The Burlesque scene in DC and Baltimore is now a pretty vibrant one but once upon a time, about a baker’s dozen years ago, it was the landscape, and not the folks on stage, that was bare. Then a little woman named Little – Trixie Little and her partner, a man dressed like a monkey named Evil Hate Monkey decided to right this wrong. They started performing and building a name for themselves along with growing local interest in the retro art of burlesque. They started a bootcamp from which, many of the top local performers are graduates. And now they can add comma Movie Star to their names as they are the subjects of a new documentary, Us Naked: Trixie and Monkey by Baltimore filmmaker Kirsten D’Andrea Hollander. The film is getting its mid-Atlantic premiere in Trixie and Monkey’s former hometown, Baltimore this Saturday, April 25 at 7:30 at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Lucrezia: So this is the first screening of the film in your hometown, Baltimore …
Trixie: Yes! It’s taking place at the Maryland Institute College of Art where the director is a professor.
And it took seven years to shoot?
Trixie: Yes, from 2005 – 2012. Even though none of the footage from the first year made it into the final film.
How did you and Monkey first meet?
Trixie: We met when we both had day jobs working with inner city third- and fourth-graders at this awesome after school program. My boss had gone to camp with Monkey since he was seven so she introduced us!
And how did you all get into burlesque?
Trixie: Well I had been doing big crazy shows with a troupe I founded called Fluid Movement for years and we always researched unusual performance genres such as synchronized swimming or roller skating. I was kind of burnt out from working on shows with large casts and always having to keep the content clean for kids, so I was excited to do something risqué! And Monkey got dragged into it immediately after I was accepted to perform at a burlesque festival in San Francisco without actually having finished my act!
When was this?
Trixie: Yeah it was really new! There wasn’t a burlesque scene at all in Baltimore or DC so I would go to NYC and see shows like The VaVaVoom Room which was hosted by Miss Astrid, and yes, Bob and Dirty were in that show, and the Wau Wau Sisters who were the closest to what I wanted to be doing – incorporating circus and comedy.
The neo-circus thing was also kind of new back then too. You’re so visionary! Did you teach yourself burlesque or take lessons?
Trixie: Ha ha! I was just obsessed with eccentric performance. There wasn’t much of that going on either, that’s why we had to move to Vermont for Circus School but now there are several cities with the same kind of professional training program we went to. We studied with a lot of clowns. We taught ourselves burlesque mostly by watching … but we really made it up as we went along.
How did you meet Kirsten?
Trixie: She was a teacher of mine in college and then years later she was my yoga student. At first she was playing around with the idea of doing a documentary about yoga and creativity or artists who also do yoga. Then she came to one of our shows and saw what a fun, wild subculture we were part of and decided to just focus on us.
Did you all impose any restrictions? From the trailer it looks like there are some pretty raw emotional moments in there …
Monkey: Well the first few edits of the movie felt more like a concert than a documentary and it felt flat. So she asked us if she could have more access to our daily lives. By that point we had built up a level of trust and it became easier for her to enter our lives and come into our home. So there weren’t any restrictions, it just took over a year to get to that point.
You said earlier the stuff from the first year of shooting didn’t make the final cut of the film. Is there stuff you wish had made it in that didn’t?
Monkey: I don’t think so. I’m just happy that there is five years of our lives that is documented. I guess we could ask to look at it, but that would be thousands of hours of footage. Who wants that when they’ve already lived it?
Trixie: There are a few shots I miss – like one of us eating pizza while riding on our bikes in Key West.
Monkey: Yeah, that was good.
How did it feel the first time you saw the movie with an audience?
Monkey: Cried. Especially seeing our cats that are no longer with us.
Trixie: Agonizing. It’s really hard to watch yourself. And then it’s doubly hard when you’re watching some really painful or difficult parts of your life again and again. I mean, we were really struggling for some of those years. They weren’t exactly happy memories but I see how they help tell the whole story. But I cry at the end every time too! Mostly I’m proud of us. Some time has passed now and I see how, by our own definition, we are “making it”.
Right! I was going to say isn’t it a triumphant story? You created your own thing and made it your livelihood.
Trixie: Yes! It does have a happy ending!
Monkey: It’s still unfolding.
Trixie: Yeah, it was really hard to pick a milestone in our lives to end the film on ‘cause life just keeps rolling along!
So we should bring hankies to MICA then. I imagine it’ll be extra emotional in your old hometown. Speaking of, is there one thing you miss most about Baltimore?
Trixie: Bring hankies, yes, but bring your own champagne too ‘cause it’s a celebration!
Monkey: BALTIMORE. Cheap Rent
Trixie: The eccentric people. But yeah, the rent haunts me. It’s so intense in NYC.
Monkey: Being able to have an idea and just try it and know that there will be an audience there to support you.
What do you want folks to take away from the movie? The don’t dream too small quote (“Be careful to not make your dream too small because then you’re really screwed if you get it and it wasn’t enough”) seems to be kind of the catch phrase.
Trixie: I think it’s really about perseverance. When the going gets tough, you just have to keep going.
Monkey: If you wanna make it at anything, then you need to give it a good hard go. When life gives you lemons … make banana pasties.
Us Naked: Trixie and Monkey has its Baltimore premiere this Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 7:30 PM at the Maryland Institute College of Art Falvey Hall, Brown Center – 1301 West Mount Royal Avenue in Baltimore, MD. Tickets are available at the door and online. A Q&A with Trixie, Monkey, and Kirsten will follow the screening.