Monday, March 2, 2015

Montreal Burlesque Festival

Club Soda
Train travel makes me think of the romantic (and deadly) scenes in Hitchcock's North by North West. Suspense and mystery aside it's a great way to travel.
I've traveled Europe, Egypt and the UK by train and Canada's economy cabins were comparable, comfortable plus with wifi access for no extra charge.
I made the trip from Toronto to Montreal on ViaRail, leaving from the historic Union Station on Bay and Front st and settling into the kind of chair you can only dream of when flying economy class.

I was traveling in Fall when the leaves are turning and once I was free of Toronto's suburbs there was an abundance of red, yellow, orange and gold in the trees that lined the tracks. (Though here there's a lot of green)
My housemates, The Great Gadso and Agatha Frisky were putting me up at Gadso's narrow apartment in Little Italy, three rooms off a hall, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom.
The bathroom had a window that overlooked the kitchen and Agatha warned me that at some point it had lost its pane of glass, the term intimate never seemed so appropriate.

It was the same mattress I'd borrowed to sleep on for the first few weeks of moving into our house on East Dundas and I wasn't relishing waking up with bones poking floor once the mattress deflated overnight!
I took over the kitchen, wedging a blow up mattress between the fridge, wood stove, water heater and back door.

I arrived the same afternoon of the show making my way from Bonaventure station through the underground mall looking for the Metro.

One of Montreal's underground malls

The Festival venue was Club Soda, a massive theatre on St Laurent Boulevard. I dropped my bag downstairs and quickly and efficiently (and some might say rudely) claimed a space in front of the mirrors that had enough room for both Agatha and I.

I headed back upstairs and waited to do my tech. Scarlett, the organiser and headliner of the show was busy applying crystals to a martini glass in one corner of the stage.

Backstage was filling with performers, feathers, make up and clouds of hairspray.
Agatha was perched on a chair donning lashes and fixing her make up, her hair was up in rollers while I was sporting pin curls under my scarf. Glamour takes work. yep.

Backstage with Agatha
Our fellow room residents were from Montreal and would switch from French to English with speed and fluency.
Backstage is a funny place, you have to respect your fellow artists space, costumes, needs... There are unspoken rules such as not playing your song track on repeat (use head phones)  leaving the room to stretch or change if you're going to disrupt your bedfellows, ensuring your heels aren't digging into someone's very expensive fish tail or knocking a precariously placed bottle of glitter off the counter.
Don't invite friends backstage, if you have forgotten hairspray or pins, tit tape or scissors, ask don't take, if you're taking photos, check for consent, then nudity- the latter is easy to forget when you're caught up in the moment, I've been guilty of posting photos and having performers politely but firmly request the shots be deleted.
If you're covering the event as a photographer, again... ask.
On this night there was a Montreal local running around backstage, cornering performers as they came off stage 'interviewing' them and playing a game of his own invention, Get Spankd.
Agatha had just come off stage, wearing tiny pasties and a merkin when this guy came into our change room and insisted that we "play a game" happily ignorant that both I and one of the other performers were about to go upstairs to perform and that the other performer was having a costume issue. We didn't play the game.

Agatha performing at Club Soda

Backstage runs the gamut of emotion, anxiety, stage fright for some, elation and joyous reunion for others.
I met Donna Denise backstage at the 2013 NYBF Golden Pasties where while stretching I almost put a foot into her eye shadow palette.
We were excited to see each other again! Donna's a gorgeous Texan and used to be a bodybuilder which left her with amazing control over her pecs and can twitch her muscles to get her tassels spinning like propellers.
We all lined up behind the backdrop for the curtain call, the emcee was announcing us in French so I tried to remember my high school french... In the end I just ran on when I saw him look at me. After a loooong curtain call and speech the bows turned into dancing on the spot which  turned into an onstage dance party because bowing's so passe.

From Club Soda Agatha, Becky and I walked up St Laurent past crowds standing in line outside st Laurent's clubs, smoking, drinking. It was bloody cold and over our pretty dresses we packed on goose down, padded winter jackets.

