On a Southwest flight to Las Vegas, I sat next to a spunky, petite woman from Baltimore who now lives in Brooklyn. Her small stature belies her strength—I’ve watched her do handstands and seen her lift a man heavier than her while wearing kitten heels. Trixie Little was on her way to compete—for the fifth time, much like Diana Nyad—for the title of Miss Exotic World, the queen of burlesque crowned annually at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender.
The BHOF is “dedicated to preserving the living legacy of burlesque as an art form,” primarily by maintaining a museum with the Weekender as its largest fundraiser, attended primarily by burlesque performers. The weekend’s pageant is by far its biggest draw—sold out this year—and the competition can be fierce. Trixie beat out the runners up, fellow New Yorker Perle Noire and Texas’ Ginger Valentine. In another coup for the New York burlesque scene, Jenny Rocha and her Painted Ladies, a New York dance troupe that was in residence at Galapagos, also won, bringing home the title of Best Small Group.
After the rush of Vegas, I caught up with Trixie Little to talk about her win, and how, as BHOF’s largest spokesperson, she is in a position to influence the future.
For sure! I hated the feeling of coming in third… TWICE! That definitely made me work harder. I wanted to do an act so good that if for some reason the judges didn’t pick me, there would be a riot! But it’s a hard show to do, it’s literally 500 of your peers who are ACTUALLY sitting there judging you. The stakes don’t really get higher.
Actually, the Orleans Showroom seats 850.
New York was well-represented in the competition this year, with entrants in every category and four for Miss Exotic World. NYC burlesque artists are able to perform every night of the week, under every kind of life pressure. Do you think that gives them an advantage at festivals over performers from other cities?
Absolutely! New Yorkers have chops! We all ooze presence, it’s a hard-earned performance quality that only comes from quantity of time in front of an audience. Being able to perform every night of the week is why I moved here. It’s a grind, but I think repetition it is essential to being good. It’s so powerful to see it so clearly on stage in Vegas.
Last year you talked to us about working out with Mr. Gorgeous (BHOF Best Boylesque 2014) at the Muse in Williamsburg. Do you still train there with Gorgeous?
Well, he won King of Boylesque last year so he was literally gone on tour most of the year, so we stopped training. I spent the winter and spring at Big Sky Works working on an “all babe, all brave, all beast” female circus show called Minge World. But Mr. Gorgeous and I are about to start developing a kids’ show together to take to New Zealand in January called “Talk to the Hand.” It’s going to be a surreal anatomical circus show with crazy body parts as characters like Mr. Hand Pants.
Your husband and duo acrobatic partner The Evil Hate Monkey has been on tour a lot in the last year, and you’ve been striking out more on your own as a solo partner. How has that adjustment been, for you and for venues and producers?
Oh man, it’s been like two years of me having to remind people that I’m actually a solo performer too! Living in the shadow of “Trixie and Monkey” was really tough. When he first went on tour in 2013, I was afraid that all of my best work was behind me. So I just really dug deep to develop a bigger solo repertoire and had to hustle even harder. I didn’t realize what a niche I had performing acrobatics with a Monkey. So I definitely feel like I’ve had to work twice as hard.
Starting a REVOLUTION! I take what Gandhi and RuPaul said to heart: Be the change you want to see. I plan on creating one epic solo show in collaboration with all of my favorite artists (working title is “Feminist Sluts Unite”) and it’ll be the kind of hybrid show I love: circus, striptease, amazing costumes, smart comedy, great music, a little bit of story and a lot of spunk. And I am going to work on getting more respect for this art form in New York City. I want venues to care more about how our work is being presented, I want more exposure for our artists, and the press to take an interest so that there is a bigger, more educated audience.
You’ve talked about “fixing” New York, wanting to develop a more comprehensive cabaret scene that includes burlesque, circus, and other performance arts. If the creative bar is raised, do you think the NY media will notice?
I really hope so. But even getting a space to even do a show in is the first challenge! When Monkey and I tried to do a run at The Slipper Room of “Velvet Banana,” a show we’ve taken to Australia a few times, it was really hard. It didn’t really work to squeeze it in before their regular burlesque show—it just wasn’t the right fit. Even if you can find a venue, it’s even harder to do a run of a show, which is so essential to it being any good and to the audience having more chances to see it. We truly need a few more venues to open up that have height for aerials, cabaret seating, and a stage with a curtain. It’s crazy this city doesn’t have more.
Absolutely. It drives me crazy. When I go to Australia or the UK, there is so much more respect for cabaret as a genre and it really comes from the power of the press to educate an audience about what’s good and why. We actually get reviews over there! It’s really an important part of what’s missing here NYC.
Get it to together, NYC! This is the most perfect place in America to have a vibrant cabaret culture! And cabaret is more than just singing, dammit! By definition, it just means the type of venue: one with CABARET seating! It’s just intimate entertainment—and we have the best circus, burlesque, variety, drag, and yes, singers, in the world! This whole genre deserves more respect for being so brazen, creative, empowered and inspiring. And we’ve been doing it all on a shoe string budget, with little encouragement, on postage stamp size stages for too long. Sick of it. It ends now!