Kool Kat of the Week: Speaking Easy About Volstead Nights With Ruby Le Chatte; There’s No Prohibiting The Fat Cat Cabaret’s Meow

Posted on: Jun 25th, 2013 By:

Ruby Le Chatte. Photo credit: Mike Curtis, Treehouse Studio.

Ever since Gatsby’s, Atlanta’s Roaring ’20s themed night club opened this spring in Midtown, it seems like there’s a cool Retro event happening there almost every week. This Saturday June 29, it’s Volstead Nights – A Speakeasy Review presented by Fat Cat Cabaret. The ’20s themed night will feature lots of our favorite things – burlesque, cabaret, comedy, aerial silks, magic, hooping and more performed byFat Cat Cabaret troupe members and special guest artists from Atlanta and Nashville, followed by a dance. These include Nashville-based magician John Pyka “Big Daddy Cool,” Atlanta aerial silks performer extraordinaire Persephone Phoenix,  and Rebecca “HoopEssence” DeShon, hula hoop mistress who also has been an ATLRetro Kool Kat of the Week. Tickets are $15, and the show starts at 8.

ATLRetro managed to tease out a scandalous sneak preview from Ruby Le Chatte, Fat Cat Cabaret’s troupe manager and co-founder with Jacqueline Trade. While relatively new the burlesque scene, Ruby has been practicing Egyptian Cabaret style belly dance for over 10 years in both Texas and Georgia. Ruby’s name is derived from her favorite things, her shining red birthstone and her favorite color, as well as “le Chatte” the female feline.. As she says: “Don’t mistake her for a common house cat, the only thing domestic about her is that she lives indoors.”

ATLRetro: As Ruby le Chatte, you take inspiration from your birthstone and the female feline. Did you have a special cat or is it more the long tradition of sexy, mysterious feline-inspired characters/performers from Catwoman to the lethal beauties in Russ Meyer’s FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!?

Ruby Le Chatte: Yes, it’s more the history of the feline. Even in Egyptian times the feline was a symbol of grace and poise.

Julie Newmar as Catwoman in the 1960s BATMAN TV series.

Do you have a favorite feline-inspired character/performer? If yes, why?

As a child I loved watching reruns of the BATMAN TV show with Julie Newmar as Catwoman. She was always sexy and mysterious.

You came to burlesque via Egyptian Cabaret style belly dance. For those less familiar with bellydancing, how does this differ from more traditional belly dance and what drew you to this performance art form?

Egyptian Cabaret is the style of bellydancing that most Americans are used to seeing in Mediterranean restaurants. The performances can be quite sensual, and the costumes are often covered in rhinestones. Around Atlanta, at faires and festivals, it is more likely that you will see a style of belly dance called American Tribal Style dance. The costumes consist of more earthy colors, cowrie shells and large hair flower headdresses. ATS is an amazing style of dance, usually done in group numbers where one dancer takes the lead and her movement dictates the next series of moves that she and the other performers will do. Egyptian Cabaret is more commonly a solo performance, and many props – veils, swords, candles, fans – can be used. I admit, I was first drawn to the style of dance because I am a terrible flirt. *wink*

Ruby Le Chatte. Photo credit: NewUncleMe@yahoo.com

Is there a vibrant Egyptian Cabaret style belly dance scene in Atlanta? In the Southeast?

There is a vibrant belly dance scene in Atlanta and the Southeast, though there are more ATS performers than Egyptian Cabaret  it seems. There’s also a large burlesque community, and the two different groups often work together in Atlanta to put on fabulous shows throughout the year.

Is there a story behind your passage from belly dance to burlesque? And how does your belly dance experience inform/influence your burlesque acts?

I admit, when I moved to Texas from Georgia in 2007 and tried to find Egyptian Cabaret classes to attend – it’s always important to continue your education – I was unable to find classes in that style near my home. I did take a few ATS classes, and while beautiful and challenging, I was not drawn to that style of dance as I was to Egyptian Cabaret. In December 2010, I attended my first burlesque show with a friend and a light bulb went off in my head. Burlesque can include humor, sensuality, drama, tease. It can tell a story; it can make your heart skip a beat. I enrolled in classes with Syrens of the South shortly thereafter and have not had a second thought since.

How did Fat Cat Cabaret get started?

My good friend Jacqueline Trade and I had performed together on a couple of occasions, during which we’d spoken about the things we love about burlesque.  She and I sat down over diner and drinks and hashed out what we’d like to see, who we wanted to include and our roles. She is our Creative Director, ensuring that our shows go off without a hitch, and I am our Manger, here to make sure that all the ducks are in a row.

Can you talk a little bit about what a Fat Cat Cabaret show is like and how it fits in and/or differs from the Atlanta burlesque revival scene?

Jackie and I felt there was a place in Atlanta for a vaudeville style troop of performers and crew who wanted to create classy shows with a nod to history. Fat Cat Cabaret shows include 1920-1950s style performances, and while not everything we do is historically accurate, we create our numbers with those shows in mind. The burlesque performers of that time are praised even today for their style, creativity, femininity and flair. Our shows have a storyteller who acts as our MC; the audience is fully immersed in the show with us. It’s similar to attending the Renaissance Festival. Sure you can go as a patron and enjoy the food and watching the performers, but isn’t it a little more fun when you let your hair down and interact with them a little? Don’t be surprised if you get a wink from Sally Strumpet or if Dante Roberto takes you out on the dance floor for a spin.

The Cast of Fat Cat Cabaret, ready to speak easy at Volstead Nights! Photo credit: Mike Curtis, Treehouse Studio.

Why the name “Volstead Nights”? Without giving away all the surprises, what can you tease us about Saturday’s performance?

Ah, well, The Volstead Act was enacted to carry out the 18th amendment to the U.S. constitution on January 17, 1920. The 18th amendment is better known as Prohibition. Under the laws of the time, the sale of alcohol was forbidden, and anyone who wanted a taste of “giggle water” had to find a way to get it in secret, like in a speakeasy. In our show, Benjamin Gravitt – our MC for the night – is the owner of one of those speakeasys, and he named it the Volstead as a humorous jab at the law.

Do you have anything special personally planned for your own act Saturday?

I do! You will be the first audience to see me perform with a beautiful pair of “Isis Wings.” They are like a veil or a fan, however they’re made from pleated fabric and look like the wings on images of the goddess Isis. Who knows what may, or may not, be visible when I twirl them around my body as I dance.

At ATLRetro, we’re really excited about Gatsby’s. For folks who haven’t been there, what makes it so special?

I’m so glad to hear that you’re excited. We are too! Gatsby’s is a lovely venue for many reasons. It has a beautiful art deco style, huge dance floor, expertly crafted and reasonably priced drinks (they even have specialty coffees before 10 p.m.), desserts, tons of free parking. They allow 18 and up and are a nonsmoking venue. What more does one need?

What’s next for Ruby le Chatte and Fat Cat Cabaret?

We always have something in the works. The nature of our shows involve a lot of planning and many long nights rehearsing. I believe I speak for everyone involved in Fat Cat Cabaret when I say that we are very passionate about our art. We’ve discussed our next show being 1950s in theme and maybe doing some video performances that are campy versions of the “educational/informational” old films on how to be a responsible housewife or how young ladies should dress to be respected. Whatever we do next, I can assure you that you will be teased, tempted, amused and entertained!

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Kool Kat of the Week: Born to Tease: Retro Fatale Katherine Lashe Puts the Sizzle into Southern Fried Burlesque

Posted on: Jun 10th, 2013 By:

Katherine Lashe. Photo credit: PinUp Girl Cosmetics.

Atlanta’s burlesque scene right now is hot, hot, hot, and one lady is right at the sizzling heart of it – Kool Kat Katherine Neslund, aka Katherine Lashe. This week alone, Syrens of the South, her production company, is giving Atlanta a new monthly burlesque showcase with Tease Tuesdays at The Shelter on June 11 (specific Tuesdays will vary per month). She’s also a key player in the city’s first Debut-Tease Ball, featuring Katherine and a mix of experienced and new talent either teaching or taking classes at Studio Burlesque, Atlanta’s own burlesque school which launched just last winter.

Perhaps most of all, Katherine is the driving force behind the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, which celebrated its third anniversary this year. Finally Atlanta has an annual event that brings together local, regional, national and even international burlesque revival stars and legends. Tease Tuesdays are fundraisers for SFBF. And that’s not even beginning to talk about Katherine’s own talents as a performer who has graced nationwide stages including the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.

ATLRetro caught up with Katherine recently to find out more about this week’s events; her own path to burlesque via theater; what else she has coming up, including a significant partnership between Syrens and 7 Stages theater in Little Five Points; and much more.

ATLRetro: What’s the one thing that happened to you during childhood that made it your destiny to be a burlesque performance artist?

Katherine Neslund/Lashe: When I was younger my Mom made costumes and clothing for drag queens in Knoxville, TN.  I ended up wanting to be a drag queen when I grew up because they had the best clothes! Later it was explained to me that, being a girl, I couldn’t technically be a drag queen. I was pretty disappointed  with this childhood realization. I’ve obviously since realized my passion and have been doing theater in some capacity my entire adult life. I’ve always felt pretty at home on the stage. Burlesque seemed to unite the whole drag queen dream with my theater experience.

