I reached out to Katie Angel a few months back about Angel Burlesque, a show that is literally taking Indianapolis by storm. I had never been to a burlesque show before, but she invited me to one at the Deluxe, a room located downtown at the Old National Centre. So we went… and I had no idea what to expect. Needless to say, I was impressed—so much so that I am already making plans to see another performance in February. I also asked Katie if she would sit with me so I could learn more about her, the show, and how it all got started. She is one of the angels, a star… and her husband is one of the hosts. Talk about keeping it in the family! Katie is great on stage and is truly one of the nicest people you will ever meet. I sat down with Katie… the head angel of Angel Burlesque.
Your last name is Angel… that must mean you are the original Angel. Is that really your last name?
I am indeed the original Angel. I am the founder and CEO of Angel Burlesque and so it follows naturally to call my performers, Angels. That is really my last name, although my husband says that he was born an Angel but I had to marry one. Jeff Angel was a producer and air personality with radio for a huge portion of his life and everyone assumed that Jeff Angel was a fake DJ name but nope, it’s real. When we married, some people asked if I would change my name—my maiden name is Kalb which is German for “calf”. Really, do you think I want to be a cow or an Angel? That was a no brainer.
I love it that your husband is also associated with the show. He was hilarious as a host, if I do say so myself. How long have you guys been married?
Jeff is a fantastic host—thank you for agreeing that he is hilarious. When I initially got involved in burlesque, I was performing with another local troupe, and in my debut show our dressing area was in the building next to the bar so while it wasn’t a big deal before our routine, I sure as hell wasn’t comfortable walking down the street in my pasties (plus it was in a slightly sketchy neighborhood) so I encouraged everyone to get robes AND I enlisted my husband as a bodyguard, so to speak, to make sure all the performers made it to and from the dressing room building. (The hot dog cart guy had the best night that night—especially when some of the girls forgot their robes.)
People often ask if he’s okay with me doing burlesque and he always says, “My wife is asking me to watch other girls take their clothes off… ow, ow, twist my arm, don’t make me do that.” He’s tremendously proud of me as both a performer and a producer. We’ve been married for six years and have a beautiful daughter together. We met in the theatre—I was stage managing and he was acting. He jokingly told a group of kids that I was supervising, “I’m going to marry Miss Katie someday.” About ten months later we started dating and then another year or so after that we got married. Be careful what you joke about in the theatre!
Jeff and Belle do a wonderful job as the hosts of our show. We’ve had a few other people host and they’ve all been great in their own way, but Jeff and Belle have a lovely chemistry (people often assume they are married) and are very quick on their feet. Hosting is very demanding—you have to be charming but strong. It’s important to encourage the audience to be responsive but not be too chatty. It’s a fine line that they walk very well. We had a very early review once that likened Jeff to a “pervy middle school principal” which I don’t think is fair… but then I always had crushes on my principals so maybe there’s something to that. Jeff does a great job! He helps me so much as a front of house schmoozer pre-show—he tries to take care of the audience and me and I appreciate him so much. There would not be an Angel Burlesque without Jeff Angel.
Your last Deluxe show was my first burlesque show. It won’t be my last! How do the shows change from one night to the next? Is it always something new?
I’m so tickled you enjoyed the show—I knew you would! The shows as a whole are always completely new. You might see a very few routines from one show to the next but it’s very important to me that the audience gets their money’s worth of show, and I personally get irritated when I go to shows and see the same routines over and over. With the show you saw at Deluxe there was one routine that had been seen at Deluxe before—Patsy Blue Ribbon did her Polar Bear routine at the December show but putting it back to back with Penguin’s Lament made me giggle so we repeated it. Layla Seduisant’s Nun routine had been performed at an Open Bra before but never Deluxe and it’s such a raw and sexual routine that I wanted to throw it into this mix. I keep the shows fresh and exciting for the audience—they are first and foremost in my mind. It’s a huge challenge to come up with fresh routines but my Angels are game. We also can help keep the shows exciting and new by inviting guest performers to come and play.
The music you guys use is awesome. Who picks the soundtrack?
