Entering Ellie’s Burlesque (Owned by Ellie Criss and Slappy Doobie) is like going back in time to a Parisian night club in 1940. Red velvet, smoke, dark romantic corners, and a center stage spotlight command your attention. Kormac’s tune Show Time plays in the background and an individual who reminds you of Doc Holiday and The Emcee from the play Cabaret steps up to a vintage microphone. The mysterious individual is Else H. Bernhard and after eyeing the crowd, she opens her mouth and says, “Welcome to Ellie’s Burlesque Revue!” The crowd erupts into a thunderous applause.
At this moment you realize that you are attending one of the three mystifying venues in which the Glam Crew (AKA Virtual Burlesque) perform a wide array of artistically diverse Burlesque dance routines.
I have had the pleasure of watching them tease, please, and surprise audiences with their set designs and dancing for over two years. I am consistently blown away buy the performances and thought it would be a treat to catch up with the owners, Ellie and Slappy, to learn more about what it’s like launching your own entertainment business in Second Life and being a part of the changing face of virtual and Neo Burlesque. I met with the two ladies after their performance at Ellie’s. There, the three of us huddled up in a nearby booth to chat.
Q: Thanks for meeting with me gals. So, let’s kick it off at the beginning. Did you have to do a great deal of research on Second Life businesses before starting up your night clubs?
Ellie Cross: Not nearly as much as we should have lol. We made a few mistakes at the beginning that I am sure made us look like hopeless Noobs, but everyone starts new right?
Slappy Doobie: We did do a fair bit of research in general, to see what else was out there. We really had no idea what we’d see, and being young in SL, we had not experienced live shows or big dance events other than a few singers. We visited every burlesque club we could find, sat in on some shows, also introduced ourselves to many of the owners. All we found was traditional clubs, so we thought we would try something different.
Q: Did you have a grand plan to have your own sim or did your dance franchise just naturally expand?
SD: A bit of both actually. When we originally built Ellie’s, it was on a Homestead sim, which meant limited prims and avatars (maximum of 20 avis on the sim at a time). It wasn’t long before we were filling the sim and we needed more space. We weren’t in a position at that point to own a sim, but we certainly dreamed of it.
EC: We went retro 50’s right from the beginning, it incorporates a lot of things we like and there isn’t a ton of it out there.
Q: Do you ladies consider yourselves to be a brand?
EC: We consider Virtual Burlesque a brand I guess, at least it’s the name of the website and what we use as a title to incorporate all three venues.
SD: In 2009 when we created Virtualburlesque.com, we put alot of thought into the name, hoping that it would be a good description of us and our industry. So far its been catching on nicely! I certainly wouldn’t complain if Virtual Burlesque became a household term lol.
(Video of Slappy & Ellie dancing to Gotye’s “Somebody That I Use To Know” )
Q: You have a total of three venues. Can you explain the how they differ from one another?
SD: Ellie’s Club is our small cozy speakeasy that gives people an intimate “Taste” of our bigger shows. Everything from traditional to neo-burlesque and although the quality is high, these acts are smaller scale than the bigger venues.
EC: Beautiful Freaks is our Friday night venue.
BR: I LOVE Beautiful Freaks!
EC: Slappy sculpted a beautiful tent and it’s where we do our darker acts and everyone comes dressed in crazy outfits, they really get into it which we love.
SD: The Factory is our “SL Burlesque Main Event” where we do our biggest and brightest acts. The stage is large and the style is a bit vintage, but neo-burlesque is what this old converted deco style factory is all about. Dancers must be invited to perform at the Factory after working at either of the other venues. Overall we try to cover all bases and have a venue for almost any act our dancers come up with.
Q: How would you say your dance style has changed over the years or has it?
EC: We started with the same kind of show that the other SL venues had. One avi dancing to the radio, with maybe a prop of some kind, like a fan. But we got so bored of that so Slappy started to DJ the tunes.
