KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK: Blast-Off Has Their Cake and…! Dickie Van Dyke Celebrates Kissing, Shaving and a Decade of Burlesque Madness!

Posted on: Sep 7th, 2016 By:
Photo credit: Chris Buxbaum.

Photo credit: Chris Buxbaum.

Blast-Off Burlesque is back and going UNDER THE COVERS Friday Sept. 9 and Saturday Sept. 10 at Sychronicity Theatre in Midtown. Atlanta’s sci-fi punk vaudeville burlesque goofballs are celebrating their 10th year with this burlesque “performance explosion” inspired by some famous, and some not so famous album covers with emcee extraordinaire Ms. Gayle Thrower Rej and featuring with special guests P-Lo aka Patricia Lopez, Baby Doll and JuWanna Pimpmee!

With such an auspicious anniversary for some of ATLRetro’s favorite performers–all Kool Kats in our world!– we caught up with founding member Tricia Chenard, aka Dickie Van Dyke, to get the inside scoop on the creative cacophony which we know will ensue this weekend, as well as the troupe’s secret scooter origins, her own first album purchases, and an update on her other pastimes, including banjo and harmonica antics with her jugband Uncle Daddy and the Kissin’ Cousins, as well as bringing back traditional barbering at Rutabaga in Decatur.

ATLRetro: What’s the “secret origin” story of Dickie Van Dyke and how did you join the Blast-Off Burlesque? Aren’t you one of the founding members?

Dickie Van Dyke: In the beginning, Blast-Off was just me, Barbalicious, Sadie Hawkins and Ferris Hilton. We met through riding vintage scooters and meeting up for weekly beers with fellow scooter enthusiasts. Barb and Sadie were members of the burlesque troupe The Dollsquad and decided to start something new when The Dollsquad was ending its run. They approached me and said they wanted me to be their drag king. I replied, “But, I’m not a drag king.” They replied, “But you look so good in a suit.” I guess a little flattery went along way. I knew I wanted to use the name Dickie to tip my hat to my beloved, big gay, hair-dressing uncle, Richard. Barb and I started tossing around cheesy variations like Dickie Diamond or Dickie Dean etc… Eventually, Dickie Van Dyke fell out of my mouth and it fit on so many levels. The Van Dyke part was obvious because of, well, my being queer as a pink fuzzy football. I also love Dick Van Dyke. He’s one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived. Truly a classy gentleman.

underthecoversGosh-groovy-wow, it’s hard to believe Blast-Off is celebrating its 10th year. What does that feel like?

It feels shocking and great! We’ve had highs and lows like any long-term relationship. We are people. We’ve evolved; we are evolving. Blast-Off is like a favorite pair of jeans. It’s frayed around the edges, there are weird stains in strange places, and it’s worn thin in the knees, but nothing in the world feels the same. Nothing hangs off the hips in just that perfect way. People can sell overpriced, cheap versions of those distressed jeans, but they aren’t molded to your ass with the sweat and tears of hard work and hard play the way your favorite jeans are. That’s what being together for so long feels like. It’s biscuits, fried chicken and collard greens. It’s falling in love with your sweetheart all over again, despite the urge to strangle them because they are a beautiful, messy pain in the ass and you’ve been through a lot together, but you love that about them so much.

Photo credit: Regean Powell.

Photo credit: Regean Powell.

A new Blast-Off Burlesque show is a much anticipated treat. You zany kids have tackled the Wild West, TV, sci-fi, to name a few themes. How did you guys come up with the idea of bringing album covers to life, and we assume the show title “Under the Covers” is a double entendre?

Oh yeah, it’s most definitely a double entendre. It was one of those moments where we were surprised by our own cleverness. Our brainstorming process is pretty simple. We order a couple pizzas, bust open a bottle of Jameson or other lubricant of choice, and we throw ideas out. We haggle, we plead, we let go, we rationalize, we deconstruct, we get side-tracked, we analyze, we cuddle and we keep sipping whiskey until things we say to each other start sounding like good ideas. That usually doesn’t take too long because we are all nuts.

Blast-Off recently ran a contest that you judged in which people were invited to post a pic of the first album they ever bought to win a pair of free tickets to the show. What’s the first album you ever bought? And the story behind that purchase?

My first actual music-buying experience involved three albums. My family frequented a rinky dink flea market on GA-2 outside of Varnell, Ga. It was the kind of flea market where you could get some army BDUs, a live chicken, some boiled peanuts, the best handmade quilt, a fist full of Weirdo magazines and a tattoo from a biker working out of a repurposed school bus. There was a guy that sold awful bootleg copies of records. Everything was on a tape with the name of the album scribbled on the side. The insert was a one-sided Xerox of the original cover. They were bad, but three for $5. I bought horribly bootlegged copies of Motley Crüe‘s SHOUT AT THE DEVIL, Cyndi Lauper‘s SHE’S SO UNUSUAL and a random Patsy Cline BEST OF. I guess I will forever be a bargain shopper and lover of a wide variety of music.

Without giving away any surprises, can you give us a little tease as to the album cover(s) you’ll be unwrapping in the show?

Oh man, we touch on a wide variety of albums and genres! Icons, essences, obscurities, explorations of everything from The Who to The Boss to The Cramps to Vanity 6. The process of creating this show was interesting in the sense that we all got to express some sort of musical admiration for our personal favorites. It is our ultimate tribute album in some sort of burlesqued, interpretive dance movement, party-time experience.

Photo credit: Marc Turnley

Photo credit: Marc Turnley

What else has Blast-Off been up to lately and any more shows/activities planned for the near future?

In November, we are looking forward to working with Splatter Cinema again. Those guys have always been super awesome. They are letting us desecrate their stage by bringing back a horror version of our Taboo-La-La film night. We are currently working out the details, but it should be fun!

We hear Uncle Daddy and the Kissin Cousins has a super great new line up and a bunch of new songs. What’s up, where can we find you playing and are the rumors true that the band will be hitting the recording studio soon?

The jugband is creating a lot of new songs and sounds. Expanding our minds for sure. We figure after nine years of playing together, we might actually cut a record so we have something to give the folks who keep asking for it. We are going to be playing at 529 in East Atlanta on Sept. 26 with Banjaline and Glen DeMeritt, Oct. 1 for Garage 71’s Hell on Wheels in Canton, Ga. There are a lot of great folks playing and cool stuff going on with that day—classic cars, vintage bikes, sideshow acts, etc. We are also playing Oct. 8 at Ciderfest hosted by Concrete Jungle. Ciderfest is one of our favorite gigs of the year. Super laidback, lots of great people from all different walks of life, and fresh pressed cider!

Your day job is as an old school barber in downtown Decatur at Rutabaga boutique and salon. Can you tell us a bit about that and what types of styles you specialize in for the Retro gentleman? Do you think barbering is becoming a lost art?

I specialize in short cuts, tight fades, razor work, hard parts, classic, as well as modern styles. Anything from an old school pompadour, to a neat and tidy businessman’s coif, to an edgy, razor faded high and tight. As far as the face goes, I offer a classic straight razor shaves with aromatic lather and soothing hot towels, beard and mustache trims, and 15-minute facial massage for when you need a little R&R on the go.

Disco disco dick: Barb HaysAs far as barbering becoming a lost art, I could argue yes and no. At some point, having a barber seemed to have become more trendy than having a stylist. Perhaps it is meterosexual blowback from the ’90s? Perhaps it is the rise of the lumbersexual image? I don’t know. It seems the word “barber” has been simultaneously saved and diluted. There are a lot of folks calling themselves barbers these days. Pick up a pair of clippers and some Pinaud powder, and BOOM, you’re a barber. But to me, there is a difference between a barber who has studied and performs traditional tonsorial arts and a stylist who can perform men’s cuts. I know plenty of excellent stylists that can knock out awesome men’s cuts, and that’s great, but they don’t shave faces or use straight razors; they didn’t study anatomy of the face with all the muscles and arteries, as well as various skin conditions and ways to care for them. I think having that specific training and knowledge is the point of being a true barber. Having a barber pole tattoo doesn’t make you a barber. Knowing how to execute a proper shave and the importance of the 7th cranial nerve does. I’m glad that there has been a revival of barber culture and classic grooming because it is totally ok for dudes to take care of their skin and beards. It’s totally ok for women to opt for shaves as opposed to waxing. Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor did. Now more than ever, anyone can have access to a classic barbershop experience. I’m proud to call myself a traditional barber because of my training and the respect I have for the craft.

Finally, we gotta ask but thinking back over the past 10 years, what’s the craziest caper that you’ve been involved with as a member of Blast-Off and why? And yes, you can define by what we mean by “craziest” and “caper”!

Ya see, there is this little thing we call floor cake. For some reason, we had a grocery store sheet cake after a show. We were imbibing a few celebratory beverages, and before anyone could even get a piece of cake to eat, the entire cake ended up on the floor. Shortly after, everyone ended up in the cake on the floor. My favorite crazy caper happened when we decided to recreate floor cake for a photo shoot with the Burlesque Camera Club. We didn’t tell anyone we were going to drop a cake and writhe around in it for our final shots. At first, nobody knew what to do. These kids bring a cake into a photo shoot and “accidentally” dump it in the floor and start going nuts. Then suddenly everyone just started taking photos like crazy, whipped cream was sprayed all over the studio, sprinkles were sprinkled and jimmies were jammed. It was pure confectionary chaos and everyone loved it. We all had such a great time!

