2016 Capital Fringe Preview #25: An Interview with Chè Monique on Her Cap Fringe Show ‘Cake’ and Her Cabaret ‘Summer SOULstice’

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I think everyone who’s ever popped a pastie or twirled a tassel has thought about jumping out of a cake. When one actually considers the logistics of doing that though it quickly becomes a “No, that’s okay.” Chocolate City Burlesque and Cabaret Founder, Chè Monique had the chesticles to not only try it but have the act go relationship-damagingly wrong and then make a Fringe Show about it.

CCBC (Chocolate City Burlesque). Photo by Johnee Wilson.

CCBC (‘Chocolate City Burlesque’). Photo by Johnee Wilson.

So the first question I ask everybody first time I interview – name, tagline if you have one, and when and why did you get into burlesque?

Chè Monique, not really a tag line per se, but mission statement maybe – Living out loud and in color, encouraging others to do the same.  I fell in love with Big Burlesque in San Francisco when I saw a clip about them as a fat teenager with body image issues. I was super-excited that there was band of brazen fat sexy ladies. A random late night of interneting years later introduced me to Kitty Victorian and the DC Gurly Show. I was so excited that there was burlesque near me that I went to the next show. It was the coolest thing ever, so of course I went to the next one. Because it was my second time it was slightly less magical, I could see some cracks in the production value, I thought, “I could do that.” I asked what I needed to join, was told I had to take a short workshop and the rest as they say was history.

Cool! I kind of had a similar experience. My first burlesque show I saw was the Glamazons in 2003 in NYC. World Famous *Bob* was one of the performers and you had to be at least a size 14 to be a Glamazon. How long has Chocolate City Burlesque been around?

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Photo courtesy Che Monique.

Our first show was Black Friday 2014, in November I think last February we decided to “make it official” and become a troupe.

Cool. Who’s in the troupe? And excited to hear there’s a troupe in DC! Was just having this conversation with Buster Britches about how the scene seems to differ between DC and Baltimore in that DC is mostly single producers doing shows while Baltimore tends to be more troupe-based.

Myself, Dainty Dandridge, Eva Mystique, GiGi Holliday, Maki Roll, Angel, Aurora Wells, Bunny Vicious, Hell O’Kitty, Lana La’Rouge, and Fox Martin. Yeah that’s true, I think it’s us and the Gurlies and Black Market Burlesque.

Okay I feel better. Why do you think it’s important for there to be a show exclusively for performers of color?

I don’t think it needs to be exclusively POC, but POC-centric for a couple of reasons. One: Cultural, yes we all live in the same place, but our cultural experiences are different and it’s cool for both performer and audience to have a space where certain assumptions and commonalities can be made. I always reference that the first time I went to a Brown Girls’ Burlesque Show and they weren’t just highlighting music from the 70’s, but black music from the 70’s as an audience member, it was a game changer for me. 

There is a lot of music at burlesque shows that I don’t know, but it feels like all the white people in the room do. It’s kind of cool to be on the other side of that. Also it let’s the audience know this is for them, sometimes you don’t want to go be the “fly in the buttermilk” – it can be hard to convince your friends to go to a space where  no one is going to look like them. For me CCBC is bigger than an individual show, so some of the other reasons aren’t specific to a show.

We work hard to cultivate a dynamic group of performers and try to put on the type of show you mark on your calendars, one of the primary reason CCBC started is because black performers were saying it was hard to get booked and there was never more than one black girl in a show. I feel like if we put on the best burlesque show in DC and it’s fully of black performers, it’s hard to overlook us as a group.

The next Chocolate City show is coming up the beginning of next month at Gala – tell us about that.

Yes! We’re so excited! SOULstice will have a party vibe, there’s a DJ on stage and the audience is invited to participate in the intermission dance party. VIP tix are available that include a cool swag bag with goodies, including a signed cast poster, an unlimited champagne meet and greet with the cast before the show and priority seating so they can sit in the first two rows.

Dr. Ginger Snapz will be our guest, she was supposed to be in the first CCBC production and then moved to Hawaii, so we’re happy to have her finally join us. We are working on a special surprise group number. Angel and Lana La’Rouge are doing a double fan act, which I’m super excited about. GiGi is doing two acts, one really playful and one very sultry. Both shows are ASL-interpreted.

Very cool.  I’ve never seen a double fan act.

Neither have I, I’m hoping this can be their shtick. They are both trained dancers, but newer to burlesque and work/choreograph really well together. Queen Neferttitie has a gender bending act that destroyed the room at the Black Broadway show in February.

And you’re also doing a show as part of the Capital Fringe Festival?

Yes! Cake! it’s about the fallout of my decision to jump out of a cake at CCBC’s Black Friday show in November. The cake was huge, cuz I’m no size 6, and everything went wrong, the show started super late, the bar ran out of liquor, the cake was never completed, I didn’t do the act, but I did do a f**k it strip, while eating the cake, people thought I was making fat jokes about myself, two girls quit the troupe immediately.

That’s so punk!!!

Punk?

Punk rock!  That kicks ass!

Thanks! It was Chris Jay’s idea, she used to produce CCBC with Dainty and myself and we went on a “bosscation” after the show and she was like, do a fringe show about it. And I’m miserable and terrified, cuz I know nothing about “theater” and because the cake is so flipping big – 8 feet by 8 feet, I’m in the biggest honking venue, Elstad Auditorium at Galluadet.

Is Cake a one-person show?

No it’s told from 6 perspectives. So you have the girl who quit and dragged me through the mud, Brooke Jay, Sindalicious, baker, carpenter and producer of the Gurly Show, she skipped Thanksgiving with her family to finish the cake.

Um, are names being changed to protect the innocent/indecent?

Actually most people are down to portray themselves. We surveyed the audience to see how much damage control we needed to do after and I compiled the audience member’s monologue based on that.

What are the dates and times for Cake?

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PERFORMANCE AT:

Elstad Auditorium at Gallaudet University
800 Florida Avenue, NE
in Washington, DC 20002

PERFORMANCE TIMES:

July 8th at 7 PM

July 10th at 8:30 PM

July 16th at 9:45 PM

July 19th at 9:15 PM

July 24th at 2:45 PM

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PURCHASE TICKETS HERE, OR CALL (866) 811-4111.

I finally get to do the act I didn’t get to do in November. Dainty Dandridge is also in Cake! And so is the bodybuilder who was supposed to help wheel it out. He had to leave before the November show was over but Bigflex Dog will be there in all his muscly glory for Fringe.

You had me at bodybuilder.

Yes!!

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Actually you had me at jumping out of a cake but you sealed the deal with bodybuilder.

I told my boyfriend that we’ll be taking some scandalous promo pictures and he just has to deal.

It’s for art!  It doesn’t count if it’s for art!

Exactly.

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Summer SOULstice plays Friday, July 1, 2016 at GALA Hispanic Theatre – 3333 14th Street, N.W. in Washington, DC. Doors at 6:00 PM, VIP reception starting at 6:30 PM. Tickets are available online.

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Cake plays various dates and times in July at Gallaudet University:  Elstad Auditorium – 800 Florida Avenue, N.E. in Washington, DC.  Tickets are available through Capital Fringe Festival online.  Both shows are adults only.

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