The self-described ‘Power Couple of Burlesque,’ GiGi La Femme and Doc Wasabassco have cut themselves a wide path through the New York theatre world with Wasabassco Burlesque.
From their duo’s beginnings in a tiny raw space in Brooklyn, the performer and impresario have lately been headlining shows in Manhattan in clubs like the City Winery as well as venues up and down the East Coast with their two traveling acts, the “Wasabassco Medicine Show and Traveling Burlesque Revue” and “Wasabassco’s Girls! Girls! Girls! – a Ladylicious Cabaret.” But they’ve draw the greatest attention with their monthly show at the hip Under St. Marks Theatre in NYC’s East Village, “Revealed.”
“Revealed” is a carnivalesque ride that pushes burlesque to new heights. Hosted by the maniacal Bastard Keith and his sidekick/’stage kitten’ Madame Rosebud, the show features a lineup of the city’s best performers. On Wed., May 20th, that will include performances by: Anita Cookie, Peekaboo Pointe, Kobayashi Maru, Sapphire Jones, Stormy Leather, and GiGi La Femme herself.
We recently sat down with the dynamic pair to ask them about their speakeasy beginnings, tassel-twirling, and making out with Julie Atlas Muz. — Tom Penketh
BS: How did you first get into burlesque?
Doc: I was an illustrator for years, and I got heavily into pinup art. A publicist friend of mine landed me a gallery show. And he booked us to do a burlesque show to promote the gallery opening. He thought it would be a gimmick.
We had no experience. We’d produced parties before, but that was it. So we went to all the shows around the city to find the best performers out there, and booked the first show. It was a big success, and we completely forget about the gallery show.
We had so much fun, we booked the second show the night of the first show. GiGi joined us for the second show, and we started dating (secretly). And then we started producing our own shows out of that.
GiGi: About six years ago, my cousin Scarlett Sinclair and I went on her birthday to the Slipper Room. It was such a great show. Then she was asked to perform.
Scarlett debuted with the World Famous Bob, back when Bob used to do a show at Galapagos. I thought it was just so much fun to dress up, and be a part of the audience.
A few months later I thought, “I might want to do this too.” So Scarlett helped get me in touch with people to debut officially. She said I could start off as a ‘stage kitten,’ which is the person who picks up the panties and stockings and such. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve any nudity. You just dress up a cute little outfit.
Doc: It’s a starting place. If you want to get into burlesque, the first thing you do is work as a ‘pick-up girl’ or ‘stage kitten.’
GiGi: So Doc needed one for his second show, and that’s what I did a few days before I debuted with the World Famous Bob. It was really great way to get my feet wet, to feel how it is to be on stage without actually performing.
But in the show I actually did a number with Julie Atlas Muz. That was my first experience being on stage. She was a mermaid, and I was the girlfriend of the ukulele player. And the mermaid was flirting with the ukulele player, and I said, “Hell no, I’m going to get her to flirt with me.” And we ended up together at the end of the song.
Doc: Which I think it’s fantastic, It was her first stage appearance in world of burlesque, and she was making out with Julie Atlas Muz.
Doc: There are several different approaches to burlesque. There are shows in New York right now that are designed to be shocking, or more overly sexual, or crass, or maybe even bloody—more like performance art. The shows that we do, like ‘Revealed,’ we’ve decided where the line is.
We define what we do as ‘couple-friendly burlesque.’ Gay, straight, male, female, whatever. A couple can go and see the show and not be turned on like you’re at a strip club but be inspired and entertained and take that home with you and talk about what a great night you had. That’s our guide.
BS: I was surprised to see full nudity in the show. Was that a conscious decision?
GiGi: It was like that from the get-go. That’s the reason the show exists.
We tried to figure out how to do a show that was different from any other show in our neighborhood. One day, walking back from the diner, I said, “What if people were naked? Not in a crass way, but like a kind of speakeasy, underground, little secret thing?” We just started brainstorming from there.
We originally started the show in Brooklyn, in the Park Slope/Gowanus area, in this raw space under the train trellis. We needed to have the raw space because we couldn’t do nudity in bars, and we couldn’t find a theatre at that point.
Doc: For the first four or five shows, we had passwords, we had attendance lists, curtains, and a door guy.
BS: What has the experience been like?
Doc: There’s really interesting thing that happens when you do a full-nude burlesque show. The punch line to almost any burlesque number is tassel-twirling. Or novelty pasties. But after you’ve taken off most of your clothes, and you’re in a G-string and pasties, you twirl them and people applaud.
But the second you take those away, suddenly, the arc of what’s about to happen has to become something entirely different. And we were really conscious to book performers who were the best of the best in New York. And everyone really rose the challenge. We’re incredibly surprised about the show constantly.
GiGi: We would hire performers like Creamy Stevens. She definitely has a darker personality, but she always goes towards the funny when it comes to her numbers. And the first number she did at our first show was the sexiest thing—it was slow and so different for her. It was challenge for her to go into this different place.
BS: What makes a good burlesque performer?
Doc: It’s not one specific thing, but you have to be good. Right now there’s a lot of burlesque. That also means there’s a lot of bad burlesque. People try it because they think it might be fun or because they are trying to experiment.
But [we like] performers who practice and who are devoted to what they put on stage. And the act can be anything: It can be a very actor-y number, or a dance number. Someone can sing. They might have a skill, or they might just have a presence.
I would also say smart. There’s a lot of sexy out there. But what makes burlesque stand apart from striptease or a strip club is the smart. Is there arc to your number? Is your performance telling a story?
Also, there is your facial expression. A lot of performers are working their bodies, but they are deadpan, and they’re not connecting with the audience. All of my favorite burlesque performers do something with their face.
GiGi: You’re doing this for yourself, as a performer. It’s both totally selfish and awesome. You get to be on stage for three to five minutes doing whatever the hell you want to do.
But you’re there for the audience. If the audience wasn’t there, you wouldn’t be there. You do have to make that connection. Eye contact [is important.] Even if you’re just smiling to the back of the room, because you can’t see anything with the lights. But you have to either simulate it or actually do it. It has to be a conscious decision.
BS: In a recent performance of “Revealed,” one of the performers created wings out of her costume. So costumes are obviously a big part of the show as well.
GiGi: Absolutely. But she connects with her audience, too. And that makes the difference. I’ve had acts that say, “I have this beautiful costume, and I’m so excited about it.” But maybe she didn’t really figure out the act so much in her head, but was just creating the costume.
And those numbers don’t tend to go as well, because they’re not coming full circle. They’re only going half way around.
“Revealed” is performed monthly. The next performance is on Wed., June 17, 2009 at Under St. Marks Theatre, 94 St. Marks Place, New York, NY (between 1st Ave & Ave A). The show starts at 10 p.m. Tickets are $20, and can be purchased at Smarttix.com or by calling (212) 868-4444. Check Wasabassco.com for upcoming shows. Attendees must be 21 or over.