Superheroine Shan de Leers reports from the 8th Annual Southwest Burlesque Showcase…
When a festival producer includes #NMisinappropriate as one of the official hashtags for the weekend, you just know you are in for a real good time, and the 8th Annual Southwest Burlesque Showcase did indeed show this broad an inappropriately good time…
My plane lands in Albuquerque at 12:05 and I am greeted by warm dry air. I left Nashville bundled against the cold wet weather, so I am immediately floored by this change in climate. I have spent the better part of the day in airports with crying babies and entitled cowboys, but once I arrive at my hostess Annie O’Roar’s house there is a fluffy orange cat on my bed! So all is immediately right with the world. I snuggle up with the fluff ball and am immediately out. I wake up a few hours later to fresh coffee from Annie and plan the day. Sweets shopping for my soon to arrive galentine Freya West and showgirl shopping are squeezed in before some run through fun in the Burlesque Noir studio with Annie and my booty babe General Blackery.
I work as part of an eight lady troupe in Nashville, so it was fun to see members of another troupe rehearsing together. Burlesque is so different for each of us because it is such a complexly personal thing, but it is always refreshing to see that pieces of the process are the same for us all, even within the workings of a group dynamic. Rehearsing is a pain for everyone! Take it off. Put it on. Take it off. Yaya! Then it’s time to shower, power nap, and boogie!
I pit stop for green chile loaded tacos because Operation Green Chile is a real thing in my world, and off I go to the venue.
I am greeted by part of the Peaks and Pasties crew before settling in to eat while other performers run through. When I turn around during a lull in music to see if the stage is free I am greeted by a lovely Joy Coy and a hug before I spin myself about the stage. Performers trickle in and we split between the backstage areas for a bit more comfort before suiting up for the night… and then it happens. Somehow during the move I have lost my panties; before I have a complete conniption and have to ask the bartender to make an announcement (Wonder Woman losing her panties in a bar? Really!) I find them… in my bag. OY.
The show is a mix of performances: classic, neo, comedy, drama, nerdery, singing, sass – all the wonderful makings for a Real Good Naked Time. We had a serious nerdbomb dropped on us by Caramel Knowledge with her Nicki Fury act. Rhinestoned Eye Patch. Bandolier Pastie. Y’all. If the fact that I was about to close out the first act as a stripping Wonder Woman didn’t give away my nerdery, the ferocity of my cheering definitely did. I closed out the first half in my gauntlets and cape and shimmied so hard I ended up tossing an assel to the crowd. It is always fantastic to do a number in its originally planned and unrestricted costuming. In Nashville we have to abide misinterpreted Blue Laws with regard to our costuming, so to be onstage in a thong, not worrying if a tiny slip of underboob is going to result in an outrageous fine, I was even more in the moment. That is one of my favourite parts of travelling; it was great.
After a break to chit chat about making childhood dreams come true (I do what I can) the show was back on a roll with more killer performances. Joy Coy tied on the pointe shoes for her ‘Ophelia Interrupted’ number and I got my swoon on. But my favourite of the night was our perfectly placed closer. Matt Finish ended the night with his award winning Jungle Book act. I got to watch him win Princess of A Peel at the Iowa Burlesque Festival with this act last year, but that was from side stage. This time I was front and centre. Matt’s flawless timing just blows me away. His attention to detail in the act, from the rhinestoned toes to that tasty final treat, is also perfectly executed with flawless lines. I just love it. Beginning to end.
After the show and the festival’s first AssStack, a Noir de Leers reunion requirement, I headed back to Annie’s to greet my other half; the boobs to my bum, Freya had arrived! We spent a few hours, old married couple that we are, talking about the show and the 36 hours we had spent apart. Yup. Those guys. Then we made a loose plan for the rest of the festival over more tacos and then hit the sheets. See, Operation Green Chile.
