What is your gender (today) and your pronouns?
Gender: androgynous pajama monster; Pronoun: she/her
Troupe affiliation? Solo Performer?
The Slaughterhouse Society, The Lipstick Criminals, and solo under Nephila Rose
What is the Scarlet Tongue Project?
My most unruly child! The Scarlet Tongue Project is a feature-length documentary that explores the social taboo of anger as it's expressed by women through art in different cultures around the world. It will tell the stories of five artists, taking place in the U.S., Mexico, Haiti and Ireland (our Japanese artist *just* moved to the States, so I'll be saving my Tokyo dreams for another project!). This film is a warrior's journey through the eyes of women from different backgrounds, ages, races, socioeconomic standing, and artistic mediums, who are exploring the importance of self love through the ability to create personal boundaries, the right to access a full range of emotion, and the strength to stand up and speak out against political and social injustice.
What led you to create The Scarlet Tongue Project?
In 2014, I teamed up with Izzy Lee and Witchworks Films to create a 7min short film on local women in the Boston metal scene for The Slaughterhouse Sweethearts’ “Sirens of Doomsday” metal burlesque show at Oberon. It was a super cool experience and I learned a lot—particularly that I knew nothing about film, and because of that, I wanted a do-over. After Boston was left in a snowpocalyptic nightmare just a couple months later, I resurrected from the psychological death that ensued, inspired to shift careers and experiment with a new kind of art. I spent a couple weeks dissecting and breaking down what I really wanted to say and what I was feeling passionate about, since much of my research kept turning up that “women in metal” was a fairly saturated documentary topic. I kept coming back to three main themes: art, women, and anger. Part of that was desperately wanting to understand my own deep challenges with anger and rage. I thought about emails I had received from audience members who had seen me in violent or ragey roles on stage, such as Scout from Revenge of the Robot Battle Nuns, and how my performance had somehow given them the strength to access their own ferocity, knowing that another woman could get so ugly, so extreme, and still be safe. I considered that my ability to express such raw, taboo emotions from the distance of a stage was a privilege, and how cowardly I usually felt in my normal daily life because it didn't actually feel safe at all to say no or express myself in any way that could be perceived as defiant or challenging (not to say I didn't do it anyway, but there was always a price). I thought about my privilege as a white woman, especially a white woman living in a first-world country, and how my experience with this was not *the* experience all women were having. I thought about the impact adults have on children, and artists on audiences, and the belief that if a woman or girl sees another woman or girl who looks like them doing something inspiring, then they’ll believe they can do it, too. And then KAPOW—the Scarlet Tongue Project (originally La Lengua Roja because it was really born in Mexico but that’s a story for another time) arrived. I arrogantly announced to the world that I would destroy the patriarchy in 6 months (because cabaret theater brain and being in my 20s), and 3 years later (because reality of independent film) my vision continues to shape and grow as I humbly get my own ass served to me on a daily basis. Even with that, I am absolutely in love with it.
Can you tell us a little bit about the people you've been working with and how they've inspired you?
First and foremost, I need to thank Beren Jones, my camera god and editor. You all may know him as the bearded hero who films your burlesque shows. I hope you appreciate him, because every show you steal him for is a night I suffer….but it’s fine, I’m fine. He’s been at almost every shoot and event that the project has ever put its name on, and he consistently goes above and beyond simply showing up. If I tell him we’re going on a crazy adventure, he laughs at me and says okay. He’s also really cool under pressure, which is a beautiful balance for me and my….enthusiastic (highly anxious) nature. Beren has inspired me to be a better, more responsible director, because he deserves a teammate who can match the quality and care he puts into his work ethic, communication, talent, and relationships. He’s also inspired me to be a better teammate when I’m working under other directors, because I’m witnessing the strength it requires to take on a supportive role, and how nourishing and absolutely crucial it is for a successful vision to have solid, healthy, humble assistance.
