(My First Time) My first time taking my clothes off in front of 500 people by Madame Rosebud

Back in the day
Back in the day

Back in the day

My first time stripping in 2005 was really a long time coming, according to my mother at least.  She had told me my whole life that stripping might be something I’d have to rely on to make it through college and that, given my natural affinity for what is now known as twerking, I would probably be pretty damn good at it. My Mom had no idea that after moving to New York at 17 to attend an acting conservatory, I would turn to the art form known as the “Strip Tease” not to pay for school but to save my artistic soul.

After suffocating in rooms with other aspiring actors, doing place work, learning how to be in the moment and studying the method, I simply wanted to have fun. My school spoiled its students with the opportunity to go to innumerable free plays and musicals.  The only hitch was they were performed by the conservatory’s company (to which I would later graduate).  I saw many “things” performed, but there was only one show that truly moved me: a grotesque German piece from the Weimar era about a young gay man whose dalliances with his male and female friends eventually eroded all their friendships.  It ended in a spectacular scene of gore with his female lover begging him to fuck her as she lay on the ground center stage, rapidly opening and closing a pair of large scissors after cutting a hole in the crotch of her pants. The final image was the two of them tangled on the floor rutting as she begged for a grander climax (death) and he ripped the scissors from her hands and plunged them into the side of her neck, spraying viscera across the back wall of the stage.

I went to every possible showing of that play. Sometimes I was one of only a handful of people in the audience. It moved me. The longing, the fluidity of the sex on display, the jaded vibe of that particularly decadent era.  I saw that and I thought, “That’s me! That’s me, Mom!”  One of my favorite films, Velvet Goldmine, has a similar moment: Christian Bale looks at the David Bowie doppelganger on the telly all camped up in glitter eye makeup and screams to his bewildered parents, “That’s me Da!!!”  I found a lot of similarities between these two eras, the glitter rock age and the Weimar republic, both drenched in dilapidated glamour, androgyny, and theatrics. The feeling that compelled me to keep going back to that Weimar piece was the same feeling that compelled me to make my first Burlesque act.

Drawing on the Weimar era as my theme, I chose to make a tribute act to the infamous dancer Anita Berber, a woman whose fearlessness and vanity I envy to this day.  Women like her are rare.  Our modern day equivalent might be Tilda Swinton, but even that makes Berber sound tame.  Anita waltzed into restaurants wearing a monocle, a fur coat, a live monkey… and nothing else.  She routinely held press conferences in her private apartments fully nude.  She performed new, never-before-seen movements that bewitched and shocked audiences.  Her brazenness and eccentricity is the stuff of legend.  Even now, looking at stills of her dancing I feel the electric hunger of seeing something raw and new.

Gorgeous Anita

Gorgeous Anita

I chose to perform, with total fidelity to all available documentation, a recreation of her famous Morphine Act, in which she confronted audiences by actually shooting up on stage.  I prepared an all-black ensemble that updated her original look, I cropped my platinum hair into a graphic bob in reference to the period, and I bleached my eyebrows to give my eyes a hollow look.  I found a lovely song (also entitled Morphine by Jollie Holland) that evoked the mood I wanted, not overtly sexy but languid and sensual.  And then I rehearsed every day. For a month.

At that time in New York there was one show every Burlesque beginner wanted to be in, and that was The World Famous BOB’s New Girl Review. To this day, I love BOB and feel as though I owe a her great debt for giving me the opportunity she did.  I was nobody. And she remains one of the most incredible stage presences I have ever met. Nobody loves you like BOB loves you.  It’s just the facts.  And as I stood backstage, looking very different from all the other girls and feeling very out of place, she held me to her giant bosom and told me, “Poodle you’ll be great!”

Look at her!

Look at her!

At that time, a lot of the burlesque I saw around the city was neo and much more uptempo than the currently in-vogue classic style. My all black, moody, slow narrative was a bit out of step with the rest of the show, but it was the story I wanted to tell… and down to my electrical tape x’s on my nipples, I was proud to be different.  I was also totally about to pee myself. I wasn’t nervous about being almost naked in front of a sold-out house (I had already performed nude as Queen Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream). I wasn’t nervous about the fact that I performed the first half of the act completely blind because I wore a black sash over my eyes. I wasn’t nervous about disgracing my parents or ruining my acting career.

I was nervous that the audience wouldn’t be transported. I was worried they wouldn’t feel like they were right there with me in my macabre world. I wanted to do to them what the play had done to me. I wanted to take them away from this place.

But before I could work myself up into too much of a panic, the lights came up.  There I sat, heaped atop a folding chair with a blindfold on and a syringe in my hand.  The melody started (“give me that ol’ fashioned morphine….”) and away I went, just as I’d rehearsed. My mind echoed with the whispered advice of my old dance teacher while I attempted to project being high on a drug I’d never taken. For those few minutes, I was a beautiful strung out sloppy mess, one who took her clothes off because she just felt that good. Each clumsy move had been rehearsed over and over, and the effect was perfect. I ended where I began, sprawled in my chair, only naked in drug induced coma… to radio silence. Because I couldn’t hear the applause, which I have been told was deafening. But I do remember BOB saying, “Well, I just brought you some Broadway shit up in here!”

With that, I knew I would never be an actor. I was always meant to be an old fashioned stripper.

XO

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