It Cures What Ails Ya: 2015 Snake Oil Festival Diary
Glitter crash is real. And it is devastating.
One delayed flight home and a rehearsal later, I’m collapsed on my couch for the first time after my weekend at the Snake Oil Festival in New Orleans and it’s starting to wash over me. In twelve hours I will have to don a costume again — but not feathers or rhinestones. Instead, I’ll put on my corporate suit and face and take up my post as ‘Marketing Bitch for Vanilla Corporate Company, LLC’, cleverly disguising my ‘weird’ and pretending like I didn’t just experience magic first hand.
Because ‘magic’ is truly the only appropriate word for this weekend. If you’ve ever spent any time at all in New Orleans, you know that it’s an inherent part of the city. You feel it swirling through the wrought iron scrolls, pulsing as the heartbeat of the music and sprinkled liberally in every meal. It’s an intoxicating current that can quickly transform into obsession.
But I can still hear the warning from a Royal Street antiques dealer in my head, as I prattled on about my adoration for New Orleans. “It can get real hard,” he told me in his perfect Louisiana drawl. “This town can eat you up and spit you out.” New Orleans truly is a city of survivors. There is a grit and determination cultivated after years of tumult, fires, civil unrest, and natural disasters like Katrina. New Orleans has unapologetically, unrelentingly, and unfailingly endured, and that resonates with me. I was visiting this city at a time when I’m looking to quit my full-time work to focus on performing — a decision which, like the city itself, would be intensely magical but also require a lot of endurance and patience when life decides to chew on me a little.
After spending my first day in NOLA exploring the French Quarter, I kicked off the weekend on Friday by seeing the Carnival at the Crossroads, night one of the Snake Oil Festival. The event was held at a space called the Howling Wolf: a warehouse space with a bar and a large stage complete with shotgun houses off each wing. The space was set up with multiple vendors around the perimeter (including sideshow historian James Taylor), lending the event a wonderful midway/carnival vibe.
We were introduced to the burlesque, belly dance, acrobatics and side show acts by emcee Madame Onca, who kept the audience perpetually entertained with her dry wit and cabaret croonings. The show opened strong with Charlotte Treuse, whose carousel pony act was infused with an irresistible amount of facial expression and energy. Her act is a real testament as to how classic burlesque can be even more engaging when infused with some well-executed tongue-in-cheek humour. Other highlights of the night included:
- Mr. Cheeze, the circus dog, was adorable in unfailing adoration of Ooops the Clown (and her treats), all resulting in a barked “I love you” on command.
- The Sisters Von Schtick (Kitschy De Coeur and Virgina Scare) presented a true vaudevillian number that incorporated well-timed banter, perfect vocal harmonies/ukelele duet, all culminating in a dance number. Although I personally wished they would stay joined throughout the piece, it was a well-timed, well-executed bit of theatre.
- Swami YoMahmi always delivers with his well-defined character and perfect comedic timing, as evidenced in his ‘magic’ act.
- Kiki Maroon‘s burlesque clown act had a lot of really innovative moments that fused clown work with stereotypical burlesque reveals that I really appreciated. I’m excited to see how she will further develop that character.
- Acrodisiac, an acro/lyra duo, incorporated dance, lyra, floorwork in a powerful duet that made great use of the space.
- Donny Vomit and Frankie Sin played their characters to the hilt in their hilarious ‘no nails’ bed of nails act.
The whole night was filled with strong character choices, risks, and outside-the-box art. I took inspiration from those acts into my show on Saturday night: Bella Blue‘s Blue Book Cabaret at Bourbon Pub and Parade on Bourbon Street.
Performing on Bourbon Street is a very surreal experience; for this show, the cast goes to Bourbon Street in costume to ‘bark’, or try to get people off the street and into the show. As a freelance performer you quickly learn this is a necessary evil; however, I never really excelled at barking (the emcee had to remind me a few times not to hand burlesque fliers to families with kids).