I understand you kicked off your burlesque career in Atlanta by opening for Dita Von Teese. That’s a pretty exciting beginning. How did that happen and can you share something about that experience? Did Dita impart any words of wisdom that have stayed with you.

I used to be the head performer at The Chamber, and one day Howie, the manager, told us we were opening for Dita von Teese in two weeks and we should do something burlesquey.  I had no idea what that meant since I had very limited experience with burlesque having only seen The Doll Squad and Torchy Taboo perform a few times at that point.  We ended up putting together a Fosse-style group number that incorporated burlesque, dancing and a little bit of that Chamber touch.  It’s kind of funny that out of that group came myself, Renea’le Roux and Gia Nova as professional burlesque performers.

Katherine Lashe. Photo credit: PinUp Girl Cosmetics.

The Syrens of the South is a production company, not a troupe. A lot of people don’t know the difference, so can you clarify what this means in the burlesque world?

A troupe is traditionally a group of people that works together on a regular basis; going through routines and rehearsals, every member focused on a common vision of what the group should embody as a whole, and then also on what every member will perform exclusively.  Syrens of the South treats all of our performers as independent contractors, and I have always encouraged everyone to have their own identity – to perform whenever and with whomever they want.  Each performer creates their own personal vision of what they want to be, and they own and control their personal performance.  Syrens is like a playground on which these amazing folks can show their talent. Thanks to this freedom, performers can feel free to include everything from classic, to comedy, to just plain weird stuff.  I also try to make sure that we have a good variety of acts, including, of course, vaudeville type acts to break up the boobies, making it an interesting evening for everyone!

It’s been long overdue for Atlanta to have an annual burlesque festival, and Southern Fried really seems to be putting the city on the map. SFBF has made it to its third year and seems to be really hitting its stride. What did you personally enjoy the most at year’s festival and can you give us a little preliminary tease about your goals are for next year?

My favorite part each year is the Legends.  I have a passion for burlesque history, hence why I teach a very in-depth class on it, and have been collecting burlesque legend interviews for a very long time now.  My goal is to gather as much information as possible before the information is no longer available.  I was lucky enough to interview Tura Satana before she passed away, and I am so very grateful I was able to do so.

This particular year I was really excited with how many people from the local Atlanta burlesque community became involved.  In between volunteers, performers and even those that just showed up in the audience to come and see us, plus so many regular Syrens of the South performers, members of Hot Toddies Flaming Cabaret, The Imperial OPA Circus, Minette Magnifique and Musee du Coeur showed up both on stage and off.  The hope is that Southern Fried can help show Atlanta a taste of what goes on in the rest of the world, as well as showing the rest of the world the amazing talent we have here in Atlanta and the Southeast.  Many performers don’t travel, so this is a great way to show off all that we have to offer here!

Funding a festival must be challenging. Where does Tease Tuesday fit in?

The goal of Tease Tuesday is to help raise money so we can continue putting on this amazing festival.  It costs around $20,000 to put on each year, and we make less than half of that from ticket sales each year.  The rest of the money comes from our vendors, sponsors, application fees, Syrens of the South shows and out of my pocket.  We need approximately $2,500 to pay off the remaining bills from last year before we can start moving on to next year.  Tease Tuesday events, at 10 acts for only $10, gives us  a nice inexpensive monthly show to help us get the remaining bills paid off and then hopefully help us get the deposit for the hotel next year so we can continue going forward with the festival.

Another thing we love about Tease Tuesday is that it’s going to be monthly. In New York there are multiple monthly and even weekly burlesque events, but Atlanta audiences have had to wait several months between shows by the same troupe or producer. Can you tease our readers about the Syrens first Tease Tuesday and how you plan to keep a monthly show fresh and exciting? Will shows be themed and will you just feature local performers or regional and national performers as well?

Our first Tease Tuesday show was in May as a straight up fundraiser and test show.  We were lucky enough to have the current Southern Fried Queen, Lola le Soleiland two time SFBF winner Bourgeois Betty, Little 5 Points Rockstar Orchestra founder Rob Thompson doing an acoustic set, as well as Talloolah Love, Nipsy Tussle from Knoxville’s Salome Cabaret, Tora Torrid, Persephone Phoenix, Edie Akimbo, Tru Bliss, and my Wednesday night Beginning Burlesque class from Studio Burlesque.  Fritzengreuben was our Master of Ceremonies with Tupelo Honey as our stage kitten.

Our show on Tuesday, June 11, will have some amazing burlesque – Florida’s Tokyo Bell incorporates fire into her stripping, Atlanta favorite Ursula Undress will be there, Jed Drummond will be singing and playing his ukulele, there will be sexy juggling, some sultry singing and many more burlesque dancers.  Remember -10 acts for $10, so it’s a surprise as to who the other performers will be!  The next one on July 16 is so secret I can’t tell you anything other than it’s gonna be awesome!

Katherine Lashe. Photo credit: PinUp Girl Cosmetics.

Studio Burlesque is another milestone for the Atlanta burlesque community. How did that get started and what was your role in its fruition?

I have been teaching burlesque classes for almost six years in borrowed/rented spaces. It was really only a matter of time before someone realized the popularity of burlesque was on the rise and that there should be a studio dedicated to it.  An investor approached multiple members of the Atlanta burlesque community until he found the right fit which happened to be the valedictorian of the very first Syrens of the South graduating class: Ursula Undress.  She and I had a long talk about it after she was approached, and her mission statement was beautiful and her heart was in the right place, so I decided to move my regular classes to Studio Burlesque.  I’ve given a little advice just because of the six years of previous experience, but with the festival taking off, it’s really nice to get to just show up as a teacher rather than organizing all the classes like I used to.  Many of my former students became teachers in the Syrens of the South class series and now teach at Studio Burlesque.  I am very proud of all of them and love that there’s a home for everyone in Atlanta Burlesque to be able to come to learn and to teach.

Are classes just for aspiring burlesque performers? Could any of them be an alternative to a conventional boring exercise class?

The regular weekly classes are for anyone at any level of dance experience.  My Beginning Burlesque class on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. has people who have never danced before and a few seasoned performers, however, they all work great together in learning the new choreography we do each month.  For those who want to try performing, I’ve been offering a performance spot for that class at each of the Tease Tuesdays.  Students get a little firsthand taste of the performance experience and can then decide if it’s something they want to try.  The performance track classes are for those that are interested in becoming burlesque performers or at least getting a solo opportunity on stage.  It consists of three months of classes; we focus on getting them on stage for a student showcase at the end of the three months.  The next performance track series will be starting in July after July 4th.

Debut-Tease is coming up this Saturday. Some people might be reluctant to come to a beginners’ show. Tell us why they’re wrong.

I love student showcases!  There is that excitement of it being their first time, and you can see the nerves, the joy, the fear and the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment when they walk off the stage.  It’s like watching someone be born without all the gross parts!  However, even if you’re not a big fan of watching newbies, myself and many of the other teachers will be performing as in this show, so many professional performers will be gracing the stage as well as all the newbies.  Ursula Undress, Talloolah Love, Fonda Lingue and The Chameleon Queen will be performing, just to name a few!

Are any of your students performing? Any star student in particular to watch out for?

Every student that is debuting on the 15th is part of the Studio Burlesque Performance Track Classe Series so I have gotten to teach them all as I teach the History of Burlesque and Tassels and Gloves classes in that series.  Many of them also come to my Wednesday night class so I’ve gotten to know a few of them fairly well.  If I had to pick one to watch I’m going to have to say A to Zee as he is the only boy making his debut that night.  I’ve seen his work in progress, and I think everyone will have fun with it. Being the only guy, I think he’ll succeed in inspiring other gentlemen to come out and learn the art of boylesque!

Finally, burlesque is just one of your talents. You have a background in theater and were heavily involved with 7 Stages‘ hit DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA. Anything you’d like to share about that experience and what’s next for that production? Or anything else you’re up to?

Yes, I was honored to be the stage manager for DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA!  The finished recording of the awesome soundtrack from our show will be finalized and out for sale on CD sometime soon.  We’ll be doing a concert version in February so do keep your eyes peeled for that!  I went to school for musical theater and am now finishing up a degree in technical theater to balance out my onstage and off-stage experience, which is good since I was just the lighting designer for LADY LAY, a great play at 7 Stages Theater that closed out the 2012-13 season.  I’ve also been a stage manager for The Imperial OPA Circus for a few years, and look forward to continuing at 7 Stages in the 2013-14 season.  After Dracula, I really just found my home at 7 Stages as I love everyone who works there and what they are trying to do through art and community building.

Katherine Lashe. Photo credit: PinUp Girl Cosmetics.

