Interview: Burlesque's Madame Rosebud

The beauteous burlesque star Madame Rosebud, along with partner Bastard Keith, helms the Sophisticates.

Photograph: JM Darling
Madame Rosebud
Time Out New York: Do you recall what originally drew you to burlesque?
Madame Rosebud: I do. I moved to the city to go to a classical acting conservatory. I was doing Shakespeare, Shaw and Brecht…all of that stuff.

Time Out New York: That’s a far cry from burlesque.
Madame Rosebud: It is, but I love theater and I love acting. After I got out of school, I got into the commercial industry. I was doing really well, but I just hated every minute of it. I didn’t appreciate being limited; I didn’t appreciate that casting directors want you to be as bland as possible. I always wanted to be the person with piercings and tattoos.

Time Out New York: And you obviously couldn’t have those and still get commercial jobs.
Madame Rosebud: Yeah. They were always saying, “Just be your natural blond self, and don’t get any tattoos. And lose ten pounds!” I was like, I just can’t do this. Then I got cast as a burlesque dancer in an Off Broadway show. I actually got cast a couple of times as a burlesque dancer.

Time Out New York: For separate shows? That’s a sign, I guess.
Madame Rosebud: Exactly! And then I discovered there was a broader burlesque community. I also discovered that I could make more money doing burlesque than I could Off Broadway. So I decided to follow that path and be in control of my destiny. That was about eight years ago.

Time Out New York: That roughly corresponds with when burlesque really seemed to be taking off here in NYC, doesn’t it?
Madame Rosebud: Yes. When I first got involved, it was still a little bit of an underground cult scene, but subsequently it exploded. And now it’s everywhere!

Time Out New York: It’s a much bigger cult, that’s for sure.
Madame Rosebud: It’s much bigger, and its much more disparate than it used to be. When I started, it was much more consolidated.

Time Out New York: Why do you think that is?
Madame Rosebud: That’s due to a myriad of external factors, one of which is that the Slipper Room has been closed for awhile now. That location was a real unifying factor. Also, there are all these different circuits that have popped up, all these different styles of New York burlesque. There’s nerdlesque and geeklesque, there’s neoburlesque, there’s classic burlesque… Some people are diverse enough in their style to perform in more than one circuit, but not everyone who performs on one of them can, or wants to, perform on the others. And if you only perform on one circuit, there are a lot of people that you just won’t ever meet.

Time Out New York: You’ve always struck me as someone who is equally comfortable in both worlds of both the classic and neoburlesque worlds. True?
Madame Rosebud: Well, I can’t do anything without doing it my way. When I do classic burlesque, I really like to push what that is as far as I can without making it unrecognizable. I like to infuse it with motivation, or with emotions that you wouldn’t usually see in a classic act—like aggression, for instance. And when I do neo, I sometimes like to package it as a modern take on a pinup silhouette or whatever. That way, it harkens back to how the art form was originally presented, but it allows the audience to experience it in a new way.

Time Out New York: You seem willing to think outside the box—not just within the performances themselves, but in how they’re presented. For instance, you and Bastard Keith were doing those Bastardpiece Theater nights a while back, which merged burlesque with cult films.
Madame Rosebud: Yeah, but that one unfortunately never got an audience. [Laughs] We discovered that people don’t want to see things that they haven’t seen before. The nights when we showed cult classics, we would get a crowd, but if we were showing something that has been out of print for 40 years, we’d get nobody.

Time Out New York: Like that night you dubbed a “Dwarfsploitation Edition,” when you screened a Filipino spy movie that starred a guy who was three feet tall?
Madame Rosebud: Exactly. And those were my favorite ones! I guess you could say Bastard Keith and I have a lot of artistic fetishes besides burlesque. We’re always trying to present those fetishes to the public…with boobs.

Time Out New York: What are some of those non-burlesque fetishes?
Madame Rosebud: Classical theater would be one. We’ve been brainstorming things, like taking a classical operetta and transforming it, performing it with burlesquers. Also, I’m been thinking about ways to present my performances in cinematic ways, in a sort of dreamlike way, through short films. Whatever we’re doing, our love of film tends to work its way into it, as well as our love of theater. And we’re opening a new show that has the theme of degeneracy.

