MisRed Delicious, Rachel Rouge and Sugar Spanx
with Amourous Ava
Few things warm the cockles of a feminist’s heart more than seeing women pursuing their goals, running successful businesses and being rad bosses. The following is a conversation with performer/producers MisRed Delicious, Rachel Rouge and Sugar Spanx concerning the art of being a producer and the production of burlesque and variety shows in New Zealand. May or may not involve feminist themes.
AA: How did you all individually get into producing? What pushed you to take that step from performer to producer? (or vice versa?)
MD: I got into producing so I could perform. At the time there were very few shows in New Zealand and only one regular show, which had just started in Wellington. I knew if I wanted more stage time I would have to produce. This also gave me the opportunity to start networking and meet other performers.
SS: I got into producing burlesque events for a few reasons. Firstly, I was tired of dealing with musicians (having been managing bands), but really enjoyed the event management side and saw a gap in the market with burlesque. Secondly, there were a few shows around in the area, but not a lot of opportunities for new performers. The idea behind The Rock n Roll Circus was to give new performers stage time and networking opportunities, which is still upheld today. Along with seasoned performers we always welcome rising talent to our shows.
RR: I started Dr. Sketchy Wellington because I wanted to draw performers while in a bar, while listening to great music and drinking... and there was no Dr. Sketchy in Wellington at the time. Producing Dr. Sketchy got me back into performing again (I had been in Africa for two years and hadn’t performed while there). I really enjoy producing. I think I may even enjoy it more than performing. When I decided to move to Christchurch I also decided to start up The Menagerie as 50% burlesque and 50% variety. But I ended up moving to Wellington where there already are several good burlesque/cabaret nights, so decided to create a variety show. I love variety shows, and I really love creating my own.
AA: I rather like that you created your own shows in order to have a space to perform, it seems like a kind of DIY punk approach. I guess another way I see burlesque as similar to punk is that as performers we are all generally contractors or free agents—but we all seem to form loose collectives of people we like to work with. That in turn forms quite tight knit little communities/scenes. Have you found producing shows has given you more of a sense of connection with your respective communities? And MisRed, as co-producer of the New Zealand Burlesque Festival (NZBF), do you think the festival has had much of an impact on bringing various New Zealand burlesque communities together?
MD: Producing was a necessity to perform at that time, but it also gave me huge opportunity to meet other performers and bring them to my town. Producing has enabled me to connect with people not only regionally but also internationally. Previously I had few people outside of Wellington that I knew, and now I can travel almost anywhere in the world and have a couch to sleep on. It’s both producing and performing that enabled that, but I suspect producing has opened some doors that wouldn’t have otherwise given me an opportunity to perform. Although in my first show I had an international performer who introduced me to the idea of travelling to the USA festivals. If I didn’t produce I may have never have taken that leap as a performer.
As Palmerston North is rather isolated in the community, particularly as RRP (Red Rascal Productions) are the only regular producer and I’m the only teacher in the region, producing has definitely helped me to connect with the local community. It’s given me an opportunity to help widen the market for burlesque and encourage people to learn and get involved. They say pride is a sin, so call me sinful. I’m proud that I have been able to introduce people to burlesque through producing, and had many learn from me as well. That has spread to other regions with people travelling to see shows, and that only helps to build a stronger burlesque community nationally.
In regards to NZBF, absolutely it has impact... and I don’t just say that as an opinion, I had survey results to back it up! Since NZBF in 2013, there are more people traveling nationally and internationally to perform, we are seeing collaborations, more communication and I truly believe a stronger community. People no longer are just ‘Facebook friends forever’, they are actually meeting at NZBF and scheming together! When we select performers for NZBF, once we’ve considered the act, we also consider where they are from to make sure we are spreading the love and getting people from everywhere involved. This year we’ve got involvement from the Northern Dolls (Northland) to the Southern Dolls (Otago) and everywhere in between. No other event in NZ has done that before, so NZBF has most certainly had a hand in bringing the various burlesque communities together.
AA: In your time as producers, how have you seen burlesque evolve in New Zealand?