MORE INFO: Limited seating. Blast-Off shows sell out so they highly encourage you to buy tickets in advance to guarantee a seat! VIP front row experience includes four front row seats, drink tickets and very special goodies.Comfy seats for your butt, beer and wine in the lobby, and mixed drinks available at Tavern Pointe, which is right across the lobby. $5 parking will be validated with ticket purchase. Purchase tickets here.

Dick at the earl: Caroline Smith

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KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK: From Kitten to Big Foot, Big Time and Roxie Roz: The Scrumptious Ascent of Mary Strawberry

Posted on: Feb 23rd, 2016 By:
Marc01

Mary Strawberry. Photo credit: Marc Turnley.

The ROXIE  ROZ BURLY-Q SHOW transports audiences back to the bump, grind and bawdy humor of the 1950s and ‘60s this Saturday Feb. 27 at 9 p.m. the Star Bar ($10 presale tickets here; $15 at door). The show is hosted and produced by one of our very first Kool Kats, Shellie Schmals, who is now even more of a dynamite power force in Atlanta’s burlesque scene, and it stands out because acts are accompanied by a live band, none other than Andrew and The Disapyramids, featuring Kool Kat Joshua Longino. The line-up of performers at this not-to-be-missed night out equally rocks, featuring such divine artists as Sadie Hawkins, Candi Lecouer, song bird Jen Thrasher and more.

ATLRetro has had our Kool Kat eye on Mary Strawberry, one of the rising stars taking the stage at Roxie Roz, for some time. Not only is  this classy lady cute as a button, but she has a killer sense of humor and multiple talents well-known to the Atlanta theater community.

We caught up with Mary recently to find out more about what drew her to stage and burlesque, the inside scoop on Roxie Roz, her exotic travels, a dynamic documentary, her advice to beginning performers, and much more!   

You’ve got a long background in theatre. What drew you to the stage as a little girl? Did you have a few favorite plays, performers?

Theater is in my blood. I’ve never known a time where I didn’t want to be on or behind the stage; it just feels right and completes me. My family is pretty quiet, and they all have stories of boisterous little me doing all kinds of stunts and performances all the time. Our chiropractor, who I’ve been seeing for over 20 years, even asks what shows I’m working on and reminisces about seeing me in community theater productions in elementary school. I’d definitely always prefer to see a play over a movie—there’s something exciting about the urgency and stakes of something happening right now and only right now, and the performers being right there looking back at you. My favorite plays include DOG SEES GOD: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE BLOCKHEAD and AVENUE Q. As for performers, I grew up admiring folks like Angela Lansbury, Dick Van Dyke and Jim Henson‘s creations. 

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Photo credit: Kevin O’Connell.

How did you first discover burlesque?

I don’t really remember the exact moment I discovered burlesque, but I really got into it in college. It was part personal revolution, part loving the difference and history of performance art instead of mainstream art, and part feeling a sense of belonging in the crossroads of my passions for dance, performance art and bodies. My final project for my degree was actually on the “Difference Between Sexuality and Sensuality and the Use of the Body in Art.” 

You started as a stage kitten for a lot of local burlesque shows. Stage kittens are essential to the success of any show. What did you learn from that experience?

Kittening is a great way to get your foot in the door past being a patron and admirer. It got me a lot of connections and friends in the industry and a close-up look at the inner workings, from how dancers prepare and make their costumes to how the shows function. The kittens, or pick-up artists, or stage helpers—they go by so many names— are a crucial part of the show. I particularly enjoy working backstage at Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend (BHoF) in Las Vegas every year. I get to meet so many incredible performers and touch all their costumes!

Why the name Mary Strawberry? Is there a story behind it?

My name is definitely personal. It’s a bit familial, a bit cutesy and a lot of recognizable nods. I was named after my great aunt Mary, who served in WWII and was an incredible person. The Strawberry comes from the natural color of my hair, and it’s my favorite fruit and one of my favorite smells. Plus, they rhyme, so it’s easier to remember.

How long have you been performing burlesque and do you have a favorite performance so far?

I think I’ve officially been performing burlesque for just over three years, although I’ve been working behind the scenes as a kitten and stage manager for much longer. I put so much of myself into each of my acts it’s hard to pick a favorite, but half of my enjoyment of a number comes from the audience’s enjoyment and reactions. For instance, my go-go sasquatch number (yep, I dress up like Big Foot and strip!) started out as just a goofy piece for me to express my weird, clownish true self, and it’s morphed into this social justice piece about the natural state of women’s bodies and their right to grow hair. It’s really cool! It definitely makes me feel more connected to the history of the art and parts of the modern neo movement by taking something entertaining and infusing it with politics and satire. I like being able to make people laugh and think at the same time.

jcbarger jen benefit1-16

Photo credit: JC Barger.

You’ve been traveling to some exciting places lately. Has any of that been for burlesque or is it for your other theatrical work or just for fun?

Some from A, some from B. In 2015, I performed in seven states and Canada. I love traveling and performing in new places because it allows me to expand my work and make more contacts while getting to experience how artists create in other places. There have been places I’ve enjoyed more than others, but I’ve also found some really great art in very unexpected places, like Idaho. They have more than just potatoes, there’s also a really amazing burlesque community in Boise! 

I also went to Prague this summer for a set design and performance art festival I’d been dying to get to for eight years. It was a full week of wandering around a beautiful city and experiencing art from around the world. Two of my favorite pieces were from Thailand, and I got to see an awesome traditional clowning group from the Czech Republic. One night, I even stumbled upon a group of Austrians who had literally built a full bar in a closet! So many unforgettable moments. 

Tell us a little bit about the Roxie Roz Burly-Q show. Shellie has become quite a force in the local burlesque community. What’s it like to work with her?

Shellie is a doll. This will be my third show with the Disapyramids in the last year. I had always wanted to dance with a live band because that’s how the ladies from the golden era did it, so working with them is like a dream come true. They’re so relaxed and enjoy what they do just as much as I do. Shellie is so passionate about producing shows that people are excited to see. She has big dreams for Roxie Roz, and I definitely think she’ll achieve them. There’s so much variety squeezed into these shows that everyone can find something they love and you won’t be bored for one second. 

Anything you can tease us with about your act at Roxie Roz?

This month I’ll be doing another classic and funky juxtaposition. I’ll be revamping my number from the pit bulls benefit last spring, and breaking out my sideshow chops! You won’t want to miss this chance to see “both” sides of me…

What’s next for you burlesque-wise?

I have several shows scheduled right now after Roxie Roz, including the Mayhem Femmes one-year anniversary show—the theme is Dark Carnival and it will be at Taverna Plaka on March 19. The week before, we’re starting up a new show called Bettie Bullet Presents: Sex Ed Burlesque. It’s going to be the best sex ed class you’ve ever taken! That one is at Shakespeare Tavern on March 12. I’m booked to “compete” in the Wheel of Tease show in Seattle this August (it’s similar to Last Pasties Standing for all my ATL fans), so I’m hoping to turn that trip into a tour. I’m also working on a documentary called THE BODIES OF BURLESQUE. The director is a friend from college, and when she found out that I’m a burlesque performer she became fascinated with the body positivity the community embraces and asked me to do this project with her. I’m honored to be a part of it, and I hope it helps people find the will to be proud of themselves just as they are. You can find info on all of my upcoming shows at themarystrawberry.com and facebook.com/marystrawberryatl.

marc3

Photo credit: Marc Turnley.

We see body diversity as a defining and empowering aspect of the contemporary burlesque scene. Can you tell us a little more about THE BODIES OF BURLESQUE?

One of the things I love about the current burlesque movement is that it focuses on individuality and diversity. There’s such a huge push for “all bodies are beautiful.” I think that’s a major reason why it’s so popular and attractive, particularly to women. With the huge media presence in our lives telling us that beauty is this or that box, it’s rare and encouraging to find a place where not only can you feel comfortable in your own skin, you’re celebrated for it. I don’t think my body is perfect, but I do think it is beautiful and real and something to be proud of. My body allows me to pursue my dreams of being a dancer, and that’s worth celebrating. I’ve seen and worked with performers of all different shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities, and I cheer each one on just as much as the next or last, because in burlesque it doesn’t matter if you look a specific way, it matters that you have passion and confidence. 

You also do a lot of non-burlesque stage work. What local productions might folks have seen your work featured in?

Most recently, I was the seasonal technical director at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company, where I worked on THANKSKILLING THE MUSICAL and MERRY F***G CHRISTMAS. It’s a great company to work for—a welcoming community of artists that puts on top notch comedy shows. I’ve also done a lot of designing for schools around the city in the last few years. Currently I’m looking for a more permanent position on a theater’s technical staff, but am also trying to work towards a more sustainable career as a performer. I’m planning to add a bunch of new skills and acts to my tool box this year, so there will definitely be more new and exciting things to see from me soon!

Finally, what one piece of advice do you have for young women entering the burlesque world now?