Each performer picks their own music so that they can find something they are personally attached it. By the time you are done rehearsing a routine you’ve heard it at least fifty times so if you don’t love the song at the beginning you’ll really hate it by the end. The soundtrack reflects a huge range of tastes and we’ve had music ranging from classic bump and grind to modern pop to children’s music. Jada Bella’s Penguin’s Lament is literally a children’s song that my six year old loves and we listen to in the car together. I’m entranced with this routine because Jada Bella is such a gorgeous performer and she brings a depth to this character – a penguin that is short and cute but longs to be tall and mysterious (like the polar bear guys). We have other routines that are based on children’s songs, completely re-imagined as narrative pieces and they make me laugh. (Oooh, I’ll give you the links…)
This is another from the lovely Jada Bella. This is our take on how Hollywood deals with the paparazzi.
I am sure you guys practice the routine. How often do you practice?
We definitely rehearse! Each routine represents hours of rehearsal not to mention the time spent costuming. Each type of show determines how much group rehearsal we’ll have. For the full length themed show like Boo-lesque, Erin Go Braghless or Welcome to Heaven we will set a rehearsal schedule that usually ends up being about sixty total hours of rehearsal time spread over a month and a half at least. For the solos in the Deluxe shows, the performers will prepare the routines and then come in for an approval session where I’ll look at the routine and help polish. For the Open Bras we offer coaching sessions to give performers a little more help. Personally, to prepare a solo I will constantly listen to my song in the car while I’m driving, prepare the costume, choreograph and then polish. It’s definitely a time commitment but that’s absolutely necessary in order to have polished, professional routines.
Tell me more about “open bra”. That sounds fun!
I am really proud of the Open Bra nights and from what I can tell they are a unique form of show—I haven’t been able to find anything else like it (from my extensive Facebook creeping). Ray Gunn, a Chicago boylesque performer who guest-starred in our Halloween show, told me that he had never heard of it before and was really impressed with the people who were willing to get up there and give it a shot! Our third full length production, Erin Go Braghless (a St. Patty’s Day Parade on steroids) was at the Crackers Comedy Club in Broad Ripple and Ruth Anne, the manager there, was interested in getting us to perform on a more regular basis. The full length shows take a huge amount of preparation (from the rehearsals to writing the script to blocking the group numbers, etc.), so I was trying to figure out a way to have a show that did not involve as much prep time. I am also getting constant inquiries about how to join and become involved. Producing these Open Bra nights is a great solution to both problems. The idea is that they are just like an Open Mic Night but with Burlesque! You do have to sign up in advance, so random people don’t just come in off the street and whip off their clothes… random people have to sign up and plan to come in and whip off their clothes. We have an application that goes up on our websiteand it is usually first come, first served.
Every Open Bra has had at least one person who has never done burlesque in his or her life getting up onstage and trying it out. Yes, it takes a tremendous leap of faith, BUT, I’d have to say that we are incredibly supportive as Angels and offer coaching sessions which is a private rehearsal session with me. Our audiences are so kind and loving. It’s completely unacceptable to be rude to someone onstage and the hosts don’t let it happen. The audience knows that this is tough for the performers and they give them all sorts of love. Is every performer knock-your-socks-off-amazing… no, but, again, what is not sexy to me might be the next guy’s fantasy. We’ve found our last two Angels from the Open Bra nights. It’s also a great indicator of performer’s level of interest—it’s very easy to say, oh, I want to do burlesque, but to actually take the time to find a costume, choreograph a routine and get your butt onstage to do it, that takes effort.
I got the chance to see Red Hot Annie at the Deluxe. How do you know her? When she comes down and does a show like that, does she charge a fee or does she do it for the exposure?
Red Hot Annie has a burlesque production company in Chicago called Vaudezilla that both produces shows and teaches classes. She sent out inquiry emails a few months back because she was going to be in Indianapolis in January and was interested in performing. We were so glad to have her perform with the Angels. With our guest stars we generally negotiate a performance fee in advance and then any exposure they get is a bonus. Her studio had an Ostrich blowout sale last year and my family drove up there to check out the bargains (I bought $2,500 worth of feathers for $1,000… I seriously have a problem but the deals were too good to pass up! I have a few feathers that haven’t made it onstage yet.) It was nice to meet Annie then.
