Archive for the Drag and/or LGBT Category

Penny Arcade: The Excerpts

Posted in Burlesk, CULTURE & POLITICS, Drag and/or LGBT, Indie Theatre, PLUGS, Women with tags , , , , , , on May 18, 2015 by travsd


As we promised in our earlier piece on Penny Arcade, we here share some of the other things we discussed that didn’t make it into my Chelsea Now/ Village piece:

On the development history of, and plans for the current show Longing Lasts Longer: 

We started work in June of 2014. It’s a work in progress. I’ve always developed my pieces in front of audience. I’m one of the only people who actually does that. We have the four performances at Joe’s Pub. Then we’ll be getting ready for the Edinburgh Festival August 25-30, and then the Soho Theatre in London. Then hopefully we’ll come back here to remount a full production in 2016.

On working with long-time collaborator Steve Zehentner: 

I’ve been working with Steve for 23 years. I first met him at PS 122 when he came to shoot the video for Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!  He said he had never seen a show where it changed every night because of the improv. He became a kind of dramaturg for my work. We work on everything together. I do most of the writing. He does a small percentage of the writing and devises the sound score. But I  pick the songs I want to use. And we both co-direct the piece. He is probably the overall structure guy; I’m the detail person.

On drag, burlesque, showmanship, and connecting with the audience: 

Drag is any costume that you put on — including people who dress up to go to their office job. In the ’80s and into the ’90s, my work was very costumed, with wigs and costumes, make up and glitter. In the 90s, I stopped doing that and started dressing in black.  When some of the dancers I work with saw video from the ’80s, they were shocked. It never occurred to them that I used to have costumes and characters and had rock bands and I sang. Performers evolve – look at someone who’s been a performer for a long time like Jackie Gleason or Bob Hope, you look at their work from the ’50s or ’60s, and then you find out they did music hall, vaudeville. As a performer you go through many different incarnations . I identify most with 1950s comedy writers. I try to make jokes, something will make people laugh in a way that means something, not just crass below the belt humor. I like that [my work] is quotable.  I like work that has more life to it than just me on stage…

Bitch! had a lot of erotic dancing in it. Stripping is an art form. I stripped to Lenny Bruce’s speech on obscenity. Other people developed their own thing through the ’90s and ran with it. But burlesque has become annoying. Ubiquitous. Every 22 year old does it now. But instead of political and anarchic neo-burlesque like Dirty Martini and Julie Atlas Muz do, it’s become like a cheerful burlesque lite.  It’s very Victoria Secrety.  There is no influence of [that kind of] burlesque on my work. I was always interested in down and dirty erotic female dancing. Real erotic dancing, which one usually sees at the lower end of the class spectrum. It’s a feminist art form. It’s the only thing devised by women that controls men, unlike practically everything else. I love erotic dancing with a tribal hypnotic trance background.

I love vaudeville. I love real entertainment. I’m an aficionado of that sort of thing. I hate reality style entertainment, like reality tv where they investigate reality with a microscope instead of making stuff up and being whimsical and fantastical. I never forget that I’m an entertainer, I’m not a journalist or an essayist. I try to give the audience some bang for their buck.  It’s cultural analysis you can dance to. [At Longing Lasts Longer] the audience will be rocking in their seats.

The general public are the producers of my shows. People support the work by buying tickets. The audience is really interested in original art and I love them being the producers. I love that feeling when you look out in audience and you know everyone in that audience. It’s a way to come together. People say,  “I laughed, I cried, you talked about what I think about.” We all have same thoughts. My job to dig a little deeper.  Lee Breuer of Mabou Mines came to see my show. He said he had never been to see a show where people “called out” so much. People identify with what I’m talking about. It’s like a revival meeting.

Longing Lasts Longer opens at Joe’s Pub tonight: tickets and info here. 

Century of Slapstick #83: Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers

Posted in Century of Slapstick, Comedians, Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Fatty Arbuckle, Harold Lloyd, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on May 15, 2015 by travsd


Today is the 100th anniversary of the release date of the Keystone comedy Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers (1915).

This was among the first silent films I ever saw. It came on a videotape I got for Christmas in high school, which also included Love, Loot and Crash and one or two others. I think it was actually in the Beta Max format!

In the film, three mashers (Harold Lloyd, Edgar Kennedy and Joe Bordeaux) wait around a hotel lobby at a seaside resort, looking for action. Then arrives a very Scottish looking mothball magnate (Walter C. Reed), his wife Billie Bennett, and his eligible daughter (Roscoe Arbuckle in drag!).

After much fooling around in the lobby, the family settles into a room. The suitors come up. Lots of fisticuffs with Fatty , which then evolves into dancing, and soon a total melee. The father kicks them all out. Then Miss Fatty puts on her ridiculous striped bathing suit, with cap and parasol. They all frolic on on beach. Fatty falls asleep on a rock. Wakes up, surrounded by water. The tide has come in . (Did this inspire a similar scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?). The three guys try to rescue her and fail.  The “surf Kops” too try, fail and fall. Finally she just makes her way back by herself. Notices her parasol is broken, starts to cry.

