Though now into her second year of producing Viva Dallas Burlesque, Shoshana Portnoy still finds that the best way of filling seats is walking up to people and asking if they've ever been to burlesque show before.
Despite the word-of-mouth marketing strategy, Portnoy and her show have legitimatized burlesque as mainstream entertainment in Dallas since Viva started in April of last year. That popularity with wide audiences comes from staging a profitable, monthly show at the popular Lakewood Theater.
On the first Friday of each month you can see a different themed show featuring both local and national talent on the big stage. Headliners like Joe Boobs from New York have done routines for Viva, and for many aspiring locals, Viva acts as a legitimate big break into the industry.
Aside from being Viva's producer, Portnoy also shoots pinup photography, edits Pin Curl Magazine and produces Hot Rods n' Heels -- an annual burlesque and car show held at the Lakewood.
And even though she's gearing up for the Star Spangled Spectacular on Friday, Portnoy's still willing to take time to give us the ins and outs of her romance with the craft of tease.
What got you into burlesque? Well, I was a theater kid as a hobby, but realized I had horrible stage fright, so I ended up doing all the behind the scenes type stuff. My father was a big burlesque and pin-up fan, so I knew the names of the older legends, but there wasn't anyone to speak of here. So, I was a fan and had seen things like Dita Von Teese and big acts that toured, and then I finally found the Lollie Bombs and became a fan. But this was back when they were playing little basement shows and you kinda had to stalk them to follow them around.
The Lollies were the first consistent opportunity to see burlesque in Dallas, so I grew from being a Lollie Bombs fan and a pin-up photographer into a burlesque producer.
So why produce a show in Dallas compared to a theater town like New York with an established burlesque scene? Dallas has an immense wealth of performers. Some of the best national performers are from Texas, which is crazy. So, we had all these fabulous performers, and Dallas is a really big town and at the end of the day it wants to be entertained and it wants to be in the scene. And Dallas has a burlesque history with [Jack] Ruby and [Abe and Barney] Weinstein, and it's a town to be recognized for burlesque and a big part of that is the performer talent.
What kind of performers do you lean toward? Viva strives to have a good core base of local performers from here to Austin that we work with often. We also have headliners that people wouldn't otherwise get to see. For instance, if someone is touring from New York, Chicago or Seattle they also get to perform on our stage.
Now every single month is completely different as far as the theme, and there is some repetition of the girls, but we have auditions constantly so people can submit videos even if they've never been on stage before or are seasoned performers who have been performing longer than I've been in the business. So it's a wide variety of people, and they're anybody from girls I know really well and have lunch with to girls who sent me a video and had a really amazing number, but their day job is they're a high school principal.
So who comes to see your burlesque shows? Demographically we're about 65 to 70 percent female. There's a whole group of couples in their early thirties, and the next biggest group is actually retired couples in their late fifties. So it's a huge swing of the pendulum.
Some people will dress up with the theme of the show, but we also have the people in jeans and t-shirts as well, and they'll all mingle in like a cocktail-hour atmosphere both before and after the show and learn about each other and see a lot of the same faces.
How risqué does your show get? We're really, really mild compared to what even any rated R movie is gonna give you because burlesque is really about being tongue and cheek and being fun, and what you can't get in a movie is the energy that's created in a live performance and the connection you get between the audience and the performer.
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We're definitely not as risqué as what you would see in a modern strip club, but the joy of being naughty is still there. The girls do go down to G-strings and pasties, but because it's on a stage and the girls aren't sitting in your lap and giving you a dance. It's nothing that even pushes the line of shock value or anything like that.
What kind of performances can people expect at your upcoming Star Spangled Spectacular? We're gonna do a show that's modeled after a traditional USO show. We're gonna have comedians, singers -- very much a variety show. Of course we'll have burlesque performances, group performances as well as solos.
The Texas troupe of the year, The Jigglewatts, will be our headliners, and they're a group of fabulous girls out of Austin. We've got everything from a Top Gun tribute number, someone's performing to Jimi Hendrix and the William Tell Overture and fireworks coming out of boobs. It's gonna be phenomenal.
Viva Dallas Burlesque's Star Spangled Spectacular starts at 9pm July 1 at the Lakewood Theater. Call 214-821-7469 or visit lakewoodtheater.com for tickets and more information.