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!

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

 

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Third Time’s The Charm: Revival Stars, Legends and Rising Ingenues Add Spice to Southern Fried Burlesque Festival

Posted on: Mar 18th, 2013 By:

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. Bras off to Syrens of the South Productions, and in particular Katherine “Lashe” Neslund, with assistance from Ursula Undress, who had a dazzling dream to start a festival in Atlanta.As a lover of classic burlesque but appreciative of the creativity that revival performers show, ATLRetro has to say that the big evening shows at the first two SFBFs were among the best in Atlanta. We loved the chance to see some of the nation’s and Southeast’s best, including legends that sizzled stages in the ’60s and ’70s, without traveling to New York, the West Coast or the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Aspiring performers can take classes taught by these talents on topics ranging from costuming to performance to the history of the art form, as well as shop from a host of vendors selling everything from pasties to vintage items.

Just a quick glance at the line-up suggests this year will be just as good performance-wise, if not even better. First, we have to admit that we’re pretty excited to see Portland, Oregon’s Russell Bruner, reigning King of Burlesque, after getting a peek at him during 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 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.

Russell Bruner

OK, yeah, that was a lot of getting hot and bothered about Russell. SFBF 2013 also features a bevy of lovely ladies. Friday night’s all-star Free Range Burlesque will be headlined by Miss Exotic World 2010 Roxi D’lite, who also stars in BURLESQUE ASSASSINS, a Canadian comedy/action indie feature film which will have its Atlanta debut at SFBF. Set in a 1950s Burlesque theatre, it stars top burlesque performers from around the world and and follows a trio of sexy super-spies as they seduce their way within killing distance of a trio of villainy hell bent on global Cold War domination. How can one not want to see a movie whose description provocatively teases: “WITNESS the fatal fan dance of Koko La Douce! BEHOLD the brutal boa striptease of Bombshell Belle! SEE Bourbon Sue, a bad girl with a taste for booze, boys and Rock & Roll. Experience the carnage and the cleavage as the enemies of The Burlesque Assassins discover that when it comes to these women, LOOKS CAN KILL!” Catch the trailer here.

Known for having the “mouth of a sailor” and the “voice of an angel,” Cora Vette will be on hand as pageant mistress of ceremonies on Saturday night. She performed for more than one million guests over three years as Tanya in MAMMA MIA! at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. She now runs a burlesque company called Black Box Burlesque and also has a troupe of male burlesque performers called Cora Vette’s Hot Rods. In fact, she may be one of burlesque’s most diverse talents, having also written two burlesque musicals, the critically acclaimed Victorian comic burlesque operetta, LEADVILLE OR BUST! and a pot opera called REEFER MANIA: DENVER’S GONE TO POT.

Cora Vette.

Notorious for her costumes, 2012 Southern Fried Burlesque Queen, Denver’s Orchid Mei, returns. She gracefully combines traditional Chinese dance with influences from classic burlesque femme fatales and has performed with the Dresden Dolls. Also back are last year’s best group, New Orleans’ Slow Burn Burlesque! Atlanta’s own lovely Talloolah Love and Knoxville’s Kisa Von Teasa will be featured performers at the Southern Scorcher showcase, hosted by Minette Magnifique‘s Baroness vonSchmalhausen which also includes Fonda Lingue, Ursula Undress and many more talented performers  from all over the Southeast!

late night Saturday. SFBF’s legends this year are Canada’s Judith Stein and Detroit’s Toni Elling, who will both be performing Friday. And that’s not even counting Atlanta’s New Orleans Jon, who emcees on Friday; all the way from Stockholm, Sweden, Adoria Amoria – if you had any doubt that the revival had reached Scandinavia; Knoxville’s Sweet Little Psycho Kisa Von Teasa, and many more.

Here’s a quick rundown of SFBF daily highlights:

Thursday March 21

SFBF kicks off with a happy hour mixer, which also will double as the monthly meet-up of the Atlanta Burlesque & Cabaret Club from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., then get a sneak peek at burlesque’s future stars at the Just Hatched Newcomers Showcase and watch the Atlanta premiere of BURLESQUE ASSASSINS at 10 pm.

Friday March 22

The festival teases into full gear with classes and vendors during the daytime, the Free Range International Showcase headlined by Roxi D’lite and featuring performances by local and national stars at 9 p.m. and an after-party at 11:30 p.m with music by Till Someone Loses An Eye featuring Kool Kat Aileen Loy and Good Golly Svengali.

