A MUSE MONDAYS: Loretta Jean

In a community as small as Toronto’s it’s impossible not to find yourself surrounded by familiar faces. Today’s Muse is one of those faces. She takes always takes time for a conversation. Her honestly and empathy are palpable. Her brain is sexy. She is one-third of the Nerd Girl Burlesque. Ladies and gentlemen, the academic with an Ace up her sleeve: Loretta Jean!

Photo cred. Split Sugar Photography

Photo cred. Split Sugar Photography

Gracie: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few of my questions. First, how did you get your name?

Loretta Jean: I started using Loretta Jean in 2008/9 when I was modeling for Nerd Girl Pinups.com. It’s a combination of a maternal great-grandmother and grandmother’s first names. Jean is also my legal middle name. It was almost meant to pay homage to Loretta Young and Loretta Lynn.

Gracie: How long have you been on the scene?

Loretta Jean: I did my first show in 2009, a few gigs in 2010, but things started to get busy in 2011. NGB was officially formed in 2012.

Gracie: Signature colour?

Loretta Jean: Red.

Gracie: Who is your Showgirl inspiration?

Loretta Jean: I adore Dr. Lucky, she’s such an inspiration to me as both a performer and an academic. This summer I had the privilege if attending her intensive workshop weekend, Camp Camp. It was a life altering experience.

Gracie: Do you tassel? Both directions?

Loretta Jean: Yes, and assels. I think they more naturally want to go clockwise though.

Gracie: What is your most unique prop or costume piece?

Loretta Jean: I love the Dalek inspired panel skirt, bra and bolero set that Betty Quirk made for my signature solo act.

Gracie: What’s the most unique show you’ve been a part of?

Loretta Jean: I was so excited to be in the Tarot themed show – Pick A Card in Ann Arbor, MI.

Gracie: If you weren’t a showgirl, what would you be?

Loretta Jean: An academic! Oh wait, I do that anyway. (I’m working on a PhD in performance studies.)

Gracie:Do you think you’ll ever retire?

Loretta Jean: Not until they drag me off the stage, kicking and screaming.

Gracie: Do you have any words for budding showgirls?

Loretta Jean: It’s going to sound corny, but be true to yourself. Find your own style and carve our your own niche. Don’t try to be anyone else, you have unique talents and style to bring to the world.

Gracie: Thank you for your words of wisdom! Follow today’s Muse at the links below! Have a great week and I’ll see you again next Monday. Same Gracie time, same Gracie channel.
Loretta Jean
Website: www.nerdgirlburlesque.ca
Facebook: lorettajeanburlesque
Twitter: @loretta_jean

A MUSE MONDAYS: Helen of Tronna

This is an exciting moment for me. This is the first A Muse Monday, where I have not actually met the Muse. Can you believe it? I mean we’ve crossed eachother’s paths in many ways; at comic conventions and in audiences at shows. But I have not had the pleasure of actually, for realsies, meeting her. Which I hope to remedy very soon. Perhaps at a upcoming Tassels and Tabletops. She is one third of Nerd Girl Burlesque. Ladies and gentlemen, the babe that launched a 1000 strips: Helen of Tronna!

Photo cred. Photolena

Photo cred. Photolena

Gracie: As always, we begin with, how did you get your name?

Helen: I want to play up my heritage, as a third-generation Greek-Canadian who has lived in Hogtown my whole life.

Gracie: How long have you been on the scene?

Helen: I debuted in late 2009.

Gracie: Signature colour?

Helen: I don’t tend to stick to just one. My troupe’s colours are turquoise and pink, and I am drawn to variations on that (teal and purple are a favourite combo).
Somehow, in our group numbers, though, my colour has been yellow.

Gracie: Do you have any secret talents?

Helen: It’s no secret, though I haven’t been able to bust it out as much as I’d like. I have been an English handbell ringer for half my life, and would love to combine burlesque and solo ringing somehow. My bell troupe, Pavlov’s Dogs, have played at a number of burlesque and cabaret events, but it’s becoming more and more of a challenge to find venues with a stage large enough for our setup.

Gracie: Does your audience have a favorite body part?

Helen: Well, I’m just gonna point out that nobody has contested my claim to the Best Ass East of the Don River.

Gracie: How do you build it? Song, costume, concept?

