Serena Mitchell (jonl) Sat 27 Oct 01 10:59
Email from Serena Mitchell: Dear Lily, When I knew I was getting married the next year 1999, I decided to become a stripper in 1998. I was a dancer for a brief stint at Raymonds Revue Bar in Soho, London. Two shows every night with Sundays off. I had terrible blisters on my feet. Have you ever seen the show there? I haven't yet read your book, but I'll ask for it for Xmas. I did read the interesting account of life at The Lusty Lady by Erika Langley. Serena Mitchell, Brighton England
nape fest (zorca) Sat 27 Oct 01 15:00
lily, the book is a delight! as are your readings. at the one in san francisco, you answered an audience question about favorite songs to dance to with a short list. would you be willing to recreate it here?
Lily Burana (burana) Sun 28 Oct 01 07:59
Hi Serena! Raymonds sounds fun--I've never been to a foreign (to me) strip club, and I'd love to see it. Little, Brown will be publishing the book in the UK next spring, so maybe I will check it out then when I'm on the UK book tour! Can you tell me a bit about what the show is like? How you make your money? How the girls interact?
Linda Castellani (castle) Sun 28 Oct 01 10:59
E-mail from Serena Mitchell: Lily, Let me tell you about Raymond's Revue Bar. I auditioned in 1998, in response to an advert in The Stage newspaper. Girls wanted for World Famous Revue Show in the heart of London West End. £350- £400 per week. Although I'd been a dancer, and used to nudity as a life drawing model, I'd never danced nude. I was nervous going up for the audition, but excited and thrilled to get a job in the Exotica 2000 show. My fiancé, (now my husband ) and even my mum, was totally fine about me doing the job. I'd arranged to stay with friends in London during the week, and then get the last train back to Brighton after the Saturday show, then go up again on Mondays. In 1998 Raymond's was celebrating it's 40th birthday, as it was one of the original Burlesque shows in London, along with the Windmill round the corner. It is also famous for the large neon sign and display covering the whole of a building above Madame Jo Jo's drag cabaret show. The theatre still retains the glamour of a previous era, red velvet, chandeliers, a proper stage and set chororegraphed dances. This appealed to me as it felt more burlesque with wild costumes, make up and wigs. There were about 12 female dancers and two male dancers. We opened the show with all of us on stage in a group number, Then followed solos and duets with girl/ boy girl . In the middle of the show was the famous chair dance , and then it ended with all the girls coming on stage in a finale of red satin and lining up in the "bum line" ! ( I emailed the Well a photo, did you get it?) The sets were quite wild, with one dancer emerging from a safe to do her act, another wheeled on stage sitting astride a big cake, yet another wielding a huge gun that looked like an anti- aircraft machine. I had to learn a dominatrix routine wearing knee high 4 inch stiletto boots, and PVC outfit that came off in stages as I cavorted assertively with whip and chain on a large red velvet covered bench thing. In between set changes, each dancer would do a "passage" which meant walking on in a new outfit and state of undress , and titillating the audience before walking off again. Backstage, the atmosphere amongst dancers was pretty much friendly and supportive. We shared two grotty dressing rooms, with the boys having their own, so that they could " prepare" their semi erections in privacy with a few mags! A few of the girls wouldn't believe my boobs were all my own, since I had the biggest, but I was always being shouted at by the owner and choreographer Gerard Simi to lose weight off my derriere. Because we were all on six month renewable contracts, with everyone earning the same salary, there wasn't the level of bitchiness or backstabbing that you hear about in lap-dancing clubs. The dancers came from a variety of backgrounds, and aged between 18 and 35. I was 29. One woman had been a top City executive, and fancied a change, another had danced all over the world, including the Crazy Horse in Paris, another had started out at 16 as a stripper in Welsh working men's clubs. A lot of them had day jobs too, since you didn't need to get to the theatre until 7pm, first show at 8pm, 2nd show at 10pm, and out by 11.45pm. At weekends we could hear the local born again Christians singing to save the souls of Soho's nightcreatures, outside our dressing room windows. I was at Raymond's for a few months, but