Angel Burlesque has been very fortunate to have some top quality guest stars perform with us. My very very very first show that I produced guest starred Michelle L’amour who is ranked as the number three burlesque star in the world, two of her Chicago Starlets and Jett Adore from the Stage Door Johnnies. We had a surprise guest star with our GenCon show in August—Bazuka Joe from the Stage Door Johnnies was performing at GenCon on Thursday with a group from Chicago, the Glitter Guild. Desda Moana and I were thrilled to perform with this group also—it was such an honor to perform at the convention center in front of all the GenCon fans (those are our people and it was great fun to do my Klingon routine in such a huge room.) Bazuka Joe was hanging around all weekend while Ray Gunn was busy gaming and we persuaded (okay, out and out begged and bribed with promise of lots of alcohol) to have Bazuka come perform with us at the Vollrath the next night (his Lion-O routine brought the house down).
In October, the third of the Stage Door Johnnies, Ray Gunn, came down to perform five shows with us for our Boo-lesque: Things that Go Bump and Grind in the Night. He taught a private workshop for the Angels—it was an honor to learn from him. The Stage Door Johnnies won the award for Best Group at the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend in Las Vegas and are ranked in the top ten of Best Burlesque performers, internationally. I think it’s all shades of awesome that the Angels have been on the same stage as all three Johnnies. They are sexy gentlemen with a lot to bring to the burlesque world… as Desda Moana would say, “They’re kind of a big deal.” The Angel name is getting out there and as we get more guest stars, out of town guests will know that we are professional and wonderful to work with. Jeez Loueez is booked for the March 2nd show at Deluxe and she’s a powerhouse of a performer.
Pasties are a pretty popular feature of your show. Has there ever been an accident… you know, where a pasty didn’t “hang on”?
Oh, pasties. How we love and hate them. What I think is fun is that my first pair of pasties (my Darth Vader pasties) literally took me like four hours and a lot of crafting anxiety… now I can whip a pair out (and by whip out I mean make not show) in less than ten minutes. I can whip a pair out (and by whip out I mean show not make) in less than ten seconds. I personally have never had pasty failure but I’m sort of meh about it… if if happens it happens. I don’t really care. There are many performers who stress about it (if one pasty falls off, rip the other one off and be a rock star). With Desda Moana’s very first appearance in our “Holler Back” cowgirl number she accidentally ripped off her pasty when she took off her bikini top. She realized when the pasty fell off and just covered up with her hand. Pepper Mills used to be very worried about her pasties but now proudly says she has “pasties confidence”. I’m enchanted by the different styles of pasties we have come up with.
You are getting a ton of exposure lately. Has that affected show attendance?
I think we could always use more coverage (ba-duh-bum). We’ve been very lucky that our last three shows at Deluxe have been official sell outs and our Open Bras are very popular. It’s not easy to get people to come out on a Monday night but we do and are so grateful to our fans who are loyal and super supportive. We work very hard to make every show different so that even though we’re doing a lot of shows, they are new and different and definitely worth seeing! Our shows are not for everyone… just people who like to laugh and have fun.
I didn’t really know what to expect coming in. But a lot of people look at burlesque as stripping and naughty. But it’s not. Sure, there is some not safe for work humor in there, but it’s about the music and the art of dance in my opinion. But for you, what is it all about? Why do you do this?
I completely agree with you that burlesque is about the art of dance and telling a story. Most of our new audience members say that the show was nothing like they expected and they had no idea they would laugh so much. For me, burlesque is an art form that allows for complete artistic freedom and celebrates real bodies. I love the ability to create my own characters and be as ridiculous as I want to be. Angel Burlesque definitely tends towards a very theatrical style with fun characters that tell a story.
You ran a Groupon for your last show. What successes have you see with running discounts on deals sites like that? Have you worked with any of the other popular deals sites?
I adore the excitement of the Groupon and it’s fun to see everyone scrambling to get their ticket because it is such a great deal. The Groupon is something that the Old National Centre set up and we do our best to get the word out to our fans. We have not worked with any other deal sites… I’m not terribly social media savvy… I have Angels who tweet for me (thank you, Pepper!) and also update the website (our goddess of digital media and a super talented lady that you didn’t get to see in January because she is in “Debbie Does Dallas” at TOTS—Brigitte Petite.) I don’t even know any other popular deal sites…tell me about them!
