shovel to. The shows began with an opening spectacle (one of two group acts that were shared by video with all the performers and then rehearsed before each show) and ended with Victoria DeVille introducing the hostess with the mostest. World Famous *BOB* had audiences at ‘Hot Dish’ and proceeded to motorboat them into complete love-lust submission with her humour, wit, and, well, her EVERYTHING. As great hosts do, she guided the journey of each show, taking stops to call attention to all the sensational sights and strips. From Nasty Canasta’s ‘Strippermom’ to Lola van Ella’s ‘Sapphic Opera’, Katie Angel’s Klingon tribute to Laika Fox’s reclamation of power, Russell Bruner’s vaudeville tricks to Sydni Deveraux’s golden tease, every performance was spectacular. One favourite act included a very pregnant Nadine DuBois singing Dream a Little Dream of Me – a ‘duet’ with her unborn baby, wearing a see-through pink chiffon gown to show off her co-star by silhouette.
An honour, privilege, and absolute joy of the weekend came in sharing our guest of honour Toni Elling with the Twin Cities. Toni has been near and dear to our city’s burlesque community ever since Lili’s Burlesque Revue met her in Vegas in 2006 (she calls me her Pea and I call her my Angel-Mama). We began holding Legends Challenge fundraising shows every year to raise money specifically to cover her costs to travel to BHoF. You can imagine the delight to finally bring ‘The Duke’s Delight’ here and treat her like the queen she is. She gave a public talk on during the day, sharing her life (oh, the tales!) and tips with eager listeners. And at night she brought the house to its feet over and over again! The second of the Diversi-Tease group acts was a ‘Tableau for Toni’. Once the cast finished our moves and parted the showgirl sea, BOB’s voice announced the legendary ‘Satin Doll’ herself and Toni was escorted out by two dapper stage studs. She greeted and flirted with the crowd to her signature song. Each of her four appearances received standing ovations.
The most spontaneously magically perfect scene of the entire weekend? It happened at the early Saturday show. There was a woman who had met Toni earlier that day, and said she would like to sing for her. Toni, in her always jovial spirit, said she would love it if she did (not actually thinking it would happen). Well, during that Snowflake Showcase, when Toni came out and ‘Satin Doll’ began to play, all of a sudden you heard a beautiful voice booming from the audience and filling the theatre. It was that lady, Reno, standing in the middle of the house, singing to Toni! She knew every word and sang the entire song for Toni, who became brighter and grander than ever. And when the song ended and Toni waved to the crowd, the entire audience stood and waved back. It was ‘a moment’ in the truest sense of the term. Needless to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I remember Sydni coming in from the wings wiping her tears, and then Toni being embraced by a line of performers when she came offstage.
During weekends like this, we look forward to the opportunity to meet new artists, reunite with old friends, see and enjoy performances, and bond deeply with at least a few people. There was an epic dance after-party after the last show, and a fun ice-skating party at an indoor rink on Sunday. I heard of many of our local performers taking visiting artists around town. Following the good advice of some and the great examples of others, such as the Show-Me Burlesque Festival, we made a point to pair out-of-town guests with in-town housing hosts, and the results were a bonding success. I jumped in on the love-fest opportunity, hosting Lola, Sammy, and Tessa during the show, and when the weekend was done, Toni Elling came so we could spend a few extra days together.
Onstage highlights are often easy to convey, but my most precious memories – the ones I feel affect me most deeply, not only as a producer and performer, but enrich me as a person – were the subtle ones backstage and offstage with the cast sharing their true selves and candid moments with one another. For example, we had a live feed set in the green room for any and all performers to watch the shows. Local up-and-comer Vivienne le Detruire came off the stage after an absolutely stunning performance, eyes wet with the kind of happy, grateful tears we can all remember that first time we hit a big stage and effing nailed it. I hugged and congratulated her, and then as she was about to head back to the dressing room I stopped her to say, ‘Hey – don’t go get dressed yet. Go into the green room for a second.’ And then I listened as Viv walked back into that space and her fellow performers erupted into loud cheering and applause for her. That happened over and over throughout the weekend! A valuable mention for my own treasure chest was alone time with Toni, especially when we sat at my kitchen table for hours those extra mornings, sipping coffee and swapping stories (and becoming so much more human to one another, while at the same time she became even more immortal to me).
Not to get all new-agey witchy-woo-woo on you, but I truly believe that intention directs reality. Diversi-Tease was a tone set, a structure built, and the artists, crew, volunteers, sponsors, and audience filled in the rest. We can’t express our gratitude enough for the weekend being the success it was. I’m still hearing about it from people around the city! Even one of our photographers Wijadi Jodi, who has been shooting since the Best of Midwest Burlesk Festival, said, ‘I have to say, the shows were just fantastic. I can’t get over the energy I felt through the performances. The lighting seemed more intense than before, the music selections were great, and even the car alarm worked. You worked hard and it showed. Having Toni Elling there was almost surreal. Anyway, congratulations and thank you for producing such fantastic shows.’
There are grander events to look up to (Jett Adore was just telling me about his upcoming trip to the Helsinki Burlesque Festival, and as I finish this I get to focus on production for BHoF), but I’m elated for the glitter storm that covered our Midwest tundra. From the amazing heart, playfulness, sensuality and soul poured out in performances onstage, to the overall energy created, community fostered, kindness shared, support given, and space held, it was truly a great experience. We are still sparkling…
Thanks for letting me share. May all you pleasin’ teasers be vibrantly healthy, succulently sexy, and authentically happy! Eternal Lust and Love, Sweetpea.
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.