didn't like living in London, and wasn't prepared to dance in the new bar at the club which was much more like lap- dancing which I was more nervous of. Part of me regrets leaving prematurely, and wish I stayed longer, it really was an experience I'll never forget, the pain and the pleasure was quite liberating in many ways. Where I live there is one lap-dancing bar which I auditioned for and got offered a job when it opened, but turned it down in favour of working at Raymond's. Working at Raymond's meant I also got my actors Equity card, as it counted as professional variety work. I think the demise of burlesque is a real shame, but least the Revue Bar came closer to that type of show. I haven't been to the club for a couple of years, and I think it has changed a little, but you definitely must visit the show if you go to London. You can always check out their website. Burlesque is continuing in Brighton, with a nightclub event every two months called VaVaVaVoom. The hostess tops the cabaret with her own striptease, and each event has a theme which everyone dresses to. They even took the show over to the New Orleans Burlesque festival this year. British TV Channel Four is currently researching a history of striptease for a new TV series. The researchers are looking for ex and current strippers, so you should get in touch . Another book on the subject that is worth reading is Floozy, written by a British stripper and performance artist, published by Slab-O-Concrete. I now work for a charity for my bread and butter, but also act and create my own work. After dancing at Raymond's I did a performance installation in a Brighton bookshop window, based on a peepshow. It made the traffic stop! What are the best strip/burlesque shows to see in America? Regards Serena Ps This is also my first experience of online discussion!
Casey Ellis (caseyell) Sun 28 Oct 01 17:46
Lily, before we drift too far afield here, I want to be sure people know where you'll be doing book signings/readings in the near future. Can you give us some specifics?
Lily Burana (burana) Mon 29 Oct 01 09:53
(zorca) asks the ever-critical *music* question. I'll tell you, music is so wide-ranging from club to club, that one could talk abou it all day! And my opinions on the subject are always changing. typically, in a club where you have the stage to yourself and are allowed to choose your own music, you do two to three songs--the songs getting slower each time, 'til your final song is a ballad. in some clubs, it's different, but this is how I was schooled, and it's my preferred set-up. I have found that I've done well dancing to something borderline-brutal for the first song: Kid Rock; Metallica; Public Enemy; Tool. Since I was working the Barbie thing pretty hard, the contrast of plastic pink happygirl and dark, forceful, heavy music worked *very* well. I tried not to get too high- concept about it--just wanted to pick a song a guy could bang his beer glass to. Then for the second song, I'd pull out a ballad. Something very sweet and over-wrought. Those songs that can make you change the station because they make your molars ache: "Amazed" by Lone Star; "Anytime" by Brian McKnight; "Take A Bow" by Madonna. The hope then is that I'll transform from Aggro- Barbie into Dream Date Barbie. It's a sight to see when it works: Men with their eyes glued to the stage, gazing at you with the twinkly-eyes that are associated with adolescent girls clutching a copy of Teen Beat in their hands. It's enough to make you cry, that projection of romance and infatuation! I do keep it populist, so it's an odd thing to say that for some reason, I always got tipped very well on the rare occasion when I would dance to "Rebel Without a Pause" by Public Enemy! Malcolm XXX. Hair metal lives on in strip clubs, without a trace of irony. Somewhere out there right now, a girl in a zebra-print spandex dress is dancing to "Still of the Night" by White Snake. She's got on black stocking and white pumps and her hair is teased to rafters. And on the other side of the tip rail, a guy in an AC/DC t-shirt is emptying his wallet, and singing evey word. Long may they wave. (I do believe Whitesnake is one word, correct?)
Lily Burana (burana) Mon 29 Oct 01 09:55
My upcoming appearances: This Friday at the Borders in Philadelphia, 7:30 pm. I'll be on NPR that morning, with Marty Moss Cohane, for an hour-long interview. As a longtime NPR fetishist, I look forward to it! I will also be reading with Ted Conover, author of "New Jack: Guarding Sing Sing" at the Miami Book Fair, in mid-November. Details TK.
