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: Like a Burlesque Girl Should: Shaking, Rattlin’ and Rockin’ Out with Kitten DeVille on Neoburlesque’s Underground Roots, Lux Interior and Headlining Atlanta’s Southern Fried Burlesque Fest

Posted on: Mar 7th, 2012 By:

Kitten DeVille. Photo credit: Neil Kendall.

Anyone who’s spent any time watching Atlanta’s burlesque scene knows we have some amazing performers and troupes, but Southern Fried Burlesque Fest finally put Atlanta on the map as having its own weekender featuring nationally known stars, legends and local and regional performers. At last year’s premiere event, we had an amazing time watching some of the most creative acts ever to hit local stages and mixing and mingling over cocktails in between. So needless to say, ATLRetro can’t wait for the second annual festival this weekend (March 8-11) at the Courtyard Marriott/Decatur Conference Center.

Look out for a full preview soon, but in the true spirit of tease, we couldn’t wait to titillate you with an exclusive interview with headliner Kitten DeVille, Miss Exotic World 2002 and the Queen of the Quake. Kitten is the shake-rattle-and rock ‘n’ roll 3-D embodiment of the cat’s meow, the quintessential Kool Kat, and one of the key founders of the neo-burlesque revival. So listen up, kids, as she divulges some sexy secrets about the pioneer days of the early ’90s (to find out how Atlanta’s own burlesque revival began, check out Torchy Taboo‘s tale of the city’s first show here.), as well as what she’ll be up to this weekend. Oh, and we  just couldn’t resist asking her what it was like to shoot the “Ultra Twist” video with The CrampsLux Interior, Kitten and we miss you more than you could ever imagine!

ATLRetro: When you got started in burlesque, the art form was mostly dead. Yet around the country in the early-mid ‘90s, it seemed like there was almost a simultaneous energy to bring it back. Can you talk a little bit about the early days of the Burlesque revival and what inspired you to perform?

Kitten DeVille: At the time  I was go go dancing along with Michelle Carr at an underground gay club inLos Angeles called Club Fuck. I was collecting vintage men’s magazines and had always been inspired by the photos of burlesque dancers. Their photos seemed to capture  incredibly, fierce and glamourous women having  fun on their own terms. Their costumes inspired me to make all my go-go costumes in their style . When Michelle and Elvia ( the creators of [Los Angeles burlesque troupe] The Velvet Hammer) started talking about putting together a burlesque supper club I was sold on the idea. The first Velvet Hammer was held on Valentines Day 1995. Lux & [PoisonIvy (of The Cramps) were in the  sold-out audience. I was hooked from the very start – one-upping my costumes, always in search of the next song. Backstage was like a girls night out – champagne, laughter, catching up on the latest stories. (I still feel this way backstage today.)

Kitten DeVille Miss Exotic World 2002 Promo shot. Photo credit: Don Spiro.

Some things that were different in the start that maybe girls do not think about today [include]:

In the 1990s, there was really nowhere to go for  8x10s. There were no modern pin up photographers like there are today. We had to make it up as we went along, designing our shoots, telling them we wanted a certain mood and lighting. Most photographers did not ‘get it right off the bat.

There was no place to buy costumes. The lingerie industry was pretty boring, very plain compared to what is out there now (also pretty burlesque-inspired if you ask me). There are so many things that seem so common now that were really hard-to-find objects in the ’90s, from hair ornaments [to] shoes, clothing. Most things we could only obtain in vintage form; now there is so much off the rack .

At the 2000 Miss Exotic World & Tease-O-Rama in 2001 there were only a handful of neoburlesque girls. It was an exciting world to ourselves. Each year our numbers grew. We returned with new stories and adventures. Our world expanded. We helped each other along; we were inspired by the legends. We witnessed the burlesque explosion. It is pretty amazing to watch a scene grow, to be a part of it from the very beginnings. Because when you are in the midst of it, you do not understand that you are part of this history, that people will one day be inspired by you, that we were creating and forming this thing that has become modern burlesque. It is quite an honor.