This was not the case with Baltimore burlesque performer Nona Narcisse. If I have one image burned into my head from this weekend, it’s the image of Nona’s bright, animated face as she swept her green Isis wings around her and proclaimed, “LIVE SHOWGIRLS! SHOW STARTS IN TEEEEEN MINUTES!” The passersby were utterly smitten with her and completely entranced by her energy.
Once we got in off the street, the show was off with a bang. To appeal to a Bourbon Street crowd with no attention span, the show is structured to be a tight run with three performers, no intermission. After the three dancers perform one solo, there is a short 5-10 minute game that the host plays with the audience to allow the performers extra time to change before their second act. It was a smart set up, and overall the show was a great experience, with a great backstage vibe (thanks Nona and Foxy Flambeaux!) After the show, we rounded out the night by checking out the Snake Oil after party featuring Debauche, a self-described ‘Russian Mafia’ band featuring some deliberate, measured, and expertly executed belly dancing by Kerry Lynn.
The next morning/afternoon was spent taking workshops with Bella Blue and Armitage Shanks. Bella taught her signature ‘Pussy Magic’ workshop, inviting attendees to make a deeper connection while dancing by accessing wells of emotion/strength found from deep within. Armitage’s ‘Jetsetter’s Survival Skills’ workshop was like having coffee with a cool big brother who gives you advice on how to be a successful independent performer. He had great information on everything from connecting with producers to getting through customs. I appreciated that the workshops seemed to be designed for performers who were trying to take their practice to the next level.
At long last, it was Sunday and time for the Unholy Roller Revival. Festival co-producer Ben Wisdom emceed the show as a wayward preacher, advocating debauchery and lasciviousness as the main tenants of his faith. Sometimes political, sometimes controversial, but always spot on with his humor, Ben Wisdom was the glue that carried the narrative through the show.
All acts were backed by the superb musical stylings of Dr. Sick and this Stunted Sextet with additional vocals from the St. Cecilia’s Asylum Chorus, giving the show a ‘Tom Waits in The Church of Hedonism’ style feel.
I absolutely loved performing with the band and choir, and because of the strong framework Ben Wisdom laid as an emcee I didn’t have to fight to earn the audience’s attention — they were already on board. The band and choir gave such a complete, rich sound that it was easy to plug into the energy already there, as well.
Other show highlights included:
- GoGo McGregor held nothing back in her high-energy glass walking act to Bottom of the River. Instead of tentatively and delicately placing her feet on the glass, GoGo stomped, smashed, and grinded the glass on her body in a strong, aggressive piece, almost challenging the audience to look away.
- Nona Narcisse (can you tell I’m a fan?) prowled on to the stage with a high-energy fringe act that made great use of the entire space. After discarding the fringe, Nona donned a robe and performed some beautiful fabric manipulation, spinning like a whirling dervish and keeping the audience energised.
- I’ve seen people do ‘old lady’ acts, but I have never seen anything like Ginger Licious‘ Granny G. After being brought up on to the stage to experience healing magic at the hands of Ben Wisdom, Granny G begins to rock out and finds herself able to perform a variety of acrobatics using a walker. It was a hilarious fusion of burlesque, acrobatics and theatre.
(There were a lot of other great acts that I missed because I was busy prowling backstage waiting to go on.)
After the show, a bunch of the cast went to the Allways Lounge to relax and celebrate a great weekend. As I talked about burlesque as an art form with Bella Blue and had a mini-therapy session with AJay the Bodyguard, I watched Russell Bruner swing a lovely dance partner around in a joyful swing dance… and I had a moment where I felt like I was watching a movie of another person’s life. It was one of those moments that feels too lovely and too picturesque to be reality.
But that’s New Orleans — it’s a city of magical people creating innovative, amazing things and fighting with every ounce of their being to persevere. It’s a city of perpetual inspiration, incredible drive, and unending innovation. It’s a city that I will always be faithful to in my love and adoration, and a city I will always want to come home to.
New Orleans, I’m smitten. Until next time…
**Big thanks to Ben Wisdom, Little Luna and Ginger Licious for producing an enormously successful festival, and thanks to Bella Blue for welcoming an out-of-town performer with open arms — your hospitality and kindness is beyond measure. Thank you all!
Eva la Feva, Indulge Images.