SD: Now, our acts cover just about every genre, theme, and style. We lean now towards modern music and visuals, seeing as you can only do so many acts with a set of fans. Lol. The quality of our sets and choreography has skyrocketed since then due to our own experience of performing and the overall quality of SL growing immensely. We try and stay on the cutting edge to give the audience something new with every show.
EC: We have incorporated newer music styles, started building sets, and set a time limit on the acts cause face it, it’s a cartoon dancing, how long can you watch that for?
BR: Judging from your amazing acts, I’d say a VERY long time. Lol.
Q: Are there any themes that you try to avoid when developing new routines?
EC: We have a really depressing list of acts that are off limits. We try not to have any doubles, which can be very frustrating for everyone involved. But this is how we keep the acts fresh for the audience. You start to mix the girls up if everyone has a “school girl” act.
SD: We do try and avoid sad, trashy, or just generally negative acts. We want our audience to be touched, shocked, excited, etc, but always want them to leave with a smile.
Q: Are there any misconceptions that people have about burlesque that you would like to clear up?
SD: Over the years we’ve had many people criticize our show saying its “not burlesque.” First of all, burlesque in SL is already much different than real life burlesque being fully digital and having the unlimited tools of SL available to anyone. Secondly, burlesque in the real world has changed alot over time. Our shows are interactive, sexy, funny, creative, sensual, and every act features a dancer doing a striptease in a sexy and classy way for an audience to DJ’d music. According to most official definitions, ‘Burlesque’ is “a literary or dramatic work that seeks to ridicule or parody by means of grotesque exaggeration or comic imitation.”
EC: Another misconception is that it’s boring lol. I think a lot of people went to the older shows and saw it more as a time period role-playing thing. I found it all a bit too serious. Burlesque should be creative, raunchy, fun, and funny. Our girls are so creative. We have acts that make you laugh out loud, some tear jerker’s, and some genuinely creepy ones. There is something for everyone. I get a lot of IM’s from people who say they had been meaning to come forever but they thought it would be boring and then they come to a show and are blown away. We are often compared to a real life Vegas shows and I love that, because that is exactly what we are trying to do. A burlesque Show, a real show, in the comfort of your living room.
BR: Hey, that’s catchy. I like that!
Q: What are your thoughts on Second Life Burlesque as a whole?
EC: I am glad it exists. Stripping lacks creativity lol!
SD: I love where it has gone since we started. We feel like we helped develop an industry that didn’t really exist as it is now and are very proud to see it become such a popular form of online entertainment.
Q: I’m curious to know how do you feel about the arts and how it is represented in Second Life?
EC: I love the way art is promoted in SL and I would love what we do to be considered in the same realm as some of the great artist’s in SL. I know that sounds bold, but we do four shows a week. Some would do one of our shows twice a year and call it an event. We are constantly making art as a team. It’s an amazing experience. I don’t know what says art more than beautiful sets,choreography to great music, and mostly naked women. Oh and men…at Beautiful Freaks we have amazingly talented male performers too.
BR: You bet you do.
SD: I think SL is a relatively unrevealed medium, and I believe its potential has really only begun. Virtually anything is possible! It would be nice to see as much focus on the arts as there is on the social elements of SL and perhaps more LL promotion, but I think it will only grow as more and more people explore it.
BR: From your lips to Linden Lab’s ears.
Q: Speaking of Lindens, have you ever had a Linden attend a performance?
SD: I’ve never seen one and I have even invited a few in the past, lol. I do believe that if one did see our show, they would be impressed. We do however get many other well-known SL personalities come to our shows, creators, dev techs, celebs etc., and that makes us feel quite special and kind of validated.
EC: I would like to think if they had. They would be so amazed they would have to introduce themselves lol. They should come, I think they would be impressed, with what we are doing with their game.
Q: My flirting with some of the guys aside, can you tell us how you would describe your audience?
EC: Generally our audiences are a great deal of fun and really enjoy our shows. Like any venue, we have to deal with the odd loudmouth lol, but overall people treat our shows like a real life event, which makes our job alot easier. They are patient, respectful, interactive, and that gives our shows something unique and special.