Judith Stein.

Saturday March 23

Take classes and shop the vendors’ market during the daytime, then see some of the south’s and nation’s finest compete in the Southern Fried Burlesque Pageant, at 8 p.m. It’s hosted by Cora Vette with farewell performances by last year’s winners Orchid Mei and New Orleans’ Slow Burn BurlesqueThen close out the night with the Southern Scorcher Showcase at 11:30 p.m. featuring Talloolah Love, Kisa Von Teasa, Fonda Lingue, Ursula Undress and many more talented performers  from all over the Southeast!

Sunday March 24

Get your final shopping done and catch up with the performers before they leave town.

To purchase advance tickets and peruse the full class and event schedule with performer bios, visit www.southernfriedburlesquefest.com/. And for the latest updates and extras, be sure to friend SFBF on Facebook and follow on Twitter

All photographs are courtesy of Southern Fried Burlesque Festival and the performers pictured.

Category: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: Let Her Entertain You: Fonda Lingue Teases Us With a Snow-Glamorous Fan Dance and Embarks on a Grand European Tour

Posted on: Nov 28th, 2011 By:

Fonda Lingue. Photo credit: Rah Benton.

Place a wide ostrich feather fan in the hand of Fonda Lingue, and she’ll tease you with an act that captures the classic beauty of vintage  Sally Rand. She’s mastered “Let Me Entertain You,” the signature striptease number of Gypsy Rose Lee, and she’s even developing a tribute to Lili St. Cyr. But as you watch her graceful moves that recapture the glamour of burlesque’s golden era, chances are it may take you a while to realize Fonda’s ultimate tease. While burlesque has its share of boys, Fonda is one of the very few who dances as a woman and not just that, but as the awards and accolades she’s accrued in just a few years of professional performance in the field attest, with all the skill and sex appeal of today’s top female burlesque revival performers.

Atlanta’s burlesque scene has had its share of rising stars, but when we heard that Fonda was heading to Europe to compete against some of the best international performers for the prestigious Milan Burlesque Awardas well as a whirlwind performance tour through England, France and Italy, we knew it was high time to declare her Kool Kat of the Week. This Fri. Dec. 2, she’ll also be one of the Snow Queens of Burlesque in Santa Baby, a special wintry holiday edition of Mon Cherie‘s Va-Va Voom series at The Shelter featuring special guest celebrity emcee Devin Liquor and Stormy KnightBiloxi BrownKatherine LasheScarlett Page and more of Atlanta’s best dancers. Then on Sat. Dec. 17, she’ll be performing in the Syrens of the South-produced Tits for Toys for Tots show at The Five Spot. Headlined by burlesque legend Gabriella Maze, returning after almost 30 years, that holiday-themed spectacular features a glitzy all-star line-up of local performers including Talloolah Love, Katherine Lashe, Ruby Redmayne, Kittie Katrina, Kisa Von Teasa and Lola Lesoleil.

ATLRetro caught up with Fonda to find out what flamed her passion for classic burlesque and to see what we could tease out of her about her December performances and that upcoming European tour!

ATLRetro: Before you became a classic burlesque performer, you were a ballet dancer and female impersonator for 20 years. How did you get started in burlesque and what captivated you to embrace recreating the golden era of burlesque?

Fonda Lingue: I got started in burlesque when Devin Liquor and I had a show at The Stage Door in Tucker called “The Dirty South Dukes and Dolls Show.” It was primarily a drag king show, and I was the only “female” in the show. I never wanted to do traditional drag acts of just standing there and lipsyncing to popular songs so I would create these dance numbers to use all of my talents. I did a number to “Let Me Entertain You” from GYPSY where I did the first part as the young Gypsy, then ran off the stage, quickly changed and became Gypsy in her striptease years and stripped down to pasties and panties. The audience loved it! I began adding those numbers more and more into my act and was asked by The Lady Miss Vagina Jenkins to participate in one of her burlesque shows. That was the start.

Fonda Lingue. Photo credit: Derek Jackson.