What kinds of people came to those early Velvet Hammer shows?

Gays, straights, hipsters. We had an underground mixed crowd right from the start. It was its own scene. People dressed up. It was an event, a real night out on the town affair.

Today’s burlesque performers can learn their craft in classes through schools of burlesque such as yours. How did you develop your stage style and did you have any mentors/early inspirations/role models in the art of burlesque?

In 1994, when I started creating my first burlesque act, there was no YouTube and very little vintage burlesque easily available on video. I took what I saw in vintage burlesque  photos and blended it with what I believed they must have been doing on stage with their bodies and created my own style of burlesque. My main inspirations for my movements are Lilie Christine‘s photos and Lux Interior’s and Iggy Pop‘s no-holds-barred stage presence.

Kitten DeVille & Lux Interior.

What was it like working with the Cramps? 

Working and performing with the Cramps has been amazing and intimidating. I had been a huge fan of Lux and Ivy for years. At first, I felt so meek sitting in the same room with them. But they are such wonderful people, very friendly and funny.  At one point Lux was asking our opinion on which heels he should wear for the shoot and if we would mind doing an extra scene riding in a back of a convertible with them. Lux also liked to take 3D photos, and backstage at the Key Club, he was doing an impromptu photo shoot of Michelle and me when we opened for their show. Now that was a mix of horror and amazement because the event was over-sold so people were packed in standing room only from stage to exit and here we were opening for The Cramps!  Not really a burlesque show audience, people had only one thing on their minds and that was Lux & Poison or so it felt to me. I remember walking onto stage and looking into their faces. It seemed as if  half the audience was super into what I was doing  and half had that look of, “OK, now bring on The Cramps!  But the best thing from that night was what the DJ and some people in the booth overheard Lux saying to Ivy as they watched me perform. Lux had leaned over to Ivy and said  “now how are we going to follow that!”

What about being shot by Bunny Yeager and David LaChapelle?

Bunny Yeager is such a pro, such an eye and very easy to work with. I only wished I would have filmed the shoot so I could remember all the little tricks she was telling me, just an inch here or a hand held there. Her direction and photos came out flawless. I remember she kept wanting me to be naked and in the end I was. Ha ha, she has her ways of getting what she wants, and, well, it’s Bunny and who else should be the first photographer to shoot nude photos of me?!

David LaChapelle is so fun to work with. It is always a crazy party; you never know what to expect out of the day. I had first met him with a mutual friend  in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery watching movies being projected on the wall. He said that he liked the dress I was wearing and asked if he could put my number in his phone. I have done a few photos, videos and commercials with him. He is such an artist and very sweet.

What’s your favorite performance thus far and why? 

I cannot choose only one. Many of my performances have a special place in my heart for different reasons, but the one that shines is “The Casting Couch” that Dixie Evans personally taught to me back at the Ranch.  I love Dixie. She is the most enthusiastic, knowledgeable and kindest lady I have ever met in the field of burlesque. She is the glue that binds this whole scene from the beginnings to the modern day. When I was asked to perform a tribute number at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, I instantly chose Dixie.

I spent a couple  days with her teaching me her routine, filming her, taking down notes on what songs she had used. And in the end she was insistent that I finish the routine with something of myself, with my bumps and grinds, because she had said “no one can shake the way you shake and you have to make this your own.” So I added “The Man with the Golden Arm” song to the end and made her routine have a bit of myself mixed into it.  This is the only time I have ever performed someone else’s choreography and such a well-known routine.  Although it went off wonderfully, it was such a challenge of nerves to perform it in front of her and my peers at BHoF that I put the routine away for about five years. I brought it back out again for Viva Las Vegas and spent the next two years touring with it because I loved doing it so much. Funny how things go sometimes .

Kitten DeVille. Photo credit: Luca Rome.

For us East Coast Southerners, what’s the Rock & Roll StripShow, how did you get the idea and is that still happening?

