Duchess Dubois presents her Stockholm Burlesque Festival Diary…
My name is Duchess Dubois and I founded Sweden’s first burlesque troupe, the Amazing Knicker Kittens Burlesque Revue, in 2005. I was also involved in the start-up of Sweden’s first few burlesque clubs, (HootchyKootchy and Kitenville) and in 2006 I founded Burleskakademien, Sweden’s school of burlesque, where greats like Miss Astrid, World Famous *BOB*, Lux LaCroix and Indigo Blue have taught classes. In 2007 I started the Swedish chapter of Molly Crabapple’s Dr.Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, which is now being run by two other Swedish burlesque performers. In 2009 I launched burlesk.se, a Swedish online burlesque community. Since 2011 I have been the resident burlesque column writer in vintage magazine Min Boudouir. In other words, I have, and have had, my finger in many of Sweden’s burlesque pies, something I am very proud of and grateful for.
My Stockholm Burlesque Festival Diary really starts in 2009, when I, then KnickerKitten (and now Blackbird) Lola van Dyke, and stage manager Hanna sat down and began putting the first outlines of what was to eventually become SBF down on paper. The Amazing Knicker Kittens had by then been to BHoF three times and taken home the 2009 ‘Most Classic’ trophy, and we had been to NYBF twice, and to the wonderful Helsinki Burlesque Festival once, and we felt like we had gathered big festival experiences enough to inspire us to do our very own version. The date for the 1st International Stockholm Burlesque Festival was eventually set for the end of October 2010, and included an absolutely stellar line-up with greats such as Indigo Blue, World Famous *BOB* and Trixie Little & the Evil Hate Monkey.
The work on this year’s festival kicked off in the fall of 2011, when Dixie Belle, my long-time Kitten colleague, adopted burlesque sister, and BFF (I am the god mother of her firstborn, just sayin’), and I had the first meeting with our new co-producers Fräulein Frauke and John Paul Bichard. Running a festival is a lot of work and for us it has always been about building and inspiring the Swedish scene, so we were super excited about bringing in another Swedish burlesque team. Fräulein Frauke and her husband John Paul run (what is now Stockholm’s biggest) burlesque club Fräulein Frauke Presents since 2009, so they are seasoned producers with a fantastic creative vein and we felt very pleased that they wanted to join forces with us. Fräulein Frauke is also an internationally acclaimed burlesque performer, and John Paul Bichard is a fantastic burlesque photographer, so they brought many qualities to the table.
During this year of preparations I think we have all become close friends in the way you do when you have six hundred million meetings together and have to find ways to agree on strange things and solve midnight crises over the phone. Me, I am a manic control freak who does many-layered show production really, really well, but in all honesty I couldn’t sell my way out of a wet paper bag, so Frauke and John Paul’s skills in the realm of sponsors, making deals and promoting have been vital, to say the least. The production has been a lot of work and a lot of fun!
9 October 2012
Making the laminates on the Tuesday before the festival felt like the moment it became real for me. There is something official about seeing your headliners’ names in print and laminated. It’s REAL. Crew tech assistant Mooness had the tiresome task of cutting them all out, while I got all the fun of sending them through the trusty laminator. Then we cut oodles of satin ribbon, burned it and tied it, while having pizza on the kitchen floor. Madame Magduschka had to pitch in, too (one of the non-perks of living with the producer, the other one being that you can’t say no to hosting).
While we were doing this, Frauke, JohnPaul, Dixie and volunteers were busy cutting out silver stars for the decór over at the Bichard house. And in the middle of this, we found out that one of our boylesque performers was sick and wasn’t going to make it. Crisis! We threw ourselves online to try and catch Wrong Note Rusty and Bent van der Bleu before they left home (Canada and Finland respectively), to see if they could each pack another act – we wanted more boylesque! And we were lucky, because we caught them in time and they both said yes (but before we knew that, we really sort of freaked out).
10 October 2012
Tech meeting at the venue. Me, Mooness and John Paul met up outside to quickly go through the tech set list and get on the same page. Mooness’ job during the festival was to keep track of sound and light cues in the tech booth and help the tech’s do their job, so naturally she was there. It was really good to get to see the venue again, because somehow you always distort it in your mind, no matter how many times you have been there before. We scouted for some in-house props, and JohnPaul checked for places to hang his photos and for the guest photographer to set up his booth. Mooness and I checked the prop storage space, found some good production tables and took a look at how we would place the x-stage (portable pole) during show.