Randall Koll (randallk) Mon 29 Oct 01 10:12
Lily, I'm loving the interview. How long did the book take from inception to completion? Or more to the point, from inception to publishers contract to publication?
Jessica Mann Gutteridge (jessica) Mon 29 Oct 01 10:21
I told my husband that the author of Strip City danced to Metallica, and he was ready to open a club himself just to hire you to do that for him! In a nice way, not a skeevy way.
Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Mon 29 Oct 01 10:31
I just had this weird fantasy of a strip club catering to classical music fans. Wonder what the music selections might be. If you had a daughter, how would you feel about her stripping?
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Mon 29 Oct 01 11:44
Hi Lily, You said, > It's a sight to see when it works: Men with their eyes glued to the > stage, gazing at you with the twinkly-eyes that are associated with > adolescent girls clutching a copy of Teen Beat in their hands. It's > enough to make you cry, that projection of romance and infatuation! I wonder if you could talk more about how much respect and how much irony goes into that statement, because it's easy for me to imagine the extremes of both, but not the middle-way mixture that is probably closer to reality. (That is, I can imagine a perceptive dancer guiding men toward something good, sweet, innocent, and fundamentally respectful in themselves, and I can imagine a cynical dancer skillfully manipulating depraved men in further exercise of their depravity.)
Lily Burana (burana) Mon 29 Oct 01 14:45
Lily, I'm loving the interview. How long did the book take from inception to completion? Or more to the point, from inception to publishers contract to publication? Thank you! I'm having fun--even when you're done with your book, there's always more to say. From first thought to pub date, I'd say we're looking at four years or so. I started doing the research in 1997, and sold the proposal in 1998. From there, the research took off, and I spent most of 1999 and part of 2000 writing and cogitating and traveling. I did change publishers after the first draft was done, and TALK/Miramax picked it up, more or less 'as is' (conceptually, anyway) in Fall of 2000. The editors who worked on it, Jonathan Burnham and Farley Chase, really understood what I was after, and edited me quickly and judiciously and we sent it to print earlier this year. Of course, now that it's out, I want it *back* so I can futz with it more, but that, I guess, is why they say, "books are never finished. they're abandoned." Or something akin to that.
Casey Ellis (caseyell) Mon 29 Oct 01 15:05
Lily, I know from STRIP CITY that you were always a reader--launching into Hesse, Salinger and Plath when you were 14, an age when you didn't want to "do anything but listen to the radio, go to the city and read." I'm curious as to who inspired you when you first began writing magazine articles. Where there specific non-fiction writers who inspired the terrific energy I always find in your writing?
Lily Burana (burana) Mon 29 Oct 01 16:43
Lendie asks the smart, provocative, "If you had a daughter, how would you feel about her stripping?" Assuming that she approached me ahead of time with the idea, I'd do all that I could do find out why she wanted to strip, and do my best to dissuade her. Occasionally, a young woman, an aquaintence or friend of a friend, will ask me how to get into the business, and I ask her why she wants to strip. it's always because she wants to make fast money, usually in pursuit of a larger goal. I tell her, "Look, stripping may make you fast money, but the cost to you might not be worth it. Why don't you take the energy you're using to think about screwing up the nerve to audition at a strip club and apply it towards your dream instead? Get a more typical day job and see how it goes." I've never once had a woman come back to me in six months and ask again how to get into stripping. Maybe they find another entree to the business, I don't know. But I do know I don't feel comfortable setting a woman down that path. Unless she's interested in stripping to get away from a more dangerous, or otherwise risky, form of adult entertainment, like video or escort work. Now, the same would be true if it were my own child. I know full-well the potential pitfalls of this job, and I would not want my daughter, or son, to be at risk. Let's assume, though, that my daughter or son had *already started* and came out it to me while they were still doing it. First, I'd say, "Geez, kid! Didn't my book act as enough of a cautionary tale?!" Second, I'd respect them as an adult by engaging them as one. I ask, "How do you feel about what you're doing?" If they said they felt okay about it, then I'd ask, "If you know that I thought it was a bad idea, which I do, are you going to keep doing it anyway?" If they say they'd consider not doing it anymore, based on the concerns I'd voice, then I'd help them transition out. It is a very hard business for some people to leave--the lifestyle and the money can becoem addictive, and the prospect of entering the straight world (school, job, whatever) can seem daunting. I'd give them guidance without rebuke or harsh judgment. If the kid said, "Hey, I'm going to do this anyway, and I want you to deal with my decision," I'd say, "Fine. But you've just met your new financial advisor. If you really are going to keep stripping, despite my hard-earned, well-deserved reservations about the job, then by God, you're going to be responsible. Now sit down and listen to my stern lecture about IRAs, money markets, and mutual funds. By the way, you need to be aware that no bank will ever give you a home loan if you list your occupation as 'stripper.'" Then, I'd get after her or him to plan for the next stage of their life. I would not accept one lavish gift from them. I'd tell them, "The best gift you can give me is the satisfaction that you're really doing what you ant to do with your life. If the thousands of other strippers I've met are any indication, I'd venture that stripping is not your life's dream, so get after it, kiddo."
