Atomic Doll Productions Presents: Shocked and Amazed! was inspired by James Taylor’s Shocked and Amazed: On and Off the Midway, the world’s leading journal on weirdness in entertainment for over 30 years. Taylor is an historian and storyteller of the grand days of the Side- and Freak-Show Circuit. Saturday’s one-night-only event was created in partnership with Taylor.
In Part II of my interview with artists from tomorrow’s Atomic Doll Productions Presents: Shocked and Amazed!, I have deeper conversations with some specific performers.
A CLOSER LOOK: GIGI DELUXE
Mike Bevel: When did you feel skilled and comfortable enough to perform as an archer before an audience?
Gigi DeLuxe: I felt comfortable as soon and my training with a human target became comfortable. That’s when I knew I was ready to bring the act to the stage. I was never nervous or worried about performing in front of an audience.
As a sword swallower, how do you care for your throat? Are there things you can and can’t eat since taking on the skill?
As far as throat care goes in regard to sword swallowing I feel the fact that I don’t drink or smoke plays a big role in how my body can endure everything I do and my fast recovery time when I do long runs. Staying well hydrated, drinking herbal teas with honey and avoiding really spicy or heavy foods prior to training or performing are part of my sword swallowing routine.
What is it like being a woman within spaces – both archery and sword-swallowing – that have been seemingly historically dominated by male performers (especially considering the potential for women in those roles to be overtly sexualized)? Have you found that, personally, to be impeding? Or an impetus, as an avenue for empowerment within your performance?
It’s a challenge because in our business women are expected to be sex objects first and then everything else is secondary.
Thank god that’s not the same for the rest of the world.
I try to bring traditional sideshow skills to stage with old school circus, showgirl glamour. I’m the only archer who shoots at human targets with a recurve on the circuit and to do that I need to be respected and trusted so that I’m taken seriously. Especially when I have someone’s life in my hands.
So, it’s a fine line I have to walk, having a glamorous showgirl persona and being a marksman. I’m also one of the few female Sword swallowers that don’t do a reveal (I don’t strip) while performing. I don’t feel I have to. I’m a sideshow performer, not a burlesque performer or a stripper. I put an immense amount of effort into my skill sets, training, props, costuming and overall performance that no one expects or cares that I don’t take my clothes off. My audience is always sitting at the edge of their seats, are never disappointed, and their minds are always blown! And that’s all that matters to me. Burlesque dancers and strippers aren’t expected to swallow swords so female sword swallowers should not be expected to strip or do reveals.
A CLOSER LOOK: TINDERBOX CIRCUS SIDESHOW
Mike Bevel: Are audiences today easier or harder to shock?
Tinderbox Circus Sideshow: Today’s audiences are very difficult to shock. With the prevalence of the internet and shows from Jackass to America’s Got Talent, modern audiences have seen it all, and they see it every day. On the other side of that coin, to ENTERTAIN an audience never changes. Showing them something they’ve never seen is a whole hell of a lot harder than to show them something they’ve never seen IN PERSON, and to make them laugh while you do it.
What is the one thing you’d never nail into your nose?
This is the hardest question we’ve ever been asked. What I WOULDN’T put up my nose? Probably a pepper? I’ve never liked spicy foods. Plus, there’d be a lot of splash when you hit it with a hammer.
“A lot of splash when you hit it with a hammer” is a very upsetting phrase.
In all seriousness, it took us 10 minutes to come up with an answer.
What is the best thing about disgusting people? (As in, the verb/gerund “disgusting” not, like, “You’re a disgusting person! I admire you!” But I do. But you know what I’m saying, right?)
We love the cognitive dissonance of disgusting people and making it fun. It creates such confusion in people. They want to look away but they can’t. They want to vomit but they cheer. They want to run but they laugh. Once the audience accepts that paradox, they get to feel things they’ve maybe never let themselves feel before, and they love you for it. We disgust people as a favor to them, and get hugs and high fives in return. Nothing better in the world.
A CLOSER LOOK: VELVETINA TAYLOR
Mike Bevel: How much of each day is spent working on your act vs. explaining to people the difference and overlap between burlesque and the public’s general idea of stripping?
Velvetina Taylor: When I’m preparing a new act, hours and hours are spent putting together and rhinestoning my costume, choosing music, choreographing and rehearsing. I live in a teeny tiny apartment in Manhattan, so I rent a rehearsal space in order to run my act in a larger space. I don’t spend a lot of time explaining the difference between what I do and the public’s general idea of stripping. If they see my act or any burlesque show, they’re able to form their own opinion about the differences and overlap. I wouldn’t be offended if people don’t make a clear differentiation.
Describe the juxtaposition of “ultra-femme” and biker? Or do you feel that there is less of a contrast and more of a coexistence that is lost on those unfamiliar with biker culture?
The ideas associated with being a super-glamorous burlesque performer and rough and tough touring biker represent the full-spectrum of my femininity. I think all women can relate to expressing and empowering themselves in a variety of ways throughout their life or throughout their day.
If you’re at a party, and you realize you don’t have the energy to explain burlesque, do you have a fake job you tell people you do? I work in financial regulatory compliance as a day job, so I’m already covered with a boring fake job.
I’ll say I’m a burlesque performer, but I’ll be a little more general with the details. For example, if they ask what it is, I’ll just say it’s a classic striptease with elaborate costumes, even though it is and can be so much more than that. I don’t hold it against people if they don’t know all the details about what I do. I would hope a zoologist, for example, wouldn’t be annoyed if I asked for more clarification about their career. For the most part, I’m happy to talk about my tours and performance style because I love what I do.
Atomic Doll Productions Presents: Shocked and Amazed! is a one-night-only affair on August 5, 2017 at Bier Baron Tavern – 1523 22nd Street NW, in Washington DC. For tickets, purchase them online, or at the door.