After-dark inquiry: RunAround Sue
The sparkly Sugar Shack Burlesque veteran runs the weekly Shaken & Stirred shindig.
Tue Feb 7 2012
Photograph: Kim Frost
The sparkly Sugar Shack Burlesque veteran is the producer, MC and shaker-in-chief at the weekly Shaken & Stirred shindig.
You're shooting for a film directed by James Gray, the guy who did We Own the Night and The Yards. So what's that all about?
Oh, it's so exciting! It's set in 192 in a burlesque brothel in the Lower East Side. James Gray is really big on accuracy, so he wanted some actual burlesque performers.
How did they find you?
One of the assistant directors had seen me dance three or four years ago in the Berkshires—I was producing a show up there for a really long time—and she got in touch with the venue and got my e-mail address. She asked me to send in some photos. So I did, and then I had a phone meeting with James! We talked about the history of burlesque and burlesque today. Then they had me come in for a meeting to meet him and the producer and the DP and everyone, and we talked about the movie for hours. And then they cast me in the role!
This is a real all-star affair, right? Aren't Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner all in this movie?
Yeah! It's a big deal. Joaquin is sort of the girls' manager. I'm actually committed to this for seven or eight weeks, and I'm on set a lot. It'll get really intense when we start doing the theater scenes—it's called the Jewel Box Theater in the movie. We're shooting those scenes on a stage at Kaufman Astoria Studios.
What else can you tell us about it?
What's really exciting is that Patricia Norris is the costume designer, and she's amazing. She's done David Lynch stuff, she did Scarface...so many things! I went in for my fitting on Wednesday, and all the costumes are actually authentic pieces from the 1920s. You put them on, and you just start walking differently. You definitely wiggle a little more! I have this amazing headpiece for one scene that came from an opera house. It's gonna be beautiful to look at.
You might have to forget to give some of those pieces back.
That would be nice! Or I should at least arrange for a photo in them. And another great thing is the director is so intent on being as realistic as he can be. He's really given us a voice—he's interested in what we have to say and wants to hear any anecdotes we can tell him. It's really nice to be involved in a project where your knowledge of the world is valued.
It's good that they're not doing some weird Hollywood version of burlesque, like a recent movie that we could name.
Right! [Laughs] On Monday we're shooting an outside scene, and we're just wearing knickers. That's definitely not Hollywood. I hope it's not too cold!
Is this film going to interfere with your nighttime burlesque duties?
I don't think so. It's mostly Monday-through-Friday day shoots, so we still have our nights and weekends free. But I live life by the seat of my pants anyway. And at Shaken & Stirred, I have two associate producers, Scooter Pie and Legs Malone, who can come in and babysit it. Plus, our DJ, Jess, is much more than a DJ. He really helps to run the whole thing.
You first started doing Shaken & Stirred years ago at Niagara, right?
Yes, back in 2006. It was downstairs in the little tiki lounge, which was all kind of clandestine. Sometimes we'd have like 12 people there, but it was a lot of fun. My production partner at the time, Lady Satan, who eventually moved to San Francisco and started up Sugar Shack San Fran, was the one who hooked that up. We just went down there one night and started chatting up the bartender and mentioned this idea we had, and luckily he was into it.
But eventually you moved to the slightly larger confines of the Delancey.
We were like, well, let's do this as a dance party! So it was important to find a place that had no seating. If you give people the option to sit, a lot of times they'll just chicken out and sit!
It's fairly rare for a burlesque event to also be a dance party, isn't it?
Yeah, a lot of shows—including a lot I produce, especially out of town—are the more traditional style, where you're sitting in a seat and watching. They can still be very participatory; people are cheering and coming up onstage for antics. But Satan and I just love dancing. I can dance to the sound of a coffee machine.
How did you hook up with DJ Jess? He's quite a character.
I didn't know Jess, but Lady Satan was in awe of him. She was always like, "It would be amazing if we could get Jess to be our DJ." And by serendipity—as it is with so many things in life—one night I was at, coincidentally, the Delancey. A good friend of mine was there, and I saw it was Jess deejaying, and I told her, "That's the guy I want to get for our party." She said, "I'm really good friends with him! Come on!" So we went over to the DJ booth, she introduced us and told him that I wanted him to DJ at this party I was starting up. He said, "What night?" I said "Wednesday," and he said, "Sure!"
That was easy! And he's been with you ever since.
I always say that that's my longest-lasting relationship. And he's always apologizing for that. But we have a great rapport. I'm on the mike a lot; I'm the party's MC. Part of my charm is that I think I'm the funniest girl in the world. So I've been telling the same jokes for six years, which is actually part of the joke—but Jess will sometimes just turn my mike off when I'm telling a joke. We have fun harassing each other. I call him my resident heartthrob.
You give out free shots at Shaken & Stirred, right?
That's one of the things that makes it into a dance party!
Didn't I read somewhere that you once had a relationship with a guy who was totally opposed to you doing burlesque, and then with another guy who wasn't quite opposed, but would get very uncomfortable at your shows?
Well, I'll tell you, I've never had great relationships in the past, though I don't know how much burlesque has had to do with it. But a lot of women in burlesque are actually married, and a lot of others are in really serious relationships, and their boyfriends will schlep their props in and come to every show. So it is very possible to be in burlesque and have a relationship work out. But for me, personally, the guys that I've dated in the past haven't been comfortable with it. It's not a question of them not respecting what I do or being proud of me; it's more like they can't handle all the attention I'm getting, and all the things that people are saying about me. But the guy that I'm dating now is more of a homebody, so he rarely goes out to the shows anyway. Plus we had already been friends for years, which probably helps.
Do you remember what first attracted you to burlesque?
I've done a lot of meditating on this because I am so drawn to burlesque and was trying to figure out why that was. I can remember when I started attending shows and I remember feeling what I call "a riotous act of freedom," where everything was permitted but nothing was threatened. And I tried to break down why I felt that way. My mother was wanted by the FBI—she's a thief. Her specialty was charming people. I think that caused me to be very quiet about my femininity when I was growing up; I was frightened to be too flirtatious, even though that was so much of who I was. So when I saw the opportunity to do it onstage, I think it fulfilled an outlet for me on a deep psychological level. I needed an outlet where I could be open and flirty, and all the things that I wanted to be, out in public.
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