Helen: Each act is different, and all three of those are things that will inspire me on their own.
I have a playlist of songs that I would like to use for burlesque acts, and it’s always growing. Some songs kind of choreograph themselves. For instance, I was at a loss for what to do for Nerd Girl Burlesque’s “Clue” show. Colonel Mustard just wasn’t coming to me the way everyone else’s characters were seeming to come together; so I just picked a slightly murderous-feeling song that had just the right groove for the whole act to just click into place.
Having started my burlesque career in the nerdlesque genre, concept is also a common root. Nerdlesque is all about picking your favourite characters/franchises and creating an act around them; finding the right song to tell the character’s story, re-interpreting their look as a cabaret costume, finding ways to incorporate stripping into the story.
Costuming is possibly my favourite part of burlesque, so sometimes the concept springs from wanting an excuse to make an elaborate costume. I’m still trying to find the right occasion for all the wildlife-themed costumes I’ve made for kicks.

Gracie: What is your favorite costume piece?

Helen: I’m really proud of some of the corsets I’ve made since learning and apprenticing under Christina Manuge. It’s hard to pick just one, but I think my Nightmare Moon corset is my best design to date. I’m looking forward to out-doing it soon, though.

Gracie: What’s the strangest thing you’ve heard backstage?

Helen: This question makes me feel so old and jaded. I’m sure that I’ll read other people’s answers and just think, “Yeah, so? That’s what people say backstage. What’s the big deal?” Nothing is really all that strange in the context of cabaret backstage.

Gracie: Favourite venue in your current city and on the road?

Helen: This is a really tough one. For the size of the city and it’s performance scene, Toronto really doesn’t have very many good venues for burlesque. If there’s a venue that has a large enough backstage for half a dozen performers to get changed comfortably and a large enough stage for three octaves of English handbells, I am all ears.

Gracie: Do you have any words for budding showgirls?

Helen: Do your homework. I did a lot of performances in my early days that I cringe to look back on, because I was cocky and thought I could just throw something together. The way the scene has been growing, there are so many resources and learning opportunities for new performers, the flipside being that the bar is set that much higher. Go to shows and see as many different performers as you can and make note of the things you like and the things that you don’t. Don’t worry too much about having lots of acts, instead work hard on having a couple of really well-polished ones. And when your next gig comes up, you can put half the work into improving what you already have – fixing choreography, enhancing your costume, etc. – and have a much better result than a hurried new act that you may or may not ever perform again.

Gracie: Thank you so much for taking the time to share yourself with my readers. I look forward to really meeting very soon! To learn more about today’s Muse, follow her at the links below!

Website: www.nerdgirlburlesque.ca

Facebook: HelenOfTronna

Twitter: @helenoftronna

A MUSE MONDAYS: Scarlett LaFlamme

I met today’s Muse in the total darkness of Disgracedland, this past October. I don’t know you, but for me the dark is a great place and also the worst place to meet people. I tend to forget my manners, like the essential and ever important introduction. I launch right into comfortable conversation, with total strangers. When I finally do get around to introducing myself, I already liked my conversation partner. It was this fiery lady. Upon realizing it, I spent the next 15 minutes searching the inside my oubliette of a purse for my business card, in hopes that I could add her to my menagerie of local burlesque beauties. Which pretty much brings us to where we are today. Ladies and gentlemen, the blazing bombshell: Scarlett LaFlamme!

Photo Cred. Photolena

Photo Cred. Photolena

Gracie: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few of my questions. First off, how did you get your name?

Scarlett: I read somewhere that a good way to pick a burlesque name was to highlight a physical attribute of yours. I could have gone with boobs, but anything in that vein would have been a pun or a concept name, and I decided that wasn’t for me; I wanted something that sounded like a real name, only more glamorous. So I went with being a redhead as my physical attribute, and wrote down a bunch of names that evoked that. I was almost Ginger LaFlamme, but I went with Scarlett because it sounded stronger and sexier to me – plus, yes, I’ve always loved the character Scarlett O’Hara. I chose LaFlamme because I’m half French and wanted something French.

At the time, I didn’t realize Scarlett was a common burlesque first name – there were none in Toronto, and that was good enough for me. When I did realize that and started to become aware of the larger burlesque community, I considered changing it, but I really liked the first and last name together and felt connected to the name Scarlett. It’s kind of become my real name – my best friends call me Scarlett and introduce me to their non-burlesque friends that way, and I find myself using it more than my legal name.