I’ve recently been made a member of their fundraising committee and am helping to put together a brunch at Our Way Cafe on June 23.  Brunch will include a concert by the awesome local band Till Someone Loses an Eye, and benefits will go to 7 Stages.  Mark your calendars!  Also, our Syrens of the South 6th year anniversary show will be held on the main stage at 7 Stages on Aug 3.  I’m splitting the profits with the theater to help them with their fundraising goals.  As 7 Stages is now going to be our new home for our big shows, for instance our Anniversary, Tits for Toys for Tots (Nov 23) and our Vixen’s Valentease show, we want to make sure to start our new marriage by giving them a decent dowry!

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Kool Kat of the Week: Still Swanky After All These Years: Amy Pike Jazzes It Up With the Bonaventure Quartet at Oakland Cemetery, Fernbank and Across the Street from the Clermont Lounge

Posted on: Jun 6th, 2013 By:

 

Amy Pike and the Bonaventure Quartet Find Some Swell Songs in the Lost and Found at the Clermont Lounge. Photo Credit: David Murray

The Bonaventure Quartet will be jazzing up both the annual Tunes from the Tombs festival at Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery on Sat. June 8 and Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX the night before on Fri. June 7. So it just seemed like a natural to spotlight vocalist Amy Pike as Kool Kat of the Week.

Amy is quite simply the Cat’s Pajamas. She was one of the pioneers of the Retro/Swing Revival in Atlanta as lead singer and principal songwriter for The Lost Continentals in the 1990s. Songs from their album MOONSHINE AND MARTINIS, like “Swanky Bars and Fine Cigars,” got national radio airplay, and the band won 14 Best of Atlanta Swing awards, including Best Wig. Amy also always seemed to have a knack for finding the best and most swanky vintage dresses which she wore like nobody could. She’s sung for Ford commercials, and also fronted honky-tonk group, Amy Pike and the Last Cold Beer, which won Creative Loafing’s Best of Atlanta in the country music category in 2001.

Amy Pike was a sharp dresser with The Lost Continentals. Photo courtesy of Amy Pike.

With the Bonaventure Quartet, Amy’s a little more Boheme in that the eight-member jazz ensemble (yes, we said eight), particularly owes its origins to a mutual love of Django Reinhardt, the great French gypsy guitarist. She also runs Kitsch Fabric and Craft, a groovy vintage and vintage-inspired materials shop in Asheville, NC. ATLRetro caught up with her recently to find out more about her early musical roots, swinging youth, life with the Bonaventure Quartet, their new CD funded by a Kickstarter campaign, SONGS FROM THE LOST AND FOUND AT THE CLERMONT LOUNGE, and more. We’re happy to report that though Amy may have lost her Continentals, but she hasn’t loss her sass and swank. We don’t know if she ever smokes a fine cigar any more, but she’s still our favorite candidate for the musical equivalent of Dorothy Parker.

ATLRetro: Let’s start with Tunes from the Tombs. Some folks might think it creepy to come hear live music in a cemetery. Tell us why they’re wrong.

Amy Pike-Taylor: Well, frankly, it is a little creepy. I don’t know about you, but I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I will handle the zombie apocalypse. So if you find yourself getting nervous at the show, come on over to our stage, we will be fully prepared for any problems that may arise.

Do you have any special plans for the Bonaventure Quartet’s performance this Saturday?

We will be doing a set of all original jazz tunes. That is a pretty rare thing these days. We are so lucky to have Charles Williams as our band leader! He is an amazing writer as well as guitarist. He can also spit a watermelon seed pretty darn far.

What music did you listen to growing up? Can you name a few of the performers who meant the most to you back then and who introduced you to them?

When I was about 7 years old, our house was robbed and the crooks took all the records except for Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, Simon and Garfunkel and a compilation of belly dancing music. That was it for music in my household as a kid. If you need more explanation of my strange musical tastes or why I like to listen to the same records over and over, I may have to refer you to my therapist.

The Lost Continentals was a groundbreaking force in getting the Retro/swing/lounge revival started in Atlanta. Can you talk a little bit about that side of the music scene back then. Did you think you were being a bit daring by performing hits, old and new, that harkened back to a previous era?

Well, I am not sure I thought about it that deeply at the time. I just wanted to see people dress up and dance together, maybe even touching each other, for a change. I had been in the punk scene for so long I was ready for some romance. And I admit I got a perverse satisfaction out of seeing skin heads dancing to “Up a Lazy River,” which I grew up hearing on THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW.

The Bonaventure Quartet's first CD, THE SECRET SEDUCTION OF THE GRAND POMPADOUR.

You always had the best vintage dresses back then. Where did you find them?

As with all good collectibles, they came to me in various ways. I used to make the guys go to thrift shops when we were on the road. I always had the best luck in Florida and Ohio. They seemed to enjoy it, too, sort of broke up the monotony of the road.

How did the Bonaventure Quartet get started, why the name, and how long have you been playing together?

I met Charles when he filled in as a guitarist for The Lost Continentals. We have been performing together for around 13 years. At that time, Charles lived on Bonaventure Avenue right across the street from the parking lot to the Clermont Lounge. I can’t tell you how many times we sat on his porch in the wee hours after a gig, playing music and watching the show from that parking lot.

How did a quartet end up with eight members?

Fission.

Tell us about the latest CD, SONGS FROM THE LOST AND FOUND AT THE CLERMONT LOUNGE. We can guess why the Clermont, but what did it mean to the band personally and what do you think the Clermont means to Atlanta?

Well, it was born on that screened porch across from the lounge. We always had the best ideas on that porch at around 2 a.m. We could often be heard by passersby saying, “This is the best idea we’ve ever had!” There may have been some adult beverages were involved.

Wasn’t it originally announced for last year? Did it just take longer to get it right?

It just kept growing! At first, it was the one song, then it was a full blown musical! Charles and his lovely wife Lynne Dale have been working on it together for a while now. The album is sort of Bonaventure’s version of songs from the musical “Lost and Found at the Clermont Lounge.”

The musical is about a young woman who comes to the city with dreams of being an artist, a painter actually. Surprisingly, that is not as easy as you think and she ends up at the Clermont.

Anything else you’d like to share about the CD?

Amy Pike before she lost it with the Continentals. Photo courtesy of Amy Pike.

I think you guys will be amazed to hear how lush this recording is. There are so great musicians involved in this project. And as I said earlier, how many original Atlanta jazz bands are there?

Where is the Bonaventure Quartet playing next and do you have any other future musical plans you’d like to share with ATLRetro readers?

Looks like we will be playing Steve’s Live Music in Roswell on July 20. That show will be our CD release party and will involve most of the musicians on the album.

Finally, before we go, you’ve also got a store in Asheville called Kitsch Fabric and Craft which sounds like a perfect fit for our readers. Briefly how did you get started doing that, and do you sell vintage fabrics or reproductions or both?

You know it’s funny; it all started because of those vintage dresses I used to wear. I got frustrated because the old fabrics wouldn’t hold up very well, so I decided to learn to sew so that I could make vintage styles with new fabrics. That little idea turned into a raging obsession with fabrics and making things. Now I have a whole store full of amazing fabric and teach others how to sew daily on vintage sewing machines. Check it out at www.kitschfabrics.com

The Bonaventure Quartet at the Clermont Lounge. Photo Credit: David Murray.

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Kool Kats of the Week: DILBERT Does Demonic: Raising Corporate Hell with the Pretty Faces of Shane Morton and Chris Brown

Posted on: May 22nd, 2013 By:

Chris Brown and Shane Morton at The Lab. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

When Shane Morton, aka Atlanta’s Renaissance man of horror, and Chris Brown, mad mastermind of Macabre Puppets and the bloody musical SCARLET’S WEB (Dad’s Garage), first got involved with Adult Swim‘s  YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL, they immediately realized this grotesque and groovy gig was their dream, or should we say nightmare, job. The initial assignment was special effects makeup, but the show didn’t have an art director yet. It’s a story Shane has already told colorfully in several articles, but he asked them for a couple of days to film a make-up test to prove the pair could transform humans into demons in 45 minutes, then he got to work on sketches and models. Being old-school Ray Harryhausen fans, Shane and Chris wanted to do as much as possible with miniatures, but budgets and technological advances dictated a balance between digital effects for lava flows and heads spinning like Linda Blair and the old ways for blood spurts and HR Geiger-esque urinals. Still, the pair didn’t have to do much to convince everyone to let them take over much of what perhaps a little ironically is called the “practical” effects for the series.

“Maybe we were thinking too much about that,” Shane says, speaking about his passion for traditional effects from the monster FX Lab he’s built south of the city at the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse. The undead Halloween attraction is one of many horror events he has nurtured locally and is a big force behind the transformation of Atlanta into Halloween-town, USA. “We did sculpt and cast all the horns themselves,” he continues. “We didn’t want to be just painting people red and sticking horns on them, and we didn’t want anything store-bought.”

