Sass and roll

Bumpin’ ’n’ grindin’ with Jessica Sciullo and Johnny Carlevale
By BOB GULLA  |  February 15, 2006

CLASSIC APPEAL Jessica strikes a pose.This weekend at Jake’s, roots/rockabilly mainman Johnny Carlevale will be hosting a show featuring rising stars Thru the Keyhole Burlesque, just one of the many burlesque acts in the region that are putting the vintage entertainment style back on the map. What follows is an e-mail interview with Carlevale, who’ll be leading the band, and Jessica Sciullo, the troupe’s co-leader.

What kind of experience do you have with burlesque?
Jessica Sciullo: I’ve been performing since 2001, first with a troupe called the Burlesque Revival Association (BRA) and later co-founding Thru the Keyhole. My partner Mandy Ness has been with the troupe since its early days and some of the gals are just a few months into it. Personally, I began to research burlesque when I was in grad school and was hooked. I did a burlesque performance for my thesis and have been on stage ever since.

Do you have classic burlesque influences?
Jessica: Of course. I do a traditional fan dance inspired by Sally Rand, and I love Gypsy Rose Lee’s saucy and intelligent banter that accompanied her stripping. Lili St. Cyr had amazing over-the-top props and costumes. Most importantly, Jenny Lee (“The Bazoom Girl”) collected burlesque history. When she died she left her collection and property as a museum dedicated to preserving the history of classic striptease for future generations. The museum, Exotic World, is in Helendale, California and is presided over by Ms. Dixie Evans, aka “the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque.”

What is the musical backing to a show?
Johnny Carlevale: Well, most of the revues I do with Thru the Keyhole Burlesque, my band plays. The girls do a couple sets of several acts broken up by either two sets of my band or an opening band and my band.

What kind of commitment do you have to the troupe?
Jessica: We put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into our performances. In addition to choreography and costumes, there’s booking and promotion, accounting (usually more money going out than coming in), and coordinating nine girls’ schedules. Mandy and I share the workload, but since I have a full-time job and a toddler at home, she handles the brunt of it.

How much work do you put into the performance?
Jessica: A lot of effort goes on behind the scenes in the creation of a fun and entertaining show that hopefully looks effortless! Each act has many things to be considered: choreography, music, costumes, hair, and make-up. Even minor details like how long the fake eyelashes are, which color lipstick, the size of the holes in the fishnets are all coordinated!

What’s the key to a good performance? Does the audience have anything to do with the success of a show?
Johnny: In my opinion, the key to a good burlesque act is basically how authentic the look of the troupe is or in most cases a single dancer and the dance moves along with the choreography. Costumes have to be sexy, but not too revealing. And variety too; when a burlesque show can go from a chorus line act, to a solo fan dance, to a ’60’s go-go dance, that keeps people interested.
Jessica: I think the ideal performance is when the audience and we both enjoy the show. Having a responsive audience is great. Clapping, hooting and hollering, and catcalls are all encouraged!

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