We were given one rehearsal on-stage—about 10 minutes on the actual set to mark dimensions, lights, camera angles and choreography. That’s not much time to add a set of stairs into a dance number. In fact, 10 minutes is not a lot of time to rehearse at all. But we burlesque dancers are used to bringing in a solo act and putting it on within the context of a grand production. We’re fast and we work well under pressure.
I was somewhat experienced at “live studio audience” tapings prior to this one. I had spun fire with my stilt company, Stilt World, in NBC’s America’s Got Talent semifinals. I stood as target girl for a knife thrower on the Game Show Network’s I’ve Got a Secret. But it was usually just my fellow actors, assistant directors, grips, camera operators, crafties and the director on set with me. So this “live studio audience” taping of my Bullwhip Burlesque solo in high-definition for airing in the premiere episode of a new Showtime series inspired me to be at the top of my game.
Live Nude Comedy, hosted by American Pie’s Shannon Elizabeth and featuring star comedian Andy Dick, pushes late-nite television boundaries while educating a nation of comedy-craving viewers on burlesque as a diverse art form—from the classic, pinup sweetheart to me, the edgy, skill-oriented geisha-meets-striptease badass.
We filmed in the lovely El Portal Theatre on Lankershim in North Hollywood. The comedians’ and burlesque dancers’ dressing rooms were no more than fabric walls suspended on pole frames in the spooky theater basement. The dancers had two make-up artists on hand for support, though we did our own faces. They encouraged us to shy away from glitter on high-definition tape (looks like it’s levitating over your skin). I didn’t use glitter. I did use cruelty-free Alima mineral cosmetics—listed as vegan and testing safe in the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. I applied those with Aveda brushes, which I love because they have handles made of flax and recycled plastic and taklon (non-animal fiber) bristles in an organic cotton case. (I also prefer cruelty-free hair, but how do you assure/certify that?) By the way, Alima mineral cosmetics gives you free eyeshadow when you return your used plastic containers. Alima and Aveda cosmetics are two exceptionally progressive companies environmentally and their cosmetics hold up under hours of intense, hot set/stage lighting during long shoots. They can sculpt even the most complex burlesque make-up design, and don’t make my skin bumpy or hurt my eyes when removed.
In the dressing room, chit-chatting about this and that, a dancer wanted to know what I was drinking. Most of the time this calls for a less-is-more kind of answer, but this dancer showed some genuine interest so I talked with her about kombucha, the home-fermented, pH balancing, life-process promoting and economical drink. Backstage I thought to myself how nice it was to be able to relate to her about my passion for feeling healthy. She got it, too. Things are changing and in my favor!
When I came off stage from my single rehearsal, the dancers watching playback from the dressing room voted me “most flawless body,” which really made me chuckle because, from my angle, I was sitting among the most gorgeous women in Hollywood and they were telling this to me? I wanted to give them something nice in return—perhaps a raw fooder’s performance secret. I said, “We all play up our assets in costuming. Some people have this and some people have that. I have nice muscle tone, so I don’t try to push up or pop out too much. I rub raw coconut oil all over my body because it glistens and is more like fitness modeling, only very healthy since it’s a natural oil. I use Cocopura because it’s light and silky with a sweet, fresh coconut-oil scent.
At the last minute, the choreographer, Frankie Anne, gave me the go-ahead to work a pre-approved audience “volunteer” into my whip routine. So this new addition to my act and I rehearsed backstage in very cramped quarters. The space was so small, I didn’t dare actually crack my whip in there with all the C-cups flying and hair rollers boinging. I just explained to him what he should do to stay safe while I attempted to cut a flower out of his mouth without rehearsal in front of a screaming “live studio audience.” Around us, the ladies stretched out to stay limber. The Bellydance Burlesque dancer breathed like the spirit of a dragon was clawing up her spine. We all prepare differently, but we all prepare.
All my friends came to see the live taping, as well as my manager and some new fans—and wow, did the audience howl and hoot. (That’s what I really miss when it’s just me and the crew on set!) They hollered and I unzipped. I did have some unexpected prop malfunctions, but I figure that’s something audiences actually like—to know I’m only human and we’re all just having a good time. I’m a pro and I’ve learned to handle surprises like whips wrapping or traction slipping. But when it finally came time for my volunteer to kneel down in front of me, bless his geeky heart, he was trembling with nerves as I lined up to break the sound barrier in front of his face and crack a flower out of his mouth. Quivering comedian that he was, he reacted perfectly and was a hero at my feet.
After what proved to be a raucous, bigfunadventure of a performance, returning to the dressing room feeling all was right with the world, I found my coconut oil missing. The dancers yet to perform were rubbing it on each other—each glistening like water and smelling as if they’d had an intoxicating bath of coconut. As for having my belongings “stolen,” I really didn’t mind. I didn’t mind at all.
Watch Tonya Kay perform her Bullwhip Burlesque in the series premiere of Showtime’s LIVE NUDE COMEDY this Thursday, July 16th, at midnight (Friday morning). This episode reairs on July 17th at 11pm and July 19th at 11:30pm. Also, watch for Tonya Kay’s comic cover-issue in Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose this November.
To view additional photography, visit EcoHearth’s Clean and Green Everydayonline.