Montreal's Wiggle Room

We were heading to the Wiggle Room, a tiny bar with a stage at one end, piano set up to one side, microphones on the stage, plush couches and tiny round tables set out on a wooden floor.
We were seated at the front booth, the piano was in full swing and the microphones were being judiciously abused by tipsy patrons.
A Perth dancer, Angelique st Jorre was working the bar and she plied us with shots and cocktails which meant it wasn't long before Becky and I decided we could sing. And dance. And sing until the Piano man gave up. And even then, we sang one last song...

Happily they said they'd have us back, so long as we didn't sing.

A group of 17 year olds from Toronto invaded the dance floor at this point and Agatha got up to teach an impromptu gogo class before the 17 year olds were kicked out and we headed down stairs to a deli to eat sweet potato fries and poutine before cabbing home.

The next day we took the Metro to meet Becky. Gadso took us to a local market which was full of gastronomic delights and fresh produce.

Pumpkin stalls!!

The market had two sections, an outdoor area that stocked fresh produce, nuts and flowers. Pumpkin stalls were decked out with Halloween decorations including a rubber spider that launched at Bec (Care of Agatha). Inside the market hall there were bakeries and butcher and chocolate shops

Becky checking out the macarons

We visited the old quarter of the city, full of stately buildings atop cobble stone paved hills. Gadso left to teach people to soar through the air, Becky left us to get ready for the evening and Agatha and I went shopping for snow boots before catching a train back to Little Italy.

It was bloody cold already and when we made it into the Metro, there are these strange 'bi- parting leaf doors' which between the outside pressure and the trains create wind tunnels that chill you to the core as you strain to push them open.
We grabbed a meal and then headed to Club Soda for the third night of the Festival. Becky had performed on the Thursday evening so we were all the audience standing up behind the sound guys. We were also blocking the stairway and pissing off the bar staff so Agatha and I moved downstairs and found a spot in the stalls, still standing but no longer in the way.
There would have been at least 500 people packing out the theatre so we didn't mind standing although we wondered why we weren't being paid... or offered a complimentary ticket.

The standard was mixed. Lucy Loveless was incredible, a drag queen on trapeze, beautiful lines, amazing movement, great costuming. A group of burlesque dancers from upstate New York in cheap mass produced costumes, lacked synchronicity, style, depth or intent. They were definitely having a ball on stage and more power to them- but as someone who believes that Festivals are showcases I felt like it wasn't the right venue for them to be performing at.

We went back to the Wiggle Room for the after party, I cut short my drinking so there was no singing this time. Agatha, Gadso and I walked home to Little Italy. Even with a woolen hat, wool hood and my jacket hood up I couldn't get warm and I gladly re inflated the mattress, pulled out the sleeping bag and wedged myself into the kitchen for another night.

The final morning Gadso took Agatha and I to Le Plateau where we emerged with a bag of bread from St-Viateur Bagel, the longest running bagel bakery in Montreal.
We went vintage shopping but reluctantly passed on not one but three beautiful princess coats, Agatha found an amazing Lilli Ann jacket on St Laurent while I couldn't quite justify purchasing a red wool princess coat... But it will forever haunt my dreams. Forever. (No it won't, I found a gorgeous black princess for $10 in Toronto. WIN.)

Agatha finds a cat in Little Italy
And we find a cat cafe in the city!
We all came back the way we arrived, I left on the train, Agatha, Gadso and Becky by bus. I arrived home first and was greeted by our resident depressed, overweight cat who was sitting on the stairs. She gave me a glare but cheered up when I fed her. I then realised she'd peed outside of her litter tray.

Cat 1. Me 0 
(I have been informed the cat is now less of a depressed fat cat and more of a purring lithe normal (angry) cat)
The End.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ottawa Burlesque Festival: You have to start somewhere

 I didn't realise that this year was the inaugural Ottawa Burlesque Festival, the first I hope of many.

It was a mass exodus from our house on Dundas/ Parliament in Toronto.
My housemates flew far South to the humid heat of Louisiana for the New Orleans Burlesque Festival while I headed near South to Ottawa in a car of fabulous. Lucky Minx and James and the Giant Pastie taking the wheel, Wrong Note Rusty, Knox Harder and Imogen Quest and I packing the back for a short and merry roadtrip.