Ever since the Middle Ages, comedies about deals with the Devil have proven a surefire hit. Think about such Retro cult classic movies as BEDAZZLED (The 1967 version, of course, starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) and POOR DEVIL (TV, 1971), starring Sammy Davis Jr.  and Christopher Lee). YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL mixes in-your-face crassness and generous gore with office comedy, reimagining Hades as a contemporary cubicle-ridden setting. Demon Gary (played by Henry Zebrowski) is dedicated but far too much of a screw-up to earn a promotion. Yet it’s hard not to empathize with the well-meaning “associate” because we all like to complain about our bosses, but his, well, has to be worst because it’s Satan. The original live-action series is created and directed by Dave Willis (AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE, SQUIDBILLIES) and Casper Kelly (SQUIDBILLIES, HARVEY BIRDMAN: ATTORNEY AT LAW; STROKER & HOOP). The final installment of the six-episode run airs this Thursday May 23, 2013, at midnight.

Henry Zebrowski stars as Gary the demon in YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

At the Silver Scream Spookshow, Shane’s homage to Retro spook shows of old, he regularly performs magic tricks as Horror Host with the Most Professor Morte. Whether transforming humans into monsters with make-up, conjuring up crazy sets or engineering a splattery gross-out nosebleed, Shane views his effects work equally as magic. A consummate showman, he “performs” for the crew and ultimately the TV audience. “When there is special effects stuff going on, everybody wants to be around to watch it,” Shane says. “You’re getting to see the trick in the magic trick. You’re getting to peek behind the curtain.”

Part of the magic on YOUR PRETTY FACE was having to be prepared for the unexpected every day on the set. The script served only as a loose guide because a great deal of improvisation happened, too, Shane says. With that in mind, he kept a “library of prosthetics” on set. At the AZA Lab prior to shooting, he crafted multiple “wounds and hanging eyeballs and sets of teeth, because you never know what these people are going to ask for.”

Shane and Chris started each day by getting the cast into make-up. As simple as it may seem to paint someone red and stick on horns, Shane notes that because the body is organic–yeah, people sweat and rub against things–there’s a nonstop need for  reapplication. “We were constantly touching up their noses, painting in their ears, touching their beards up, molesting them all day long,” Shane says. “You have to get intimate.”

That process became trickier when on location, such as for the third episode, Take Life By the Horns,” in which Gary found himself fallen into a ravine. That shoot involved dodging poison ivy and copperhead snakes and having to rappel camera equipment down the side of a mountain, Chris recalls.

After make-up, the pair would launch into preparing the special effects and any additional props needed for the day. Sometimes that could be blood or pus or a potion of extreme projectile vomit, also needed for the ravine shoot. “We had a limited amount of time, so I literally used a sump pump, like you use to bail water out of your basement,” Chris says. “I put together a big plunger and a giant syringe, and then opened the nozzle to spew out a rainbow collection, which included stew, cream of mushroom soup, I made some gelatin and crunched up into chunks. The smell quickly turned rancid so it even smelled like vomit.” In addition, Gary broke his leg from the fall down the cliff, and Chris had to create nauseating pus to spew from the wound. Yes, it did involve black blood, red blood and tapioca pudding!

Satan (Matt Servitto) gets a touch-up from Shane Morton. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

Shane and Chris are used to working wonders on a tight budget and schedule whether it’s for local theater or DEAR GOD! NO!, an over-the-top neo-exploitation movie involving bikers, Bigfoot and a Nazi mad scientist which scored awards at grindhouse festivals across the nation. While the budget was not huge for YOUR PRETTY FACE, it was much larger than the typical indie which allowed such treats as Chris was crafting Satan’s legs out of actual yak fur rather than a used gorilla suit. “The original talk was that Satan would be fat, over-the-hill, and extra lecherous like the demon in LEGEND (1985) as if time has caught up with him,” Shane says. “We were really gung ho for that, but we loved the look he ended up with.”

A secret ingredient underneath Satan’s furry legs was spandex tights, that could easily be changed out if Matt Servitto, the actor who plays Satan, felt sweaty. A lycra lining gave four-way stretch which, as Shane notes, even allowed Matt to do David Lee Roth kicks in a photo shoot. As for costume maintenance, well, “it was like combing out a big dog,” Chris says.

Perhaps Shane’s favorite set pieces are the aforementioned H.R. Geiger-esque urinals, the bowls of which needed to accommodate the heads of demons who displeased Satan. Yeah, he pees on them, including sometimes poor hapless Gary. Originally they were supposed to be clean, standard urinals, but then Shane had the crazy idea to make them scary: “Everything in hell is monsters, so let’s make the urinals monsters, too!”

Shane Morton at work on Claude (Craig Rowin), Gary's over-dedicated intern in YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL. Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

Shane went home and crafted a miniature model, brought it in, and got the greenlight to create a urinal that looks like an extra-large facehugger. He toyed with various color ideas but finally decided that the bathrooms otherwise would be spotless in Hell.

The demonic duo were impressed that the show really did follow through with Satan actually peeing on the demons’ heads. Of course, even with a program that prides itself on shock value, some things inevitably didn’t make the final cut. For example, Satan won’t poop on Gary’s face, even though the scene was filmed. “It will end up on DVD maybe,” Shane says hopefully. “Somebody getting pooped on or an arm hacked off is a good day at work! It keeps the energy up.”

Satan’s office is packed with props created by Shane and Chris, though it is not perhaps quite the devilish “greatest hits” collection that they originally envisioned. Instead of the trophies and plaques that have become de rigeur in executive offices, Shane wanted to include on the shelf Eve’s apple, Christ’s crown of thorns and Hitler’s head in a jar. And clearance couldn’t be gotten for Wall of Shame photos of Satan flashing a big grin with dubious celebrities such as David Hasselhoff and the Octomom. Still, those who look carefully will see many subtle Shane and Chris touches such as faces of tortured souls on the steel balls that click back and forth on the Devil’s desk. “Everything is pumped up a little bit because after all we are in hell,” Shane says. “Even the elevator switch looks like something scary.”

In other words, Shane and Chris had one of a helluva good time. At an apartment location, some little old ladies told the crew “they were going to pray for us because we were doing the devil’s work,” Shane says. “We joked every day and maybe it did get a bit old but ‘it’s really hell getting all this done today!’”

Shane holds up his own head, a prop he crafted for DEAR GOD! NO! Photo courtesy of Adult Swim.

As the season draws to a close, the pair are now just waiting to hear the final ratings and whether the show gets greenlit for a second season. If yes, they’re hoping for a bigger budget and the chance to play around more with more practical special effects over CGI–“to raise the bar,” as Chris says. “If we end up getting multiple seasons, it’s only going to get more extreme,” he adds. And maybe there’ll even be a cameo for that giant spider with the humungous nut-sack hanging on his back that turned out to be expensive to cast.

In the meantime, Chris will be working on the script for a $3-4 million movie version of SCARLET’S WEB. And Shane recently wrapped the indie feature, TALES FROM MORNINGVIEW CEMETERY. In it, he appears as Professior Morte, fulfilling the Cryptkeeper role, introducing the segments and holding the show together. He’s also involved in preproduction with director Jimmy Bickert for FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, the much-anticipated sequel to DEAR GOD! NO! It will be filmed in 35mm widescreen hopefully by the end of 2013, he revealed, and include a lot more special effects and monsters. Look for Shane, or rather his Professor Morte alter-ego, at the 11th Annual Rock n Roll Monster Bash at the Starlight Six Drive-In on Sunday June 2. The movies this year are THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975) and EVIL DEAD 2 (1987), not to mention six bands, scary shopping and Monstrosity Championship Wrestling! [ED. Note: Watch for Retro Reviews of both movies next week]

Editor’s Note: Shane and Chris are just a few of the talented local folk streaming by in the end credits of YOUR PRETTY FACE. More ATLRetro friends include producer Linda Burns (V/H/S, THE SIGNAL), set decorator/property master Laurie Garner, who’s played bass in so many Atlanta bands (She-Monster and Vietnam to name a few), and the indomitable Eddie Ray (SATANIC PANIC BAND OUT OF HELL and a previous Kool Kat to boot!).

ALSO: Learn some of the make-up secrets Shane Morton used in YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL at his Monster Make-up Class on Sunday May 26 in his Lab at AZA. For more details, visit the Facebook Event Page here.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Mad, Mad Music Radio: Col. Bruce Hampton Takes His Eclectic Talents to the Airwaves with Radio Free Radio on AM 1690

Posted on: May 13th, 2013 By:

Radio Free Radio; Hosted by Col. Bruce Hampton and Michael Holbrook; 7 p.m.;  first and third Thursdays of each month

By William Ashton
Contributing Writer

For a self-proclaimed “shy accountant,” Col. Bruce Hampton has made a spectacle of himself for more than four decades. He’s acted in an Oscar-winning movie (SLING BLADE [1996]), made 15 records (or so) and helped organize the H.O.R.D.E. concert tours of the ‘90s, but he’s mostly known as a performing musician, playing thousands of shows since the late 1960s.

A big, genial man, Hampton had a heart attack a few years ago, but he still plays 150 shows a year. He says that, at age “66 and above ground,” that’s plenty. “If I could go on at 8 p.m., I’d do more, but a lot of southern clubs start at 11,” he says. “It’s a young man’s game.”