Time Out New York: That would be your new show called the Degenerates, I’m guessing?
Madame Rosebud: That’s it. In addition to being artistic and intellectual fetishists, we’re also just straight-up fetishists. So this show will be a chance to have our favorite performers come dressed up in their best fetish outfits and to do the most fucked-up stuff they possibly can.

Time Out New York: So it’s almost the exactly opposite of your other current show, the Sophisticates. I love that name; it reminds me of The Aristocrats.
Madame Rosebud: We do love that association, mainly because of how funny it is. But the Sophisticates is really just what it sounds like: It’s an elegant, intimate show. We get the best girls in the city, and get the best girls coming in from all over the country and from overseas; we’re so lucky to be able to host these incredible talented and beautiful women. We spend as much time in the audience as we do onstage, performing at their tables—and sometimes in their laps, but all in good taste. We had a mother and a daughter at the show last week, and they loved it. We just had a married couple—the gentleman had just returned from Afghanistan, and he wanted to go to a strip club to celebrate. But he couldn’t take his wife to a strip club, so he thought that the Sophisticates would be a good middle ground. They had a blast. I was talking to the wife after the show, and asked her if she enjoyed it. She said, “Absolutely.” I said, “So now you’re going to go home and put a show on for him, right?” And she said, “Absolutey!”

Time Out New York: So you’re serving our country, in a way.
If by “serving our country,” you mean encouraging other women to enjoy their bodies…then yes!

Time Out New York: You say the Sophisticates is in good taste, but wasn’t a previous incarnation of the show once thrown out of the Plaza Hotel?
Madame Rosebud: That’s true. But the term good taste is quite malleable. When we were doing the show at the Plaza, we were getting a very positive response from the tourists who were staying there, and our downtown crowd was very excited to have a chance to dress up and go uptown.

Time Out New York: Yes, the opportunities to hang out at the Plaza are few and far between.
Madame Rosebud: Yeah. How many excuses are you going to have to hang out there in your whole life? Not very many. And I was so thrilled to be able to put these hardworking, gifted women into that setting. Frequently in burlesque, the people who hire you don’t have any idea how to run a show, or how to take care of a performer. They don’t know the etiquette. They’ll shove you in a broom closet with no mirror and no light, and just say, “Okay, get ready!” There’s no consideration for the effort that goes into this, or the talent. To be able to have the performers treated so well, in such a beautiful setting—and also to see the reactions of these people from all over the world who were staying at the hotel, who would gawk and fawn over them—was so fabulous. But unfortunately, the Plaza had a lot of problems going on at that time, and we became the scapegoat.

Time Out New York: It was all your fault.
Madame Rosebud: That’s fine, because things are always our fault. But to be able to say afterwards that I was so hot that I shut down the Plaza… Well, that’s fine with me.

Time Out New York: On another note, I was wondering what it was like to have someone like Bastard Keith as a partner. I imagine it must be a great help to have someone like him to bounce ideas off of.
Madame Rosebud: I’m very grateful, in countless ways, to both be working with him and to be married to him. He is a genius, but we’re still in that mutually disgusting place of thinking that the other one is a genius. We tend to gross people out. But I feel so lucky to be contributing to him having a space where he can hone his craft and show off. He’s so talented as an MC. And to be perfectly honest, doing business in this city as a performer is not easy, and we’ve learned over the past few years that even if the ideas are coming from me… Well, as a female, its hard to be taken seriously. So it’s very pragmatic to have him around. He winds up being the business face of our operations, because businessmen will take him seriously. When people are talking to me, whether they mean to think this way or not, they’re talking to a stripper. It’s like, what could I know? So I keep him around for many reasons!

The Sophisticates
is at the Metropolitan Room October 26.