Guns, fish and children were the main features of Tinder profiles between TO and Ottawa.
The drive, long in miles passed quickly, assisted by the changing scenery of fall colours and the changing faces on Tinder- at least three of us decided that viewing pictures of gun toting, fish holding dudes would help the hours pass quicker. It did.

We made good time and I was dropped off at a local performer's downtown apartment. Ariel had offered to put me up for a few nights on her couch, I was so grateful as I hadn't really bothered thinking about accommodation until a week prior to the festival as I was only staying for one night.

This is layering up back before I realised how cold Canada gets...
I got to know Ottawa's public transport system this weekend, Ariel provided bus tokens and we traveled to the Gladstone Theatre arriving with a couple of  hours to spare which meant we could take advantage of the theatre's proximity to Little Italy and indulge in calorie rich risotto and gluten free biscotti from Simply Biscotti.

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Simply Biscotti on Preston st
The night was sold but I managed to score a seat in the second row. The stand outs for me were Toronto's own Regina Dentata, Wrong Note Rusty as a laid off office worker using his box of cleaned out paper with grand effect and Ryan Hinds who sang his heart out and made me cheer with his rendition of Bring on the Men, sung without microphone or monitoring.
Statuesque Sydni Devereaux from NYC via Seattle was one of the Festival headliners, appearing on stage in a fully sequined playsuit and bunny ears, a reluctant waitress with satirical intent, she made my night.

Friday night's Dark Side of the Merkin
On Saturday I slept in, awaking around 10am to do some sightseeing with Ariel. We got good coffee from Planet Coffee for a fantastic coffee- note of warning, it's cash only.
I also picked up some postcards for friends and family at the French only bookshop,  Librairie du Soleil, I attempted some sketchy french and was rewarded with rapid fire responses that I couldn't follow at all... So I resorted to my dodgy "Parlez vous anglais, je suis Australien" which didn't get a lot of love.

I miss good cheese...

Fresh produce stalls at Byward

frosted cookies at Aux Delices
We continued on, checking out Ottawa's Byward Market for some sweets and fresh produce and walking up towards Parliament hill past the Rideau canal with it's many locks.

On a bridge overlooking the Rideau Canal

Do the tour!! Big regret that I couldn't.
Ariel was a fantastic tour guide, we walked the scenic route, found chipmunks in a park and saw Ottawa's incredible gothic revival architecture including the main building and the library. You can do tours inside but we didn't have time.

Being a tourist!
We also headed to check out Ragtime vintage in Asheville. It was recommended to me but ended up being a bit of a disappointment with only a small selection of mid century dresses available in smaller sizes. They rent and sell vintage clothing and most of the bigger items were rent only.
It was packed with clothing and perhaps with more time I would have unearthed some treasures.

It's a bear, Eh.
We headed back to Ariel's so I could start getting ready for the show, Opulance and Oddities at the Bronson Centre. We took another bus and then worked our legs by walking up a long hill to the theatre.
The World Famous *Bob* emceed, she spent the evening hanging out mostly at the side of stage, watching the acts and talking to the performers which was a good space to be considering the number of performers who were filling up the backstage area.
The backstage area was tiny, yet we found ways to make it work, even if one of the two toilets was clogged and stopped flushing...

Two showgirls in one skirt, backstage with Sassy Ray
I was performing my peacock act and was surprised to find there was another performer with a similar bouffant blue tulle costume performing shortly before me.
Slightly frustrating as you always want to have a uniquely impressive costume when you perform a classic act, however, Sassy Ray has her own brassy style and we got along fine!

Photo by Viktor S. Divice

Saturday night's line up

on stage selfies with Holly Von Sin
Burlesque is so glamorous.
I was leaving that night after the show, getting a lift home with a TSOB student.
I'd scored the front seat while Rusty and Ryan took the back. It was a long drive back, we left around 1am and got home at 5:30, somehow our driver was able to stay alert... I'm sure it was the lively conversation and addition of stops for Tims coffee and Mcdonalds in Kingston where we disturbed a young couple in the carpark and tried to walk through the drive through.

Maccas weren't so keen on our attempt at walking through... 4am in Kingston
The housemates were still away in New Orleans so our depressed rescue cat, originally called Frisky but anything but, greeted me at the door with the type of fear that you see in the abandoned, yowling for food and oddly for her, joining me in my University style (read bare) room for company.