Freya and I take a walk through Nob Hill and continue Operation Green Chile with monster breakfast burritos at Frontier before making the hop over to the host hotel. We are greeted in the lobby by a gaggle of gorgeous as we check in. Bags are dropped and we head to the Kimo Theatre for Freya to sound check. Even as we approach I know I am done for, immediate love for that building, and then I see the theatre. It is perfection. I have seen it in photo and video, and even had other performers warn me, but it is remarkable in real life. And I am in for an even bigger treat: we get to sneak peak on Shannon Doah as she techs. I am in showgirl heaven.
I head to the theatre early with Freya and we are greeted by The Hulk. More on that in a moment. The Kimo has beautiful dressing rooms; such a treat to have mirrors with beauty lights, and bathrooms, and hanging space!
I am a huge sucker for community and being backstage in a truly love-filled space is almost as fulfilling for me as the putting my art out there aspect of performing. Bonus: everyone is just so beautiful and in some state of giving you a naked hug and telling you how pretty you look; winners all around if I am the one keeping score. After many reunions and much hugging I head to take my seat, front row ecstasy.
The night starts and I am delighted to finally see Dr. Lucky in action. Co-hosting alongside Drunk Uncle Devon D. she is delightfully dirty, and I am in love. Freya West is also on fire; her Frazetta inspired sorceress act completely enchants the audience. I love being so familiar with an act that I can actually see the changes that are played to each audience. That lady knows how to tease a room. Then the heroes arrive. The Hulk is now joined by Spider Man, Captain America and Hawkeye… be still my nerdboner. The Boys of Burlesque Noir and Rick O’Shea of Sons of Perdition perform an acrobatic spectacular as they strip out of custom Booty and the Geek suits. I already know I am going to be hoarse the next day and the first act isn’t even over, so let’s skip to that!
Bazuka Joe closes out the set with one of my top five acts to watch; oh Speed Racer, you’re just such a dream! My perfect seat means I am treated to some extra special hip thrusts and a wink before Joe gives us all the big payoff in the final stretch. I do indeed need a smoke break by that point so I hit the backstage door to split a clove before we all jump into the second half of the debauchery.
We are welcomed back by more acrobatic nerd action from Annie O’Roar as The Matrix’ Trinity defeating all the boys from the weekends showcase dressed as Smiths. Ray Gunn’s Morpheus even has an ass slap for Annie at the battle’s end, as she has successfully defeated and deshirted her foes. We are treated to Lily Liqueur‘s beautiful swan and a classic group number from the ladies of Burlesque Noir which is filled with amazing configurations that, as someone who does large group numbers regularly, leaves me in awe. And then I get a treat I have been dying to see in person. I was not fully prepared for the level of love that I have for Red Rum‘s Mummy act; I have watched video of it dozens of times and was so excited when I saw her painting her face before the show. The movement plays perfectly to her concept and the whole thing is matched with equal precision by the costuming. Exploding puffs of powder from her wraps set to Another One Bites the Dust, it is perfection and I don’t think the night can have a top to it, but we still have a legend and a headliner left. I love this life.
Shannon Doah is the Showcase’s Friday night legend and she takes us on a psychedelic trip through time. ‘The Good Bad Girl’ delighted and teased the theatre with grinding hips and fluid flair, making a duster change after working the stage with a boa and taking a second bow to a standing ovation before Ray Gunn closed out the night with a spectacular new Steampunk piece. I was seated next to a burlesque virgin who kept exclaiming, “OH! How he can dance!” throughout Ray’s number and was on her feet before anyone else at the end of the act. The way the Stage Door Johnnies perfectly blend comedy and sensuality as dancers is always inspiring to watch. And we have yet to see them take to the stage together… oh Saturday, you are so close.
Post show brings hotel balcony reunions with Lola Spitfire and late night taco talks with Freya and Ray about performing in different states and being inventive to work around restrictions, and just catching up while Judith Stein drops knowledge on oh so many subjects. We skip the afterafter party in order to be up for breakfast before a day of classes and Saturday night’s showcase fun.
