Friday, April 17, 2015

Wings, burlesque... But no bison to be found in Buffalo

Two days before I left for Buffalo the city was hit with a massive snowstorm.
Time lapse on Youtube shows a wall of white advancing on the city from over the water. My manager in Toronto suggested I reconsider my trip rather than be snow bound and potentially die of exposure although I imagine she had concerns that I'd have to miss work.

But what's burlesque without adventure and isn't being trapped by snow something everyone should experience once in their lives? (No and in case you think this is going to be a thrilling Girl's Own Adventure, spoiler, it's not)

Stripteaser's Give Thanks for Tease!
A $10 bus fare took me from Toronto's bus station on Bay and Dundas to Buffalo.
The scheduled 90 minute ride across the Niagara Falls border into New York turned into a 150 minute crawl, delayed, not due to the weather but by a long wait in customs.
First a European tourist watched as security emptied his bag of soft and veined cheese, unceremoniously dumping, wheel by slab, into a bin then someone else wasn't able to articulate where they'd be staying, who with or for how long.
Immigration officers lose patience really quickly when you don't have proof of accommodation- or try to carry good cheese across the border.

Buffalo bus terminal is similar to any other US bus terminus I've seen, flickering fluro lighting, institution colours, uniformed patrols, public phones, hard seats and people seeking shelter.
In place of the usual Starbucks, was an infiltration by the Canadian pre- mix coffee giant Tim Hortons and in a corner at the other end, incongruously,  a grand piano with a forest scene, not to be played after 7pm, god forbid someone tinkle the ivories after dinner.

Nobody played the piano and I wasn't brave enough to thump out chopsticks.
I wandered out of the terminal and alarmed a blonde woman waiting for someone who definitely wasn't me by peering in her window.
A couple of quarters in the payphone seemed a good investment rather than a potential pepper spray and my host, Cat promptly appeared from the direction of a back car park.

I was beginning to wonder if news of the storm footage had been exaggerated but Cat explained that this side of the city hadn't been hit as hard and then pointed out a massive dune of snow that had been pushed off to one side of the street.

We went straight to Cat's home passing some incredible architecture, The Buffalo City hall, a squat, many windowed monolith with art deco styling that reminds me of buildings from Metropolis. The Liberty Building I spied as the bus entered the city, topped by two matching statues facing East and West that seem to toss a light to one another, a blinking beacon.

Not quite Cat's house, her's was a couple of doors down, but I love the architecture and ... snow!!!
Cat's place has an abundance of felines. Seven in all, three belong to Cat and the other four are owned by the various remaining housemates. It was a huge house with two stairways leading up to five bedrooms. I played with the cats for the next couple of hours because... cats.

head bops.
We started to get ready around 9pm. Nietzsche was a 5 minute drive from Cat's place, a long dark bar with a large stage at the back.
The dressing room was upstairs and once we were costumed, sprayed and rouged, we trooped down and filed on stage to a tiny curtained section where we stuck our heads out to watch the other performers.
Dr Sick was emceeing. Originally from Buffalo, he was in town for Thanksgiving with the high haired, long legged, gorgeous Gogo McGregor.
I love Gogo. We bonded over a mutual adoration of New Orleans, good costuming and the belief that burlesque is more than just a good dancer deciding to chuck their clothes around the stage.
She performed an act that she regularly performs as part of Bad Girl's of Burlesque in New Orleans.

Gogo, Delilah and me
I'd told her that I was meant to be performing in New Orleans for Bust Out Burlesque and she invited me to stay with her if I made it to Louisiana before I left for Australia (I didn't)

During the show people would flick and throw balled up dollar notes which littered the stage and were gathered up by the kitten. Some people were inventive and I saw a couple of small planes land safely on the stage.

I love this skirt by Zoe Felice costumes!

Balled up dollar note by my left foot!
Photo by NLS photography
The Stripteasers finished their show with a huge finale, there was a boat that flipped over to become a frisbee shaped space ship and aliens and angels and sailors.
The song of course was Styx Come Sail Away and as the girls sung, the audience joined in.
Gogo and I watched from the side of stage, egging them and each other on.

We decided not to burst on stage with impromptu dancing and singing- a decision regretted when the girls post show said "THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN GREAT!" I love how open this group was to us and how happy they were to share their stage.

We curtain called and departed for the dressing room to change and re appear downstairs where a local band had started up.

We were famished so at 2am I slipped across the road to a bar that served hot food (at 2am on a Tuesday, unheard of back home) with Fifi LaFlea. We brought it back to Nietzsche's and were joined by others devouring fries and vegetarian buffalo wings with a spicy sauce.

I didn't take many pictures... regret!
We made it home around 3am, friends of Cat's were visiting and went upstairs to her room I was sleeping in the lounge room, two of them later reappeared to sleep on the other couch.
I like giving people the benefit of the doubt. They probably thought they were being quiet as they searched for blankets and then possibly when they woke up at 6am to have an argument about a car they maybe thought they were arguing via telepathy.
They weren't. But if that was the only negative to the trip then one night of interrupted sleep was worth it.

I fell asleep again and woke up to discover more cats. They'd multiplied in the night like Mickey's brooms.

If I had favourite's this one would be it.

The stares of cats can pierce dreams better than any alarm.
We grabbed a quick breakfast with some of the Stripteaser's and headed to the bus terminal, it was such a  quick stop over in Buffalo I wasn't able to check out the City Hall's famed dome.
Although as it turned out, all the buses were delayed due to a turn in the weather, the terminal had no announcements and no desk staff so with no one to update me, or the other waiting passengers on how long the delay would be, we just had to wait until the snow encrusted bus, icicle's hanging, thick snow flaking off the sides.
The return to Canada was smooth enough, apart from the driver making intermittent calls to a woman sitting at the front seats on the front level. The driver threatened to kick her off early if she didn't take her bags off the seats (she was occupying all four front seats) The bus wasn't full, I figured it was the principal of the thing.

The house cat was waiting as usual to greet me with a glare as I entered the door. Less frisky than the cats in Buffalo it was still nice to see her and try to make her play with me.
I failed.

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.

Add caption
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!