Tuesday, September 3, 2013

About the Female Hysteria tonight at Parkside Lounge

By Stacie Joy

We sat down with Calamity Chang and Coco Te Amo to talk about Driver’s Seat, a burlesque mentoring project helmed by Jonny Porkpie, Jo “Boobs” Wheldon and Chang.

Jonny and Calamity have been mentoring new producers toward their own shows, all held at Parkside Lounge. Tonight’s show is Coco Te Amo’s new production, “Women on the Edge,” which explores the myths surrounding female hysteria and madness.

Interview with Coco Te Amo

What is it like to undergo the mentoring experience with experienced producers like Jonny Porkpie and Calamity Chang?

Well, it's like any opportunity to sit down with more renowned people in your field that you have looked up to: equal parts intimidating, wonderful and exciting. Calamity herself is someone I hold a deep amount of respect and admiration for. She's an incredible example of what it means to be both a successful artist and businesswoman. She's a hustler!

Johnny is also a great producer and performer, but he is more the sensei dropping nuggets of wisdom that can completely change the way you look at something. They bring an incredible balance to Driver's Seat and provide different perspectives, while trusting you to execute your vision.

How has this process affected your skills as a performer and as a fledgling producer?

It has brought more thoughtfulness and a sense of commitment to my own work as a burlesque performer. As a performer, you want to be the best you can be — to get it right by you. As a producer, your mind is in a different place than it is when you are just simply trying to get stage time. It sheds light on many of the things you don't think about as a performer and also makes you realize that putting on a show ain't for the weak of heart. Your perspective becomes wider, if not more informed. You respect the details and the little things more. You become a better performer to work with by taking these details into your working life.

What do you think of the art scene in the East Village?

When I came to New York a decade ago, I remember very specifically seeing an article in the New York Times proclaiming that the East Village was dead or no longer the major player art scene, something sort of dramatic like that.

I get very suspicious of statements like those, but on the other hand, I also don't know what it is like to have lived through such upheaval as an artist in the decades before, and then to see your home so radically cleansed of what it used to symbolize. I only know what I see now, which is vibrant performers, dedicated to making things happen, even if the landscape and demographic of what the East Village has been and still is rapidly changing.

What is it like to perform downtown vs. in other areas of the city, the state, the country?

Performing downtown is like going home. This isn't to say that performing in other places isn't joyful or even wonderful — they give you a fresh look at what happens outside your own bubble, your regular audiences.

But when I'm downtown, there is a freedom here to just do you. Look, I'll always feel at home in any back room with a few naked ladies putting on drag and getting ready to make magic on stage. But downtown New York, and specifically, the NY School of Burlesque, is the place that opened the door to burlesque for me and gave me the life I have now. I can never be grateful enough for that.

What direction do you think the live entertainment/performance art scene will take in the East Village in the next five or so years?

I'm unsure. There are so many new shows popping up, and that makes me hopeful, but seeing places like the Slipper Room alive and kicking is also good. I think New York makes the future very hard to predict, unless we are talking real estate. Sometimes I see landmarks of the city disappear, only to have a condo go up and it does make me feel anxious about being an artist here, as well as sustaining a healthy artistic life.

But to encounter the artists in the East Village is to encounter people doing what it is they need to do, in spite of all the obstacles you can face here. I tend to get very worn down by the pace of New York, but it is always seeing the artists, specifically the burlesque community around me, that give me that reinvigorated breath to keep going and keep creating. If we aren't going to keep creating magic, who else will?

Interview with “the Asian Sexsation,” Calamity Chang

What inspired you to create (or co-create) the Driver’s Seat mentoring program?

It happened over the course of a few conversations I had with Jo “Boobs” Wheldon and Jonny Porkpie where we were talking about the lack of female producers in the burlesque scene. No one can deny that burlesque is a woman’s space and it made no sense to the three of us (and a lot of others I’ve come to realize) that the women were not taking the reins in controlling how their images as performers are presented.

How has the process affected you as a producer, and if at all, as a performer?

One of the most surprising things that I’ve learned from Driver’s Seat and from teaching my Producing Burlesque class (through the NY School of Burlesque), is that there is a lot of information that I take for granted as obvious or “everyone knows that” but in fact is very interesting to other people. I’ve also found that everyone is uncomfortable talking about money or the financial negotiation part. I’m not. Maybe cause I’m Chinese?

How are East Village-based performance locations and audiences different than those in other places?

East Village is a lot more arty and open-minded to alternative culture compared to other neighborhoods and venues I’ve performed at and produced shows in. However, people are generally poorer (i.e.: bad tippers) in LES and East Village because a lot of people in this area are also in the art world. Artists tipping artists is not the ideal situation. You want rich people who are curious about the arts tipping artists. That’s better!

What do you think is the future of live entertainment/performance art (such as burlesque)?

It’s hard to say. I have never been good at predicting things. I never win lotto tickets. But I do see more and more artists being pushed out further out in Brooklyn (or in several cases leaving NYC altogether) because of astronomical rent increase. I see local establishments shutting down because they lost their lease. I see more and more condos, high rises and corporate developments springing up as part of Bloomberg’s “corporatization of NYC” plan... I do hope NYC will retain some of its artistic culture until then I plan on doing what I am doing!

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