This is really two-part: first, don’t be afraid to chase after what you love and what makes you feel whole. Finding your niche is so validating and empowering, especially if you have to fight and work your butt off for it. Never give up on your dreams!

Second, please recognize the difference between being a professional and a hobbyist. There’s a lot of talk on the Internet about artists having a difficult time getting people to pay for their art because they don’t see it as a career. I love that people are finding their voices and freedom through this rich style of performance art. It’s a great community that’s very supportive, diverse and unique. But realize that if this is just for fun for you and you take jobs for cheap or free, you might be taking a meal or rent away from a professional artist and devaluing the industry as a whole. There are definitely places where hobbyists fit in, and that’s great! Take classes, do showcases, join open mic nights, I encourage artistic expression and will be in the house cheering for you! Just please be conscious of the reality of the other side of the equation so we can all grow and thrive together.

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Kool Kat of the Week: They’re All About You: Getting Happy, Sad and Metaphysical with Jason Elliott of Spirits and the Melchizedek Children on the Release of Their New LP and Tour

Posted on: Sep 25th, 2014 By:
photo by chad hesss

L-R Jason Elliott, Ryan Odom, Bryan Fielden, Joe McNeill. Photo credit: Chad Hesss

Spirits and the Melchizedek Children have just released a new LP, SO HAPPY, IT’S SAD was produced by Benjamin Price (OutKast, Little Tybee) and has been receiving more than a little buzz from the music press as a creative breakthrough. Recently dubbed a “Southern Sigur Ros” by the A.V. Club, the Atlanta psychedelic dream-pop outfit is about to embark on a tour, but locals can get a sneak preview at a free gig at 529 in East Atlanta on Monday Sept. 29. 

ATLRetro likes what we’ve heard and heard just enough of a dynamic merging of  classic sounds that we made vocalist/guitarist Jason Elliott Kool Kat of the Week. In the last few days before SAMC’s departure, we found him happy and maybe a little sad, too, to muse about the band’s influences, double meanings and new directions.

ATLRetro: Some bands like to be compared. For others, it’s a limiting proposition. How do you feel about being called the “Southern Sigur Ros”? 

Jason Elliott: We were honored to be compared to Sigur Ros.  Adding the adjective “Southern” next to the Icelandic voyeurs implies that we may have a little bit more dirt and heaviness within our sound, which we do. While yes, I, in particular, am a fan of Sigur Ros, as well as many other dramatic, post-rock groups, the “southern gothic” undertones are also a very strong influence. The South is viewed by many as a strange and backwards place. That’s very true to some respect, but as a whole, the South offers little hidden secrets for finding ones self.

SATMC_SHIS_TourPoster_Fall14You have a diverse set of influences including — Steve Reich, Pink Floyd, Moody Blues, Can, Neu!, Eric Satie, Tchaikovsky, Brian Eno, The Beatles and Velvet Underground. Yet they all make sense because we’re listening to many of them right now. What binds those musicians and groups together for you? Is there a rediscovery/renaissance of mood-driven ‘70s  rock? 

History has and always will repeat itself. And today it seems that everything will repeat at least three times. People are dying for true innovation and mystique. While every generation has innovation and mystique, we feel that it is important to listen to timeless music so you can learn from those that have done it right. We strive to make timeless music and have little time to make a pop song that people will quickly like and then lose interest in what seems to be the same amount of time. We constantly turn back to the classics. Listening to the little things that were totally ahead of their time is a vital aspect to our listening habits and inspiration. Taking those little headphone treats and embellishing on them and making them our OWN.

What’s the secret origin story behind the band and what’s in the name Spirits and the Melchizedek Children? 

Melchizedek was something or someone that I had always heard about and looking more into the word,I found that it was quite endless. Melchizedek is talked about in all sorts of beliefs, religions, occults and books. And is always referred to as a “Holder of Keys, Keys to the Kingdom” whatever kingdom that might be? Who knows? It’s similar to the idea of Alchemy: there is no magic stone or secret formula that will change coal into gold or silver – it’s YOU! YOU are that piece of shit coal that needs to be turned into gold or silver. You hold the keys to whatever you desire. You just have to find away to use them properly, just like a child that’s trying to find its way. Or, I can give you the shorter answer. The word Melchizedek is mysterious. I wanted that to connect with our post-cryptic-quasi-cultist-mystique music.

Does the band have a mantra then?

YOU are here to save YOU

Slug Magazine referenced “the spectral folk of a doomed American West.” Is that something that particularly interests you?

Why? YES! That does interest us. I grew up out West and have only had seven wonderful years here in Atlanta. The West is a special place and seems to be very lonesome and wide. I think Modest Mouse coined the phrase by naming one of their best records THE LONESOME CROWDED WEST. That meant something to me. Moving and traveling all over the West Coast as a child, I had Always felt that certain Haunting that comes with vast, barren landscapes – always wondering if this was going to be our not-so-distant future. For me, storytelling through soundscapes and moods has always been the best way to convey that thought.

Photo 2 by Taylor Mumford

L-R Jason Elliott, Bryan Fielden, Ryan Odom, Joe McNeill. Photo credit: Taylor Mumford

SO HAPPY, IT’S SAD is a double-edged title. What’s the story behind it?

It was shortly after we had released our first record WE ARE HERE TO SAVE YOU! I was taking some time off to travel with my young son. We found ourselves in the middle of the Salt Flats on the Nevada/Utah border. I was very excited to introduce this part of the country to my Son. I had been to all of these places before, but wanted to experience the ever cherished “first experience” of anything magical. My son’s reaction to the barren beauty that day in the desert was something that I wanted to take note of. Experiencing his “first time” made me happy, then quickly realized that it also made me sad. I had spent so much of my life ignoring the simple things around me. Instantly I saw that my surroundings were everything. Here we were in the middle of nowhere, alone and silent. The beautiful emptiness filled us completely with memory and thought. At that very moment Amanda Emmo captured this experience in a simple photo of my son and I conversing with one another which later became the beautiful record cover of SO HAPPY, IT’S SAD.

Tell us a little more about the new release. How does it build upon your previous work? 

Our songs and sound have matured so much over the years. After writing and playing our new tunes live for a bit, we were able to really study what we needed to change and develop as a band. The first record was a introduction to what we wanted to sound like and gave ourselves enough room to grow. By the time we were ready to record SO HAPPY, IT’S SAD we were almost a totally different band. Band members had changing and we had a different outlook on what we wanted. Without straying too far from our haunted melancholy undertones, we were able to really look deeper into our songwriting capabilities. We had more confidence and knew exactly what we wanted our songs to do to the human mind and ear.

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Jason Elliot. Photo credit: Chad Hesss

What was it like working with Benjamin Price as producer? 

Ben is our guy! He got it right away. I have a hard time trying to explain my deepest thoughts, but Ben understood me through just talking with him and getting to know him as a person. All of us are Psycho-Naughts, and having him at the helm of our recording was a pleasure. We had our songs written and ready to track, but once we got in the studio we quickly found that Ben was a lot more than just some engineer that sets up mics and hits record. We all had the same mindset of wanting to make it a very spacious record, really capturing the overall theme of the record through depth and dynamics. Ben is a vital part in what we do now for sure.

Your Atlanta gig at 529 is on a Monday night, not always the best for bringing folks out. Why should they be sure to come out? 

Yes, Mondays are tough, But hey it’s FREE, We are leaving on tour the next night and two other great bands are playing, 100 Watt Horse and The Pauses. What the FUCK else are you going to do on a lame Monday night?

What other musicians/bands are exciting you now?

We are constantly listening to Do Make Say Think while driving to the next city. I’ve been listening to them for over 10 years and they never get old. The War on Drugs‘ new album is amazing and so is the latest Helms Alee record. We’re constantly trying to find new music. It’s hard to keep up. We try to listen to anything that is recommended to us while we are out. We love when someone comes up to one of us after we’ve played and ask if we have ever heard of a certain band, just to quickly tell us that we would really dig ’em because of what we sound like. Its a good way for us to get an idea of what people truly think when they hear our music.

What’s next for Spirits and the Melchizedek Children? 

Writing, recording, touring, REPEAT!  Our fall tour will be our last of 2014, so we’re focusing on a few projects to keep our momentum strong. Next year is already starting to map out very busy. We have a music video releasing very soon, and have been finalizing an original film score for a short by Raymond Jones called BE HERE NOW, which is a subjective take on the self-titled book by Ram Dass. We plan on releasing an EP as well.

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Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back onto the Pavement! The World Famous Drive-Invasion Hits Turner Field!

Posted on: Sep 4th, 2014 By:

driveinvasion2014The World Famous Drive-Invasion 2014; Turner Field Green Lot (521 Capitol Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30312); Saturday, September 6; Gates open @ 10 a.m.; Admission $25 per person with car or $12.50 walk-up/no car ($26 through Ticketmaster).