RR: It’s certainly got a lot bigger. When I arrived in NZ (after 10 years away) at the end of 2008, I looked to hire burlesque performers. The only names that came up on a web search were Eva Strangelove, The Magenta Diamond and Venus Starr (Heavenly Burlesque) in Wellington, and Leda Petit and Miss La Vida in Auckland. That’s it. I know there were more about, but either it was not as well established as it is now… or I’m just more aware of the scene now.
SS: Along with getting bigger I think the scene has also become more diverse. When I first started going to shows the more classic style seemed to dominate in my area. Now there are so many wonderful neo performers making their mark. I think there is more of a balance in respective styles now.
MD: There is more opportunity for burlesque performers, and easier access to burlesque for the general public. We’ve gone from 2–3 shows a month nationwide, to shows almost every week. There were few places to learn, and some of those places were (and still are), dance studios teaching cabaret/jazz as burlesque, and not often involved in the burlesque community, or aware of its history. We now have schools from the deep South to the far North.
Burlesque is becoming more of a recognisable word and art form, and the connotations are relaxing as people become more open minded. I’m getting asked less if I am stripper than when I first started... I now answer “Yes, I am.” without fear of their distaste.
As a community we are more aware of the international burlesque community, the history it holds and the value of that history. We are learning more about burlesque history, and passing it on as part of who we are as a community, not just a form of entertainment.
When I started performing/producing there were less than a handful of go-to people for advice and it almost seemed impossible to contact them. Now that access is wider, broader and easier to find.
NZ Burlesque has evolved from an underground scene, to a hobby, to the fringe of ‘regular’ entertainment, into a community that is much wider than before and a business. We are on the cusp of evolving into industry. I hope it will be a sustainable one.
AA: One thing I’ve noticed through working with you all is that you all seem to be exceptionally well-organised in the way you approach running shows. Is this a quality essential in a producer? Did you have this skill before you began producing, or was it born of necessity—of juggling performing, producing, outside work and the demands of day-to-day life?
SS: I’ve always been quite an organised person. It’s something that comes naturally to me. In an ideal world I’d like to think all producers have this quality. Being organised is important, as there are quite a few things to juggle when producing. You need to be on the ball and know exactly what is happening in each area of production. You can’t afford to miss something out that could lead to detriment of the show. For me being organised means I’ve covered ‘all my bases’ so to speak and I can rest assured that I’ve done all I can to put on a successful show for both audience and performer.
RR: It’s important, I wish I were more organised. I can always be more organised. There is always something I could be working on or doing better. My time management skills and discipline are definitely a work in progress.
MD: Yes I believe so. A disorganised show leads to havoc for both performers and the audience. It can lead to very few repeat customers, and a lack of respect for the producer from the performers and wider community. I’m fortunate it was skill I had before producing, as my day-career is autonomous and a form of project management. However it did take some time to get right as applied to producing, as I hadn’t recognised all the needs of a burlesque show straight away... each show you learn a little more. Being organised has become even more crucial the more I produce. Along with the larger events of NZBF, I am also juggling producing with performing, teaching, running a business, family life and still have my day-career to work around. Even though I’m relatively organised, it often comes at the cost of feeling stretched, or like I could always be doing more, or doing it better. From the outside people often tell me I’m doing too much, even though I am pretty organised and on top of things. Though when I crash... I really crash and nothing gets done!
AA: Are there any other personality traits or skills that you think might be useful to have for anyone who is seriously thinking about producing a show?
SS: The ability to be flexible and think on your feet. A level head is always good. I also feel that the ability to create a good rapport with others is beneficial.
MD: Good communication skills, patience, flexibility, the ability to work well independently and within a team. They definitely need to have leadership qualities.
RR: People skills, empathy, the ability to suffer fools… a lot of people will ask a lot of questions you have already given them the answer to. A lot of people will take for-eve-ver to deliver the information you need to run the show. A lot of people will change their needs at the last minute.
There’s also the flexibility that MisRed and Sugar have mentioned, you just have to go with it. Producers and performers fortunately have the same goal—to deliver an excellent show.
Deadlines! Have really clear deadlines, give loads of advance notice for deadlines, and send an email out a couple days before the deadline to remind people of what needs to get done and when it needs to get done.
RR: Is burlesque feminist?