I’ve had the incredible fortune of working with a long list of powerhouse individuals on this project, and have learned that it really does take a village to raise an art baby. When the idea was first forming, I reached out to a group of close friends with a generalized cry for help, because I had no idea how to organize and get started. K Lenore Siner (@snakeoclock IG tattoo portfolio) leaped up immediately and met me for coffee, letting me moan and groan and spaz out while she transformed my chaotic ramblings into a clear, concise vision statement. She also introduced me to one of her filmmaker friends, David Meiklejohn (budgetfabulousfilms.com), who became my first film adviser. Fem Bones (fearless leader of The Slaughterhouse Society) pulled me out of despair when I was having an impossible time communicating my logo design to another artist, and not only taught me how to ask the right questions and communicate with visual artists, but helped me feel empowered to be clear and ask for what I want, and went above and beyond to personalize the final product (and framed the original and hung it outside my bedroom!). Holy Crow (www.holycrowart.com) was a tremendous sounding board for my social and magical dreams and angst, and was so influential with their expertise in photography, lighting, and social/political perspectives and knowledge. They accompanied me on some life-changing adventures for the project, and we co-produced a number of events that I am so proud of, particularly in the focus on creating experiences that were nourishing for both the mind and soul.
For the feature film, I have the utmost honor of learning from and spending time with our artists. Katia Esperanza Tirado is a conceptual performance artist, and was the first professional female body piercer in the modern Mexican piercing industry. Saraswathi Jones is both a solo musician and the vocalist for punk band, Awaaz Do, along with being the co-founder of the Hindi Rock Fest and board member of Girls Rock Boston. Aepril Schaile is an astrologist, artist, priestess and poet working through the ancient and ever-evolving art of Bellydance. Jolie LaVie is a model, visual artist and dancer, both as a soloist and with The Lipstick Criminals. Makiko Suda is a visual artist and vocalist for Japanese grindcore band, Flagitious Idiosyncrasy in the Dilapidation. My entire world has turned inside-out and upside-down from knowing these women, and in the best way possible-- life will never be the same. To say they’re each brilliant and talented would be an understatement. They have become some of my greatest teachers and inspirations, and I feel so blessed to know them and be welcomed into their worlds. I’m dizzy just thinking about every artist and expert I’ve been lucky enough to work with throughout this entire process, and goddamn it, this is such a condensed list when I tell you to please follow these humans online and attend their events if they’re local to you. From the pilot episode: Militia Vox, Karin Webb, Karla McLaren (author of “Language of Emotions”), Laina Dawes (author of “What Are You Doing Here: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal”), Castrator, Holly Brewer, Jolie LaVie and Lilith Beest. Our phenomenal panelists from our premiere discussion on anger: Jolie LaVie, Karin Webb, Laura Ligouri (Mindbridge), and Caroline Kautsire (Athena Tales). Many of the folks listed above are close, personal friends, and along with countless others I think I need to honor and write about soon, they have woven in and out of this process in a variety of roles—advisers, artistic inspiration, career counselors, therapists, bodyguards, actors/dancers/site managers in various shoots, etc. This project would never be what it is without everyone who has ever been involved, past and present, and if I have to very briefly to sum up what I’ve learned from them collectively, it’s to honor people in their authentic expression, be open and willing to learn, be ready to get checked on your privilege, be flexible and patient with people if you can’t pay them, love fully, ask people if they’re okay, be transparent, give people a choice, say no when it’s healthy, take responsibility, be honest even if it hurts or you’re embarrassed, and respect and cherish your community, because as an artist and entrepreneur, this is your lifeblood.
What's the biggest/most important thing you've learned so far through creating the Scarlet Tongue Project?
I’ve definitely gained a lot of knowledge around business, film, cultural awareness and privilege. I guess if I had to condense 1,000 pages of lessons from this process so far, here are four major things I’ve learned that I think about daily:
1. Love. Anger IS love. The ability to honor every one of your emotions and set boundaries for yourself is an incredible act of self-love that I think is radical today. Loving as your highest self from the deepest place in your heart does not mean being bubbly and saying okay all the time. It’s honoring truth, justice, knowing your worth, and living in integrity. It’s doing what you need to be the healthiest you, so that you have room and energy to love the people you choose to have in your life so big and so wildly that this feeling pours out of you and touches anyone you interact with, bringing greater peace and healing into a world that could really use some light right now.