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

You can’t keep some things down. When it turned out that the conversion to studio-controlled digital projectors made it impossible for the Starlight Drive-In to continue hosting the annual Drive-Invasion, things looked bleak for a while. But thanks to the tireless efforts of some of Atlanta’s finest, Drive-Invasion has found a new home: Turner Field. They’ll be setting up in Turner Field’s Green Lot and among the attractions you will find a 1000-foot grilling area, Jim Stacy’s Food Truck Midway (serving up a wide array of local culinary delights curated by Pallookaville’s own Mr. Stacy), the Silverscreen Gasoline Car Show (featuring the Discovery Channel CAFÉ RACER host and custom car celebrity, Atlanta’s own Bryan Fuller), an artists’ market, a kids’ play zone and two music stages.

Music-wise, you can expect an ear-filling variety of bands designed for maximum enjoyment before the sun goes down. You want some retro surf-rock action? Step right up and enjoy the sounds of Mystery Men?, Andrew & the Disapyramids (featuring ATLRetro Kool Kat Joshua Longino), and a tribute to the legendary Penetrators. You need some country-fried tastiness? Move it on over to the honky-tonkin’ tunes of Ghost Riders Car Club (featuring Kool Kat Spike Fullerton) and Cletis & His City Cousins (featuring Kool Kat Cletis Reid) . In the mood for some frenzied beat action? Get in the garage with The Brimstones, Rocket 350 and Jimmy & the Teasers. And for straight-up adrenaline-pumping rock and roll, blast off to Bigfoot (featuring Kool Kat Jett Bryant), Dusty Booze & the Baby Haters, Gargantua and The Biters.

But all that is prelude. They call this Drive-Invasion for a reason: drive-in movies. And they’re celebrating the end of the summer with a trio of beach party horror flicks that will keep the mood rocking until the last frame unspools across the screen: THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, JAWS and MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND.

hpb001THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH (1964); Dir. Del Tenney; Starring John Scott, Alice Lyon and Allan Laurel; Trailer here.

THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH answers the question “why only have one Creature from the Black Lagoon, when you can have a whole gang of them?” It tells a story old as time: when radioactive waste is dumped into the ocean, it creates a whole mess of monsters who then rise from the depths to kill innocent teens. It’s then up to young Hank and concerned father Dr. Gavin to find a way to stop the rampaging amphibious creatures. Imagine if HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1996) came out in 1964, and replace the gore and nudity with dancing and stomping beach music (provided by the Del-Aires, with half of their songs and all of the film’s score written by future porn legend Zebedy Colt!). HORROR zips along breezily thanks to director Del Tenney’s sure hand, and thanks to him keeping his tongue firmly planted in cheek. It’s not quite a send-up, but more a lighthearted take on teen horror and beach party flicks, much like INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957).

jaws-posterJAWS (1975); Dir. Steven Spielberg; Starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw; based on a novel by Peter Benchley; john oath Trailer here.

Then there’s JAWS. What can one say about this movie? When I was a tyke, it was so effective that even this unabashed horror movie fanatic—as committed then as I am today—believed that there were sharks hiding under my bed. (And yes, I fully grasped the logical problem in that scenario.) JAWS established Steven Spielberg as a Big-Time Director after years of working in TV and smaller-budgeted films like THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974). It also singlehandedly created the modern summer “blockbuster” phenomenon (and simultaneously marked the end of the “New Hollywood” period of the late 1960s and early ‘70s), and its style and craftsmanship has exerted a lasting influence far beyond its immediate impact. It is, in many ways, a nearly perfect movie. Pitch-perfect performances from Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw are wed to dialogue so fresh that it’s still being quoted, imitated and parodied nearly 40 years after the film’s release. Add to that Spielberg’s precise direction, one of John Williams’ best scores and Verna Field’s expert editing, which work together to create an escalating tension that reaches peaks high enough to make you completely ignore the badly malfunctioning mechanical shark.

mad_doctor_of_blood_island_poster_01MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1968); Dir. Eddie Romero and Gerardo de Leon; Starring John Ashley, Angelique Pettyjohn and Ronald Remy; Trailer (featuring narration from the legendary Brother Theodore) here.

Rounding out the program is MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, probably the pinnacle of writer/producer/director Eddie Romero’s Philippine-lensed series of “Blood Island” movies. And while that may sound like a pretty small category for a film to qualify as “the best,” keep in mind that there are something like 10 of them (six in the series, and four tangentially related). In this entry, John Ashley—the co-star of multiple AIP “Beach Party” flicks—stars as a pathologist who turns up at Blood Island to study the health of the natives, only to find mysterious deaths linked to the appearance of what appears to be green blood. Throw in Angelique Pettyjohn, heaps of nudity and gore, some of the most ludicrous pseudo-science ever spouted in a movie script and a rampaging monster that must be seen to be believed, and you have what amounts to one of the most definitive drive-in movies ever created. While it may never be regarded as a cinematic classic, it is an experience that I wholeheartedly suggest you undertake. It’s not for nothing that Eddie Romero was named the National Artist of the Philippines in 2003.

And let me take this time to warn you: to survive your exposure to the energies of MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND and to ward off contagion in the days after Drive-Invasion, you must prepare yourself by taking the Oath of the Green Blood, which will ensure that you will never become a green-blooded monster. Vials of Doctor Lorca’s Green Blood Potion will be available to the first 1000 visitors who stop by the Drive-Invasion booth or Professor Morté’s Silver Scream Spookshow booth. Remember: stay safe. Protection is prevention.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Kool Kat of the Week: High and Loud: Tenor Rob Evan Helps Put the Classic into Classic Rock with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

Posted on: May 8th, 2014 By:

Rob Evan. Photo courtesy of Ron Evan and ASO.

This week’s Kool Kat is Rob Evan, a Georgia native who’s teamed up with vocalists Micah Wilshire and Shem von Shroeck as The Rock Tenors. Hear them mash up the worlds of rock, country, Broadway and opera with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on Fri. May 9 and Sat. May 10.  

As a vocalist and recording artist, Mr. Evan is a member of the platinum selling rock band, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He’s also rocked Broadway in the original Broadway cast of JEKYLL AND HYDE, playing the title roles for three years and over 600 performances. His credits also include one of our favorite leading roles, Jean Valjean in LES MISERABLESon Broadway and the critically acclaimed National Touring Company.

ATLRetro caught up with Rob to find out more about the Rock Tenors shows, TSO and more!

What’s the secret origin story behind the Rock Tenors?

The three of us were actually separated at birth and raised by different parents. We three were fed daily doses of Classic Rock and inspired by such greats as Freddie Mercury, Paul McCartney, Robert Plant and so on. The ultimate goal was to reunite us as grown men and form the super group, which is now known as THE ROCK TENORS! OK, most of that is NOT true and actually we were brought together by Maestro Michael Krajewski in Calgary about a year and a half ago. This monster was his brain-child.

You meld quite a diverse selection of music for the show. How did you decide on what musical acts and songs to include? Is there a specific criteria for a Rock Tenors song?

The three of us are very different in our vocal styles. Maestro chose material that he thought would highlight and feature what we excel in as vocalists. The criteria for our material, to me, is best described as HIGH and LOUD. All kidding aside, there is really something for everyone in this concert. I promise it’s not a scary “Rock” show. People are loving it both young and old(er).

Do the Rock Tenors always perform with a symphony? What will the ASO contribute?

Yes, this particular show is built for symphonies. To me – and I have performed with most of the major symphonies around the US as well as several internationally – the ASO is one of the best in the biz. They will add a great deal to our performance. It’s a blast to hear 60 pieces jam on your favorite Rock songs.

What’s your personal favorite part of the Rock Tenor performance?

Probably the Rock Tenor Medley we do at the end of the first act. Again, we are very different, BUT when we first sang together in harmony, we realized that it was going to be a great project to work on. The Rock Tenor Medley highlights tunes from The Beatles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Yes, Kansas and Journey. 

Has anything ever surprised you about what resonates with audiences?

I can’t say that much surprises me anymore because I’ve seen so many different reactions having performed for over 20 years. I am convinced though that the Classic Rock genre is slowly making it’s way into not only the symphony world but our everyday lives no matter what age you are. Remember that Mick Jagger is 70! And so are a lot of the Stones fans. 

You’ve been in so many exciting Broadway shows and tours. When you were growing up, what was one Broadway show or role that inspired you? And have you had a chance to perform it?

I have to say that the reason I am doing this for a living is because of LES MISERABLES. I actually saw it at The Fox the first time it came through Atlanta. I was taking my girlfriend out for what I thought was a romantic French dinner and then a French musical. I was blown away and became obsessed. And my full circle is that I played Jean Valjean on Broadway as well as at The Fox.

You did HELLO DOLLY with Madeline Kahn. What role did you play and what was it like to work with her?

Before I got cast in LES MIS and during the time I was still in Atlanta, I auditioned for work at Theater of the Stars. I was in the chorus. Madeline was so lovely and generous to the cast. She would actually do her classic lines for you if you asked, i.e. “I’m So Tired…” from BLAZING SADDLES. She is sorely missed. As well as Theater of the Stars. 

Do you have any exciting Trans-Siberian Orchestra news to share right now?

TSO has been my chance to be a real “rock star.” I have performed in front of millions over the past 10 years that I have been in the band. I also have gold and platinum records on my wall thanks to the band. We are gearing up for both a new album, which I have already laid down my vocals as well as a brand new Winter Tour that begins in November. 

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Photo credit: Jeff Rothman.