Col. Bruce Hampton’s music is an unpredictable blend of blues, jazz and psychedelic rock, with a dash of funk and what not. Before the term “jam band” was coined, Hampton was jamming; he’s played  guitar and sang with The Hampton Grease Band, Aquarium Rescue Unit and Fiji Mariners (among others). A touchstone for many musicians in the jam-band circuit, Hampton was there for all but one H.O.R.D.E. tour in the ‘90s, he recalls.

“The only time I missed [H.O.R.D.E.] was when I went out with [the late blues musician] Hubert Sumlin one year, which was fine. We were in Louisiana one night when Sumlin offered to take us to the Crossroads [the intersection along Mississippi’s Highway 61 where blues legend Robert Johnson was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil]. We declined very quickly,” Hampton says. “It was a long way away.”

Col. Bruce Hampton (his legal name, he says) has recently taken his talents to the airwaves, playing music and sharing stories on AM 1690’s “Radio Free Radio” with former Hampton Grease Band member Michael Holbrook.  The show airs at 7 pm on the first and third Thursdays of each month.

“I’ve done occasional programs on AM 1690. Jon Waterhouse (from the radio station) asked us to do it every other week,” he said. “I do whatever Jon tells me.”

Hampton and Holbrook seem to have thousands of stories about life on the road, touching on encounters with everyone from Frank Zappa and John Lennon to Muddy Waters and Chet Atkins.

Playing with G.E. Smith led to Hampton’s sitting in on-air with the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE band one night a couple of decades ago, when Smith was “SNL’s” musical director. Longtime friend Billy Bob Thornton cast Hampton in SLING BLADE – and Hampton’s band performs in Thornton’s forthcoming movie JAYNE MANSFIELD’S CAR.

Sometime this year, Atlanta fans may see Col. Bruce playing regularly at the long-shuttered Avondale Towne Cinema. Hampton is among those meeting with Avondale city officials, with a goal of reopening the venue under new management, he says.

“A couple of lawyers from Alabama are planning to reopen the venue, and music will certainly be a part of it,” said Hampton, who saw wrestling matches at the Avondale landmark when he was growing up in the Decatur area. “I’ll try to play there twice a month and have guest artists. We had a similar (residency) at Brandywine in the ‘90s and it was a huge success.”

Another successful outlet for Hampton’s talents are the summertime Jam Cruises, which gather assorted musicians – many from New Orleans – for musical voyages through the Caribbean.

Hampton seems surprised that he likes the cruises. “I dislike Disney World. I hate just about everything with a lot of people involved, but this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “There’s food 24 hours a day, music 20 hours a day. The musicians are the cream of the crop. It’s fascinating and great.”

Hampton’s own fascinating story is the subject of a 2012 documentary, BASICALLY FRIGHTENED: THE MUSICAL MADNESS OF COLONEL BRUCE HAMPTON; the DVD (with new bonus live footage) has recently gained distribution through Amazon.com after a couple of years of limited availability.

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Kool Kat of the Week: La Schaffer Ain’t Got That Thing, If She Ain’t Got That ElectroSwing!

Posted on: May 7th, 2013 By:

La Schaffer gets a bit anachronistic. Photo courtesy of La Schaffer.

Here at ATLRetro, we’re not so sure what to think about the new cinematic version of THE GREAT GATSBY, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Baz Luhrmann which hits theaters this Friday, but if it inspires more Roaring ’20s-themed social events, we’re ready to do the Time Warp back to the Charleston again. We’ve also been hearing quite a bit about a newfangled, Retro-inspired sound called “ElectroSwing”! Then we heard about Madame Nocturne’s ElectroSwing Soiree at Gatsby’s Prohibition Nightclub and Dessert Lounge in Midtown on Thursday May 9. Well, it didn’t take us long to decide that its organizer La Schaffer would sure make a swell Kool Kat of the Week.

La is relatively new to the event planner world, but has a background in design and nouveau cirque that intrigued us further. She has a pretty awesome day job as graphic designer for the Center for Puppetry Arts and is about to head to Georgia Tech this fall to pursue a master’s degree in Human-Computer Interaction. She also works with the wacky Dad’s Garage troupe, performs with ELEMENT Acrobats + Circus Artists and helps out with marketing for Imperial OPA.

We caught up with La lately to find out more about her fabulous creative life and this week’s soiree. Here’s what she had to say!

ATLRetro: ElectroSwing is a rising new musical trend with events springing up around the nation. For the uninitiated, what is it and how does it relate to vintage swing music?

La Schaffer: ElectroSwing mixes swing and jazz with modern beats to create something that feels both old and new simultaneously. Often, the swing elements used are sampled straight out of the Big Band era, but they’re made to be a bit more accessible to a modern crowd when mixed with electronic dance music. ElectroSwing artists who create original compositions do an incredible job of recreating the core components of good old fashioned jazz and swing, so sometimes it’s hard to tell if something is old or new, and that’s part of the fun.

Does dancing to ElectroSwing require ballroom lessons?

I sure hope not, or else I’m in trouble! Part of the beauty of the genre is the versatility: You can sort of choose your own adventure and go the swing route, and listen to and pick up those themes, or you can stick to the electronic side and jam out that way. It’s all super catchy, so I think the bigger question is how not to dance around to it, in one way or another!

Gatsby’s sounds like an ATLRetro dream venue. What’s it like inside?

Gatsby’s has a great vibe and some fabulous decor. Much of the furniture is actually vintage. The tables are covered in old newspaper clippings. The lighting is dim and moody – mason jar light fixtures over the bar, red light lamps with dangling crystals, and a dance floor with lighting that can change with the occasion. There are little nooks and crannies to explore, and lots of fun old things on the walls to investigate. It transports you to another time while still being a bit playful. The space can be used for a variety of events since it has a huge dance floor. City of the South Theater even puts on productions there by turning the dance floor into a theater in the round (Here, have a plug for Sordid Lives, running May 11, 17 and 18!). It’s a very cool space to hang out in. It makes you feel a little mysterious.

Why was the 1920s way cooler than now?

As much of a big ol’ nerd and technophile as I am, there is something magical about the simpler days of past eras. I’m terribly guilty of the manufactured busy-ness phenomenon and the dreaded Fear Of Missing Out. Being so connected to everything sometimes makes it hard to concentrate only on what is right in front of us. I imagine it must have been easier to focus on your own experiences and accomplishments to some degree. Then there’s just the whole rebellious teenager phase of America. I’m not sure I’d want to live certain parts it – the smugglin’ and bootleggin’ – but it’s so fascinating to think about and imagine.

Are you a big fan of THE GREAT GATSBY, the book or the 1974 movie? Why do you think F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story is so enduring?

I actually just did a lot of reviewing recently while planning this shindig – reread the book and saw the 1970s movie for the first time. I hadn’t read THE GREAT GATSBY since middle school, when I thought I was just so super cool for carrying around my grandmother’s crackly, yellowed, 1940s paperback copy, instead of the school-issued copy. I certainly got way more out of it this time around. I think, aside from it being such a clear documentation of the era, the story endures the test of time for the same reason tabloids exist: People love train wrecks. It’s comforting to hear stories that are worse than our own mishaps. That aspect is timeless: Its craziness.

La Schaffer. Photo courtesy of La Schaffer.

Do you have any trepidation about the new movie coming out this summer?

Not even at all. I’m pretty confident from what I’ve seen so far that I, personally, am going to love it — I can’t speak for anyone else! I recently re-watched both ROMEO + JULIET (1996) and MOULIN ROUGE! (2001) out of excitement for THE GREAT GATSBY and realized just how bizarre those movies are. I was completely obsessed with MOULIN ROUGE! when it came out. I never really thought about how weird it was until recently, and how both it and ROMEO + JULIET  just require you to sit back, shut up, and accept this random element that it being thrown into an inappropriate setting: breaking out into song, using only Shakespearean English complete with iambic pentameter, or whatever it will be in THE GREAT GATSBY. I’m excited to see what twists he adds.

Who’s Madame Nocturne? I understand she’s a bit of an elusive hostess, not unlike Jay Gatsby?

It’s true! It’s hard to say sometimes if she’ll even show up to her own events. She keeps an eye on the big picture while the rest of us run around and do the dirty work of planning. She’s sort of quiet, but she’s very sweet if you get a chance to meet her. Keep an eye out for a petite lady in a fancy fur coat, which is her trademark.  She certainly will be overseeing the evening from her elevated vantage point, at the very least.

I understand there will be a cirque element as well. Can you talk a little about that and how does the cirque aesthetic dovetail with the 1920s?

It’s good old fashioned entertainment! What’s more ’20s than some razzle dazzle spectacle? It’s beautiful, graceful, and just a little bit dangerous. We’ll have aerial silks and lyra performances by ELEMENT circus artists + acrobats throughout the night.  Some of them may be by yours truly.

How should we dress? Any shopping tips for finding vintage suits or flapper dresses in Atlanta?

