#52: Michelle Baldwin
Seems like burlesque shows are a dime a dance these days in Denver. But back in the twentieth century, real vintage burlesque had pretty much died out here, along with the Curtis Street girly shows of a bygone era, after changing times and urban renewal wiped away downtown's tawdry marquees and neon lights. That all changed again in the late '90s, when Denverite and burlesque scholar Michelle Baldwin, aka Vivienne VaVoom, sparked a local neo-burlesque revival.
Since then, Baldwin has joined the nationwide burlesque community as an expert and a participant; she's written a book on burlesque, with another on the way. And Baldwin's retro proclivities don't stop there: She's also a tiki aficionado, a walking advertisement for vintage style and, in recent years, a bartender and enthusiastic supporter of the cocktail revival.
This weekend, she'll hang up her 2012 Miss Modernism crown at the Denver Modernism Show, an annual paean to mid-century culture happening Friday through Sunday at the National Western Complex; on August 29, she'll be bringing an all-star regional burlesque crew to the Oriental Theater stage as part of a national fundraiser honoring the late burlesque queen Dixie Evans.
Baldwin doesn't perform as much nowadays -- more of her time is spent teaching and spreading the gospel -- but her heart's still in it. We asked her to put it all into words by taking our 100CC quiz; read on for Baldwin's saucy perspective.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Michelle Baldwin: Gypsy Rose Lee -- that woman was brilliant. We could collaborate on a novel, a burlesque show, a costume, a burlesque act, a chatty talk show -- or just work together on conquering the world. Or at least the world of pop culture.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
Dita Von Teese is always interesting to me. She turned a love of vintage striptease into an international career and a brand. Plus, she's always creating new goals. A few years ago we had lunch and she was talking about creating a U.S. show to create more of a fan base here (she is mobbed in Europe; less recognized at home), and then she created Strip Strip Hooray, featuring other amazing U.S. burlesque performers, and she's been touring it for a couple of years now. She probably could just retire if she wanted to, but she keeps going. I also love that her age is no secret -- and she's a year older than me. Inspiring.
In burlesque, I would really like to see the trend of girls with zero experience starting up shows. Good shows take a lot of work (which is why I produce so few anymore), and good burlesque performance takes more than wearing your underwear on stage and taking your top off. Admittedly, I started with little experience, but I started in the '90s before burlesque schools, books and videos existed. And even then, my costumes were hand-sewn, and they were costumes, not underwear. Now there's a million online sites specializing in burlesque costumes. There's really no excuse.
What's your day job?
Right now, my main focus is on getting my event and memorial/funeral planning company Frolic & Vamp off the ground, but to pay the bills I'm teaching burlesque, performing and slinging Montanya Rum, Snowie Snow cones and fresh fruit and veggies at the Denver County Fair: lots of odd jobs. Keeps things interesting!
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
Create amazing, over-the-top burlesque shows like the ones I did in the late '90s/early 2000s: I had chorus girls, lighted staircases and painted backdrops! And I would hire my favorite burlesque performers to star and then tour the world!
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
They could encourage more national entertainment companies to produce in Denver -- movies, shows -- and give local talent a place to move up to. I have friends in other cities who make their living in burlesque because national brands and corporations hire them or sponsor shows. But in Denver, there isn't the interest. There's a lot of cool people doing really fantastic things in Denver, but for free -- and you can only do it for free for so long before you burn out (or go broke).
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Buntport slays me. Everything they produce, everything they associate with, is creative genius. Plus I was part of Buntport vs. Burlesque, and I can't remember who won, but I thought their burlesque show kicked our ass. Gotta have respect for that.
What's on your agenda for the rest of 2013 and beyond?
I am producing one show this year: United We Shimmy, August 29 at the Oriental Theatre. I've got the best of Denver burlesque, plus the Colorado Springs and Fort Collins troupes performing -- it's kind of the "super group" burlesque show. And it's a fundraiser for Dixie Evans, the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque. She passed away this summer, and we're getting her a spot in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery near the real Marilyn Monroe! I'm writing another burlesque book, Timeless Tassels: From Vintage to Modern Burlesque, covering the whole history, from 1870 all the way up to today; hoping to get it out by next year, which will be the ten-year anniversary of my last book's release. In November, I teach at BurlyCon in Seattle, spreading my love of burlesque history to all the newbies and my fellow burlesque history nerds.
Who do you think will get noticed in Denver's theater (burlesque, art, whatever) world this year?
I hope Reyna Von Vett, aka Cora Vette, gets noticed. She's got a ton of talent: singing, emceeing, producing burlesque (and boylesque) and designing costumes and reproduction vintage clothing. She's been working her butt off for a while now and definitely deserves to have one or all of her mad genius pursuits raise her up to the top.
Visit Michelle Baldwin's website for more information.
Throughout the year, we'll be shining the spotlight on 100 superstars from Denver's rich creative community. Stay tuned to Show and Tell for more, or visit the 100 Colorado Creatives archive to catch up.
Do you have a suggestion for a future profile? Feel free to leave your picks in the comments.
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