What else are you up to right now? What’s next?

I am the busiest I have been in a while. I do a great deal of symphony work in both the Broadway and Rock genres. I am also producing and creating concert projects. Some I am in, some I direct. My “baby” if you will is a show called ROCKTOPIA which should air next spring on PBS. I also have a progressive rock band called Menrva Realm and hope to tour that in Europe soon

Since you’re a Georgia native, is there something special when you get to perform in Atlanta and do you have a favorite thing that you plan to do while you’re here?

I LOVE Atlanta. I actually moved my family from NY to Alpharetta in 2008 hoping to stay. Unfortunately, the nature of my business brought us back to NY only a year and half later. All of my family is based in and around Atlanta and Georgia, so I will get to spend some time with them. They are all coming to see The Rock Tenors. And, I might hit The Varsity. Just sayin’…

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Kool Kat of the Week: Bret Wood Transfuses Fresh Blood in a 20th Century Southern Gothic Cinematic Retelling of CARMILLA at the Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Mar 27th, 2014 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The Atlanta Film Festival kicks off this Friday with 10 days of screenings and events and, as usual, plenty of local talent will have their work on display. Among the screenings is the new Southern Gothic horror film, THE UNWANTED, written and directed by local badass Bret Wood, and playing on Monday, March 31 at 9:30 pm at The Plaza Theatre. Wood has had a long career in and among the movies, finding time to direct darkly erotic features like PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS (2006) and THE LITTLE DEATH (2010) when he’s not knee deep in the business of film restoration and distribution as vice president of special projects at Kino Lorber. Wood also devotes time to researching and writing about cinema history. Among his credits as a writer and editor is an edition of the QUEEN KELLY (1929) screenplay by the legendary Erich von Stroheim; HELL’S HIGHWAY, a documentary about those infamous highway safety films; and a book on exploitation cinema appropriately titled FORBIDDEN FRUIT.

With THE UNWANTED, Wood returns to a world of repressed erotic desire. The story, inspired by a famous Sheridan Le Fanu vampire novella, concerns a young woman named Carmilla (Christen Orr) who drifts into a small Southern town on the hunt for a missing loved one. What she finds instead is a sheltered girl named Laura (V/H/S’s Hannah Fierman) held close by her disapproving father (William Katt, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO). As Carmilla and Laura become drawn to one another, their passion uncovers a nest of dark family secrets that lead to a bloody, deadly confrontation.

Wood recently spoke to ATLRetro about his new film and his career exploring in the darker corners of cinema.

ATLRetro: THE UNWANTED transplants Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic Gothic novella CARMILLA into a Southern Gothic setting. What does moving the location to the South add to the story?

Bret Wood: The change of setting didn’t greatly alter the tone of the story. Rural 19th-century Ireland is not SO different from modern-day rural Georgia. The key thing is that, in both versions, events unfold in an isolated setting in which the people are somewhat disconnected from the world around them.  That sort of geographic space tends to mirror itself in the psychology of those who live there – isolated, insulated, and not in touch with the world beyond the community. It can be very comfortable to live in a place like that – surrounded by people who share your values – but a certain closed-mindedness is almost inevitable. A suspicion of outsiders, a distrust of those who are guided by a different moral compass, a setting in which a visitor would be immediately viewed with suspicion.

And the ingredients of the Gothic work just as well in the 21st Century as the 19th: themes of a family curse, a poisoned bloodline, dreams haunted by spirits, the sublime beauty of nature, the decaying family estate, the menacing lord of the manor. We just did it without corsets, carriages and candelabras.

Engraving from a 19th century edition of CARMILLA.

Your film takes a very naturalist approach to CARMILLA’s horror elements. Can you talk about the process of adapting the story away from the supernatural while retaining its core?

I love Le Fanu’s story, but I don’t believe in the supernatural – and I didn’t want to make a movie about something that I don’t believe in. So I had to find a plausible variation on conventional vampirism. There’s no such thing as vampires in the sense of a person becoming immortal or being capable of transforming into an animal, but there ARE people who engage in recreational bloodletting. My 2006 movie, PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS, dramatizes two real-life examples from the Victorian era in which the exchange of blood was a sort of sex substitute.

So the challenge was to create a form of emotionally-charged bloodletting that two people might engage in – and this bloodplay could, from an outsider’s perspective, appear to be vampirism. In my version of vampirism, the blood isn’t for drinking. I’ll leave it at that. People will just have to see the movie.

Your film grapples with gender and gay/lesbian themes in the midst of a horror tale. How does the horror genre help you to tackle these types of important contemporary issues?

Even though it does have lesbian/bisexual characters, I wouldn’t necessarily call THE UNWANTED an LGBT film. It deals with a more universal experience:  the choice between staying in one place and following the traditions and values of one’s family, versus cutting the emotional cord and following one’s own path. Conformity versus individuality.

You might say that THE UNWANTED is about the painful process of “coming out” – whether from an emotional cocoon or the closet. On second thought, maybe it’s more of an LGBT film than I thought.

As far as horror goes, I had to tread a narrow line. In CARMILLA, the horror lies in the lesbianism of the two central characters -Le Fanu only suggests that they are lovers. And in my retelling, the father still needed to perceive the lesbian relationship as monstrous, but it was crucial that the audience view the relationship as loving and harmonious, even when there’s blood flowing between them.

For a while, I thought about calling the film WATER AND BLOOD to contrast the difference between friendships vs. family relationships, but I figured that was stretching the blood symbolism too far.

THE UNWANTED stars William Katt in a fairly dark and menacing role. How did he come to be involved in the project and what did he bring to the character?

I met him through executive producer Eric Wilkinson, who had worked with him a couple of times (THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007), SPARKS (2013)), and who told me Bill enjoys working on indie projects. He was very enthusiastic about the script, and had a significant impact upon the role. Originally, the character of Troy (Laura’s father) was an unequivocal villain, whose purpose it was to thwart Carmilla. Bill cultivated Troy’s human side, asked me to write a scene in which Troy and Laura spend time together, so we see they have a healthy, loving relationship. That was the inspiration for the horseback riding scene.

To Bill, as an actor, it was always important that the audience understand that Troy loves his daughter, and loved his wife, and the acts of violence he commits arise from his genuine desire to protect them. This inner conflict really shines through in his performance. And it’s so effective that we decided to further downplay his villainy by removing at least one really creepy sequence – which will no doubt appear on the DVD. We decided that rather than showing the audience what horrors this guy is capable of, we should let them wonder.

You’ve had a role in restoring and championing classic movies through your work at the Blu-Ray and DVD distributor Kino Lorber. Is there an overlooked title you would recommend, perhaps one that would make a nice pairing with THE UNWANTED?

I love classic film – the older the better – and am lucky that I get to spend much of each day mastering, packaging and writing about great films, whether it’s silent American films or European horror cinema of the 1960s and ’70s. I was watching a lot of Jean Rollin while working on THE UNWANTED, and would say that traces of his 1975 film LIPS OF BLOOD definitely found their way into my movie. Bill Gunn‘s erotic vampire film GANJA AND HESS (1973) and Jess Franco‘s FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973) were big influences as well. All of them were made by indie filmmakers with limited resources, but who attempted to dig deep into complex emotions that don’t get touched by the typical horror film. And, lest you think I was only influenced by vampire films, you don’t have to look to hard to find shades of Michael Haneke‘s THE PIANO TEACHER (2001) or Rouben Mamoulian‘s APPLAUSE (1929). Did I mention I love my job?

Bret Wood on the set of THE UNWANTED.

Between THE UNWANTED and your earlier films, PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS and THE LITTLE DEATH, you’ve explored sex on the fringes. What draws you to the subject?

I’m sure the short answer to that question lies in my conservative, religious upbringing.  But let’s not get into that.

Regardless of how I became the way I am, I will say that, to me, the most fascinating thing about sex – in films – is not the nudity or the act of copulation, but the mystery surrounding the act – sex as a revelatory experience – maybe I’m still channeling the curiosity of my thirteen-year-old self. There’s nothing less erotic than gratuitous nudity. There’s nothing more boring than a sexually active character with no inhibitions, for whom sex is simply a physical act of pleasure.  Where’s the drama in that?

I’m fascinated by the psychology of sexuality, by the fringe-dwelling people for whom sex has mutated into something slightly abnormal. By the person who is emotionally tight-wound, who is struggling against their own repression, or struggling against moral oppression, looking for some means by which they can relieve this overwhelming urge that’s gnawing at them from the inside. THAT’S interesting to me. There’s mystery there. And conflict. And tension.

You co-authored a book on exploitation cinema titled FORBIDDEN FRUIT. Exploitation films were meant to be cheap and disposable, and yet they linger on in our film culture. What should we learn from that?

One never knows which films will stand the test of time. Look back at all the lousy Oscar-winners in the past 20 years and you’ll know what I mean. The films celebrated by one generation will be dismissed by the next and vice versa.

