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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From Baghdad to Atlanta: Burlesque Legend Gabriella Maze’s Triumphant Return to the Stage to Support Tits for Toys for Tots

Posted on: Dec 15th, 2011 By:

Photo courtesy of Gabriella Maze.

The Tits for Toys for Tots benefit not only will bring out a bevy of the best local burlesque beauties but also marks the return to the stage of legendary international performer Gabriella Maze Sat. Dec. 17 at the Five Spot in Little Five Points. Born in London, Gabriella first danced in Spainin the early 1970s, embracing a 20-year glamorous career that took her across Europe and the Middle East, even sharing a hookah with the Shah of Iran. “Would I change anything in my life?” she says. “No way! I am a lucky gal!”

Gabriella now lives inSouth Carolina and says she had no idea until recently about the burlesque revival. ATLRetro caught up with her earlier this week to find out more about what the international burlesque scene was like in the 1970s, as well as see if we could coax out a little tease at what she has planned for her Saturday night grande finale appearance—the first time she has performed live since 1989.

Tits for Toys for Tots Details: Doors open at 7 p.m., a Tease U Student Showcase at 8 p.m. and sintastional main show at 9 p.m. which also features last week’s Kool Kat Fonda Lingue, Katherine Lashe, Lola LeSoleil, Ruby Redmayne, Talloolah Love, Kisa von Teasa of Knoxville’s Salome Cabaret and more. Produced by Syrens of the South. Admission is either $20 or just $10 with a new unwrapped toy worth at least $5. Purchase advance tickets here.

ATLRetro: You grew up in England and began dancing in the early 1970s. How old were you, what made you decide to embrace burlesque, and how did you end up performing in  Spain?

Gabriella: I always wanted to dance. I guess I’m just artistic in nature. I began going to different auditions and trying to get into the London dance scene, but it was pretty tough. A girlfriend brought to my attention an ad in the local Variety newspaper. I had that audition in somebody’s kitchen for a lady named Jackie Harris and her husband Luciano Migliorini, after whom the troupe was named. I started as a showgirl at the end of line and worked my way to the front of the line. Then I began doing solo acts which were burlesque acts. In between the quick changes of numbers, they did burlesque acts. The show was an hour, and it was a troupe that worked at a regular nightclub. There were probably five to six different numbers and maybe four to five dancers that danced in between the acts. I never worked inLondon. I worked in Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai, lot of places in the Middle East. I mainly did six-month tours and then come back

Photo courtesy of Gabriella Maze.

In America, it seemed like the art of burlesque was losing its sheen in the 1970s, but you talk about the burlesque way of life, glamour and travel across Europe and the Middle East. Were things different on the other side of the Atlantic?

InLondonat the time, I don’t think there was much burlesque going on. If it was, it was very underground and kind of seedy. A lot of dancers started out as showgirls and you were offered more money if you were willing to do topless. I was like, feathers and rhinestone, why not? It was more money—more money does motivate a lot of people—but also a lot of fun. The clubs in the Middle East were extremely opulent, but there were very tight rules. You weren’t allowed to date waiters or musicians in the band. For instance, I worked in Baghdad at the Embassy Club, and most of nightclub performers were all housed in places that were kind of like a pensione. The doors were locked, but you had young boys who slept on the ground floor, usually with no blankets, and if you needed anything—food, groceries—they’d run and get it for you. We were transported from the pensione to the nightclub every evening and back, and at night there were guards on the door. It was like being in a gilded cage in the Middle East. I got spat on a few times going from rehearsals or from the pensione to the nightclub in Tehran which was called La Boheme and was right next door. Even though we wore  jeans over our leotards, we were spat upon. You couldn’t go into a coffee shop unless you were escorted by a man.

I was there four times when Shah in power, and Tehranwas one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to as far as opulence. Everything was very European with a French flavor, but if you turn the corner, you’d see people living on the sidewalks, lots of beggars. You’d only see two classes—the rich or the poor. It was almost like being in a very unreal place, seeing all this opulence as a dancer, and you’re meeting some of the most rich and famous people—sheikhs and princes. It was a very, very crazy world.

Can you talk a little bit about the types of routines you performed and do you have any favorite performances?

