Do you know Miss Astrid? The question is the Downtown equivalent to the Williamsburg litmus test query, “Remember Cokie’s?” Your answer speaks volumes about how long you’ve been around and how much realness you’ve gotten yourself into. Miss Astrid, née Kate Valentine, was a member of the LA burlesque troupe The Velvet Hammer, one of the major groups often cited as the edge of the knife in the burlesque revival of the 1990s (along with New York’s Billie Madley and Dutch Weismann’s Follies). With her own vaudeville review, The Va Va Voom Room (“Best Burlesque Show in NYC – New York magazine”) Astrid rocked such bygone venues as Fez under the Time Cafe, Show World, and The Zipper Factory.
Now Miss Astrid is back! Word on the street is that she got a lifelong, incurable condition (babies) that took her out of the circuit for a bit, but last summer she wowed and dazzled with a don’t-call-it-a-comeback nostalgia show, “The Bad Girls of 90’s Burlesque,” at Sideshows by the Seashore on Coney Island. The show felt like a rebirth, featuring Coney icon Bambi the Mermaid and 2000s burlesque stalwarts like Peekaboo Point, Madame Rosebud, and erstwhile New Yorker Anita Cookie— and, of course, true ’90s badgirl Bonnie Dunn.
That event feels more profound now, as a mere seven months later, the burlesque community mourns the untimely passing of Bonnie Dunn. She ran Le Scandal in midtown, touted as “the longest-running variety burlesque show in New York City.” Dunn had been private about her long illness, still undisclosed, and the sudden loss rippled through the NY burlesque scene. I asked Astrid about dealing with losses in the community, or better serving people while they’re still here, and she answered in character, in true deadpan Astrid brevity: “I hate hippies, but one thing they said is true: Be here now.”Astrid’s resurrection from retirement is Miss Astrid’s Mystery Box, a coproduction by Astrid’s Electric Valentine company and Thirsty Girl Productions (New York Burlesque Festival). It’s billed as a “striptease séance,” and when I asked Astrid what that meant, she said “Only way to find out, is to come.”
A limited (three-time) monthly event, the April 13th show features Tiger Bay, Fancy Feast, David Ilku, Fem Appeal, and Tanya Gange; the May 11th show has a cast stacked with familiar names: Tansy, Broadway Brassy, Cheeky Lane, Evil Hate Monkey, and Bradford Scobie, all likely to bring their A-games for Astrid.
The most shocking and delicious aspect of Astrid’s new show is the stage kitten. In modern burlesque shows, the stage kitten (aka stage panther) is the person who comes onstage after each act to pick up the “stripper droppings,” the clothes and props left onstage by the performer. This often involves slow and exaggerated bending over, with commentary from the MC that can vary from Murray Hill’s outrageous flirting to Miss Astrid’s cold and silent “get the fuck off my stage” one-eyed glares. Kittening is a spot for newbies. It’s entry-level/intern labor, a way to squeeze a tassel in the door.
So it’s BONKERS, BANANAS that the stage kitten for this show is: Dirty Martini. If you know one name in modern burlesque, it’s probably hers, and I don’t know if she ever kittened. To be sure, I asked her, and she purred, “Mmmm no, I’ve never been a kitten. We’ll see where it goes! Maybe I could have a new career!” which, if the correspondence hadn’t been by email, would certainly be delivered with Dirty’s singular boisterous laugh. Kitten? Dirty was too busy being one of the first standout stars of the ‘90s New York burlesque resurgence, going on to win Miss Exotic World, get photographed by Karl Lagerfeld, star in a movie that went to Cannes, tour with Dita Von Teese, etc. Can’t wait to see her kitten.
Miss Astrid’s Mystery Box runs second Saturdays at Bedlam, 40 Avenue C, April 13th, May 11th and June 8th.