Dress however you’d like – whatever inspires you! Show up retro or electro. I expect we’ll see a lot of ’20s,’ 40s, cirque and steampunk-inspired styles, as well as some modern raver-wear, and “normies,” too. All are welcome! I wish I knew where to shop for vintage goodness. My home stock of costumes is embarrassingly abysmal, considering my interests. I must confess that my favorite ’20s dress – a lovely, lacy, drop-waist black and light pink number – is graciously loaned to me by Liz Singleton, the amazing Costume Designer at Dad’s Garage, which is one of my homes away from home. Other places I shop for vintage clothing include my parents’ basement, my friends’ closets and cheap costume websites… Eek.  Sad trombone sound goes here!

La Schaffer. Photo courtesy of La Schaffer.

When you’re not planning 1920s themed soirees, you have what most folks might call a pretty awesome day job as a graphic designer for the Center for Puppetry Arts. Can you share a little bit about what you do there?

Yup! I’ve been the graphic designer for the marketing department at the Center for four years now. I take care of things like ads, postcards, brochures, eblasts and our giant annual Season Guide. We just went through a huge rebranding, so that was quite exciting for me. It’s a great place to be – everyone’s really cool and playful, and it’s very much like a family. Plus, if I ever have a rough day, I can just go up to the museum and hang out with Dr. Teeth for a few minutes. He always knows what to say. I’m actually headed back to school this fall, though, so I’m sad to be leaving, but they won’t get rid of me that easily. I’ll be back to volunteer and generally continue to “contribute” ridiculous “ideas” at inappropriate times.

What other cool things are you up to?

Let’s see. I tend bar at Dad’s Garage; gym hop for aerial silks, tumbling, rock climbing and occasional parkour; help out with marketing for various cool groups around town; go to tons of theater; and travel as much as funding allows!

Will this be the first of a series of Madame Nocturne social events? Is there a Facebook page or Twitter feed we can like/ follow to make sure we don’t miss the next one?

It’s actually her second, but this event is a big step up from her first one. It is possible that this will lead to more, though! It will depend on how the event goes. We’ll see what Gatsby’s thinks. We were lucky enough to meet with The Artifice Club during the planning process, so who knows, maybe she’ll get in cahoots with them somehow, too. You can befriend her here to keep in touch!

Anything else you’d like to add about why folks should definitely come out this Thursday?

The better turnout we have, the more likely it is for Gatsby’s to play ElectroSwing regularly, and I think that would be a pretty great thing to have going on in Atlanta!

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Watson, The Game Is Afoot! Investigating 221B Con with Founder Heather Holloway

Posted on: Apr 10th, 2013 By:

Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes. Painting by Mark Maddox and used with permission.

By Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

This weekend (April 13-14) marks the inaugural edition of Atlanta’s own “all Sherlock Holmes” convention, 221B Con at the Holiday Inn Select Atlanta-Perimeter at 4386 Chamblee Dunwoody Road. The name is a reference to the famous detective’s address at 221 B Baker Street, London, which is a few blocks from one of H.G. Wells’ apartments as well.

Making his debut in 1887’s A STUDY IN SCARLET, Holmes is one of the most well-known fictional characters in history. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s consulting detective appeared in four novels and 56 short stories written by Doyle, and countless dramatic and derivative works. Holmes fans are legion worldwide, with clubs and societies extant in just about every major city. Currently there are two popular television series airing featuring Holmes and his sidekick Watson in modern settings; the BBC’s SHERLOCK, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, and CBS’s ELEMENTARY starring Johnny Lee Miller.

ATLRetro spoke with convention organizer Heather Holloway about the lasting impact of Doyle’s creation and to investigate what to expect this weekend.

ATLRetro: Tell me about your personal relationship with Sherlock Holmes. How did you first meet him? What’s your favorite story? Favorite film/television adaptation?

Heather Holloway: Sherlock Holmes and I met about three months into Mrs. Bright’s ninth grade English class.  I was 14, and the assignment was to read “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.”  Mrs. Bright told us how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle always knew the ending of the story before he wrote it so he could properly lay out the deductions and clues. That particular point struck me, as I had never given much thought to the plotting and structure of a story. Afterwards, I decided to read the Canon on my own and was pretty much hooked from there on out!

It is so very difficult to pick a favorite story.  I was recently rereading everything with two of the other directors of 221B Con, and it was pointed out that about two minutes into every discussion I would say ”This is one of my favorites!”  I suppose if I’m made to pick I would go with “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual.”  It’s so gothic and creepy, complete with a wronged woman and a man, possibly, buried alive.

Heather Holloway. Photo courtesy of Heather Holloway.

Every time someone asks who is my favorite Holmes, I always say “the one in my head.”  It’s very difficult for me to completely get on board with a TV or film Holmes, because I was first introduced through the stories. I have a platonic Holmes and no one has ever completely lived up.  I suppose that is why my favorite film versions are YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES (1985) and WITHOUT A CLUE (1988).  They aren’t really supposed to be Holmes, so I have no cognitive dissonance.

What about the Holmes stories appealed to you, and what about them has made a lasting impression ?

I think the most important thing I have ever taken from the Holmes stories, and what sticks with me the most, is that prejudice is the death of mind.  Holmes observes, he doesn’t prejudge or allow petty beliefs to interfere with his process.  He takes what he sees at face value and interpolates from there.  If you believe you know the answer before weighing the evidence, you have already lost.  I think it’s a lesson many people today could stand to learn.

It’s been said that Mickey Mouse, Superman and Sherlock Holmes are the most widely known fictional characters in history. More than 100 years later, what makes Holmes relevant to a modern audience? Why has he not only survived, but thrived?

Sherlock Holmes is, to me, the great modern hero. There is nothing immortal or superhuman about his abilities. He has an approachable genius. He never claims others can’t mimic his abilities. While you might not see it at first, after a possibly condescending, explanation you realize that you could have seen it.  Sherlock Holmes will be beloved so long as society admires effort and genius.

Why a Holmes convention?

Sherlock Holmes fans have been banding together for years. The only thing unique about 221B Con is the fact that it is a con.  Most gatherings, while a ton of fun, are more academic in nature; big catered dinners and keynote addresses. The other convention directors and I wanted an event with a more relaxed atmosphere.  We wanted regular fans to be able to speak, not just professors and biographers. Hopefully, we’ve hit a happy medium between fandom and academia.

What will happen at 221B Con? Who are the guests and speakers? How can people get more information?

We have over 40 hours of programming scheduled, including a live podcast by The Baker Street Babes, a performance by the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company and dozens of wonderful panels.  We will be joined by several author guests including the Edgar Award-nominated author Lyndsay Faye.  You can visit www.221bcon.com for more information, or follow us on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

Lucy Liu as Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes in CBS's ELEMENTARY.

Finally, it all comes down to this, doesn’t it – Benedict Cumberbatch or Johnny Lee Miller?

Benedict Cumberbatch FTW.

Anthony Taylor is a writer and an expert on retro-futurism, classic science fiction and horror films and television, and genre collectibles. He is the author of ARCTIC ADVENTURE!, an official Thunderbirds™ novel based on the iconic British television series by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. His website is http://Taylorcosm.com.

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Kool Kats of the Week: Shelby Hofer and Stephanie Pharr See Through to the Wacky – and Politically Incorrect – World of a Child’s Imagination

Posted on: Mar 29th, 2013 By:

A truly unique theatrical experience lets you See Through back to the Seventies into the secret life of 10-year-old Jenny Rose at the Erikson Clock in Castleberry Hill. Shows run Thursdays through Saturdays, and the good news is that it has just been extended  through April 6. Toss in the description of a “multilevel, fully immersive theme camp without so much of the mud or the dust” and more than two dozen visual artists, dancers, musicians and actors. The environment is fluid. Things change. No two nights are alike. We hear there’s also food, drink, live music and guest stars as visitors interact with Jenny Rose and her imaginary friends through the rooms that make up her life. And all for just 20 bucks (advance tickets at http://m.bpt.me/event/339179), but be there by 8 p.m.because latecomers won’t be admitted

Well, we’re not exactly sure what’s going on, but it sure sounds like fun. We already knew that Shelby Hofer, artistic director of PushPush Theatre, one of the architects of this adventure and mastermind of Jenny Rose’s character, was a Kool Kat. But to get a bigger picture of all the project’s creative sides, we decided to make it a dynamic duo this week and also catch up with visual designer Stephanie Pharr.

ATLRetro: Who’s Jenny Rose? Shelby, I understand you took part of the inspiration for her from your own childhood in the 1970s. 

Shelby Hofer: yeah, I guess it was the ‘70s. (laughs)  Well, sure, I’m in there. but a lot of other stories and imaginings and ideas – some very present – are in there, too. However, some things from my actual childhood are in the show. Jenny Rose is an extremely curious and precocious kid. She can’t sleep for thinking. We all experience this as a kid. There is no way she is going to sleep, and when everyone says “Not now, Jenny,” or “Go to bed, Jenny,” she builds a world where she can get her curiosities dealt with. In this case it’s a talk show during an adult party, and her guests are imaginary dolls, animals and real people from the party- also in her imagination – but real. Get it?  In her room i have some of my dolls, books, pillows and my brother’s vintage Hulk Hogan action figure, a book about how Mommy had a baby, and an easy bake (same idea, new version). If I can get my act together, I will cook something in there during the show as a party gift.