2. The myth of hierarchy. One of the first lessons I learned in this project was that if you have to insist that you’re the boss, you’ve already lost. I thought maybe the solution to that challenge was to just do everything with a collective approach, but that was messy and didn’t work either. I resigned myself to the general belief that hierarchy is just what’s needed to get a job done, but that concept continued to bother me. I finally came around to realize that the idea of hierarchy as we typically understand it only exists so long as we play into attachment to power. What’s most important is to be clear about your role, and the roles needed to execute a vision. Each role is absolutely crucial; a puzzle piece to complete the picture. As a director, I’m not any better or more powerful than anyone else, because my vision wouldn’t happen without the other roles being filled, and I can’t do everything. Just as I need to do my job so my teammates can do theirs, I also can’t be effective if my teammates try to take over my responsibilities and neglect their own. Do what you’re here to do, and work together as you’re best qualified, no matter how big or small the job.
3. The right match. Never settle or compromise your goals, visions or dreams when it comes to finding the right support. Having a clear vision and good self awareness really helps with utilizing the healthy discernment you'll need in your search.
Also, don’t feed tokenism. If you are working on including diversity (which we all should be doing), find folks who are qualified. Don’t reduce people down to their sex or skin color under the guise of being a good ally. A typical conversation people have with me about casting my project:
“You should interview so and so for Scarlet Tongue; they’re a lesbian and I saw them speak at this event.”
“Right on, what was the talk on? Is this person an artist?”
“No, they’re doctor in Guam, but their work is really intense.”
“Are they angry?”
“Probably at some point in their life, yah.”
“Okay……...okay. On a personal level that interests me, but I’m not sure where to fit this into this specific project.”
Don’t be lazy in incorporating diversity. Qualified participants make for greater visions, which will allow for the people involved to be showcased and honored in their strengths. Do not take already marginalized folks and put them in a position of feeling used or out of place just so you can check off your ally box. To me, that only says, “yeah, I don’t really care or respect who you are, but you fit a profile that would make my audience happy, so good enough.” There are endless, diverse humans in the world who will fit your vision, I promise. It may take time, but go further and do your research. Value people for their full selves.
4. One way or another, you need to learn what you want to teach (or perform or direct). Depending on what you’re involved in, these could be gentle or harsh lessons. In my case, due to the highly charged nature of my project’s theme and my personal relationship with this subject, my lessons have been intense. Know your shit. Be confident enough to admit when you don't know and continue learning. The flip side of this is that if you wait until you’re perfect to launch, it’ll never happen. If you know all the risks in advance, you may be too afraid to try. So fuck it. Jump in. Trust. Experience the growing pains. Learn from them. Celebrate your evolution. Deliver the best possible work you can and do your part to save the world. In the case of being a performer, take the time to study your craft, get to know other performers, kitten a few shows, and get dressed in the Middle East bathroom with three other showgirls a few times before you demand your own chair at the makeup table at Oberon.
Why is the STP important now? Have current events informed or changed its goals?
I am willing to bet money I don't have that you can't be out in public for 5 minutes without crossing paths with a woman who's pissed off. With everything going on in the world, she has every reason to be pissed. The Scarlet Tongue says to PLEASE get angry, that YOUR story counts, and you don’t need to be only one kind of woman to have this right. I’d love to see more conversations come out of this work. There was a time when I dreamed of this project morphing into a full movement, but times have already changed in a way that I’m watching that movement happen right now around the world, so I hope that Scarlet Tongue can just do its part to get involved and add more fuel to this glorious fire.