One of my favorite performances which I will be performing at Tits for Toys for Tots is a classical piece to Ravel’s Bolero. It’s just a beautiful piece. The music tells the story. The costume is feathers and rhinestones and very elegant, more in a showgirls 1920s time style. Then I also like a lot of modern stuff, and I hope to be doing a second performance called Bedtime Story. It’s basically a story of a young girl’s transition from child to sex symbol to princess and then a little humor at the end. I’m kind of an eclectic person so there’s a mixture of styles and I’d go so far to say even a hint of the Muppets. It’s a very cute show and one of my favorites.

At the beginning, I was told what to do. All costumes were provided by the troupe. But once I was comfortable in what I was doing and I showed that to the choreographer—who always traveled with us—he let me put my own artistic marks into what I wanted to do. There are people who can freestyle to music, but to me, choreographed numbers are best. When I started traveling by myself once I left the troupe, I had total control over what my dancing and costumes. But my experience with that troupe gave me everything I needed to know.

How did you end up in America?

I spent in some time in Germany, where I met one of my friends whom I’m actually staying with when I’m in Atlanta. I’ve known her for 40 yrs. Her father was American and her mother was European. One day I came and visited her and met my husband and got married.

When and why did you stop dancing? And what have you been up to?

Age could be one factor. It was in 1989. I was dancing at one club in Charleston, SC, which was still doing a burlesque style, though mot exactly. That then died out in about a year. I remember the first pole coming into the club and how it changed the nightclub as I knew them. Of course, when the poles came, then the age factor came. I told myself, you had to wean yourself off. My days are up.

What made you decide to start dancing burlesque again after 20 years away from the stage?

My daughter said you need to get on Facebook.  I did, and I put in word “burlesque,” and it’s like my computer just lit up. There was all this amazing stuff. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Burlesque is still alive?!”

What I’ve noticed with neoburlesque is that it doesn’t seem to have that age criteria.  It’s really refreshg. All ages, all types, shapes and forms performing. I contacted Angel Walker (Satan’s Angel) and said I want to perform again, I miss the life, this is fantastic. I said, tell me the truth, how do I get back into this? I said, don’t I have to attend these competitions and win prizes and crowns? She laughed at me [and said], no, you don’t need to enter any competitions, we just need to find you some work. So here I am. I guess you’d call it my grand coming out. I’m feeling that hard to describe feeling of nervousness to excitement to pure pleasure. You know what I’m talking about if you’re any kind of performer, whether a singer, magician, actress or a burlesque dancer.

How did you get involved with Tits for Toys for Tots?

I contacted Angel, and she has taken me under her wing. She is my angel. She contacted Katherine [Lashe] and Ursula [Undress] and told them about me and asked if I could still get into the show. Lucky for me, Katherine and Ursula contacted me, and I will be there on Dec. 17, and I am absolutely honored to be doing it. I’m looking forward to meeting all of the wonderful neoburlesque performers.

Photo courtesy of Gabriella Maze.

Did you ever think that you’d be dancing burlesque for a children’s charity like Toys For Tots, or is that another way the scene has changed?

I think it’s fantastic, but no, I don’t think it would ever happen in the ‘70s. Burlesque in the ‘70s or before was kind of taboo and risqué.  In today’s world, risqué is what you see over dinner when you turn on the TV looking at the commercials. In the past, you wouldn’t have a fundraiser unless maybe it was something personal in the burlesque community or a troupe maybe would raise money for another girl. I think it’s wonderful.

What’s next for Gabriella Maze?

I’m not sure. I’m just so excited. Once people see me on Dec. 17 and see what do, my style and the way I perform, I hope I get bombarded with “come join us” emails. That’s be fantastic. I’m hoping it comes to that, and if it doesn’t, I’m just going to enjoy the embrace offered from Atlanta and from the burlesque community. I’m also thinking about teaching. If there is a request for me to, by all means I’d be more than happy to teach or talk with people in the burlesque community and give them my experiences.

I feel like I’m Sleeping Beauty. I’ve  been asleep for a long time and suddenly the endorphins have been triggered in my head. I’m still kind of nervous as to what to expect from the community, but what I’m seeing so far is really loving and very outreaching. I never thought I’d have a second opportunity at this life at age 60. I thought it would be something I’d look back on and have my fond memories and that would be it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just a big thank you to Angel Walker, to my costume maker Karma Blake Originals, and to Delorean Chase for my sound mixes.