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Photos: New York Burlesque Festival's Golden Pastie Awards

The New York Burlesque Festival welcomed burly-Q's best to the extravaganza's closing ceremonies. When: Sunday, September 30The scene: The New York Burlesque Festival’s Golden Pastie AwardsThe tenth annual fest drew to a close with the Golden Pastie Awards, as a gaggle of performers strutted, both onstage and off, in their finest fancy-wear. Weimar vixen Miss Astrid compered the proceedings with plenty of of snark; the event’s producers, Jen Gapay and Angie Pontani, toasted to another decade; octogenarian legend Tempest Storm held court; and everyone reflected on a ten years of our city’s celebration of strip. You might also like Photos: New York Burlesque Festival 2012 preview Photos: The Premiere Party Photos: The Saturday Spectacular Photos: Miss Coney Island Beauty Pagaent

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Best burlesque shows in New York City

Drunken Dragon Nights Another outpost of the burgeoning Calamity Chang empire, Drunken Dragon Nights—held in Tribeca's mixology-oriented Macao Trading Co.—features Ms. Chang and her guests performing their hearts out in high burlesque style. Tonight's show includes onstage turns from purveyors of pulchritude Gal Friday, Nikki LeVillain and Medianoche, with Minx Arcana serving as stage kitten. R.S.V.P. (it's a must) at info@macaonyc.com. Go to calamitychang.com for more info. Unmasked Unmasked aims to give a glimpse behind the onstage facades of those in the variety arts (sideshow, burlesque, circus and otherwise). The show's first half features the night's artists performing in character; later, the cast is welcomed back for a stripped-down storytelling session, sans makeup, costumes or props. This installment sees the Lady Aye and Mistress B welcoming burlesque mainstay Jo "Boobs" Weldon and drag performer–pastry chef Chocolatina Q. Dessert to the Kraine stage. The Shanghai Siren Tease Calamity Chang adds to her empire with this new burlesque outing at East Village drink spot Madam Geneva, where she and her pals will be shimmying to the sounds of Chinese lounge music circa the ’30s and ’40s. Tonight's kickoff soiree features the eye-popping talents of guests Gal Friday, Gin Minsky and Nikki Le Villain. Les Fleurs de Shanghai The romance and decadence of old Shanghai (or, as it was sometimes called, "the Whore of Asia") come to life at Tribeca eatery-lounge Duane Park. Calamity Chang and her guests provide the burlesque; music from the ’20s through the ’50s comes courtesy of the Night Fragrance Band, featuring Dances of Vice's Shien Lee on vocals. Go to calamitychang.com for more info. Nuit Blanche: Savage Beauty Dances of Vice brings a glamorous collection of glittering showgirls and exotic performers to the Meatpacking District for this burlesque affair, which features three sets in an all-new production each week. Tonight's show, dedicated to all the wild women out there, boasts the talents of Gal Friday, Nikki LeVillain, Anna Evans, Albert Cadabra and Delysia La Chatte. A dance party with DJ Eve Salvail follows the performance, keeping the action coming till 2am. For dinner reservations, call 212-675-2400 (or just imbibe a cocktail or three). Nurse Bettie Burlesque Shelly "The Singing Siren" Watson hosts this night of burly-Q action at the intimate Nurse Bettie, which features both nightlife newbies and stars of the Gotham scene. Shaken & Stirred Breathtaking burlesque, gorgeous go-go, DJ Jess on the decks—and free shots! What more could you ask for? Sugar Shack Burlesque's RunAround Sue serves as the weekly soiree's host, and performers along the lines of Ekaterina, Gal Friday and Stormy Leather regularly stop by to wow the crowd. Spanking of the Lower East Side The ’50s-pinup–inspired venue Nurse Bettie (named for Bettie Page, one of the 20th century's premier hotsy-totsies) is a natural setting for burlesque performers. This weekly get-together is produced by "Asian sexsation" Calamity Chang, and usually includes six or seven acts, as well as preshow go-go dancers. Prepare to get up close and personal in the small, intimate bar space. Wasabassco at the Way Station Doc Wasabassco's burlesque empire stretches to Prospect Heights, where Nasty Canasta, Medianoche, Poison Ivory and stage kitten Mischief Molly will wow the crowd with their grace, beauty and various other attributes. Pinchbottom