We also got a few minutes with Daniel, our light tech. He was in the middle of preparations for that night’s event, so he was a bit stressed, and he didn’t look exactly thrilled when we handed him a tech set list the size of a novel. But he promised to look it over, and in the end he was happy for the thorough show outline.
We went home, back to preparations. I practiced my assling for the Thursday night event and made sure I could still fit into the pink crystal embroidered dress I was using for the routine. And I did – just. (I love my dress, and I also love pie.)
Festival Launch – Thursday 11 October 2012
It has been a while since I had proper pre-show nerves. I mean, naturally I always feel a bit nervous, but the whole nausea and anguish is usually not part of it these days. But they made a special appearance for Thursday. Somehow it suddenly strikes you that maybe not a single person – not one – will show up and it will be horrible and humiliating and awful like one of those parties in films where no one shows up, and to boot you will be crushed economically. This is how my mind spent Thursday.
I kept myself busy by preparing the show CDs for Friday and packing all the lists and pens and clip-boards and organising the laminates in a shoe box, and just mainly focusing on ’my’ days as show producer (Friday and Saturday) while Thursday and Sunday were production-wise in the hands of John Paul and Frauke. I was going to dye my hair, too, last minute. To look fancy. And the water in my building was turned off without warning. All day. No drinking water, no makeup clean-up water, no shower, no nothing. So, yes, nauseous.
Also, Thursday was going to be my only performance day of the festival.
The photo exhibit/festival launch/meet and greet was held at our partner hotel Scandic Malmen. When I got there around 4 pm, John Paul, Frauke and Gabriella (another lovely crew member) were busy hanging the photographs from John Paul’s Exquisite Identities series. The small stage was set up, and the hotel staff hooked us up with some pink flower arrangements to match our theme.
Dixie had both kids with her (my two year-old god daughter Judith and her new-born baby brother) and they always help to lift the mood. We set up our snazzy SBF back-drop against one wall, and then when Ruby Luscious and Ivoncita showed up, who were also performing, we went down to our allotted conference room to get ready. Judith hangs around burlesque dancers all the time; she has been backstage at photo sessions and gigs a gazillion times and she has seen all her mom’s friend’s boobs, but she was just sooo fascinated with Ruby’s costume, especially her fancy c-string with feathers (incidentally right at eye-level for Judith), so Ruby got some very close attention and the rest of us got some good laughs.
My right hand woman Jolie showed up, too, ready to be the evening’s stage kitten, before shouldering the task of stage kitten boss and props manager at the main shows on Friday and Saturday.
That whole worry about people not showing up turned out to be for nothing. When we went upstairs, the room was filling up nicely, and we even had some international performers already in place – namely Apathy Angel from New York and WrongNoteRusty from Canada – alongside a number of Swedish performers and burlesque fans. We are still a small community and everyone knows everyone, so there was lots of hugging and kissing all around.
Fräulein Frauke started the evening by singing All That Jazz and then she gave an introduction speech, telling everyone about us producers and the festival. We even had a pink ribbon to cut as an opening ceremony, but no one could find the scissors, so it became more of a symbolic ‘cutting’ and an actual ‘throwing’ of the ribbon, but either way the festival was opened!
Another one of my burlesque babies is Octboberfest Tassel Twirling Championship, which was founded in 2008. It is a championship held in October to help raise money for the pink ribbon campaign while simultaneously creating a burlesque sports event with a cheesy-cheese kitsch atmosphere, and this year it was going to be international for the first time. I was the reigning titleholder, so my Thursday night performance was a sort of stepping down thing, to bring attention to the competition and make room for the new champion who was to be crowned two days later. So, essentially I showed off my varioustassling and assling techniques. Quick and twirly, and the audience seemed to like it – both the regular burlesque aficionados and the stray hotel guests who didn’t quite know what they had stumbled upon.
After that Ivoncita and Ruby Luscious did their beautiful fan dance duel, and then we all mingled to our hearts content, before packing the whole thing up and going home to get some sleep before Friday.
Friday Night Spectacular – 12 October 2012
I arrived at the venue at noon, joined by Jolie, Mooness and Freja from the crew. Dixie was picking up Frauke and John Paul and all their stuff to bring over and Nini was picking up one of our headliners, the lovely LouLou D’vil, to take her to the hotel before soundcheck.
Our venue producer Sara was there and helped us gather in-house props. Naturally we had brought a lot of things with us, but there were some items we knew were available at the venue, so we gathered them all in the prop area backstage and set up a production office, both backstage and side-stage. I also prepared all the crew clipboards with Friday set-lists and pens, and prepared crew laminates, flashlights and electrical tape for prop positioning.