Exploitation films of the 1930s and ’40s – sensationalized treatments of hot-button topics like venereal disease, drug abuse, prostitution, polygamy -were crude and, on the surface, badly made. But they were tackling subjects the major studios wouldn’t touch, and they were made with a sort of reckless creativity that is a welcome change from the restraint and technical perfection of a studio film of the same era. In the same way, people who are into horror films are nowadays attracted to the schlock of the 1960s and ’70s, the grindhouse fodder once casually dismissed as garbage. And the same goes for 16mm classroom films of the 1950s – ’70s. Maybe it’s because today’s DIY filmmakers can relate to the struggles of no-budget production, maybe it’s a reaction against the over-produced, over-budgeted, over-hyped films that are suffocating the multiplex.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist. Part of me today still thinks that way, I love sifting through film history to see what treasures I can find buried in the mud.

What’s next for you?

I have several scripts I’d love to make – for example, a dark comedy about a womanizing stage magician (IN HER RIGHT MIND), a drama about a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s (THE CONTROL GROUP). And there are others. For me, writing is relatively easy. The difficult thing is raising the funds to actually make something. I usually keep a handful of scripts ready to film, and then choose which project to pursue based on the resources available to me. Right now the front-runner is a grim ghost story/revenge film, based on 19th-century literature, very much in the same vein as THE UNWANTED.

THE UNWANTED screens at the Atlanta Film Festival on Monday, March 31, at 9:30 pm at The Plaza Theatre. Tickets for the screening may be purchased here.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.


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Kool Kat of the Week: Lola LeSoleil Talks Feathers, Fun and Frolic at Southern Fried Burlesque Festival 2014

Posted on: Mar 19th, 2014 By:

Lola LeSoleil. Photo credit: Your Mojo by Jojo.

The Southern Fried Burlesque Festival is back for its fourth sizzling year March 20-23, bringing the best performers from all over the world to Atlanta for a weekend full of burlesque classes, panels and performances  at the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria.  Founded and presented by Syrens of the South Productions, it’s not just bringing a high standard of burlesque entertainment to the city but also getting Southern performers noticed on the national scene.

One of these is Lola LeSoleil, who won the crown of Southern Fried Festival Queen 2013 in last year’s pageant competition. Lola will be giving a special farewell performance on Saturday night before this year’s queen receives her crown, but in the last year, she’s come a long way, baby. It’s our royal pleasure therefore to declare her Kool Kat of the Week and find out more about what she’s been up, her plans for the future and what she’s looking forward to the most about Southern Fried 2014!

How did you get started in burlesque? 

In 2001, my mom and I went to Las Vegas. While there we saw Gladys Knight, Charo– in all of her “Coochi-Coochi” glory – and the signature JUBILEE show at Bally’s. JUBILEE is the quintessential glamorous Las Vegas floor show  – huge feather headdresses; elegant, statuesque ladies dripping in rhinestones; and lighted staircases. I was in love and realized come hell or high water, I needed a big feathery headdress. And sequins. And rhinestones.

It took a few more years before I saw a few burlesque shows in Atlanta – Big City Burlesque, Dames Aflame – and realized this art was in my city! I just needed a way in. After detouring to pole dance class and a one-off burlesque choreography class, I attended a Blast Off Burlesque show with a friend who introduced me to Talloolah Love -at the time of Syrens of the South [Read our Kool Kat profile of Talloolah here]. They offered a burlesque class series. I couldn’t get my butt to class fast enough.

Lola LeSoieil. Photo credit: Derek Jackson

Is there a story behind the name Lola LeSoleil?

Burlesque names can be a challenge. I wanted a name to reflect my abundant energy and honored who I am, but also paid tribute to beauty icons I grew up with. LeSoleil is my heat, my sun. Lola was for Lola Falana who was a black actress and entertainer in the 1970s, and who also appeared on THE MUPPET SHOW.

Who are a few of your role models in burlesque, both classic and from the burlesque revival, and why?

To be honest, Carol Burnett was my first comedic variety role model. She was silly, endearing, dynamic and versatile. I didn’t really know conventional burlesque tease artists until I started taking classes and began  research. Toni Elling and Jean Idelle are two special ladies whom I’m delighted to have met, and their lives as entertainers resonate with me and I have immense respect for them. Contemporary artists share my Gen X/Y perspective on balancing art and work and creativity. It’d take more space than I have here to name them, but suffice to say I’m delighted to have perfomed with and for revivalists whose opinions mean a lot to me.

A few years ago, you were interviewed about being an African American performer in the burlesque revival. Traditionally there haven’t been as many but at least on Atlanta stages, I’ve been seeing more. Can you talk a little about why this has been so and do you see a change or not?

Having more faces that look like mine in the burlesque revival I believe comes down to exposure to the art, and a desire to participate. The burlesque community in Atlanta is welcoming and supportive of everyone’s artistic journey. The change is gradual, and what I’ve seen is encouraging!

Lola LeSoleil. Photo Credit: Marc Turnley

What did winning the Miss Southern Fried Burlesque crown mean to you, and how has it affected your career over the past year? 

The joke of my winning Southern Fried Burlesque Queen was that my third time was the charm. I competed in 2011 and 2012 winning awards, but not the BIG one. Turns out there were a lot of people who were excited to see a nerdy/fandom-inspired act win a burlesque pageant title. I had the opportunity to be invited to perform in cities I may otherwise not have. It’s been a damn fine year!

Without giving away any big spoilers, can you give us a little tease about your farewell performance?

If I told you, I’d have to exterminate you.

Are you teaching any classes at SFBF?

In year’s past I’ve taught, but this year at SFBF, you’ll see me volunteering and being a student because I heartily believe there’s always room to improve as an artist. And I like helping.

What else are you looking forward to personally about SFBF?

I am really excited to have my Beginning Burlesque Choreography class perform in the Newcomer’s Showcase on Thursday night! And of course, I’m abuzz to see friends I’ve met at other festivals and shows come in to town for a gigantic glittery weekend! It’s like the start of “Burlesque Summer Camp” season.

What’s next for you?

I’m fortunate to be performing at the first Nerdlesque Festival in New York in a few weeks, and I’m opening my travel horizons to other festivals and events outside the South. Windy City [Burlesque Fest], here I come! I’m really looking forward to teaching more at  The Atlanta School of Burlesque.

Anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about Lola LeSoleil?

Follow your strengths as a performer, but don’t limit yourself. Take all the classes. Learn anything/everything and don’t allow yourself to stagnate. As long as you have breath in your body, you can improve.

To read ATLRetro’s preview of the Fourth Annual Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, click here.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Bad Girls and One Benedict: An All Villains Burlesque Review Is Elementary to Sketch MacQuinor

Posted on: Mar 4th, 2014 By:

Sketch MacQuinor as "Sherlock" and Harleen Cassidy as "The Woman." Photo courtesy of Sketch MacQuinor.

Some of Atlanta’s best burlesque salute the really bad girls in VILLAINOUS SCHEMES AND ADULT THEMES on Fri. March 7 and Sat. March 8 at the Academy Theatre in Hapeville. The showcase of sexy skits saluting show business’s villainesses is produced by Hysteria Machines, a collaboration between Fat Cat Cabaret Creative Director Persephone Phoenix  and Sketch MacQuinor, whose day job may be our dream job is an animator whose credits include AdultSwim’s SQUIDBILLIES (read an interview with him about that here).

Persephone was an ATLRetro Kool Kat last fall, so we decided to get the male perspective this time around. Sketch has been performing in Atlanta in various guises for a long time as an animator, artist, and idea man, who, he says, “does a little of everything on stage but sing.” That includes improv, puppetry, stand-up, sketch comedy and impersonating Benedict Cumberbatch‘s SHERLOCK, with whom he shares an uncanny resemblance.
With all that in mind, we thought it would be elementary for Sketch to be this week’s Kool Kat. Here’s what he had to share about this weekend’s show, the imminent return of Fat Cat Cabaret, and his own – shall we call them gloriously geeky – escapades around town and on film.
ATLRetro: How did you and Persephone get the idea for a villains-themed burlesque show come about?
Sketch: I originally just wanted to do a geeky variety show with burlesque elements. When I started asking burlesque performers if they had a geeky number they wanted to dust off or try out, they all asked “What’s the theme?” Apparently, most burlesque shows have themes.  “Geeky comedy!” I replied. “Yeah,” they countered, “but what’s the theme?” Since I had some material I wanted to do involving villains and since I knew that most of the people I approached had some Catwoman, Poison Ivy or Harley Quinn costume in the back of their closet, I just said “Villains.”  From there it blew up, snowballed, took on a life of its own, and other mixed metaphors.
I understand the second half will be all Disney Villains? Why spotlight Disney in particular?
That’s another organic aspect of the show that just happened on its own. Disney-inspired numbers kept getting offered. Violetta Lugosi had an existing number about Snow White.  Venus deMeow had a gorgeous Queen of Hearts number she’d wanted to try out. I saw the preview for the new MALEFICENT movie and ran an idea for a peel to the tune of the sexy new cover of “Once Upon a Dream” by Candi leCoeur, and she jumped at the idea with glee. I asked Facebook, “What Disney villain would you like to see do standup?” and everybody shouted “Hades” [HERCULES]  The routine just wrote itself. My old friend Maggie Dale hasn’t been on stage in years because of an extended case of children, but volunteered to break back out onto the scene with a belting rendition of “Let it Go” with a partial peel.  Others soon came along with other numbers inspired by the empire of Uncle Walt.
Who are some the villainesses that we’ll encounter in the show? 
As mentioned, you’ll see a magnificent Maleficent, an Evil Queen, or two, favorite felonious feline femme fatale Catwoman, and Irene Adler [SHERLOCK], the woman so clever and devious, she earned the name, “The Woman.”