I didn’t expect to see a guy in the lineup. I actually know Rod Tollhouse personally! How did he end up as an Angel?
I’m a huge fan of boylesque. The first great boylesque performer I ever saw was Hot Toddy from Chicago. His routine actually made me blush and if you know me, you have to know that it’s very hard to make me blush. Rod Tollhouse was in the first Angel production, Welcome to Heaven, and it’s been so cool to watch him develop as a performer and every single routine he does is better and better (and he was awesome to start with!) We have a few other male Angels and a couple of gentlemen who might be Angels in the future. Rod answered the first call for open auditions and I loved what he had to offer. Boylesque performers are in the minority but it’s a refreshing change of pace to see a gentleman onstage.
During the show, after each performance was over, there were girls that came in and cleaned everything up. Are they volunteers? Do they ever dance?
Those are our stage kittens and an essential part of every show! The stage kittens that you saw, Bunny Van Doren, Ricki Swizzle and Cora Noire are all Angels and each have some wonderful solos! Bunny’s mirror ball disco sparkle outfit made me happy.
Not all of the dancers are skinny. And I like that. Everyone seemed so happy in her own skin. It just goes to show you don’t have to be a rail to be sexy. How does that affect the way you pick new dancers? I just want to learn more about the perception of larger women being so fun to watch perform!
One of Angel Burlesque’s main tenets is that “Real is Sexy!” What I tell the new performers and what I believe is that every performer has something special to offer. I know that my body type is not going to appeal to every single audience member BUT there is one person out there, at least one, who has a fetish for what I have to offer (mmm… big hips, stretch marks!) In general, women tend to really get down on themselves and think that men (or women, we’re very LGBT friendly) only find one type of woman sexy… but that’s not true at all. Sure, not every Angel is going to be your ideal type but wait three minutes, there will be a different type. Could I be a healthier weight? Absolutely! But will my self-image magically change if I’m forty pounds lighter? Not really. Our self image has so little to do with reality so we might as well love ourselves as we are.
Tell me a little bit more about your Valentine’s Day Heart-On Open Bra. By the way, I LOVE the names you have for the events and for the dancers.
Our Valentine’s Day Heart On encourages performers to celebrate what they love or hate about Valentine’s Day… some people really get into the schmoopiness and some people just want to kick Valentine’s Day in the face so this is a forum to show however you feel about it. The show titles are a fun group effort. Jeff came up with the idea for Erin Go Bragh…less and Jada Bella added the tagline for Boolesque—Things that Go Bump and Grind in the Night.
Do you have a job outside of Angel Burlesque?
I am a professional stage manager and a stay at home mom. After I graduated from Butler University I did a lot of work at the Indianapolis Civic Theatre—I stage managed, taught acting classes, worked in the box office, helped in the scene shop, did some electrics over hire and worked in pretty much every crew position possible—lightboard, soundboard, fly crew, run crew, spotlight operator… the only place I didn’t work was the costume shop because the first time I sewed a pair of pants I put the crotch on slantways. I’ve been Dance Kaleidoscope’s stage manager for nine years now and tremendously enjoy working with them (p.s. You should come see Super Soul at IRT—it’s going to be beautiful and sexy and fun—the first weekend is already sold out.) I’ve picked up stage management gigs for some interesting productions like travelling to Little Rock, Arkansas to stage manage a Nutcracker that literally had a cast of about 200 dancers. I’ve been to Connecticut with the Indianapolis Symphony and have stage managed a televised NCAA award ceremony event for the Final Four last year. Fun fact, I’ve stage managed for events that have featured performers who have been on American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and So You Think You Can Dance, so my six degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon is that much closer. (Laughs.) I’m such a theatre nerd that when I met a few of the American Idol singers my first question to them is, how is it working with Debbie Williams? (She’s the AI stage manager.) Being a professional stage manager definitely helps Angel Burlesque—I think it would be fair to say we are the most organized burlesque troupe in town.