Lily Burana (burana) Mon 29 Oct 01 16:44
(please pardon my typos)
Lily Burana (burana) Mon 29 Oct 01 16:59
Hi Lily, You said, > It's a sight to see when it works: Men with their eyes glued to the > stage, gazing at you with the twinkly-eyes that are associated with > adolescent girls clutching a copy of Teen Beat in their hands. It's > enough to make you cry, that projection of romance and infatuation! I wonder if you could talk more about how much respect and how much irony goes into that statement, because it's easy for me to imagine the extremes of both, but not the middle-way mixture that is probably closer to reality. (That is, I can imagine a perceptive dancer guiding men toward something good, sweet, innocent, and fundamentally respectful in themselves, and I can imagine a cynical dancer skillfully manipulating depraved men in further exercise of their depravity.) ****** There's not a hint of irony in that statement, actually. There's a whole range of dynamics at play in a strip club. Sometimes the interplay between dancer and customer can be very straightforward--a tip for me, a dance for you. It's basic, and civil, and clean. Other times, it can be so savage as to resemble a death-battle: "Hey, will you f*ck me for eight hundred dollars, you 'ho?" "No, but I'll play the edge of your crass, butt-headed presumption that I would until you leave here broke, you misogynist cretin!" Other times, though, in a rarefied space between those extremes of clean, honest taffy-pull and "war between the sexes" death-battle a moment of enchantment will shine through. You can never predict it, but I love to see it. I imagine some dancers will manipulate an earnest customer's affection, leading him to think he's got a special hold on her heart. I can't bring myself to do that, however (I have had some ugly death-battle moments, though, but that's a different customer relationship context). Somehow, the idea that romance, or a guy at least being romantically touched by a song, a performance, can sometimes show up such an artificial environment touches me. It's like a flower growing through a crack in the pavement: Wow, how did *that* happen? When you consider how mundane, workmanlike, and cynical the job can be, it is a wonder to behold. Does it happen every night? No. Did I notice it every time it happened? Probably not, alas. But was I moved when I did chance upon it? Yes.