SD: Fun. Sweet. Generous. Supportive. Our audience 98% of the time treat our shows with the respect most people in real life would give a club performance. We love audience participation as long as it is respectful and no one jumps on the stage lol. If anyone gets out of hand we have amazing MCs who keep everything under control. They are the most important member of the team during a show.
Q: Can you describe what it’s like being a new member of the company? What should a person expect?
SD: Everyone who applies goes through an audition process. Working here is not just a regular SL dancing job. Our dancers basically “live” SL performance and spend almost all their time online building, practicing, learning, coming up with ideas, choreographing routines, and of course shopping! Our crew is like a family. We work together really well and have tons of fun!
EC: I think some of the girls are very nervous when they start and a little intimidated by what the senior girls are doing. But we don’t hire anyone we don’t believe is good enough. In fact some of the new dancers we have hired over the last few months have raised the bar for everyone. It is amazing how many talented girls we got in a few weeks and they raised the level of the show, so it’s even better than it was say 4-months ago.
Q: I notice that you don’t have many male performers. What’s up? Are the fella’s shy?
EC: We have male dancers at Freaks. We just are a little old fashioned about the other two venues. We do have the men join us in a few acts at Ellie’s and the Factory, they are great guys and sometimes they make great props!
BR: True about the prop thing-y. I do recall seeing Wiz Nirvana being half eaten by a giant bunny rabbit at Beautiful Freaks. Yikes!
SD: I’m not sure if they are shy, but I think they would just rather be on the “watching” side of the show lol.
BR: Well I am going to HIGHLY suggest that people check out Wiz acts. They are a scorcher!
Q: So you guys have been around for a while now, I am sure you have a funny story or two to share.
EC: On opening night at the Factory, I was the first act of the night. It was an Egyptian routine that I was really proud of…that I don’t even do anymore cause other dancers Egyptian acts have kicked my acts ass since! Anyway I was really nervous, it was very complicated cause I had to use two different huds and I had never done that before. So the curtain opens, the music starts, everything is going well, then a tab drops down; which I assumed was a tip alert, but no it was a teleport to some guys gig…I disappear from the stage, have no idea what the hell just happened. Then this strange Sim rezzes around me full of people all dressed in leather and I am dressed like the Queen of the Nile. Basically I ruined the opening of our big fancy new venue. I was very embarrassed. In fact I still am. I’m not sure why I am telling you this! Lol!
BR: Cause, it’s me.
SD: The most common one I think is on nights where you may have a…”wardrobe malfunction” are the nights when you get alot of extra …’attention’ from some audience members..lol.
Q: Ever thought of having workshops and or doing a traveling show?
SD: We have tried to start a school and have had much interest, but unfortunately we just dont have enough time at the moment to do it right. We do however do travelling shows and hire ourselves out for all kinds of public and private events.
EC: We did this year’s Fetish Ball and opened the SL Adult Award Show.
BR: Ooooo…I bet that was a hoot! If you ever have classes, count me in.
Q: Any further plans for the sim?
EC: We want to have more shops on the Sim…..some burlesque related and others just fun products.
SD: We are always progressing, more events planned, a few big ones in fact… but mostly we take it one day at a time.
Q: Any suggestions for folks who want to break into the biz?
EC: This is a lot of work and a huge commitment. It takes all your time and there are problems you will have you can’t even begin to imagine until they happen.
SD: Come to many shows, learn to build, find what inspires you and think outside the box.
BR: All great advice. Thank you so much for your time ladies.
The Virtual Burlesque company includes the following performers and MC’s: Kai Barineaux, Else Bernard, Charisma Calael, Ellie Criss, Anena Deamscape, Slappy Doobie, Boo Eberhardt, Lymirah Gardner, Ms. Naughtee Magic, Wiz Nirvana, Wyndy Paine, Lalita Parx, Madison Pinelli, Sabina Pinion, Curti5 Rexen, E.A Rowe, Graves Stoanes, and Oliva Wonder.
Feature Photo by Brigit Ranger: Boo Eberhardt Roller Dancing
– Brigit Ranger, Associated SL correspondent