Speaking of the dancer names, who picks those? Rod Tollhouse told me how he got his name… but where does a dancer like Ginger Peach or Pepper Mills get her name?
Sometimes picking a name is agony, sometimes the girls walk in with a name that they’ve thought about for years and I think both Ginger Peach and Pepper Mills actually had those names in mind before they started burlesque…??? I think Pepper Mills was her proposed drag queen name. Having a stage name allows performers the freedom to embrace a larger, glittery version of themselves. Sometimes picking a name is a long process of throwing out different options. A few ladies have tried something… changed it… changed it again. Katie Angel is my real name because I couldn’t think of anything better.
Do you have any rituals before a performance?
I usually end up doing my hair and makeup fifteen minutes before the show starts because I don’t have time before then… I have to ask someone to keep me focused and if they see me out checking on something backstage they shoo me back to the mirror to get my lashes on. We generally will do a performer circle so I can make announcements… if there’s time someone tells a dirty joke and I end with the saying, “Remember, if you’re not having fun taking your clothes off…” and then everyone yells, “why the hell are you doing it?”
Do you ever get nervous up there?
I was so nervous before my fan dance because it was such a different style of performance for me—I’m so much more comfortable being ridiculous and making fun of myself. During this performance I was trying to be on the serious side and was a little terrified of falling over in my heels (my plan if I bit it? Do a little extra floor work while I was down there.) I get more nervous that there will be no audience—the analogy that we make (Pepper and I) is that it’s like in sixth grade when a mom rented the whole skating rink and ordered six supreme pizzas and no one is going to show up, wha wha wha… .but I’ll have to say that even when we’ve had audiences on the smaller side, the size of the cast has never outnumbered the audience (I’ve been to plenty of community productions where that has happened!) and the audience is always very loving and loud.
There are a lot of photo galleries on your website and videos of performances on YouTube. Photography is actually encouraged during a performance. Out of all the photos ever taken of you, do you have a favorite?
Matthew Mayer is such a huge friend to us and has taken beautiful photos and video of us. Benjamin Swisher from zaptownmag.com takes wonderful photos too and we’ve been very lucky to have so many great photographers at our shows that I couldn’t name them all. It’s funny because we could have three or four photographers shooting the same show and the perspectives they have are all so different. You can tell when each photographer finds a particular performer sexy because there are tons of pictures of that person and not so many of others. I will try to remember to attach one of my favorites—it’s definitely not the most flattering shot of me but we all have such joy on our faces—the shot really sums up what I love about being onstage. (And the audience is giving us a standing ovation so that’s cool!)
Girls get pretty close to naked on stage. Do you ever get requests for more? How do you handle requests like that if they come in?
I don’t really ever get any requests for more nudity… although I did see that Ben Swisher who spent a lot of time editing photos from the Deluxe show went into booby overload and just wanted to see more. As we’ve progressed, I’d have to say that our confidence has grown and our pasties have gotten smaller and our style of panties has gotten more daring. Angel has broken our “merkhin cherry”. Merkhins used to be essentially wigs for your lady parts that prostitutes would use to hide their thinning hair. The burlesque version of merkhins are a pasty for your naughty bits so that you don’t have any panty lines or strings on your hips and gives a great tease, especially with fan dances. The only requests that we often get on our website is for performances at private bachelor parties and we don’t do those. We will teach workshops for private bachelorette parties or ladies nights in. Every so often one of the ladies will get a creeper alert on facebook… usually it’s pretty harmless but we try to give each other heads up about people who are being inappropriate. I’ve heard about girls getting requests for pictures of their feet but no one has asked me. (Laughs.)
Tell me a little bit more about Bunny and her blog Backstage with Bunny.
Bunny was the sparkly disco ball stage kitten you saw at the show. That adorable logo is the product of Brigitte Petite and we’re all completely jealous! Backstage with Bunny is a very new feature—Bunny has a crafting blog and she offered her blogging services to help add new content to our website and I’m grateful for her help.
I love the tagline “sassy… and always classy!” That is a pretty accurate description of what I saw. Who came up with that?