Gracie: How long have you been on the scene?

Scarlett: I’ve been performing since May 2009.

Gracie: Signature colour?

Scarlett: It would have to be red.

Gracie: What is your signature move?

Scarlett: I just figured out recently that I actually have a signature move. This is a small thing, but whenever I get up from doing floor work (which I love and do a lot, curse the abundance of low stages in Toronto), I do this thing where I face my back to the audience, slightly spread my legs and straighten them so my butt is sticking up, and then I slowly run my hands all the way up the backs of my legs before bringing the rest of my body up. Sometimes I stop my hands at my butt, sometimes I smack it, and sometimes I run my hands all the way up to my hair, but I always run my hands up my legs like that. I did that spontaneously during my debut number, and I’ve never seen anyone else do it. It always gets a good reaction.

Gracie: What is your favourite peel and reveal?

Scarlett: I love stocking peels. I love doing them, and I love watching other people do them well. I like them to be really sexy and drawn out, and I love them being taken off with something other than your hands (teeth, etc.). One of the most disappointing things to me is when someone just sits down and takes their stockings off quickly, like “meh, got that out of the way.” I love the stocking peel because it’s revealing a body part that people see all the time now, but it’s the meaning you put into it that can still make it incredibly sexy.

Gracie: Your most unique prop or costume piece?

Scarlett: Easily my giant dragon. I had him built for my first Game of Thrones show – he’s big and sturdy enough that I lay on him to do stocking peels and rode him offstage (wheels under the feet) for my first Daenerys Targaryen number. In the second Daenerys number, the one I do most often…I do very dirty things to him. That was the first time I had ever spent serious money on an act, and it was well worth it.

Gracie: If you weren’t a showgirl, what would you be?

Scarlett: An actor/writer. I realized that I loved burlesque more than just straight acting when I realized that although I never had money for professional headshots, I had happily spent $700 on a dragon. But I’m still working on that stuff, too. I’m actually collaborating with a good friend in the burlesque community on a writing project.

Gracie: Do you have any words of advice for budding showgirls?

Scarlett: Oh yes – maybe too many!

First: GO SEE SHOWS. I can’t stress that enough. If you love burlesque, this should be an easy one. Learn, network, support your community. Get to know all the producers and other performers. Watch tons of burlesque so you can see what styles you like and what inspires you – and also if someone already has the act you’re dreaming up! (Ask about things like that outright, by the way. If someone has a cat act, that doesn’t mean you can’t have one too, but if someone does something very specific in their act, stay away from copying that.) Let people see you supporting their shows. Meet the other producers and performers in your community with an open mind, get to know people for yourself, and let them get to know you. Not only is the social aspect of burlesque really fun, but producers like to work with performers whom they like as people.

Second: Be humble and patient. Know that you won’t always be the best part of a show, and that you may screw up sometimes, and be okay with that. It’s part of being new and is how you improve. Know that you probably won’t get into everyone’s show at first. Don’t take it personally or get discouraged. Ask for feedback, but don’t bombard the producer with questions about why they didn’t accept your act. Being eager is awesome (definitely keep pitching for all the shows you want to get into) but don’t be aggressive. Also, be willing to kitten and volunteer at the door for shows. I kittened a lot when I first started and kept occasionally doing it for a couple of years. It’s fun and a great way to get to know people and show them your work ethic. It’s also a great way to see how a show works, particularly if you’re thinking of producing at some point. Be willing to take the time to build your burlesque career instead of expecting instant gratification. Trust me, everyone will see and respect your hard work.

Third: Speaking of producing – it’s probably not the best idea to start that before you’ve even performed in someone else’s show. There’s a LOT to learn before you take that on, and believe me, it’s harder than you think it is. I had been performing for almost a year before I formed a troupe – and I formed a troupe and co-produced shows with people who were all much more experienced than I was. I didn’t start solo producing until the first Game of Thrones show, which was about 3-1/2 years after I started performing, and by that time I was finally ready to put on a top-quality show. Think about the product you’re going to be able to put out into the scene. Ask yourself why you’re producing – if you’re only producing to give yourself a performance opportunity and/or you need to be the star of your show, rethink things. Think about what your show offers that other people aren’t already doing.