Lily Burana (burana) Mon 29 Oct 01 17:26
(caseyell) asks: I'm curious as to who inspired you when you first began writing magazine articles. Where there specific non-fiction writers who inspired the terrific energy I always find in your writing? *************** Thank you for the compliment! A host of writers inspired me. First is the Chick Posse--so many great female non-fiction writers: Mim Udovitch; Elizabeth Gilbert; Susan Orlean; Cynthia Heimel. Each has her own particular strength, but what courses through their writing is a sharp critical faculty and observer's eye, more often than not leavened with a huge dash of heart. You don't always have to like your subject, or even endorse it, but I do appreciate a writer whose enthusiasm for exploring the subject shines through. There's a palpable zest for exploration, craft, and expression that comes though in all these writers, though they each exhibit their own personal style. I'm a late convert to James Wolcott--I only started reading him when he started at Vanity Fair, but as I come across his older stuff, I like that, too. He is pointy, but rarely undeservedly savage. It's a tough line to walk, that line between astute, pop culture-steeped critic, and snarky, pop- ephemera-savvy dickweed, and he knows how to make the smart step. A lot of people place a higher moral, artistic, or aesthetic value on long- form non-fiction and novels, but I think a good magazine piece is a wonder unto itself. I tend to watch the nominations for the National Magazine Awards more closely than I do the National Book Award list. I could go on for days about non-fiction. I do like fiction, too, and the span of appreciation is wide. I like the mind-crippling metaphors of Annie Proulx (Dear "Reader's Manifesto" Guy: Shut UP!) and the austere, yarn- spinning style of Larry McMurtry. It is a source of great shame for me that I can't seem to sink into Cormac McCarthy. I try. I really do. Can't seem to chip my way in. I still have a deep, abiding affection for "The Bell Jar." The 'fusty, peanut-smelling mouth' of the subway during her summer in New York; the way the "blood gathered darkly at the lip of the wound, like fruit" when she cut her leg the summer she returned home; the sound of the avocados in a suitcase on a train's luggage rack above her head, rolling from one side of the suitcase to the other "with a special little thunder all their own." (I recite these out of memory. They may be slightly off). Such love.
Casey Ellis (caseyell) Tue 30 Oct 01 13:37
Since TALK/Miramax was involved with the publication of STRIP CITY< can we hope for a feature film?
the ebola of prose-writing (judithn) Tue 30 Oct 01 13:55
Lily, do you think men who strip go in with the same motivation as women, or something far different?
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Tue 30 Oct 01 17:27
Lily, Thank you for your wonderful response in <41>. I am also moved by the full-on engaged respect you convey in <39>, about the advice you would give your daughter. Thanks!
pointy, but rarely undeservedly savage (vard) Tue 30 Oct 01 21:29
Cynthia Robins (cynthiar) Wed 31 Oct 01 08:54
<scribbled by cynthiar Thu 1 Nov 01 04:36>
Lily Burana (burana) Wed 31 Oct 01 10:33
Casey asks about film. I still retain the film rights, so there's no big Hollywood plan afoot. Judith, I wish I could speak with greater authority about the reasons why men strip as opposed to women! Maybe we just need a male stripper to happen by... Thanks for the update, Cynthia. Of course, I'm anxious to see the story. We covered a lot of controversial material, including the Wacky Personal Hijinx of Ms. Lily B. from *way* back (early 1990s, when perversion and politics had a riotous overlap), so I'm curious as to how you handled it. You're a San Fran girl, tho, so I'm sure you knew just how to contextualize it all... Cynthia tried her damndest to help me with an image upgrade. I got a wonderful make-up job at Saks, by Cynthia's arrangement. I paid a king's ransom for a sackful of products, but you really do get what you pay for. IMAGE, the every-annoying IMAGE thing is a part of every author's life these days. It s been very amusing (and sometimes not) to 'face the public' as a former dancer. For the most part, I'm very low-key. I didn't want a huge, tarty picture of me grinning out from my book cover, or to end up on Dateline whirling around a stage in a thong and heels. The publishers understood that immediately, and have responded in kind. But every so often I'll show up for a shoot where the stylist has laid out the priciest, most succulently gorgeous g-strings, rhinestones, and heels, I have to gently decline without offending. They've all been cool, but there's definitely a little pout when they realize that I prefer to look like a reject from a Seven Sisters poetry program than glam it up. Their petulant expression says it all: "I thought I was gonna get to play Dress-Up Barbie!" What can you do? If you want the focus to be on the writing, you need to keep the Cheesecake Factor to a minimum.
Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Wed 31 Oct 01 11:32
Now I want to know what books you would write under your Cheesecake pseudonym of Barbie Faust. :)
Casey Ellis (caseyell) Wed 31 Oct 01 12:00
And on a more serious note -- and repressing mental images of what "gorgeous g-strings" might look like--I'm curious as to which section of the book was most difficult to write.
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