RR: Just thought I’d throw that one up. I don’t think burlesque is at all feminist. To me feminism means equality, and burlesque to me has nothing to do with social, political, cultural or financial equality between the genders. Nothing.
I don’t perform burlesque because I’m feminist. I’m not feminist because I perform burlesque. I perform burlesque because I’m an exhibitionist, and I vote because I’m feminist.
MD: I’d agree. You are an exhibitionist. I like it.
AA: Well, for my part I think burlesque is like any art form, it’s not inherently feminist, but it can be. Is art feminist? Is music feminist? To me asking if burlesque is feminist is like asking if painting is feminist.
I think burlesque as an art form lends itself to feminist themes for some practitioners because a stylised performance of gender and sexuality has always been an element of burlesque, which makes it ripe for exploring ideas to do with gender/feminism.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the resurgence of Neo-burlesque in the 90s coincided with the boom of postmodernism. This era was all about parody and satire, where various modes of communication were being repurposed and subverted to critique their original message. For example Barbara Krueger using the language of advertising, repurposing advertising vernacular to discuss ideas relating to power and feminism. So it seems fitting that the language of striptease is occasionally employed by performers to make commentary on body politics.
But not all performers are thinking about their performance in these terms. That performing is fun and entertaining are usually the main reasons people choose to perform. For me that’s totally valid—if it’s not encouraging violence towards women, or racism, or any of the other -isms that we don’t tolerate as a society, then why would we police burlesque in particular? I think society in general has too many opinions on women who get their tits out.
Mostly I think if a performer personally has politics that align with feminism, that tends to be reflected in their performance—a feminist performer isn’t likely to perform a misogynistic act. Politics aren’t innately separate from the performer, especially in Neo-burlesque. For example, I know how Honey Suckle feels about John Key and how Pixie Twist feels about slut shaming, just from the content of their performances.
I could also get into a discussion about stripping in burlesque as a rejection of body-shaming... But that could be a loooong discussion.
RR: So we agree, burlesque is not feminist because it’s a performance art form that is the expression of the performer, so it can be feminist or misogynist or left wing, or right wing, or anything because it’s a medium that is utilised by the artist.
I’m a feminist. I’m also really big on all other human rights (so far I have four articles from the UN declaration of Human Rights tattooed on me). However I don’t think my politics shine through in my burlesque performances. I don’t want them to shine through either, it’s not why I perform, it’s not what I’m there for.
In fact my burlesque performances glorify the hyper-feminine, they objectify my body, celebrate everything sparkly, vapid, frivolous, they place importance of how I look over what I do, think, feel or say, and give the impression that I’m probably scared of spiders.
I’m a feminist, and my burlesque performances do nothing for feminism.
AA: Is the belief that burlesque is inherently feminist really a common one? It may be, but it’s something I’ve not personally often heard suggested before. I’ve heard the opposite many times—using an objectification-based argument to suggest burlesque is anti-feminist. My understanding of contemporary feminist thought is that it refutes the idea that showing your body is particularly objectifying or empowering, objectification is more about who holds the power in any given situation. Maybe that’s why I’ve never personally felt particularly objectified when performing.
MD: I think people may believe burlesque is feminist because the majority of performers are female—just your typical everyday stereotyping really. I agree it is an art form and can be what it needs to be to the performer expressing themselves, and that is not inherently feminist.
AA: I think that stereotype you mention MisRed affects men who perform too—I’ve heard burlesquers who identify as male talk about how they had a hard time figuring out how to perform burlesque ‘as a man’. They had kind of assumed they needed to be camp or feminine, but didn’t really think that sat true with their persona. Perhaps because so many burlesque role models are women, the stereotype of femininity itself gets equated with burlesque. I guess this is partly why I like watching male burlesquers so much—there’s such an opportunity to explore different ideas of what gender in this context might be. Maybe because there aren’t as many dudes performing as women it often seems fresh and interesting.
SS: Just so I’m not rehashing everyone’s thoughts, I share MisRed’s sentiments that burlesque isn’t inherently feminist and can be what it needs to be to the performer.
AA: Do you have any advice for performers regarding what you look for when booking an act?