Sketch MacQuinor as "Sherlock." Photo courtesy of Sketch MacQuinor.

Without giving away any big spoilers, what can you tease about your special mystery comedy sketch?  You’re playing the role of Sherlock Holmes, right?

Yes, I am, but I’m really just a prop. The piece itself stars performer Harleen Cassidy as Irene Adler from BBC’s SHERLOCK.  I’ll be acting and capturing his mannerisms with some amount of competency and flair, but you won’t notice me as you’ll be mesmerized by Harleen as she successfully delivers an Adler emulation that with hit you in those parts of your brain that can still be surprised by subtle sensuality. The Woman is amazing, and I envy the audience. I’ll be forced to take my eyes off of her to play the role of Sherlock, but you won’t be able to look away from her powerful stage presence.
This isn’t the first time you’ve done Sherlock and you bear a striking resemblance to Benedict Cumberbatch. How did that get started?
With my long face, small, blue eyes, deep voice and large teeth, I’ve been compared by many to Mr. Cumberbatch, especially in those moments when his characters get goofy. Naturally I started milking the similarity to make some fairly well-executed costumes. I exploited this similarity in a video I put together called “Ladies’ Night at Moriarty’s Pub,” wherein a bunch of villains that you may have seen women express their desires for on Pinterest and on T-shirts gather at a special bar for ne’erdowells.  In it, I play the STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS Khan character, trying to achieve the right balance of growling and purring that the character requires. Fun fact, all four of the female Droog characters in the background are leading their own acts in this production.
Many people may not be familiar with the Academy Theatre in Hapeville. Tell us a little about the venue.
It’s a gorgeous, intimate setting. The Academy Theatre is the longest-running theater in the Atlanta area, though it’s had to change venues a few times. Last year when they lost their last space in Avondale Estates, the Arts Centers of Hapeville and Stockbridge both gave the Academy homes to perform in. The Hapeville location has just a great setup and is [set] to undergo a remodeling in the coming year.
When will Fat Cat Cabaret will back?
Currently we’re planning a return in May, venue permitting.
What else are you up to?
I’m the wrong guy to ask, because I’m up to everything. Redesigning my webcomic, THE MACWINNERS, do more stand-up, do more experimental puppetry, trying to do more illustrated poems, trying to put together more video productions with THE BROTHERHOOD OF DAMN SASSY MUTANTS, get my children’s book HEARTS AND CRAFTS published, produce a second full-cast audiobook, start a family with my incredibly supportive wife, get back into acting, do more audio work with my friends at the Atlanta Radio Theater Company, and spend more time with my aforementioned wife while working my day job as a professional animator.  I sometimes wish I could be one of those guys who just plays ASSASSIN’S CREED when they get home.
What question did I not ask that I should have and what is the answer?
You could ask follow-ups on the children’s book the audiobook, the webcomic, and such, but since they’re not relevant to the article, one could just ask, “When can we meet for Korean tacos in Midtown during the week?”  I like any excuse to do taco lunch, especially on tempeh avocado day.
For more about Sketch, he has a really fun Pinterest page which you can check out here.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Tracy Murrell Creates Retro Art For the 21st Century, Work Featured In Upcoming Exhibit At Lowe Gallery

Posted on: Feb 19th, 2014 By:

"Torchy" by Tracy Murrell. Used with permission.

One of Atlanta’s hottest rising visual artists and this week’s Kool Kat, Tracy Murrell, plays with pin-ups and cartoon pop art in her latest installation, part of the Fine Arts Workshop Group Exhibition, which opens Friday, Feb. 21 at the Bill Lowe Gallery in Midtown.

A minimalist painter inspired by vintage iconic photographs, Murrell reduces her subjects to their essential elements, eliminating everything until it’s stripped to raw imagery, exposing their most compelling details. Her latest work features female forms reminiscent of sophisticated pin-ups. But for Murrell they are much more. Inspired by the stunning images of pioneering artist Jackie Ormes (1911 – 1985), the first African-American woman cartoonist, Murrell explores racial and gender stereotypes. She reimages the original cartoons, sometimes morphing her own likeness with Ormes’ original groundbreaking female African-American archetype, creating an ‘avatar’ for her struggle for her own identity as an artist and a woman. Painted in high key color, reminiscent of Pop and Post Pop Masters such as Lichtenstein, Katz and Hume, Murrell’s work prompts the viewer to question their own beliefs about race and gender, as well as what is high and low art. Her bright, bold, provocative works are already causing a stir with private collectors.

On a recent weekend, while busily working on several large canvases in her studio at the King Plow Arts Center, Murrell is percolating with ideas while she talks about her work. “I always drew from the time I could hold a crayon,” Murrell explains.  “My dad was in the Air Force so we moved a lot and I took influences from different places. We spent four years outside Madrid, Spain when I was a child. I think the colors and flavors of life there greatly affected my view of the world and my art.”  After Spain, The Murrells returned to the states and settled in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Tracy Murrell in her King Plow studio. Photo credit: Shiela Turner.

“I took art classes in college but didn’t consider it a real career choice because I was studying to be a child psychiatrist. I got a degree in psychology and then got an offer in Atlanta in the music industry,” Murrell continues. “I landed a great job with Red Distribution/Sony Records which lead to a dream job with EMI Records. I needed something to balance the craziness of the music industry so one afternoon I went to the art store and bought a canvas so huge that I had to borrow a truck to get it home. I put it in the corner of my kitchen and painted and repainted on that canvas for two years until I liked what I saw. I realized I needed to paint or I would go crazy.”

By 2009, Murrell was at a crossroads and realized she wanted her work to have deeper meaning. She began the search for a mentor. Answering an open call to work with renowned artist Louis Delsarte on his 125-foot-long Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Mural introduced her to a collaborative artistic environment, which she loved. It also led to finding her mentor, Michael David and the Fine Arts Workshop.

Working with Michael and the artists who are part of the Fine Arts Workshop has been a life-changing experience for Murrell as she begins to establish herself as a professional artist. In the process she’s been tracing her family history with art and connecting the dots. Her mom is an avid art collector, teacher and curator. And she discovered that her great uncle Elton Fax is a significant artist and writer.

It was while researching Fax’s work during the Harlem Renaissance that Murrell discovered Ormes. The more she read about her, the more she felt they were kindred spirits. Among Murrell’s favorite subjects is Jackie Ormes’ famous 1930s character, Torchy Brown.  Murrell’s “Torchy” series pays homage to Ormes.

"Girlfriends" by Tracy Murrell. Used with permission.

Another step along Murrell’s artistic path has been working as a marketing consultant and a curator. Working in the music industry taught her valuable skills that she brought to the Atlanta Jazz Festival’s 2012 marketing team, in her current position with the National Black Arts Festival, and as the curator at Hammonds House Museum for the last two years.

“I love exhibition making,” Murrell says. “Instead of paint, I use an artist’s work as my medium. It has helped me grow as an artist. I study each of the mediums as we present them so I am learning constantly. I have become more sensitive to the partnership between art and the public.”

The opening reception at Bill Lowe Gallery is from 6-9 p.m. on Fri. Feb. 21. The gallery is located at 1555 Peachtree Street NE #100, Atlanta, GA 30309. To see examples of Tracy Murrell’s art visit her Website at: www.tracymurrell.com.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Under Heidi S. Howard’s Helm, Seven Stages Throws a CD Release Party for DRACULA, THE ROCK OPERA

Posted on: Feb 13th, 2014 By:

Dracula and his wives in DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA at 7 Stages; L-R: Jessika Cutts, Rob Thompson, Naomi Lavender, Madeline Brumby.

Forget a red heart-shaped box this Valentine’s weekend, and go straight for the heart, the bloody heart. The CD of DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA is finally out (watch for our Retro Review soon), and 7 Stages is throwing live concert to celebrate its release with three shows, February 14 and 15. [Ed. note: 8 p.m. on Fri and Sat. The Thurs. Feb. 13 show was canceled due to weather, and a new show has been added at 10:30 pm Sat]

It’s been a year and a half since the curtain last went down on DRACULA. As ATLRetro said in our Review, “DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA melds JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR with Grand Guignol in a production that not only rocks hard and delivers a horrific, non-twinkly Nosferatu, but also is surprisingly true to Bram Stoker‘s original novel.” That review marks the only time a full cast and crew have earned Kool Kats of the Week, and we added that the production not only broke the bounds of community theater expectations but blew them out of the water. We felt like we were “discovering HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY ITCH off-Broadway in 1998 or THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW in a tiny upstairs theater in London in 1973.” We wish everyone who missed it could see the full production, but hopefully the music being available on CD will help convince skeptics that something this crazy original can happen outside the Big Apple. All the main creators/cast members of the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra will be back, including Rob Thompson, the mad mastermind behind the sinister shebang; Naomi Lavender (Muleskinner MacQueen Trio), Mina with a voice to make Kate Bush blush; Rick Atkinson, America’s hardest rocking Renfield; and more.