The Rock & Roll StripShow is a joint effort of Joseph Brooks, Annie Sperling and myself. It came about because of a few different reasons. First, there are no large-venue burlesque shows in Los Angeles. Second I wanted to co-produce something with Joseph Brooks who is hugely responsible for the underground club scene in LA starting in the late 1980s which I loved dancing at. And thirdly I wanted to combine my two favorite worlds – rock  & roll and burlesque – something most people were not doing back in 2005. Rock & Roll StripShow features our own band and guest singers which have included David J of Bauhaus fame, Pearl Harbor, Kitten on the Keys and other wonderful  performers. We handpick a headliner roster of performers, and the night is filled with burlesque performances set to live Rock & Roll in a proper venue with amazing sound and lightin . It is a main event attracting everyone from Dita [Von Teese], David LaChapelle and a who’s who in LA  to attend. Right now we are looking to take StripShow on tour. We also want to attach it to larger burlesque or Rock & Roll festivals .

Kitten DeVille Onstage in New Orleans.

What will you be up to at Southern Fried Burlesque Fest?

I am performing on Friday night [at Free Range Burlesque] and judging the [Southern Fried Burlesque] Pageant on Saturday. I am also teaching two classes. I have a movement class [Sat. 3:15] that is guaranteed to have the students feeling their bodies,  and also a question/answer [Sat. 4:30 p.m.], ask-me-anything sort of a class that should be really fun because I never know what I will be asked and they maybe surprised by my answers.

What else, other than your own performance and classes, are you looking forward to the most at SFBF?

Watching the other performances. I love Perle [Perle Noire, the Black Pearl] and Angel [ Satan’s Angel]. They are both always so inspiring. I am excited to watch and meet all the wonderful  performers. My favorite things about festivals are meeting and making new friends. I have never been to Georgia before so I am also excited to be in a new place, to soak up my surrounding and sample the food.

You’re quite the multitalented Renaissance woman of burlesque. What else are you up to right now in movies, music, modeling?

I have been doing some interesting modeling work with Annie Sperling. I am in talks with a producer about doing  a TV show. I am thinking about doing some writing, and I am working on setting up another European tour for late summer early fall. I am also traveling the states doing festivals. I have Viva Las Vegas and the Texas Burlesque Festival in April and The Windy City Burlesque Festival in July .

What question does no one ever ask you that you wish someone did? And what’s the answer? 

Wow, what a great question! I think I am too much of a Scorpio to give away all my secrets, but now you have my mind spinning for the perfect question. I will have to get back to you on that one.

In addition to Kitten DeVille’s main Website, she invites you to enjoy more pics and clips at http://kittendeville.tumblr.com/.

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Southern-Fried Sensuality: Atlanta’s First Burlesque Festival Showcases Local and International Talent

Posted on: Mar 3rd, 2011 By:

Atlanta certainly has earned its place on the map of the Neo-Burlesque Revival with amazing performers and troupes. Now this steamy Southern city finally is getting its first bonafide burlesque festival, too. In case you’ve been too naughty to notice, Southern Fried Burlesque Fest dances into town next weekend, Thurs. March 10- Sun. March 13, 2011, at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center in Decatur. But co-founders Katherine Lashe and Ursula Undress (Syrens of the South Productions) kindly have agreed to pull back the curtains and strip down to some of the delicious details…

Katherine Lasche & Ursula Undress invite you to some Southern-fired fun at Atlanta's first burlesque festival.

1. Is there any story behind how you hatched the idea for Southern Fried Burlesque Fest and why Atlanta needs its own festival?

Katherine Lashe: Atlanta’s the biggest city in the Southeast and a hot bed for burlesque with guest performers coming in all the time so it seemed to make sense that we should have a festival to show off all of the amazing talent from all aspects of burlesque that the Southeast had to offer, in addition to showing the Southeast what the rest of the world has to offer as well.

Ursula Undress: I had heard some talk about how we needed to do something like it here at a few of the Atlanta Burlesque & Cabaret Meet-Ups and had been to a few other state-specific festivals. So I supported Katherine with wanting to move forward with one here and told her I would do whatever I could to help. We definitely have the talent in the city and surrounding areas—so it has become sort of a regional thing.

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