Burlesque: You Only Pinch Twice Burlesque and James Bond—they go together like vodka and vermouth. Jonny Porkpie and his Pinchbottom cohorts (including Jo “Boobs” Weldon and Tigger!) are reviving their Bond parody just ahead of the release of the new 007 flick, Skyfall. Expect an all-star complement of burly-Q guys and gals in the show's bumpin' and grindin' cast. Brown Girls Burlesque Fifth-Anniversary Show The Brown Girls Burlesque troupe is celebrating its anniversary in guitar-god style, with the gals shimmying and shaking to an all–Jimi Hendrix set of tunes. Chicava HoneyChild, Essence Revealed, exHOTic Other, Jazabel Jade, Sister Selva and Sweet Lorraine will be performing to "Purple Haze," "Fire" and, we'll just bet, "Foxy Lady." Room 69: The Hotel Chantelle Way The busy burlesque babe Calamity Chang is the host of this weekly parade of pulchritude on Hotel Chantelle's street-level floor, with her and her guests strutting their stuff as you tipple your cocktail. Burlesque-a-Pades Produced by none other than burlesque vet Angie Pontani and Gary Beeber (director of the documentary Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque), and directed by downtown-theater pot-stirrer Trav S.D., the weekly Burlesque-A-Pades aims to chronicle the history of the art form via performances and real-life stories. Angie, her sisters Helen and Tara, and an array of top burly-Q talent—including the Maine Attraction, Gal Friday, Pinkie Special and cohosts Tigger! and Albert Cadabra—will be appearing onstage. Sure, it’ll be informative, but we have a feeling that there’ll be enough bump-’n’-grind action to keep even casual fans happy. A Burlesque Affaire Every Friday and Saturday, Doc Wasabassco presents this burlesque get-together at French bistro Affaire, featuring entertainers from the Wasabassco stable (Amber Ray, Evelyn Vinyl, Gal Friday, Hazel Honeysuckle, Medianoche, Nasty Canasta, Natasha King, Nikki Le Villain, Peekaboo Pointe, Penny Wren and Tansy among them) strutting their considerable stuff. Go to wasabassco.com for more information. The Loose Caboose Show Hold on to your heinies—Ms. Tina Cione and Kyle Petersen are bringing another dose of vaudeville, comedy, circus and sideshow to the Lower East Side. Tonight's spectacular features burlesque from the Chi-Ciones, Gigi Bonbon and Creamy Stevens; circus performances come courtesy of Petersen, Greg Mistein and Joshua Dean, while Rob Paravonian and a mystery guest provide the night's comedy stylings. Your host is the hula-hooping Miss Saturn. Pinchbottom Burlesque: You Only Pinch Twice Burlesque and James Bond—they go together like vodka and vermouth. Jonny Porkpie and his Pinchbottom cohorts (including Jo “Boobs” Weldon and Tigger!) are reviving their Bond parody just ahead of the release of the new 007 flick, Skyfall. Expect an all-star complement of burly-Q guys and gals in the show's bumpin' and grindin' cast. The Love Show Presents Dance Mayhem: A Grindhouse Ballet The folks behind the salacious Nutcracker: Rated R extravaganza host another night of ballet-meets-burlesque, with Angela Harriell and her troupe of hot hoofers paying tribute to the gritty world of grindhouse cinema. Sharkbite Sideshow Joe the Shark brings a bit of Coney Island to the Lower East Side at this night of burlesque and sideshow diversions, with stars of the Gotham scene rolling through to wow the crowd. This Halloween installment sees onstage action coming courtesy of Trixie Little, Aurura Black, boylesquers Brief Sweat and Mack Knife, Faithpants, Francine "The Lucid Dream" and Sasha FireGypsy. The Moth's Peter Aguero is the evening's host, Cheri Cols serves as stage kitten, and additional go-go action comes courtesy of Amanda Topchik. Tim Burton Burlesque Marinara Stardust is back with another of her themed burly-Q bashes, this one (in holiday-appropriate manner) saluting the auteur behind Frankenweenie and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Hosted by Bambi Galore, the night features performances from Vanil LaFrappe, Miss Vivian, Vada James, Tiny D, Sincerely Yours, Poison Eve, Miss Poison Ivory, Miss Em, Aaliyah Martinez and Corvette LeFace. Ruby Vroom serves as stage kitten, while Our Man app spins the between-act tunes. Burlesque at 92Y: Pink Light Burlesque Pink Light Burlesque (pinklightburlesque.com), a division of Jo Weldon's New York School of Burlesque, provides free classes for breast cancer