Stephanie, how did you get involved with See Through, and what excited you about it?

Stephanie Pharr: Sharon Dennehy put together an awesome group of artists to bring See Through to life.  When I was asked to be apart of this curious project, I was excited to explore the concept, to push boundaries but mostly to co-create with artists such as Orion, Kris Pilcher, Patty Lacrete and JD Koth.

Something as cool and different as See Through suggests an amazing anecdote of how it all came together. Shelby, how did it get started, what’s the Erikson clock, and how did you get involved?

SH: I wrote a script called the “Johnny Show” about two little girls – one imaginary, under her bed – having a secret talk show when told to go to bed. I got a small grant from Idea Capital to finalize it, then Tim {Haberger] wrote the “back story” to the party. After some readings of both, some research on immersive theater, hybrid shows with artists – and a longing to do a live version of [PushPush’s] GRFX digital series,which will also feature multi-disciplined artists as part of a much larger narrative – we decided to take the project from a standard stage play and open the door to its evolvement much wider.

We like things that can grow with time, and with more people involved than just us.  We like to get creative minds together to make things that are slightly out of our control. It’s more interesting and keeps us challenged [and] growing. Plus, [PushPush] got a grant from the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] for our GRFX media project and didn’t want our space costs to eat it up.  So we got the chance last fall, and we moved out of our former tin building that we’d been in for 10 years. It was a beastly month, but we got free of being landlords and facility mangers, and got out into the world more. Literally. We took a show to the Goat Farm (THE BLACK GLASS), to LA and to Berlin.  Also to Castleberry – the Erikson Clock Building. which we absolutely loved. It’s really an amazing historic building, and the Mass Collective and Nelson Gallery folks have done a great job restoring it. I’m in love with the windows. They are SeeThrough. We’ve created a gigantic maze in there – my hub is a writer-director-builder and builds amazing sets – that is super cool.  But when it’s wide open and it’s just the nelson gallery – it’s stunning. We expect to build worlds there a lot now, but we’ll be producing shows at many other places, too, including the Plaza Theatre.

Stephanie, you designed Jenny Rose’s playground. Without revealing any big spoilers, can you give us a little sneak peek into your head as you conceived the installation?

SP: For See Through, I dreamt up an imaginary playroom for a fantastical character, Katherine.  Jenny’s imaginary friend Katherine resides in this trans-dimensional playroom, an experience of a young girl’s warped fears, desires and memory.

With See Through, Shelby, you’re trying to creating something more than theater, more than a gallery show, something new. How do you describe it to people?

It’s a pop-up theater and visual arts experience. It’s a sexy-angle-clothes-mad-at-Jesus-party. It’s a hybrid gallery performance. It’s a celebration of story and family. It’s a community therapy session and a feast for the eyes and soul. It’s about losing your keys and shoes, and the importance of traveling over arriving.

Stephanie, did you, like Jenny, have an imaginary friend growing up, and if yes, how did that influence you creatively?

SP: I played with worms as a child; those were my imaginary friends. They mostly told me lies. I believed them most of the time.

Is the playground interactive, Stephanie? Will audiences get to play in it and how?

SP: Katherine would love to have you over for a cup of tea in her playhouse, no appointment necessary.

What’s the funnest thing to you personally about See Through that either you contributed or someone else did, and why?

SP: The conversations I’ve overheard in the line to “7 minutes in Heaven” are the most entertaining thing about the show thus far.

SH: Well, there’s a hilarious door handle in [Jenny’s] brother’s room and my weird uncle in the adjacent. And there is something special for me in each room that captures the essence of the original themes. This happened organically with each of the artists who are all really great at what they do. I had a fear we’d end up bending the story to what the artists created, but it has not happened that way.  We are all starting to gel and connect our ideas, and each show will be different because of that.

But back to the funny, there’s a question that I sometimes ask in the show which always cracks me up: “If you were a Christian and also a little horny, how would you ask a boy to smoke a cigarette with you?”  This related to the story, but the question is fun, and so are the answers. I wish I could be a fly on the wall for all of it. As Jenny Rose, I’m out there some, but mostly i’m banned to my “bedroom” for the final part of the experience. Tim always cracks up during the section about my rape whistle and how you are supposed to use it. And the “pervert” section. That’s from my childhood, too, and that whole Wayne Williams era. This show will not be for the easily offending. I think we could go much further with the politically incorrect, but it’s not about that really. It will add to the humor for sure, and most fare well, but it’s about something deeper.

Shelby, what exciting can you share about your work with PushPush, or any other solo/group projects, in the near future?

This show is a live beta, if you will, for our GRFX Digital Series. It’s a story about a comic book/digital arts company trying to diversify and evolve into the 21st century. It’s about exploring story and celebrating culture and arts. We are behind here in Atlanta on many levels. This story basically mirrors [PushPush’s] efforts – locally and globally – in exploring story and trying to push boundaries, and the challenges of creating art with many minds. It’s hilarious and meaningful, and if it could be birthed in Atlanta and grow with a worldwide audience, it could be a game changer. Its for the “TV,” but what is that anymore? By next year, I’m hoping we can watch the first episodes on a curated digital network, like with a Roku or something. It’s a big story, and there are three seasons.

It’s very exciting. We did readings of it in Atlanta, LA, Berlin and New York over the winter, and everyone had a blast with it. It’s a rich story that is very important right now, plus it will be a distribution platform for a wide variety of artists, from animators and illustrators, to musicians and dancers. One scene involved a wanna-be writer getting coffee for the staff, talking up his new “story” idea, and winding up smack in the middle of a public dance performance – like walking through Piedmont Park right through a performance and talking way too loud – being danced with, dropping bagels, etc.  He makes a mildly racist comment while shoving a Starbucks muffin in his mouth, and the crowd and dancers come to animated life and interrogate him in a wonderful way.  Anyway, I digress.

Stephanie, what’s next for you?  

I’m moving to Iceland in the spring and hope to start a puppet theater with the money I’ve just been granted from the Merman Manor Folks Fund.  

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Dancin’ to His Own Boylesque Beat: Russell Bruner Takes Off His Top Hat and More at Southern Fried

Posted on: Mar 20th, 2013 By:

Russell Bruner, Reigning King of Burlesque. Photo credit: Insomniac Studios

Stars both of the Burlesque Revival and of classic tease arrive in Atlanta this week for the third annual Southern Fried Burlesque Festival Thurs. March 21-24 at  the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria. Read our full festival preview here.

Just a quick glance at the line-up suggests this year will be just as good performance-wise as the first two, if not even better. But we have to admit that we’re especially excited to see Portland, Oregon’s Russell Bruner, reigning King of Burlesque, at the Free Range Burlesque show on Fri. March 22, after seeing him perform at our own Kool Kat Kitty Love‘s first Sultry Sunday of the year back in January. Male exotic dancers may be notoriously boring, but dressed in a pin-stripe seersucker suit, top hat and debonair curled moustache, let’s just say Russell wasn’t just sexy but sassy–really capturing the spirit of the tease in ways that most male dancers simply don’t. Of course, that underlines the essential difference between burlesque, or in this case “boylesque,” and striptease/exotic dance. Burlesque comes from vaudeville and variety and is all about having fun–which, well, they say gals love a guy with a sense of humor.

A little online research revealed that Bruner is a Vancouver, Washington native and Mormon-raised boy who eschewed football for the cheer squad and comes to burlesque via swing dance (He won a trophy at the Balboa Tempo Marathon in 2006) and a stint as the acrobatic Villain of Portland’s Wanderlust Circus. Needless to say, we had to make him Kool Kat of the Week just to find out more about what drew him from a tech career with a dancing hobby to a professional performer, how he developed his unique style, his influences and his act at SFBF!

So you were working for Intel, your job ended and you ran away to join the circus? Is that basically how your career in burlesque/variety got started? 

Well, the electrical engineering field wasn’t too bad. I enjoyed the work, but kept thinking about how if I was ever going to do performance art, I should do it before I get any older.

Russell Bruner, Master of the Hat and Cane Routine. Photo credit: Adam Scherer.

Just about every lady I know thinks there’s nothing duller than watching a Chippendale. You have a completely different look and approach to dancing off your clothes. To what extent do you think that playing against the expected is the key to your success? 

You’re right, I’m no Chippendale. I cater to the audience as I understand them with what I have to offer. I’m not playing against the idea of the Chippendale; I’m just more turned on by men like Gene Kelly, Tom Waits and Ray Bolger.

Your routines remind me of a cross between Fred Astaire – who also danced with a hat rack in a famous number and you’ve said is an inspiration -to ‘20s comedy cinema actors like Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Did you grow up on classic movies with dance and comedy numbers or when/how did you discover them? How influential are they on your routines? 