Now you can watch it too. It’s on youtube; check it out.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc


For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Charlie Chaplin has A BUSY DAY (in drag!)

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedians, Comedy, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on May 7, 2015 by travsd


Today is the anniversary of the release date of the Charlie Chaplin film A Busy Day (1914).

This one is priceless — priceless! Directed by the man Mack Sennett himself, this is one of his patented “improv at a real event” shorts, set against the backdrop of a real-life wharf opening in nearby San Pedro, California. Why do I say “priceless”? Chaplin plays a woman in the film, from beginning to end, in drag.

Charlie plays Mack Swain’s bothersome wife. There is a lot of Kid Auto Races at Venice business with a newsreel camera, several fistfights, some silly dancing, and in the end Ambrose (Swain’s usual Keystone character) can’t take it any more and throws the Mrs. off the dock.

Silent comedy is definitely a field where brevity is the soul of wit. This one clocks in at six minutes.

For more on comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever

You know him from The Bride of Frankenstein, but he was friends with John Singer Sargent, and wrote a book on embroidery, Ernest Thesiger

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies on March 20, 2015 by travsd


some background on the chap who played one of my favorite screen characters, Dr. Pretorius from “The Bride of Frankenstein”

Originally posted on BEGUILING HOLLYWOOD:

thesiger by sargent

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


Victoria and Albert Museum, Portrait of Ernest Thesiger by Alexander Christie Victoria and Albert Museum, Portrait of Ernest Thesiger by Alexander Christie

View original

Buffoon Men: Classic Hollywood Comedians and Queered Masculinity

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, Comedians, Comedy, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Drag and/or LGBT with tags , , , on February 25, 2015 by travsd


It’s long been an observation of mine that our greatest (male) film comedians have as one of the chief quivers in their arsenals the ability to go into “female.” What I refer to is distinct from full-on drag, which plenty of them engage in as well. I’m talking about a momentary “quotation” of female behavior, usually employed as a strategy to wriggle out of a thorny situation, usually to confuse, confound, irritate or otherwise muddle an adversary. Chaplin does it in practically every movie; Groucho does it in the early Marx Brothers pictures (especially Monkey Business). But really they all do it.

In light of this observation, and because I have been working so closely with Theatre Askew for the past several months, I was delighted to stumble on Buffoon Men: Classic Hollywood Comedians and Queered Masculinity. Queer studies is not synonymous with LGBT…it is broad enough to include everything remotely gender-ambiguous. It’s not about being gay in other words, but bending the definition of traditional gender roles, in this case exploding traditional notions of masculinity. In this context I can’t help but remember how my father (a fan of westerns) couldn’t bear Woody Allen or Bob Hope, or many of the other “cowardly” comedians. These comedians are men who dare not to be “men”. The very notion, to some, is subversive and threatening.

The existence of this book is the most eloquent explanation I think for where somebody like me and Theatre Askew overlap, for the comedians Scott Balcerzak treats of are all my heroes: Eddie Cantor, Wheeler and Woolsey, Jack Benny, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott & Costello, Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope, and even W.C. Fields! Each hits a different slant: with Fields, it’s the neutered state of middle age; with Cantor, the different conception of the male role within Jewish culture; with Laurel and Hardy, it’s the skirting of homosexuality implied by their close friendship.

It’s an academic tome, thus something of a turgid read. It has its thesis, and sets out to prove it, drip by drip and drop by drop. I found it an enjoyable skim, but it’s main audience I think will be fellow academics with theses of their own to prove. The book is a fine resource of original observations and examples. It’s a courageous take on some much-beloved Sacred Cows, and it’s full of undeniable truth.

Busby Berkley Dreams: Tribute to the Music of Stephin Merritt

Posted in Burlesk, Contemporary Variety, Drag and/or LGBT, PLUGS with tags , , , on January 15, 2015 by travsd


Bring a Dead Star Back to Life!

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Indie Theatre, Melodrama and Master Thespians, My Shows, PLUGS with tags , , , on January 8, 2015 by travsd


Not this one! The one above, Miss Molly Pope, is the very definition of ALIVE, which is why she was cast as the most electrifying star of the 19th century, the one and only Adah Isaacs Menken (1835-1868)


Hubba hubba, right?

If Menken had been born a few decades later she might have been in burlesque, vaudeville, and dare we say films, and she’d be much more widely known today. But she wasn’t, so she ain’t. But as you’ll glean from my new play Horseplay, or the Fickle Mistress: A Protean Picaresque (opening at LaMama’s Ellen Stewart Theater in just over a month), her legacy in American show business, public relations and sex in the public sphere is wide and broad. And when we say “broad”, we mean “what a broad!” (Sorry)

Anyway, the wonderful folks at Theatre Askew are producing this labor of love. They want to tell you how YOU can help make a good show even better. Please listen to what they have to say. They may even disarm you as they did me, and give you a chuckle in the bargain. It’s all right chere:


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