Since then, Heidi Howard has assumed the helm as creative director of Seven Stages. She’s a mighty Kool Kat for taking on one of Atlanta’s most innovative and daring theater companies, following in the footsteps of founders Del Hamilton and Faye Allen, who both are local legends here. Here’s what she has to say about the concert and CD, as well as what’s next for DRACULA and 7 Stages!

Heidi S. Howard. Photo courtesy of 7 Stages.

It’s been a year and a half since the curtain dropped on the last performance of DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA. While the vision started with Rob Thompson, it was also an amazing collaborative effort with Del directing and many of the musical cast contributing to the composition. Can you talk about that aspect of the production and how it relates to the music we’ll be hearing this weekend?

I remember sitting in the basement over four years ago, listening to the first notes composed and encouraging Rob to propose the production to Del. I have often called theatre a collaborative sport; we have to work together in order to make great things. Over the years, the relationship with 7 Stages artists and Little Five Points Orchestra has grown to something really impressive. This process specifically was created to encourage everyone’s ideas to be heard and to merge the music and theatre styles. By including Shane [Morton]’s knowledge of Dracula and encouraging the composer’s possibility of the music style, we were really able to expand the overall sound of the story.  There is such a diverse style of surprising music from true rock in “The Castle” and “Dracula’s Opus,” to jam in “Van Helsing’s Teachings,” even to rockabilly sounds in “Lucy’s Proposals,” that make it accessible to many.

We have chosen to highlight the different styles and favorites in this concert while still saving some of the best to be heard on the CD. Even today I am inspired by hearing everyone’s ideas and implementing the best of them, as well as the group’s way of working through a decision together.  The Drac Pack is a very intense gathering of strong-minded rockers and artists, each with passionate dedication to what we have created together.  7 Stages has the unique environment of engaging the individual and really supporting who we have in the space.  We are a people’s place and make opportunity for those that are here and willing to collaborate and become better. This process is a testament to engaging and supporting those who are present.

While it’s not the complete production, will characters be in costume and what else is the company doing to recreate the horrific ambiance?

We are sticking to a concert presentation style, keeping the production elements as simple as possible while still creating an intimate environment.  While really celebrating the music and engaging the community, we are keeping the work present in the minds and bodies of our audiences. We are creating a lobby installation of the costumes and some of the scenic elements used in the production. Instead of using the video projections there will be images, many from Stungun Photography, who captured beautiful moments of the production. We did not want to create the expectation of a full production and staging elements, because the goal is to celebrate the music itself. Also, it is important to note that not all of the performers were available for this gig, and so Rob and others cover some of the vocal roles.

What’s your personal favorite song in DRACULA and why?

Oh my goodness, I tried hard to pick one to answer this question, but I just can’t. The music is so rich with diverse styles, and I like many different types of music. “Diary and Mysteries is up there because of the simple beauty of Naomi’s voice and the build of everyone’s layered voice in as the song builds. I love, love, love when there are all of the layers of voices and music changes in many of the Act 2 songs. “Alone in Transylvania” really speaks to everyone’s fear of being lonely, and it always brings chills to my body.  “Van Helsing’s Teachings” is so much fun, and Jeff nails it every time. I wake up singing “The Chase”…. And the list continues. It is so good, and I get so overwhelmed each night in rehearsals, I am literally sitting in the theatre rocking out, feeling so lucky and thankful.

7 Stages is one of Atlanta’s most acclaimed theater companies for serious plays. Why do something as seemingly pop-culture as DRACULA: THE ROCK OPERA, or is it pop-culture?

Traditionally DRACULA productions have been poppy, and with our production we really focused on sticking to the Bram Stoker’s book and creating music and a production that answered the desire of these artists.  7 Stages has always had a mission on supporting new work and encouraging artists to expand their craft.  For me, I was really interested in the process of merging the music and theatre scene, creating a space to develop high quality storytelling and offering both the musicians and theatre folk the best of both worlds so that we could learn best practices and become better artists overall.  This production is a fusion of pop and rock culture, and while it is a break from the serious heavy topics, we are creating a seriously great rock opera. 

Heidi S. Howard. Photo courtesy of 7 Stages.

There have been many stage and screen adaptations of DRACULA. Why do you think this one worked so well and was so popular with audiences?
We stuck to the book in composing the lyrics, many of them being directly taken from the text. Many other productions stray away from this and tell “popular” vampire stories because of the trend. There are so many Dracula mythos out there, and we really stuck to Stoker’s mythos as opposed to others such as Anne Rice’s, TWILIGHT or other modern pop culture mythos.  We used the wave of what was popular for marketing purposes but wanted to stick to the original tale.  We wanted to celebrate the strength of the musicians and performers with high quality production values.  Also, it was a direct goal of Rob’s to do “something that doesn’t suck!”  There is a Little Five Points Orchestra following, as well as those that support 7 Stages who have really encouraged our relationship to grow over the years of producing the Krampus shows [and] involving the musicians in our production of HAIR a few years ago.  Ultimately, we are answering the demand of our community.  The show is fun, involving, intimate, and so surprising that all want to be involved.

So many of us wish there would be full-out performances of DRACULA again. Any chance of that or of it going on the road to other cities?

We would love to do the full production again, taking everything to the next level, send it on the road, sell it to other producers, etc… it deserves to be out there.  That is a large reason for producing this concert version, in addition to celebrating the CD release.  But, it takes money.  Lots of money so that we can pay the artists for their time and work, as well as pay for all that it takes to make a production including blood, effects, blood, costumes, scenery, blood, video, blood, etc.  We want to keep the music and possibility present in our community and continue to push it out there.  

Heidi S. Howard gets the Shane Morton treatment. Photo courtesy of 7 Stages.

How are you feeling about 7 Stages now that you have a few years under your belt. How are you feeling about taking the plunge? What do you think is the company’s biggest success under your helm? And what is its biggest challenge?

Absolutely fantastic.  I love my staff, the artists, and all of the amazing people that walk into the space.  I stuck around 7 Stages all these years for the people and am always inspired by the involvement of those people. I am having a lot of fun with our Home Brew series.  We have always supported the development of new work, but by formalizing it into a program and inviting audiences into the process, the support and understanding for the process becomes very clear. The Navigator was a great success as we took our work outside of our space, and at the same time we were the first organization to be allowed to perform on MARTA with Mass Transit Muse [full production to premiere in May].   But honestly, we have stayed open; we are extremely focused on becoming financially stable.  This is both a success and an ongoing challenge.

Next up is THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE. That’s a book that many people read in school. Why should they want to see it performed live through the lens of 7 Stages?

7 Stages’ new adaptation of RED BADGE uses puppetry, live actors, projected animation and a dynamic soundscape to create an immersive world of battle. Our version uses contemporary techniques to achieve the intense atmosphere of war and the spinning viewpoint of our naive young soldier. People who have read the book will find new nuance and perspective on it, while those unfamiliar will leave the theater itching to read!

What else is 7 Stages up to that you’re excited about for the rest of this season and into the next?
As mentioned above, our work is not just focused on the serious. We are sticking to our social, political and spiritual mission. It is my goal to expand the knowledge of what we do. We like to have a great time with our work. While it can be serious, it can also offer Atlanta a really good time. Today the work has a lot to do with reflecting and representing our community and expanding it – internationally and locally. I am gearing up to jump into rehearsals again for Mass Transit Muse, which is another process that will merge mediums, and Jed Drummond will be a feature, which is always a plus! It’s a wonderful experience to work with your friends, who happen to be amazing artists. I’m looking forward to sharing their talents, engaging with our community, and creating art that surprises, engages and inspires Atlanta.

Heidi in front of 7 Stages' spider float at the L5P Halloween Parade. Photo courtesy of 7 Stages.

You do a lot of work with youth through Youth Creates, the Playmaking for Girls program, etc. Can you talk a little bit about those pursuits and why you are so passionate about working with young people.

By listening to the youthful mind, I am allowing voices to be heard.  As a young person, I was continually challenged by not being heard or not knowing how to express myself. As Education Director, I was able to create a place for young people to connect their everyday life to creative process.  While working on professional productions at 7 stages, training under the world-renowned directors and artists that we brought in, I was able to structure the education programming around the needs of our ongoing programming. It has been obvious to me that we can answer each others’ needs by answering the desires and needs of our community by offering the community opportunities of professional development, while offering hands-on experience in the professional field of creating art.

Finally, tell us something about you and what drew you to the theater life that we don’t know.
I worked at Disney while I was in college and loved playing Timon, the meerkat from THE LION KING, because I could flirt with the girls and no one would know.

Is there any question did I not ask about 7 Stages, DRACULA or you that I should have, and what is the answer?

7 Stages doors are always open. Come on in, grab a coffee or drink from Java Lords, hang out in the lobby / gallery, check out the library upstairs, create with us, see all of our shows, give us feedback, pop in and say hi to us in the office. As I said, I do this for the people I get to meet and create with each day.  There are always amazing things happening here that will surprise and inspire.

CDs of Dracula the Rock Opera are at Java Lords now and will be available at the show. For advance tickets, visit www.7stages.org.

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