patients and survivors. Tonight's showcase—the first of a series of monthly burlesque events at the 92nd Street Y—boasts an all-star cast, with Weldon, Angie Pontani, Jezebel Express and the Pink Light Dancers among those treading the boards. D20 Burlesque: A Tribute to H.P. Lovecraft D20 Burlesque is a troupe that puts on shows with gaming and online culture themes—and if the promise of burly-Q babes isn't enough to get you out of the rec room or away from the computin' machine, we don't know what is. Tonight's edition is the third annual salute to every gamer's favorite horror writer (we're just guessing), H.P. Lovecraft, with creep-show performances coming from Anja Keister, Hazel Honeysuckle, Falana Fox and, direct from Boston, the Rogue Burlesque troupe's Dewie Decimator, Ms. Sassypants and Busty Keaton. Dolly Debutante provides additional go-go pizzazz, Iris Explosion hosts, and Kita St. Cyr tries her hand at the deejaying arts. Burlesque Bingo Brunch Bingo queen Linda Simpson and burlesque king Murray Hill get together (as they are regularly wont to do) for a boozy brunch featuring bingo games and burlesque stars Medianoche, Bettina May, Go-Go Harder and Broadway Brassy, and Francine "The Lucid Dream." Kitty Nights Burlesque This burlesque show has been purring along since 2006, featuring Fem Appeal and stars of the local scene titillating the crowd on a weekly basis with their bump-and-grind allure. Go to kittynights.com for more information. Cabaret Mystique Bandleader and MC Dandy Wellington brings his "haunting cabaret extravaganza" to Tribeca's Macao Trading Co. for a night of song and scandal, with Wellington and his combo supplying the former, and an array of burlesque beauties—Gal Friday, Gin Minsky and Amber Ray—handling the latter. R.S.V.P. (it's a must) at info@macaonyc.com. The Juke Joint Revue with Empire Beats Rhythm & blues combo Empire Beats, featuring New Orleans vocalist Camille Atkinson, hosts this night of music, burlesque, comedy and more at the lovably divey Parkside Lounge. Go to empirebeatsnyc.com for more info. Temple of the Virgins We'll have to take their word for it regarding the “virgins” bit, but this monthly burlesque night—held in a Mexican restaurant—certainly showcases a caliente array of talent. Tonight's fiesta features performances from Bettina May, Dangrrr Doll, Stella Chuu, Üla Überbusen and Apathy Angel; Broadway Brassy (“The Golden Throat of Burlesque”) is the evening's host. Burlesque: Strip, Strip, Hooray with Dita Von Teese International burlesque icon Dita Von Teese alights in Gotham for a dazzling showcase of ecdysiastic action, with Murray Hill serving as MC and an array of Von Teese's burly-Q buddies joining the star onstage. Debauchery The mighty (mighty scary, at least) Clown Kong and burlesque gal Stormy Leather are the hosts of this monthly get-together. Tonight's shindig features another red-hot lineup, with the considerable talents of Fifi Dupree, Misty Meaner, Essence Revealed, Christopher Bousquet, Matthew Holtzclaw, Mocha Delight and Evelyn Vinyl, all on display for your amusement. The Love Show Presents Dance Mayhem: A Grindhouse Ballet The folks behind the salacious Nutcracker: Rated R extravaganza host another night of ballet-meets-burlesque, with Angela Harriell and her troupe of hot hoofers paying tribute to the gritty world of grindhouse cinema. Epic Win Burlesque: Hotties of Horror Part burly-Q bash and part costume ball, this is is probably the biggest hoedown yet for "the nerdiest burlesque show in town." The evening kicks off with a display of onstage allure from Apathy angel, BB Heart, Aurora Black, Cliff Hanger, Mary Cyn, Nelson Lugo and host Schäffer the Darklord; at 10pm, the Deadman's Dance Party takes over and goes on late into the night. Nurse Bettie Burlesque Shelly "The Singing Siren" Watson hosts this night of burly-Q action at the intimate Nurse Bettie, which features both nightlife newbies and stars of the Gotham scene. Shaken & Stirred Breathtaking burlesque, gorgeous go-go, DJ Jess on the decks—and free shots! What more could you ask for? Sugar Shack Burlesque's RunAround Sue serves as the weekly soiree's host, and performers along the lines of Ekaterina, Gal Friday and Stormy Leather regularly stop by to wow the crowd. Best parties in New York City See more of New York's best clubbing and nightlife See more of New York's best

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