If you’re going to go ahead with it, I recommend starting by putting on smaller shows in smaller venues that don’t charge rent or charge very low rent. Surround yourself with an awesome stage crew and keep all your overhead low. Check the document in Toronto Burlesque Events to schedule your show properly – you probably don’t want a lot of other shows happening around your brand-new one. And oh yeah…PAY YOUR PERFORMERS WELL. Cut of the door no longer cuts it in Toronto.

Finally, never stop learning! Take classes from different people. One person is not going to give you everything you need and make you a well-rounded performer. Five years in, my favourite part of festivals and expos is still getting to take workshops with performers I respect!

Gracie: Thank you for sharing yourself with us, Scarlett. Follow Scarlett’s shenanigans at the links below. See you lovelies next week. Same Gracie time, same Gracie channel.

Facebook: Blazing Bombshell Burlesque
Twitter: @miss_laflamme

A MUSE MONDAYS: Karen Juanita the French Swan

The first time I had the pleasure of watching this next performer, was at a brunch. Which can I say, as an audience member is my favourite. Its starts late enough that drinking isn’t frowned upon, but gets you home to do your Sunday afternoon laundry. But I digress… as usual. Today’s Muse is graceful and unexpected. Her ability to combine classic modalities to modern beats is refreshing and riveting. Her flaming red hair are a signature. And she’s really nice, like for serious-selflessly nice. Which is something I’m thankful for every time we share a dressing room. Ladies and gentlemen, the enigmatic, Karen Juanita the French Swan!

Photo Cred. Dana Brushette

Photo Cred. Dana Brushette

Gracie: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few of my questions. As always I start with how did you get your name?

Karen: Karen is my real name, and Juanita is my middle name. Both are on my birth certificate. I sometimes go by The French Swan, which Mysterion came up with at one of our gigs and it kind of stuck.

Gracie: How long have you been on the scene?

Karen: Since 2009, when I became a member of a Virginia D’Vine’s burlesque troupe. But I’d been going to burlesque shows since maybe 2004. I used to see Skin Tight Outta Sight at the Cadillac Lounge on Friday nights, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever.

Gracie: Signature colour?

Karen: I would say black. Black and red. Or black and silver. Dark blue. A lot of my acts are dramatic, so I tend to go for the winter shades. But I’ve got some nice pastel colors too.

Gracie: What was your burlesque ah-ha moment?

Karen: A few years ago, I went through some rough life events which led me to that moment. Something went off in my head and I said: “From now on, I’m giving this everything I’ve got”. I took all my training as an actress, all the tools I’d been given over the years, all my life experience and injected it in my dancing. I started renting a studio once a week to practice, which is where a lot of my money goes. I just remembered how my teacher, Jacqueline McClintock, who’s now deceased, had pushed me so far to get to a place of truth and to never to settle for less than my best. Why be casual onstage? And why should my dancing be any different? That was when everything started to make sense, and where everything was going to be used for my craft.

Gracie: What is your favorite peel and reveal?

Karen: I love to play with props and use them to frame and reveal onstage. Or props and objects that transform. I wasn’t fond of the typical belly dance props before I was around burlesque. Burlesque made me want to try them and adapt them to my own style. I love veils for their flowing and ethereal quality. I’ve also played with fans and shawls. And recently, swords.

Gracie: Your most unique prop or costume piece?
Two metal belts that I bought while I was in Paris. They are from a local designer who makes jewelry and belts using chains and rhinestones. They are absolutely unique and stunning. His name is Jose Cotel. He has an atelier in the Marais.

Gracie: If you weren’t a showgirl, what would you be?

Karen: I’ve always loved music videos and dance films. I always wanted to be in them, and I’ve had the chance to do a few. And now I think I’d like to make them. If such things still exist by the time I get around to it. Did I just say I wanted to direct? Yes, I think I just said that LOL!

Gracie: Do you have any words for budding showgirls?

Karen:  Dance is a journey. Everything takes time, including finding your own voice. Even then, you’ll always want to explore new things. Keep listening to your instincts, dance to music that excites you, go out to see shows, get inspired, get involved, take classes and have fun. Be on time, always. Return emails. Say what you mean, mean what you say (on stage and off).

Gracie: Thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself with us, Karen. It is always interesting to learn such details from so many talented entertainers. Please, follow Karen at the links below! And I’ll see you next week. Same Gracie time, same Gracie channel ❤

Facebook: KarenJuanita

Twitter: @juanitabaila