I think that’s mine but I might be wrong… I like the word sassy. Our other tagline is “Real is sexy” which I also thinks sums up AB very well.
Belle Breeze and Desda “Mae Q” Moana are “head angels”. What makes someone a head angel versus an angel?
Belle and Desda are my right hand ladies. They each bring something different to the table in terms of their sexy, sexy talents and have been very supportive of me and helping this company grow. Along with Jada Bella, Desda and Belle have been with me at the first show I produced, before there was an Angel Burlesque. (I was working with Belle at a community theatre show and said, “Hey, I’m going to produce a burlesque show… want to be in it? And she did. And she was awesome.) They can help run rehearsals when I can’t be there, Desda does a lot of our choreography, Belle does a lot of poster and graphics design for us and they both are great for bouncing off ideas. Belle, Jeff and I co-write the full length productions—I will come up with the first draft and then we’ll go to La Hacienda and edit… they think we are insane there but I think we’ve come up with our best jokes over chips and salsa. It’s usually after a rehearsal, and I’m exhausted and a bit punch drunk but you can’t say, “Tippytoe Princess Dance and Charm Academy” without giggling a little. Most of the Angels have been incredibly helpful—Belle, Desda and I teach the workshops, Jada Bella has guest taught a workshop, Pepper Mills is our “Union Rep”, Twitter lady and official ambassador to the drag and LGBT community, Bunny Van Doren is starting the blog, Brigitte Petite handles all the website details, and I could not function without them.
How do you pick new performers? Have any ever come out of an Open Bra before?
The very first show consisted of me drafting my friends to come and take their clothes off (one of my superhero powers is getting people to take their clothes off… comes in handy when producing burlesque.) The first two full Angel shows had open auditions and then I found myself with twenty-five performers that were amazing so I stopped holding auditions. Our Open Bra has turned into the chance for new people to “audition” for Angel Burlesque. Both Layla Seduisant (who did the Nun routine) and Cora Noire have come out of the Open Bra shows.
I saw you post a picture on Facebook the other day… that “all bodies are good bodies”. I love that picture too. What was your first reaction when you saw that photo?
I love that picture and my first reaction was to figure out how to take an Angel version of the photo. I was laughing to read the comments – so many of the gentlemen commenting were talking about how hot the “woman on the right” was—the lady with the most athletic body. We have comment cards at Deluxe and will routinely get one card per show (probably the same person) who complains about the fat girls… 1. I’d love to see what that guy looks like, I’m sure he’s a beefcake, 2. if you want to see super skinny ladies, allow me to direct to you to a Playboy magazine with huge fake boobs… they are fairly easy to purchase, I do believe. The negative cards just make me laugh.
What’s next for Angel Burlesque? What does 2012 have in store for you and all the angels?
We have so much going on! We have our monthly Open Bras on the last Monday of the month and our Deluxe shows on the First Friday (except for February because apparently the entire Old National Centre is occupied by something going on… I haven’t really heard, something about a football game?) I plan on bringing even more special guests to the Deluxe shows—Jeez Loueez is booked for March and I’m in talks with more spectacular performers. We are appearing at the Days of the Dead Horror Convention and again at GenCon with the Glitter Guild from Chicago. Angel Burlesque also is performing in the Indianapolis Fringe Festival for the first time and I have some ridiculously fun ideas for that. We keep our fans up to date with our website, Facebook page and Twitter.
Do you ever perform outside of the Circle City?
Some of the Angels are starting to apply to perform at the regional burlesque festivals which I find very exciting. I am applying for festivals in St. Louis and Chicago this year; fingers crossed! Ricki Swizzle and I are heading up to Muncie in a few weeks to perform with Ryder Cox’s Femme Fatale show. Some Angels have performed with the Bloomington Burlesque Brigade in Bloomington (we loves the B3 girls and Jada Bee).
“What’s a burlesque show all about?” How would you answer that to someone who has no idea what to expect from a performance?
Burlesque is fun, sexy, good-natured fun that celebrates real bodies. Our performers don’t take ourselves too seriously and we want to make sure the audience has a wonderful time.
Katie, thank you so much for taking the time to sit with me today. I could ask you questions all day long. In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
Real is sexy. Come see a show.