When I first started out on the feature film, my plan was to interview seven different women from seven different countries around the world. I wanted to cover as much diversity as possible, and thought that by sharing information on such a broad scale, that would increase international tolerance among viewers. After the election with Trump, I had a rude awakening that by only focusing outward, I was avoiding my obligation as a citizen of this country to do my part to spread tolerance right here in my own home. The reality is that most people will only take interest in something that they can relate to, and 90% of my audience right now is American. We are experiencing so much fear, rage and change on our own soil that consumes our full attention, and it would be a privilege in this country to not be impacted by what’s currently going on and have the energy to focus outward. A series of events lined up, beginning about a month after the election, that delivered the project to a place where I had no choice other than to adjust my vision accordingly. We are still exploring how women from different cultures are expressing anger through art, but within the context of what’s happening in the United States, including our absolute ignorance toward our neighbor, Mexico. You don’t need to leave this country to experience diverse culture, and we have a responsibility as citizens to get out of our bubbles, educate ourselves, and stop the hate. It’s absolutely impossible for me to cover every kind of woman out there in 90 minutes of edited footage, and I’ve met so many new and inspiring artists since finalizing the subjects for the feature film, so I hope to make a web series following its release, just to keep shining as much light as possible on these fierce badasses who are doing brave work in the world.
Has working on The Scarlet Tongue Project influenced your burlesque or other performance? How and why?
Oh, absolutely. Neo burlesque is such a great vehicle for broader expression, and it lends itself well to getting involved with other performance communities. With this experience in my back pocket, I’ve gained show opportunities with all kinds of musicians and conceptual artists as I travel with the film and meet new people, and I’ve really been able to expand my range. During this time of taking a bit of a performance hiatus in order to focus on the film, I’ve had a chance to reevaluate how I want to represent myself as an artist during this chapter of my life. I’m learning so much and have new exposure to different cultural approaches and philosophies, phenomenal teachers, and styles I never knew of before, and what I want to express these days is different from when I first started in burlesque 11 years ago, or even 5 years ago. I’m developing a much greater interest in conceptual art, abstract short films, visual art, and installations, and I play around in my head with how I might be able to bring my burlesque background into that when I’m ready to fully surface again. I'll still occasionally take a gig, but with the pressure off to maintain my place as a regular performer in any scene, it feels totally different. Whether it’s a soul-twisting piece of high art, a video of me being a dorky old man, or playing a horny neon cat dripping in 20lbs of glitter (jk, that’s what I do in my spare time), I can have fun right now. That’s a crucial part of my ritual before I go onstage: I stretch, make weird faces and get the shakes out, tell my castmates they’re awesome and beautiful (or super gross and terrifying if you work with the Slaughterhouse), breathe deeply, say a little prayer to get grounded, and then tell myself to have a freakin blast and give it my all, because otherwise, what’s the point? Taking a leap of faith and becoming a producer in a new medium can make you both insanely paranoid, and also rid you of many fucks. Aim for success, but if you happen to hit a "failure", know that there's still wisdom gained. Everyone is walking out of that event with a better idea of what art they like, what art they don’t like, who they’ll hire back, and why. That’s valuable. Dissect every experience, figure out how to do better, and keep going if you really want it. If absolutely nothing else, there’s almost always a burger or whiskey in it for you at the end of the night.
What do you love about creating/filming/burlesque/performing?
If I could have any superpower, I would have the power to decide that I want two superpowers, and those would be shapeshifting and speaking every language in the world. Creating and performing are the closest I get to feeling like I have those superpowers. Artists have the opportunity to move, change and explore every one of their personalities, inner gods and demons, and then even try some others on for size. They transform from human to creature to essence, leaving audience members questioning themselves and what they know about the world. Should I join the revolution? Do I ask my wife to try accepting my new Weird Al fetish into our sex life? The possibilities are endless. Art gives us the chance to use as many different tools and delivery methods as possible to get an idea across, constantly reframing and reconnecting until something clicks, either for the artist or the audience. Ideally both, right? In being creators, we get to confront our fantasies and nightmares outside of our heads, and lead others into worlds they didn’t know could possibly exist. The way the average human lives life is so limiting, and having creative outlets allows us to move outside of those perceived restraints and imagine what else is possible.
Why do you think Burlesque Boston is important? Tell us about the community!
Something I love about this community is how much we all want each other to win. No matter where I am in the world, I stand by the feeling that I have never met a collection of weirdos quite like the Boston burlesque scene.
