Showtime is 10:00 p..m. (doors open at 9:00 p.m.) and is preceded by a photo gallery opening in the “Shag Room” of the Commons Club at 8:00 p.m. There will be plenty of Lagunitas, Burlesco’s sponsor, on hand for the buying this evening.
Burlesco, which is entering into its third year of monthly shows, has officially set up shop Upstairs at The Marquee (Burlesco had been at both Virgin and at Honky Tonk BBQ since December).
Put on by burlesque performer Lisa Marie Ray (Ray Ray Sunshine is her stage name), “the world’s most dangerous comic” Mark “The Knife” Faje, and Grit & the Double Knit bandleader, guitarist, vocalist Matt Gandurski, Burlesco is a well-rounded, down and dirty…it’s a blast of a show, let’s just say that.
“For me, as a burlesque performer, (Burlesco) is what I feel to be the essence of burlesque. It’s raw. It’s a live band doing original tunes who are very much working with us. Every moment onstage is a unique moment that is never going to be recreated ever again,” Ray says.
I caught the show last month at Honky Tonk and both the venue and show felt like a perfect union.
Faje handles the crowd, introduces the dancers and the band, while also incorporating stand-up material, which often involves a bit of danger (a whip was used at last month’s show, and if you’ve ever been to the Honky Tonk, you’ll understand how potentially wrong a whip can go on that tiny stage).
Grit & the Double Knit perform songs that make you think they’d be a perfect fit for the soundtrack of season 3 of HBO’s True Detective. It’s edgy, smoldering, back alley-knife fight sounding music.
And then there are the lovely ladies. Ray’s contacts list is huge, but, as she told me, “I feel very strongly about booking the right people for the show,” adding that “I’ve gotten really lucky.” Burlesco always features some of the best that burlesque and tonight is no different, with Stella Cheeks, Lady Ginger, Tila Von Twirl, Lady Jack, Ray (a given at every show), as well as a special performance by Fringe Factor Dance.
I spoke to Ray last Friday after her performance at Cantina 1910‘s weekly burlesque show (she was a featured performer for that evening). Below is an edited version of our discussion.
What are the differences between Burlesco at Virgin and at Honky Tonk BBQ?
Lisa Marie Ray: For me as a burlesque performer the show is what I feel is the essence of burlesque. It’s raw. It’s a live band doing original tunes who are very much working with us. Every moment onstage is a unique moment that is never going to be recreated ever again. Matt is often calling cues to the band, reading us. He said he considers the dancers to be another member of the band. Same with Mark, he does a lot of show interaction.
What we had at Honky Tonk was really special because the venue is kind of dirty and raw in that way. No fuss, no frou frou. It was a really great space for Burlesco. I think it’s a really great venue to see live music.
What we have at Virgin – I was wondering if we were going to be able to keep that grittiness of the show. I think we do. The venue’s really posh, but it’s intimate. I think our show works really well on that level. As a performer I really love when I can (have) audience interaction. When I can see them, have that moment with them and share in it. We can see every person in that room. There are really great drinks. The sound is awesome. We got the best case scenario that we could get. Every person can see. It has that hotel hospitality, but it still has that Burlesco dirty, dirty vibe.
For the uninitiated, how did Burlesco begin?
Lisa Marie Ray: When we started I didn’t know the band and Honky Tonk wanted a burlesque show. We did a birthday show for Willie (Wagner, Honky Tonk BBQ‘s owner). [After they were hooked up with Grit & the Double Knit] it just worked. Matt does the music. I book the burlesque. Mark does his act and hosts the show and he interacts with the performers and the band. I feel very strongly about booking the right people for the show and I’ve gotten really lucky.
What can people expect when they come out this month?
Lisa Marie Ray: This is an exciting month for us, because Joni Kat Anderson, who has taken photos of the show and captures the feel of what we do – her work is so good. It’s really beautiful, artsy and perfect. Perfect. I guess Virgin felt the same way. They are doing a three-month gallery of her photography in the “Shag Room” in the Commons Club. That opens with our show at 8 PM, some of our performers will be there.
Fringe Factor Dance, Lady Jack’s company, will open the show. I wanted them to have a home with us. I always wanted Burlesco to be bigger and at Virgin we have a bigger budget. At Virgin it’s more of an experience. I book two Fringe Factor dancers for every Virgin show and they open the show with a dance number. Cold open. Then the band is introduced. I’m really excited about the relationship between Burlesco and Fringe Factor.
For this show I have Lady Ginger, who I’m excited to have because she is a really great performer and is the person who taught me burlesque. I’m in it. Stella Cheeks, who’s my bestie. We’re really close. She does Plan 9. She does her nerdlesque and I do my thing. She likes to say that I’m not a nerd. [There’s also] Tila Von Twirl and Lady Jack.
What is your background?
Lisa Marie Ray: I’m from Alabama and moved here 12 years ago. I took a job at a theater in Glencoe. My background is in theater and costume and fashion design.
[On getting into burlesque] It was pure chance. I was doing poster design for bands. There was a book I found on burlesque poster design. So I Googled burlesque in Chicago, sent out a bunch of promo pieces and one person wrote me back, Michelle L’amour. I went and saw a show of hers and then went home and signed up for classes. It was like the mother ship calling me home. It was just magical.
[On her first performance] I was really ambitious. I was Portrait of Madame X, the painting by John Singer Sargent. I had a whole frame built. It was a great concept. It was huge and completely impractical. It was a real rookie mistake. The frame is still sitting in my house and I don’t know what to do with it. It’s massive.