Operation Green Chile continues Saturday morning before we head to a class with Dr. Lucky. We do several exercises in class to heighten our ability to connect to the audience. From buffooning to accessing being vulnerable to an entire crowd at once, the class covers a wide range of ways to make every performance more memorable for your audience. After that, due to technical difficulties Freya and I end up being treated to a special Slumber Party School lecture from Dustin Wax on the Exotic Dancers League in our hotel room. It was great to have a more one on one style class and really talk with Dustin about the League and The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum; I can’t wait to visit for this year’s Weekender! Dustin left to set up the BHoF display and Freya and I had a naked pizza detour from Operation Green Chile while we got ready for the show.
Remember how I mentioned us being an old married couple? We individually packed our Booty and the Geek Kitty Playsuits, and so decided to match the poster girl for the night.
The amazing support that is such a big party of our community was obvious in the number of people throughout the night who commented on our outfits already knowing where they came from – thanks Mags! We are again front row for Cora Vette and Devin D. to guide us through the night.
We are treated to an out of this world routine by Whiskey Darling, and Red Snapper and Mr. Snapper glide right into my heart with their burlesque twist on a traditional couples dance. But the most special moment for me is watching my Tennessee based sparkle sister Kisa von Teasa discover more and more hidden blasters as the stripping Killer Queen. That ‘Sweet Little Psycho’ is about to go under the knife and won’t be performing for a while, so seeing her last strip across the stage before the break was emotional and she killed. Freya and I knew we were in for a treat as Kisa’s number let us in on the fact that there was a group of burlesque virgins behind us. It is always extra fun to hear newbies get a payoff they didn’t even know they wanted. Their delight at the final reveal of Jett Adore’s award winning peacock act made the moment even more satisfying.
The second act brought my beloved Orchid Mei to the stage. For me, Mei embodies classic burlesque. Every moment of her performances showcase the grace of the classic strip tease, and then she picks up a pair of silk fans. No one moves silk fans the way Mei does; I super geeked out later that night talking to her about the training she took to move so flawlessly.
The second act was filled with even more magic. From Showcase co-producer Holly Rebelle killing it in a floorwork heavy number, to The Luminous Pariah finally finding his sexy as a singing Ludo. And then there was my booty babe General Blackery serving us a healthy dose of Eartha Kitt in her Catwoman routine.
But it was ‘The Lady Divine’ Judith Stein who stole the night for me with one of the most brilliant acts I have ever seen. The fact that it was a burlesque legend up there murdering us with it made it even more fulfilling. After she brought the house to its feet, we were finished off by the weekend headliners finally getting onstage together: The Stage Door Johnnies – Jett, Joe and Ray – hit us with a ‘Bang! Boom! Pow!’ like only they can. The after party brought more dancing and drinks and catching up with friends we only get to see at festivals. We shut the bar down with Mei and had an intimate chance encounter with 2/3 of the Johnnies as we lingered on the streets of Albuquerque.
We have a bit more time with the weekend’s brunchers before leaving. We dole out goodbyes and I get my one final AssStack demand with the Noir ladies in attendance before Freya and I jet to the airport.
We meet up with the lovely Lily Liqueur who is also on our plane and then we are off, back to Nashville by way of Dallas, and I am filled with that weird mix of happiness to return to my bed, inspiration from what I have been a part of for the past few days, and the bittersweet ‘until next time’s with my friends.
I can honestly say the Southwest Burlesque Showcase was everything I wanted it to be, and thanks to the hardworking team behind it, a little more. As a festival that pays all of its performers, they still throw in perks like discounted tickets to the other nights of the festival and usher around everyone that they can. It made me feel valued, and when you are travelling and doing something as cost-intensive as a festival, that is always a good thing. They made my first time a blast and I can not wait to head back to the desert next year, because even when it is being inappropriate, NM is delightful.
Shan de Leers
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.