When Dixie arrived we helped her carry things so that she could go for another run. Judith stayed with us and she and Mooness made sure all the flashlights worked and went to explore the stage. The rest of the crew showed up, and John Paul started them all on the decór work (inflating lots and lots and lots of balloons) and got to work on hanging the photos, while Frauke and I went downtown for a radio interview.
The radio crew was super nice and really interested. They had done a bit of homework and were actually interested in talking about more than just glamour and nudity, so we were super pleased to get to go on about the diversity within burlesque performance, and the political implications of burlesque and bodies, and all that juicy stuff we like to get into. They extended our interview to five segments instead of three, and when we got out of there an hour later we felt like it turned out really well (although I will never get used to having the mic pressed up against my mouth, or hearing my own voice recorded, for that matter).
Back at the venue and one hour until soundcheck. Stage not quite finished. Decór not quite finished. Fancy Chance called and asked where her ride was, and I panicked for a minute, before making calls and finding driver Nini and guiding them to one another. Our fantastic artists started showing up. Dixie showed them around backstage, gave them their festival passes, told them where to put bags and not, and showed them mirrors and bathrooms. Jolie and I checked their prop needs again and showed them what we had for them. Jolie set their props up and marked them with tape. Mooness worked with light tech Daniel and sound tech Anton. Stage-manager Hanna arrived and kept an eye on the soundcheck schedule. Friday night host Madame Magduschka showed up.
We managed to handle soundcheck for all three sets, including singing acts and special tech needs, in less than the two scheduled hours. Everybody happy! (I hope!) Crew then took a dinner break. Some artists went back to the hotel and some hung out backstage, getting ready.
Jolie had made black feather headpieces for herself, me and Freja (we were the on stage crew) and all three of us were in crystal covered black Esther Williams bathing suits. We looked very smart, if I do say so myself, with laminates and flashlights around our necks, and crew clipboards and pens in our hands. Hanna and Mooness had gone for the more relaxed t-shirt style. Nini and Dixie were cute in their backstage dresses and were busy setting up the backstage bubbly and snacks, and checking in all our artists. Our guards, Johan and Kalle, had arrived and were handing out passes for the artists who were not performing until Saturday and Sunday but had come to watch the show.
John Paul and Frauke had put the finishing touches to the venue and were handling press and door lists. The venue, Kägelbanan, is a sort of burlesque second home to people in Stockholm; this is where HootchyKootchy Club used to run, and also where we had Club Kittenville a few times over the last year. I ran off to join in the venue staff’s evening meeting and said hello to everyone, including bartenders and door staff. Our drinks sponsor had set up an extra bubbly bar to relieve the pressure on the main bar and let people get cheap drinks.
Doors opened at 8 pm, and we were actually well prepared, ready and completely not freaked out. (This may have been a first for me!)
The first set of the evening was held in the Eastern room. Kitty Sincane’s glamour act derailed when her heel broke (on purpose, of course, but she falls very convincingly – I blame her second career in roller derby), and Adoria Amoria entered in a strait-jacket, cut her own heart out and put it in a box. Gothenburg burlesque madam Swedish Siren showered herself in potato chips in ‘Fatbulous’, German performer Lilly Tiger did an amazing manic hausfrau ironing act, and Kandi von Kane (also from Gothenburg) closed the first set with a beer shower and panties ‘bedazzled’ with cigarette butts and bottle caps.
The first set was actually quite messy, clean-up-wise, with glitter, fake blood, potato chips and beer, but Freja and Jolie were well prepared with brooms, bucket and mop. Our fancy and enormous pink ribbon made of balloons behind the stage (engineered by John Paul) was alas a little frail due to the quality (or lack thereof) of the pink balloons, and they popped in the heat of the stage lights (just a few of them, but still). Thankfully we were aware and the performers had been warned beforehand, and they all took it well – the show must go on, etc. After a quick break, and a costume change for our host Madame Magduschka (my fellow Knicker Kitten and also my better half), we hit the Western stage and got ready to run set number two.
Dixie Belle, who is half polish, was extra pleased that our polish guest performer BettyQ was opening the second set with her mannequin act ‘Fischikella’. Next, the wonderful Glory Pearl from the UK performed her ‘Old Girl, New Tricks’ routine. Not only did she do a super fun transformation from old lady to young burlesquer, she was also such a fantastic trouper, despite delayed flights and other complications before the festival. On stage, she was followed by Swedish performers Ivoncita and Yvette Les Fesses who had joined forces to put together a duo specifically for the festival – oh lord, those dames can shake their asses in synch! It felt like my eyes were vibrating after their shivering, shuddering, shimmying midriff bonanza.