RR: Talent. The end goal for me is a happy audience. I want my audience to have an enjoyable experience, to laugh, to cry, to see something they have never seen before, to feel and to escape. Entertainment.
SS: Confidence. Also I’m with Rachel on talent. The performers I book are there to entertain the audience, so they have to be capable of doing that. With the newer performers, the ones I tend to book are the ones that are confident about themselves and their act and have a good grasp on what they are trying to achieve on stage.
MD: Ability to engage the audience... and I’m the audience when I’m watching footage! I like to see energy, emotion, and expression through the face and in particular the eyes. While technical proficiently is a wonderful skill to have, if you can capture me with your eyes, you have my attention regardless of whether you are doing a plié or a Macarena. Energy transfers into the movements. Movement can be made stronger, more confident and more precise with practice, but energy changes movement, creating tease, anticipation and intention. That’s what I look for.
AA: Do you have any advice for anyone who may be considering putting on their own burlesque/cabaret/variety show?
RR: There were some people who are considering putting on a one-off charity show in the Hutt Valley to raise funds for Nepal. I don’t think they had produced a show before. They had a free venue, but no date, and were trying to solicit donated acts but without a date. This is the advice I sent them:
First get your date. Lock it in with the venue, everything else with depend on that. Once you have a time and place you can organise the show.
SS: Have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve. Know your market. Be organised. Write up a marketing plan and set goals that will help you keep on track. Communicate well with your performers, crew and venue manager. If you’re working with a co-producer, don’t assume what tasks they are doing—sit down together and nut out who has what responsibilities. A budget is essential. Be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort to make everything come to fruition.
MD: I can’t really add anything practical that these two ladies haven’t already listed. I would probably just say be prepared as early as possible, keep time in your pocket for when shit goes wrong, and keep a cool head. Be forgiving, but firm and be fair, and don’t compromise your values. Learn how to communicate effectively written and verbally. To quote a fabulous woman I know: ‘Don’t be a Dick’.
– Pastie Politics Issue 2
MisRed Delicious is an internationally renowned burlesque entertainer with multiple titles and awards to her name. She is a respected burlesque teacher with some of her past students performing internationally, and she is a successful producer of shows, including the New Zealand Burlesque Festival.
MisRed Delicious is well known as a passionate force within the New Zealand burlesque scene, and with her production company, Red Rascal Productions, she wishes to help foster international exposure for and to New Zealand burlesque performers while developing the local community to become a sustainable art form within New Zealand.
As a performer and teacher MisRed Delicious is fast building a profile worldwide, having performed and taught internationally, including Germany, Italy, Malta, Australia and the USA.
Producer of Wellington’s monthly variety show The Menagerie, veteran burlesque performer, and world traveller, Rachel Rouge is not often short of an opinion. Whether those opinions are relevant or useful is another matter entirely.
Rachel started performing burlesque in 2002, two years before Facebook, four years before YouTube and five years before the iPhone. It was a different time; this was before burlesque classes, burlesque schools and burlesque competitions.
She’s performed internationally from festivals, to National Libraries, to dive bars, Rachel’s longevity in the industry does not denote qualifications, nor skill, but it does demonstrate a deep love and appreciation of burlesque.
Sugar Spanx comes from a background in performance and production in theatre, television and short film. She produces the highly successful The Rock n Roll Circus series of burlesque events and has also produced for the Hamilton Fringe Festival. Not only does Sugar produce but she is also a seasoned burlesque performer who has graced stages in New Zealand and America.
Amourous Ava is an Auckland-based burlesque performer and the creator of Pastie Politics. She has been performing since 2011 and is known predominately for romping around enthusiastically in her underpants as characters inspired by B-Grade horror movies, as well as being occasionally, if not always completely intentionally, hilarious.
Known as ‘The Fastest Ass in the West’, Amourous Ava has an abiding and equal fondness for both political subtext and vigorous booty shaking. She is quite a perverse creature and enjoys challenging peoples expectations of what a scantily-clad woman should do in public.
When she’s not writing for, designing and publishing Pastie Politics, Amourous Ava performs throughout New Zealand and internationally. She enjoys being a small business owner, a creative professional, a feminist and a burlesque performer, and she hopes you enjoy this zine.