The look of love.
Keep an eye out, the Festival will be on again September 17-20 2015
Applications opening March 1!

Monday, September 22, 2014

PA Burlesque Festival and 24 hours in NYC

Road tripping, my first crossing over the Canadian/ US border, my first sighting of Niagra Falls, two nights of performing in a beautiful theatre for a rowdy crowd including five Aussies, an excellent workshop, a burlesque legend, an endless search for food and lovely, funny, genuine new friends.
Not a bad weekend then.

PA Burlesque Festival!
I often say that it's the community spirit that I enjoy most about Festivals, the performers I meet who blow me away with their creativity, demanding my unwavering attention, providing beauty, comedy and a unique interpretation to the paths we travel.

Two weeks into my move to Canada, I was stressing about transport to Pennsylvania. Bus or train would take hours, flying was impossibly expensive, when Madame Corsetiere informed me that Toronto local, Lucky Minx was driving to the Festival.
This turned out to be serendipitous for both of us as although shorter than the bus, it's still a long drive so Lucky knew that if she needed a rest I could take the wheel. I kept my concerns to myself, I'm not sure that I'd remember to stick to the right side of the road.
Happily Lucky didn't flag and we remained alert by sharing our life stories, to the amusement of Zeno, an Austrian, who was coming along for the ride.

James and the Giant Pasty was with us to cross the border, it sounds like the start of a bad joke or a border scam, an American, a Canadian, an Australian and an Austrian try to cross the border... Nevertheless we made it across with nary more than a short wait and a passport stamp.

The Mauch Chunk Opera House
Jim Thorpe has the facade of a charming tourist town, the buildings are beautiful, the locals are friendly but the prices are steep and the service in some of the shops lacked finesse but the town came out in force to support the Festival.
Medianoche's face was in every shopfront and the locals gave you a friendly nod when they saw the head scarves and pin curls.

Lucky and I arrived too late for our tech but had a quick walk of the stage which was large and grippy. We unloaded into Mary's guesthouse which was right across the street from the venue and met our third room mate, the very funny, very blonde, Ula Uberbusen from NYC.

Posing with Ula and Lucky on Saturday night

Lucky took a nap and I took to the streets, I say streets but Jim Thorpe is really just a main street which loops into High st both ending at the main road out of Jim Thorpe.
I first headed out across the bridge to the new part of Jim Thorpe where a supermarket had every bread and pastry conceivable except for a fresh bread stick or crossiant. 
I ended up purchasing a box of very small crossiants with ham and a couple of gluten free artisan bread sticks from the freezer.
I also needed a basket but was loathe to purchase something new, I tried a few shops and finished at Dreisbach House, a gorgeous house, the bottom floor devoted to vintage clothing, hats and knick knacks.
The owner Lisa who was sitting behind the counter surrounded by her beautiful hats ferreted out the basket for me and loaned it for the evening.

If I could fit that box in my luggage...

The front counter at Dreisbach House
So many hats!
Friday's show featured neo and comic acts and a smattering of classic.
Backstage after I finished getting ready I watched as Sizzle Dizzle transformed from fresh faced and youthful to a 70 something hilbilly grandma with a skunk fur.

Sizzle Dizzle and her skunk

Madame Corsetiere leads the way to Stella's on Friday night
Lucky and I called it an early night and left the after party dinner at Tony Stella's for bed, I was so exhausted that I dropped off quickly and woke up early the next morning ready for a coffee and to see the town's sites.
Lucky and I left Ula dozing in bed and went for a morning walk around the town. A local recommended we walk up to the High street street where we found pickles and gorgeous views of the town.

All about pickles

American flags dominate on High street

Attention to detail and bright colours

The church now houses an art gallery

Further up the main street we hit the fire house
Contrary to Australian Festivals, many US Festivals feature a Queens style competition. PA Burlesque Festival was no different and Saturday night was devoted to the Crystal Corset award.

Magdalena Fox backstage in her Dr Seuss costume

gratuitous selfie
The audience was packed and included some Aussie's who just happened to be in town. The top three acts were all classic numbers, the winner Poison Ivory was gorgeous in purple backstage, I didn't see her perform as we were both in the first set but heard great things, Nina La Valois who drove up that day threw a lot of backside into her classic and Rosie Cheex was clean and polished in red.