As far as the Golden Era of Burlesque, I am a purist, almost to an OCD extent. I figure if I am going to do it, I am going to do it right and do it accurately. I have studied videos, read books—I am reading GILDED LILI [about] the life of Lili St. Cyr right now—and talked to legends, and to me, that time was the height of what burlesque used to be. You were a star back then and you were paid well to do your craft. You were taken care of and respected for what you did as an artist. I love the glamour, and I love the social aspects of the burlesque scene. I also think it is important to keep that part of our history alive. Right now there is a more contemporary approach to burlesque throughout the country, and my goal is to keep classic burlesque alive. There is room for both and many performers do both styles. For me, it is a preference, and I think it suits my movement style and my look.

It strikes me that the burlesque world is very open-minded and embracing, but did you have any challenges as a boylesque performer among your fellow performers or with audiences?

I can’t believe how well I have been received in the burlesque world. Much more than in the drag world. I am one of only a few males that perform as a woman. In fact, I know of no one else who does what I do. That’s not saying there isn’t someone, I just don’t know of anybody. I am different in that my goal is to fool the audience until the final reveal, then they realize I am a man. Really, I am the definition of the word “Burlesque.” I love to challenge people’s sensibilities and prove to them that they can enjoy my performances from an entertainment standpoint and not necessarily a sexual one. I also like the fact that I may challenge their sexual tendencies as well. The only real problem I have is when I apply to a festival or competition, they don’t always know where to put me. They want me, but they just don’t know if I am to be placed with the boys or the girls. In the Great Southern Exposure pageant last year, I won King of Burlesque. Some other competition might place me as a female. If it is not a competition, there is no problem.  I don’t care myself where I go, i just want to be able to perform.

Who are a few of the performers—both classic and from the contemporary burlesque revival—who most inspire you?

Lili St. Cyr is my absolute favorite. I have been compared to her in my performances, and I take that as the highest compliment. I have been inspired the most by Kisa Von Teasa, Sally Rand, Gypsy Rose Lee, Dirty Martini, Catherine D’Lish and Michelle L’Amour. Each of them inspire me in different ways.

You’ve won quite a few honors in just a few years in the profession, including King of Burlesque in the Great Southern Exposure Burlesque Competition. Do you feel that ballet and drag experience gave you a leg up, so to speak?

Drag not so much. I would like to say that it had, but I have to be honest. Other queens told me my make-up was wrong, my numbers weren’t current, and they all tried to “correct” me. Even my partner at the time tried to change my make-up. It was only when I went back to following my own instincts that I got any recognition. Plus, it’s all too political in Atlanta, but that is another interview!

Ballet has definitely helped me with my burlesque career. I would not have the carriage and vocabulary I have if it weren’t for my experience as a ballet dancer. Also my ability to portray different characters can be attributed to my ballet training. In ballet, you have to convey the story to your audience through your movements. Your voice is your body. It’s the same in burlesque. Burlesque is just another form of dance. People argue with me on that, but aren’t we called burlesque DANCERS?

Without giving away too much, what can you tease us with about your performance in this Friday’s winter-themed Va-Va-Voom?

Well, I have been asked to do a fan dance by Mon Cherie herself, so that I will do. It will be set to classical music, it will be very sparkly—of course—and I hope it will be very beautiful!

You’ve done a lot of performances at Mon Cherie’s events, including the Rockabilly Lounge. She’s really gone a long way towards making burlesque a regular activity in Atlanta and nurturing so many performers. Can you talk a bit about Mon Cherie’s impact on the local burlesque scene and why folks should come out to her events?

Well, Mon Cherie has done a lot for me personally as far as my performing here in Atlanta. She has allowed me to perform in front of audiences that I didn’t know if they were going to like me or hate me. Fortunately they have all been favorable experiences, and I have opened some peoples eyes through her. Mon brings in performers from all over the south and also tries to give “Newbies”—that’s a term I have learned through my dealings overseas—a chance to perform as well.

Money is tight these days, and there are not a lot of outlets for burlesque performers right now. I am very lucky I perform as much as I do. She has had a HUGE impact on Atlanta’s burlesque scene in that she makes it possible for us to work consistently. Just about every independent burlesque performer in Atlanta has graced her stages at one time or another. I admire the fact that she tries to keep us employed and often reaps no benefits herself. I know her day will come. You can’t give of yourself like she does and not be rewarded somehow. Her events are professional, she has high standards, and the atmosphere is that of those early years of burlesque when it was just as social as it was performance. I always feel like I have stepped back in time!

We just heard the exciting news that you’re about to set off on a European tour. Where are you going and what acts are you taking on the road?