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Vintage Vacation: Road Trips from Hell with Blast-Off Burlesque, Part 1: Blizzard in North Carolina

Posted on: Sep 8th, 2011 By:

With Blast-Off Burlesque’s World Tour about to take off this weekend at 7 Stages (if you haven’t bought tickets yet, book ‘em here,! Fri at 9 p.m., and Sat at 7:30 p.m. & 10:30 p.m.), we asked those gorgeous gals and guys about their craziest real-life travel experiences. And did they have some stories to tell—from wicked weather to dodgy directions.

In the first of this three-part series, the entire Blast-Off gang braves a blizzard but our intrepid entertainers know the show must go on…

In January 2009, Blast-Off was heading to Asheville to put on two nights of a “best of” show at North Carolina Stage Company. We were psyched about it, because it was the first time we’d really taken the show on the road, rather than traveling to guest in other folks’ shows.

As the date approached, we kept an eye on the weather. It was January, after all. And as luck would have it, a snow – and ice – storm synched up with our travel plans. We were planning on heading up in two groups, one on Thursday evening and one Friday. The storm had a similar plan of attack.

Sadie Hawkins. Photo courtesy of Sadie Hawkins.

Barbilicious and Dickie Van Dyke were first to make the journey from Atlanta to North Carolina. They made it just ahead of the storm. Sadie Hawkins had been in Washington, DC for her day job. It was snowing there, too, and she was playing the weather delay game with Delta. Finally, a flight got through, and she made it home just as Atlanta’s weather started to get exciting. She was scheduled to drive up to Asheville with her partner – and Blast-Off’s sound man – Bryant. The goings were slow, but they made it up there in the wee hours.

Now, when team Blast-Off goes to Asheville, we stay in a cabin in the woods. Seriously. Disastrid’s mother has a rustic place at the base of a mountain, off of a curvy road and next to a babbling creek. It’s remote enough that there’s no cell service. It has power and water – and a landline phone.

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Glitz, Glamour and Girls, Girls, Girls: The Southern-Fried Experience

Posted on: Apr 13th, 2011 By:

As tickets go on sale for next year’s Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, Atlanta burlesque maven Talloolah Love looks back on an absolutely fabulous first year…

I have to give my eyes a rest, as I may develop rhinestone cataracts after seeing such an array of magnificent, world class acts as graced the stage March 10-13 for the first-ever Atlanta burlesque convention: The Southern Fried Burlesque Festival. Plenty of articles have been put out there about the two gals behind the event. Masterminds and inner puppeteers, Ursula Undress and Katherine Lashe, were certainly exercised to the extreme as they worked their little tail feathers off to put this show on, and boy, didn’t it show! The vendors room alone could have struck you blind for all the fabulous glitter, rhinestones and color. As someone who has been to many festivals all over the country, ATLRetro asked me to share my experience as a spectator with a sweet nod and smooch to everyone behind the event who volunteered and assisted in their own ways to make it all happen.

Lydia DeCarllo

I arrived Friday night, just before doors. The moment I came in, the fabulous Lydia DeCarllo, the international sensation from Vancouver, swept me up. Now that’s my kind of welcome wagon! We chatted about her trip in and about how she’s been since we last saw each other at the Texas Burlesque Festival. Derek Jackson, Atlanta photographer and avid burlesque advocate, arrived soon after along with world-famous Rick DeLaup, founder of the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. I took a quick jog over to the bar, as I am quite familiar with the Decatur Holiday Inn and Convention Center, which has been newly renovated and also is the home of TribalCon, a national bellydance convention I try to attend every year. The bar was literally dripping with burlesque stars, but the most fabulous in attendance at that moment as Ms. Torchy Taboo, Atlanta’s own burlesque Godfather. She held court there as only she can, a moment I so sorely missed out on because there was so little time to commiserate before the first big show began.

Talloolah Love and Derek Jackson

I took my seat in the VIP section with Rick and Derek and used my commemorative Jo Boobs pen to take notes on the festival’s first all-star show. My only disappointment was that when Derek invited me to sit VIP, my vision of it would be some kind of small gift bag or at the very least drink tickets for the conveniently located hotel bars in the ballroom. But not this year. Happily the bar’s prices were so reasonable it wasn’t as big of a deal as it could have been had the event been held in Atlanta. Still, if I were to critique the VIP experience for its price, a small gift of appreciation would have been nice and usually expected at most festivals.  All of this, though, was again mitigated by the national celebrities who came to chew the fat with us, like Atlanta’s own Mike Geier, the evening’s emcee, and Margaret Cho, along with the cast of DROP DEAD DIVA.

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