The after party was again at Stella's and after a pointless search for real food during the day (a $10 cos lettuce salad with greasy roast vegetables had made my stomach turn after the first tentative bite) I needed sleep.
On Sunday morning our happy band of room mates disbanded. Lucky hit the road early, making her way to Baltimore to meet James. I had one last coffee, sampled some mango sorbet from Alice's Ice Cream shoppe, made it to Ula's workshop and then joined Sizzle, Rosie Cheeks and Medianoche in Ula's car, back to NYC

Making a pit stop at a WaWa which according to Sizzle is AMAZING

So much jerky.

I blame Sizzle for the purchase, I blame myself for eating more than one.
We had a long drive back to New York City. Ula's stamina amazed me, I was exhausted after the weekend, but she dropped everyone off in the vicinity of their homes or subway stops, checked her emails, prepped hair and make up and then with the prepossessing Perle Noire in tow she packed the car and drove us to a gig in Brooklyn.
The bar was startlingly quiet and being one of only two people there for the show the producers decided to cancel what promised to be a fun show featuring the likes of Ula, Perle, Peekaboo Pointe and Gogo McGregor.
I was super disappointed as I wouldn't be there for Monday's show (the show was scheduled to have a three night run) I don't know if it's scary or reassuring that even in NYC, a city that never sleeps and beckons performers with dreams of endless gigs and patrons, even they can have a quiet night.

Sunset in the East Village

Vinnies pizza on Bedford

PIZZA. Gluten free, freshly made pizza!
We moved the car closer to Bedford and ended up at Vinnies Pizza where Perle proved that you can eat pizza like a lady and respond to advances like a lady- in the car ride from PA to NYC we'd had a fairly serious conversation about cat calls and more threatening advances from men.

We moved on to a cinema, I was flagging but my spirits rose when Ula suggested we see Get On Up which was incredible, moving and enlightening.

I was also the backseat audience to Ula and Perle's impromptu Madonnas lip synch but then so were all the passers by, one guy snuck to the back passenger window to try and ...lip synch video bomb?!

On Monday I was again on the move. I bumped my suitcase off Ula's bannister and rode the subway to 8th and 20th st where I stowed my suitcase at Chelsea International hostel.
I was feeling vitamin deprived so I indulged in a $9 juice from Organic Avenue on 8th avenue rationalised by the  $10 inedible salad in Jim Thorpe.

Overpriced but much needed juice!

fresh flowers at the Union Square farmer's market

I grabbed a gluten free blueberry and lemon muffin from the Union square farmer's market, spent some time shopping at Beacon's Closet on 13th street and Tatyana's on Bowery and picked up some souvenirs from the Strand. My plan was to get a book in anticipation of a 12 hour bus ride to Toronto but reading on vehicles makes me nauseous so I ignored the contemptuous glance that I received from the cashier when I brought magnets and postcards to the counter instead of making a purchase from one of the thousands of books the Strand stocks on their shelves.

Last sights of the City.
I've caught the Megabus from NYC once before in 2008. Back then, it was a single decker that departed from 34th and 8th. Now it leaves from 34th between 11th and 12th ave. I joined a long straggling line of confused people, the sign we were instructed to queue behind stated Philly as the destination and the confusion only grew when people bound for states further South joined but it was all sorted in the end and I snagged a seat at a table on the bottom floor which made me pretty happy.
On route to Megabus

Truck Stop, they all looked the same and housed a variety of chain shops including a Starbucks

We stopped three times at Onroutes, large identical buildings that house Starbucks, Taco Bells (or in Canada, Tim Hortons) the looked exactly the same and I had no idea where we were, we could have done one big loop for all I knew.
My travel companions were friendly although life became awkward when the family sitting across the aisle from me started smacking their very little children for being children. 
If you feed 5 year olds sugar, don't expect them to sit still or sleep, especially if they have nothing to entertain them except watch their parents use their mobile phones.

The second stop a few hours after I heard the news of Robin Williams death. Fly free Peter.
Thank you to Madame Corsetiere for showing me a tiny town that I'd never otherwise have seen, to Lucky Minx, Ula and Perle for their generosity and the other performers for dancing with their hearts.