Right now I am going to London, Rome, Paris, and I am still waiting confirmation on Milan. There are other things in the works but not confirmed. I am taking six acts with me! Am I crazy? Yes! I am performing three nights inParis, and they want two numbers each night! I am taking “Zip Strip” (the act I won Great Southern Exposure with) my “funny fan dance,” “Cry Me A River” (my signature piece), “Moon Indigo” (a new act that is in rehearsals now), “Lili,” my tribute to Lili St. Cyr (in rehearsal now, especially created for this tour) and another new number that I have chosen the music but haven’t started yet.

Is it true that Ruby Redmayne is coming with you?

We are working on that! If she does, she will accompany me on part of my trip only. She is my best friend, and she wants to be there to celebrate with me and to help me backstage. And who wouldn’t want to go to Europe?! We can make a great time out of walking through the grocery store, so I know we will have fun. I hope it works out that she can go because I would love to share this experience with her. She has done so much for me to keep me motivated and help me get things done. I have booked this whole tour on my own—researched my own contacts, pursued producers and corresponded with all of them. It has turned into almost a full-time job, and Ruby has been invaluable in helping me get things accomplished! She needs to reap the benefits of her hard work as well! It’s not easy keeping me motivated!

It’s hard to make a living as a burlesque performer here in the US, but you’ve said that the situation is easier in Europe. I was struck, for example, at the huge burlesque scene in London—there’s so much going on that there’s even a “burlesque map.” Would you ever consider relocating to Europe?

Absolutely! In fact, that is my intention when I go over there. I am not sure where I want to live yet. Most likely it will be the UK or Paris. I want to see if it will be possible to make a living at being a burlesque artist. From what I have been told, there are not many male performers in Paris and none that perform as a woman.  The London burlesque scene has exploded. Europeans treat their Artists like Artists. And they pay them what they are worth. I have worked since I was 12 years old and never stopped. I loved my career as a ballet dancer, don’t get me wrong, but I was never a star. I was, and still am, well-known but I want more. I know it sounds cliche but that is what I want. I feel that I am on a path right now, and this is where it is leading. I have had a rough year. My relationship ended, and the day before I was to move into my new apartment I was in a car accident that has left me with some physical problems.  Everything bad that has happened has happened for a reason and has led to this tour. Far be it from me to stop listening now!

Do you have any other performances scheduled in Atlanta during the holiday season?

Yes, on December 17, I will be doing my “Suzy Snowflake” number at Syrens of the South’s Tits For Toys for Tots at the Five Spot in Little Five Points. I have also been asked to perform again at The Pond in Nashville with Ruby Redmayne for their annual New Year’s Eve Party.

You feel passionately about teaching burlesque as well. Can you talk a little bit about why even accomplished performers can benefit from classes to keep up their craft?

Your body is an instrument and it needs to be maintained. Regular movement classes keep you supple and in shape. They also keep your mind working. You are a dancer, and a dancer needs to take class at least a couple of time a week. I try to do my own class everyday. You owe it to your audience to be in the best shape both mentally and physically. The only way to do that is through constant training. People argue this with me, but the performers that do this are the ones getting the jobs and keeping them. You can always learn something from someone else. That is why I try to take as many classes as I can when someone new comes in to town or I go to a burlesque festival. It is always nice to hear someone else’s perspective on the same thing—especially someone that makes their living doing it! Ninety-nine percent of the time you get something out of it.

Finally, if I recall correctly, you recently purchased an amazing, beautiful headdress from Miss Torchy Taboo. Have you worn it yet in an act or what plans do you have for it?

I have not worn it yet. Rumor has it that I did wear it for a photo shoot, but that is not true. That beautiful piece of art will hopefully make it’s debut if I am accepted into the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival here in Atlanta the week before I go to Europe. If not, you will have to come to Europe to see it! I will be applying to the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend. Torchy and I both agree it needs to end up there. “Moon Indigo” is the music I have selected for the number. I have designed my costume with a kind of Erte feel to it, and I have matched the fabric to the headpiece. It includes a fur wrap, and it will be made of dupioni silk! My costume is being constructed by Cat Harrison, a big Steampunk costume designer, so my corset will be especially awesome. I am using vintage beads combined with non-vintage Swarovski crystals. Costuming my body is not easy because I have to create body parts and curves that I just don’t have. My hat is off to her and she is doing a great job!

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2019 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress