Hello, creatures. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the first variety show by the Pumps Pinups, a group of burlesque performers affiliated with the Brooklyn anti-gentleman’s club Pumps. I wrote a brilliantly worded review HERE. I was luckily able to catch up with the show’s founder/director Scarlett la Rosa and ask a few questions about their upcoming show (June 23rd, more details after the interview) and her views on burlesque. Read ahead for all the finer things in life: Love, laughter, and dangerously gorgeous dancing girls.
Scarlett: My experience in burlesque is none! However, At 3 years old I was already begging my mom to let me take dance lessons, and being amazing, she obliged. I recall never wanting to take off my costume till I absolutely had to go to sleep! So sequins and fringe have always made me happy. Then I began performing in musical theatre at 9 years old. I studied at the Boston conservatory and got my BFA in musical theatre, with a voice concentrate. I have always admired and respected dancers, and the female body. My wonderful, dearly departed grandpa was an artist...he did a lot of landscapes, still life, and beautiful charcoal nudes which I remember being enamored with. He always taught me that the nude body is a work of art, and instilled this in me. Falling in love with singing jazz, and seeing these talented girls dancing made a little lightbulb go off...actually, my boyfriend Greg planted the seed. I researched burlesque, sang in one show downtown with Joey Nova, and I was hooked. I thought, why not bring together the three things I love most! Jazz, musical theatre, and beautiful dancing girls! I went to Andy (owner of Pumps) with this idea and he was thrilled! He supported the girls and I 100%, opening the club on Sundays so we could rehearse, giving feedback, etc. I then realized why not incorporate art as well! Knowing Aubrey for years, having posed for her, seeing her portraits...I realized she could really add another level to the show. And to bring visual art was to honor my Grandfather Joe as well!
Mister: Choosing a burlesque stage name is a serious decision. How did you decide on Scarlett la Rosa?
Scarlett: I have always identified with the color red, and felt it defines my personality. It's a strong sexy color, and the name Scarlett la Rosa is basically "Scarlett the rose" in Italian (the background of my artist grandpa, and my grandma Rita). My grandmother had a rose bush outside and roses make me think of her always.
Mister: What performers have inspired you most?
Scarlett: The first burlesque performer who I saw live was the beautiful Nikki le Villian. She is the epitome of old hollywood glamour, and really puts thought into her performances, doing very traditional burlesque, belly dancing, she dances with snakes even! I saw her and said, "I wanna be her when I grow up!" Other performers: Dean Martin, Liza Minelli, Alan Cummings (I modeled our MC Harix and much of the show after his performance in the revival of "Cabaret"), Gene Kelly, Fred and Ginger, Donald O'Connor...and of course I grew up listening to Frank Sinatra every time I was at Pop-pop (Grandpa Joe) and Mom-mom (Rita)'s house, gazing at the beautiful nudes while the smells of Sunday "gravy and macaroni" wafted through the house. All of these things and people are the backbone of my inspiration for the Pumps Pinups.
Mister: Each Pumps Pinup has such a unique, distinct style. How would you describe your performance style or approach?
Scarlett: Thank you for noticing! I purposely chose a wide range of girls and really instructed them to find their own "character" and become it! I would say that my style is sultry and tongue in cheek. I have chosen sexier, traditional jazz songs and also modeled my outfit (hat, little blazer) to compliment Harix and Rocket, and to emulate one of my favorite styles of dance, Fosse. Burlesque can be flashy, which I love. But I've chosen Scarlett's personality to have a "less is more" approach. But expect surprises to come!
Mister: The show on June 23rd will be modeled after last month's debut. What sort of changes should those seeing it a second time expect?
Scarlett: I would like to keep the same formula, and build upon it. There will be some of the same songs, and many different....mostly just the beginning "intro" will remain almost the same..but a new group number is in the works and I'd like to have more comedy between the MCs. There is still a "story" to everyone's character, which I want to really concentrate on keeping because I feel that it's what makes this show a bit different from other burlesque that's happening right now.
Mister: Some people who haven't seen burlesque picture it as some seedy backroom sleaze-fest. Could you describe what the art form means to you?
Scarlett: This is my favorite question. I guess I kinda answered a lot of this referring to my grandpa and growing up with art all around me. But burlesque to me, celebrates the body and sexiness. It's all about showmanship, glamour, and comedy. It’s, to me, the ultimate form of entertainment if done in a true fashion. There is a documentary called The Best of the Burly Q which really inspired me while working on this project. Burlesque started really taking off back in the depression, when men were working and sometimes trying to sell vacuums every day, or what have you. At the end of the day, when as one of the women said in the movie...if he had a nickel in his pocket, at least he could go have a laugh, and see a pretty girl dance. She also said in that time, there wasn't much laughter...but if you fell into one of those shows, you'd definitely have a smile on your face and a hard chuckle! This is why I love this art form. And also why most wonderful theatre comes out of bad times. At the end of the day, don’t we all just want to smile, hear good music and see some pretty girls?
Mister: The show will follow an art exhibit featuring the work of Aubrey Roemer. Could you just share a few thoughts on the artwork that will grace Pumps' walls?
Scarlett: Oh Aubrey! That's my girl. She really understands how to capture the soul of the people she paints, which is why I love her work. I think this time around, she wants to continue and elaborate. We may have more artists involved, I think there will be more black, white, gunmetal, gray...girls emerging, if you will, from the shadows. The first exhibit was all about glowing and colors...this will give a other feeling...like being in a black and white film. Her work has the dichotomy of grit and class that I want to portray in our show, so it's a perfect collaboration.
Mister: What's your strangest burlesque story and your favorite memory?
Scarlett: My strangest memory! And perhaps most embarrassing! But I'll share because that's what this about...not taking yourself too seriously. I was asked to sing with Joey Nova (a well known burlesque MC) for a Christmas show. We were to do "Baby, It's Cold Outside,” great old school holiday jazz song. I thought "piece of cake!" I don't know about you, but every time I've thought that, a disaster occurred! It's really not a piece of cake song, in that it is quite repetitive, with small word changes. I totally blanked on lyrics! I don't know what, if anything, started to come out of my mouth! Well, that's show business. The show must go on!
Fondest memory...well of course, the way all of the Pumps Pinups pulled it together. This was most of our first time at the opera, and nerves were flying, at times attitudes in full swing, our dress rehearsal the week before was scary! But at the end of the day, we all really came together and knocked it out of the water. Costume mishap? Spanx Sinatra took out her iPhone and busted out a jazz standard while Rocket found her headpiece! As we left the night of the dress rehearsal, I said to Shanlita Bandita, "Well, we're just gonna do this thing." She said, “Yea. We're gonna do the fuck out of it!" And I think we did! I'll never forget that moment.
Mister: What do you have planned for the future of the Pumps Pinups? What are your short and long-term goals?
Scarlett: Goals...well I really like to think big. I really wanted to use the name Pumps because the significance is huge. We all met at pumps, this wouldn't be possible without Andy and his beautiful wife Kat, who, by the way, was Mama on the day of the show. Pulling out bras and fishnets and eyelashes from her store downstairs, making last minute costume alterations, and generally calming us all down. Anyway, I stray. If it wasn't for their support and time, and their belief in us, we wouldn’t be here. So I plan to continue this show monthly, perhaps talk about touring and recording some of the songs, really getting us out there. I’d say within a year I'd like us to be extremely well known not just in Brooklyn but everywhere. I'd like to feature different vocalists and musicians, I'd love for people to say, "I'm getting to perform with the Pumps Pinups!" I'd like to really break the mold and show that burlesque, music, art, and theatre are all connected. I want to make people happy and for them to come and lose themselves for a couple hours! Leave your troubles at the door!
Many thanks to Scarlett for taking the time while they’re fiercely working at choreographing their new numbers! As promised, here are the details for the show:
Date: Sunday, June 23rd
Art show: Doors open at 7 PM.
Pumps Pinups: Show starts at 9 PM.
Location: Pumps, 1089 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Cover charge: No official word on admission price yet. Last time it was $7, and as always you should plan on bringing money for drinks, tips for the awesome bartenders, and donations to the Pumps Pinups to promote their sexy brand of entertainment.
For more information on Pumps check out the website here: http://pumpsbar.com/