Viola Vixen, currently residing in Berlin, came next with her super gorgeous Gypsy Rose Lee tribute act (and her mesmerising rack!). Beautiful and classic. After her, Wrong Note Rusty performed his last-minute addition act, ‘Canned Heat’. He warned us before that he sometimes got excited and flung costume out into the audience, and he was right! Madame Magduschka and Freja had a job trying to get his tie back that lasted through to the second set, and in the end the inebriated perp was stopped by Rusty himself, in the act of leaving the venue with the tie. I also had to use an upside-down mic stand to pry Mr Wrong Note’s underpants from a pipe in the ceiling. But we got it all back!
Closing the second set was über-glamorous Sophia St Villier and gallons of golden glitter, which the crew and I spent the intermission getting back off stage. Our sparkle-thirsty audience saw us sweeping it off the catwalk, and came and lay down on the floor beneath us to have the glitter land on their bodies – ah, dedication!
Opening the second set were my old burlesque homegirls Blackbird Burlesque Cabaret, five former Knicker Kittens who formed their own troupe in 2010. All of them did a lot of hard work during the production of the festival in 2010, and we were so pleased to have them sparkle on stage this year. They performed their group routine ‘Parapluie Groove’, with live singing by Grandma, and beautiful formations with red umbrellas. It was a special treat for me to see them on stage! They were followed by the return of Ivoncita for her chili solo – she has the most wonderful prop, a giant chili constructed on a rocking horse stand, so cute and so naughty! After her Cherry and Ruby from the UK (such a laugh backstage; my God, they had me in stitches the whole evening!) did their spectacular ‘Candy Marie’ act; very pointe-shoes-crinolines-fans-glamour-and-candy. The audience most certainly got their sweet tooth seen to. The Finnish prince of boylesque, Bent van der Bleu, came next. I love him so! The Finnish scene is so amazing; they are all crazy and creative and so friendly and generous, we all adore our eastern neighbours. And Bent’s ‘Dionysos’ act is no exception. I don’t want to reveal the reveal, but it involves wine and surprises. My mother, who was in the audience, called me up after the show and just yelled, ‘Dionysos!’
Little boy van der Bleu made way for our first headliner, Luna Rosa. I don’t know how to describe her justly, because, simply put, I blush like a schoolgirl just thinking about all that tall, magnetic hotness. She has incredible stage presence, and she builds a mood expertly – just such a great show! After her, Finnish superstar LouLou D’vil took the stage with her brand new tribute act, all in pink. It was the first time she performed in Sweden, and we were so proud to have her in the festival. Not only because she is ridiculously – ridiculously! – amazing, but also because she has proven that even performers from obscure northern European countries can make it internationally. There is just no way to describe her energy on stage; you have to experience it. Even watching from side-stage, like I did all night, my eyes almost hurt from her powerful energy; she is so incredibly present and explosive you just have to stop everything else and watch her, and scream your lungs out. Amazing.
The last performer for Friday night was someone very close to my heart, who has been a part of my own burlesque journey from the start – Fancy Chance. This American residing in the UK was here for the first ever HootchyKootchy Club, and her abandoned bride act, which she performed on the Friday, was one of the first burlesque acts by anyone other than the Knicker Kittens that I saw live, back when I got started. It was a real honour to have her back at the festival; I do love her, and she is a frickin’ comic genius!
Friday night was over. We did a curtain call with confetti bombs, and people danced and had fun, and the venue closed rather too soon for our tastes and we had to get out. The whole team was super pleased – everything had run smoothly, and the performers had all been fantastic and so very different from one another. All items of costume were returned, all props had worked, no one had fallen off the stage, got lost or failed to turn up. Despite one unannounced appearance of glitter, and a runaway towel, the stage management had run smoothly. The audience was super happy. The performers were all so much fun backstage, so easy to work with, so friendly and so fun! (Not to mention incredibly incredible on stage!)
Some people went on to various after parties – allegedly! – but oh no, not I, nor my dedicated crew. We went home, exhausted, happy and stone-cold sober, and tried to get some sleep before meeting up again at 1 pm the next day to start all over again.
Click here for Part Two… (Coming Soon)
Friday by Paul Green/The Red Shoes Burlesque Photography
Saturday by Paul Green/The Red Shoes Burlesque Photography