I didn’t see very many movies or see much television growing up, but there was this great movie place that I discovered when I first moved to Portland that’s called Movie Madness. They have nearly everything with Fred Astaire, WC Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, etc. I’ve since taken advantage of the inspiration found there, and in other sources that have old vaudeville acts film.

Were you at all nervous when you first stripped down? Any advice to men who want to do burlesque but are a little shy about it? 

I was nervous about it. Any time I do something in front of an audience for the first time I’m always concerned about things going well. If someone is shy about performing, I think it’s normal and shows they too have concern for doing well.

Who are your inspirations, either male or female, classic or revival, in burlesque?

Aside from the mentioned persons of yesteryear, for males, I am inspired by Leapin’ Louie Lichtenstein, Armitage Shanks, the Stage Door Johnnies, Burlesquire, Tod Alan, Evil Hate Monkey, Mr. Gorgeous, Waxie Moon, Captain Kidd, Curtis Carlyle, Dahktur Sick, Jonathan Burns, Scott Maxwell, Luther Bangert, Nanda, Neil E Dee, Funny Eddie Dot Com, Bobbie Burlesque, Bellini Twins, Charlie Brown the Juggler, Donny Vomit, Scotty the Blue Bunny, Ben Delacreme, Jasper St. James, the cast of Meatfest in LA, the Boxers are Brief Boylesk, William Batty in Wanderlust Circus, and many others. All those are variety performers and not necessarily burlesque. The women that inspire me is a much longer list, so let me get back to you on that when I have more time to list everyone.

Russell Bruner. Photo credit: PEZ Photo.

Where/when was your favorite performance and what made it so special?

My last performance with the Carnivalesque Tour at State Theater in Falls Church, VA, was a recent favorite of mine. It was special because it was the last show of a great run. I had a lot of fun working with Gilded Lily Burlesque & Co., and I really enjoyed the spacious stage with a nice wood floor. I really enjoy performing on stages with nice wood floors.

Without ruining any surprises, what can you tease us about your performance at SFBF? 

I think we’ve already given away that it involves working a hat rack like Fred Astaire. So other than hanging my hat up, you’ll also see some nice cane work.

What’s the secret of coiffing the perfect moustache? 

I use beeswax. I’m constantly running out of it or losing it as I’m on the road a lot, so I’m constantly using different products that have beeswax in it, and I use a woman’s personal trimmer that looks like a vibrator to trim it. And I just futz with it a lot. I stopped making circles at the ends because I can never get them to match so now I do more of a Salvador Dali type of styling.

Finally, what question do you wish someone would ask you to do but they never do? And of course, what’s the answer? 

I do wish I’d be asked to perform my partner acts more often. It’s harder to fit it in the budget for promoters and sometimes the stages are too small, but I enjoy doing partner acts the most. I would love to perform partner dance acts more often on the road.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Freaks, Geeks and Playing with Teeth: Aileen Loy Is Ready to Sing the Music of the Devil…Well, Till Someone Loses An Eye

Posted on: Mar 6th, 2013 By:

Aileen Loy, performing with Till Someone Loses an Eye at the Star Bar on Jan. 10, 2013. Photo credit: Jolie Simmons.

ATLRetro has had our eye on Atlanta visual and performance artist Aileen Loy for a long time, and now seems like the perfect time to catch up since her band Till Someone Loses An Eye will be playing Sunday March 10 in a three-month second Sunday series at the Corner Tavern in Little Five Points. The unique nine-person ensemble also will be opening for self-described “rockabilly-porno-metal with a country twist” Fiend Without a Face  and Ricer on Wed. March 6 at the Star Bar. Other band members include  Sam McPherson and Michael A. Robinson (L5P Rock Star Orchestra/DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA); Meredith Greer (The Chameleon Queen); Steve McPeeks (Art of Destruction)Frank Anzalone (Walk From the Gallows)Brigitte Warren (Wicked Geisha Ritual Theatre); and Dee Dee Chmielewski (DRACULA).

To call Aileen an eclectic talent would be an understatement for her passions definitely are eclectic and her talent unquestionable. Her singing voice is unexpectedly deep for a woman and has often been compared to Tom Waits. her costumes are always the very spirit of Bohemian and often feature bones, whether she is in full Mexican skull-face Day of the Dead regalia or  a skintight black pants fronted by a human pelvis and skeletal legs. Still to call her a goth would be selling her short. She certainly displays a passion for the macabre, but she also equally embraces the playful, including the recent Renaissance of carnival/circus culture and even a gypsy steampunk edge. Till Someone Loses An Eye lists its influences as Waits, Nick Cave and Gogol Bordello and its interests as “rusted metal, old time circus culture, cheese sandwiches, small rocks, freaks, geeks and miscreants.”

When she is not making music, Aileen crafts cool, creepy jewelry using prosthetic eyeballs and teeth, and she has experimented in film and just about every type of artistic media. If that’s not multi-talented, we don’t know what is. But enough talking about Aileen, let’s get talking to her.

ATLRetro: Seeing your artwork and listening to your music, we can imagine you being closer to Wednesday Addams than Cindy Brady as a little girl. How old were you when you started down the path to the darker side of creativity, and what pulled the trigger?

Aileen Loy: That’s a fair cop – I was a pretty serious and awkward little girl. I’m not sure how to answer the rest of that question but there was probably a library card involved.

Aileen Loy plays a mean harmonica with Till Someone Loses an Eye at the L5P Halloween Festival 2012. Photo credit: Stephen Priest.

Who/what were some of your early inspirations musically and visually that still influence your work today?

Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, a lot of classical music. My parents had a weird assortment of albums when I was growing up, so I’d go from listening to SONGS OF THE GUIANA JUNGLE, Lord Kitchener, those odd Reader’s Digest collected works of *insert western classical composer or awesome polka guy, here*, lots of Bollywood, Johnny Mathis and a good dose of Kitty Wells, Dolly, Willie Nelson. Rock and roll was kind of special because I got to discover that on my own. Those were the albums we played when the folks were at work or at my friend’s house. Dad went on a “Rock and roll is the music of the devil; we must burn all rock albums and rid the world of it’s horrible influence” phase, so most of my albums stayed in my room hidden safely behind the Mozart and Ravi Shankar. It was an odd time.

Why do you think circus and carnivale culture has made such a comeback and is seemingly in a renaissance in the independent arts scene from burlesque to steampunk to modern-day proud-to-be-freaks shows?

Good question and I don’t really know. I’ve always been drawn to it because it seemed like a magical amorphous place, where one can, not only be exactly what one is, but is encouraged and expected to be fully that – to gain power and reflect competence and heart through what others might view as “freakish.” It’s a place where no one expects tidy and convenient truths. Fantastic stuff. I think I definitely would have felt safer in there as a kid.

Your vocals have often been compared to Tom Waits, which is unusual for a woman. Did you work to create your unique singing voice or did it just come natural?

I’ve always had a little froggy voice, and the vocalists that I really loved had such huge resonance. You could feel them in your chest! So, yeah of course I wanted to sound like them. That would be me, age 5, trying my damnedest to sing Johnny Cash, and eventually I could. I had a voice therapist tell me that I have the physiology for it . My vocal cords are similar to a male’s. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to train that low.

Aileen Loy fronts Till Someone Loses An Eye at 7 Stages during Day of the Cupcake, Oct. 8, 2012. Photo credit: Jolie Simmons

Tell us about Till Someone Loses an Eye, your latest band. Why the name? And what makes this band special and unique musically?

I thought the name was funny. It could be a threat, an eventuality, or an aspiration. The band is personally interesting to me because everyone has such a widely different back story and vibe from one another, and it informs the music in a pretty cool way.

At an Artifice Club performance in fall 2012. Photo credit: James Curtis Barger.

You list some of your collaborators as “heads of mischief.” What do you mean by that?

I was being glib when I wrote that, just trying to fill a page and get it up. But now it’s very apparent to me that it’s absolutely true on its face, no explanation needed. Lovely troublemakers, all of them.

You’re playing twice this week. Wed. March 6 at Star Bar and then Sunday march 10 at Corner Pub, which is going to be a once-monthly event on second Sundays. Do you have any special plans for either show? Why should folks come out?

Wednesday’s show we’re playing with Fiend Without a Face and Ricer, two reasons right there to come. Second Sundays, we have the whole night to do whatever we want. We could play two full sets just us, or have another band open, or musicians sit in for a song or two. This Sunday, the band, Tulsa, is coming through from SXSW and will be doing an early opener set at 8:30.

A vintage stag pocketwatch sporting a prosthetic eye designed by Aileen Loy.

What are you up to in the visual arts right now? Last time I checked you were making beautiful jewelry involving teeth.

Still plugging away, trying to up the scope of the teeth jewelry a bit and take it to a logical conclusion, not sure what that is. I’ve got a few new projects brewing, but it’s still to foggy to talk about them with any kind of intelligence.

What artistic or musical accomplishment are you most proud of so far, and why?

I’m just happy I’m doing it. Neither was particularly supported when I was growing up, so I kind of always found my own way around. Definitely, a late bloomer.

Finally we had to ask. What’s your favorite whiskey and why?

Is there ever a bad whiskey?

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