The level of support and social consciousness is amazing, and this community is home to some of the smartest, most compassionate, most hard-working and forward-thinking artists I’ve ever met. There is such a large-scale effort to create safe space and continuously grow and learn. The conversations and work being done in this group, especially around body positivity, LGBT+ rights, and sex positivity, are seriously next level. In other parts of the country, and even the world, I don’t get to have these conversations or feel this level of trust in a space. And these performers are FUN! If I go to any Boston burlesque show, I will almost inevitably laugh myself stupid every time. There’s also a great assortment of classes and amateur nights for all of you curious creatures who want to get started in the industry. Come to any of our shows and talk to the performers, and I swear you’ll leave feeling like a better person. A perverted better person, but the good kind.
What's a fun fact about you that people might not know?
I taught myself how to do the Donald Duck voice when I was a kid, and my mom says I would talk in my sleep like that sometimes. I guess it was creepy. Maybe this isn't a "fun" fact? Ask me again in person.
What is your personal favorite performance or creative moment?
The one that's still in my head that I'm not talking about yet ;) Lawdy, I have too many moments to count, really. I feel pretty damn lucky in that sense. The first that comes to mind was the honor of being able to understudy Sugar Dish in The Slutcracker, and then getting to wear the strappy suit and kill monsters in Revenge of the Robot Battle Nuns. I was especially excited to see the Scarlet Tongue pilot become a real thing, and Saraswathi Jones definitely made me cry happy love tears at the premiere. I also tried to be a sculptor once when I was getting over a bad breakup, and I made a "dragon skull" that ended up looking like an out-of-control sneaker that was left in the rain and then hit by a car. Fem Bones named him Toaster, and he guarded our front door for years.
What festivals have you attended as a performer or filmmaker?
New Orleans Burlesque Festival and New York Burlesque Festival with my Chainsaw Sisters! The Ambulante Documentary Fest in Mexico changed my whole life and set me solidly on my path with Scarlet Tongue, and last summer I had the pleasure of being the venue manager for the Maine International Film Festival. I need to stay in one place long enough so that I can go to more of these events. I look forward to finishing this film so I can submit it to fests all over the place. Fingers crossed that we get accepted!
Are you working on anything exciting for your project that you'd like to share with our readers?
I'm keeping things pretty private right now while we finish up production, but YES, it's all very exciting! We're about 2/3 of the way done with filming, and anticipate wrapping that up in late winter/early spring 2018. I look forward to flying to a remote island to begin the editing process by just sitting and watch a bajillion hours of footage. We'll probably start releasing little teaser videos as early as late spring/early summer 2018!
Who are your idols?
Mmm, mostly ghosts. But for real people:
Janet Jackson, Madonna and Erykah Badu were the high priestesses of my childhood and adolescence.
Courtney Love let me feel okay about being horrible in my late teens/early 20s.
Dita Von Teese isn't a performance idol, but her fetish book got me to into corseting.
Jacq The Stripper
Most old men
Nergal from Behemoth
Every featured artist in The Scarlet Tongue
My troupe leaders
My business coach, Layla Martin
Nadya from Pussy Riot (one of the truest real-life warriors I've ever met)
I basically want to be Gael Garcia Bernal, and he should probably just stay away from me so I don't even try.
What's your favorite movie?
Hmmm, other than a random assortment of documentaries and foreign films, probably anything you'd classify under "hipster". And vampire movies. And "Mars Attacks". And "Gremlins". And "The Craft" forever in all its holy garbage.
What song can you not help dancing to?
I'm obsessed with this new artist, Jessie Reyez. Her song "Blue Ribbon" is impossible not to dance to. Also right now, terrible things happen to my body everytime "Mi Gente" by J Balvin and Willy William comes on. In my mind, I think I look like a ballroom champion or one of the girls from the video, but I probably just look like rabid spaghetti.
What’s your website, Instagram, twitter, etc?
Our Facebook isn't particularly active right now, but follow us for when we start posting updates again!
I also have a blog, The Rambling Onesie. It's super rambly and intense, so if you're into that sorta thing, give'er a like, as well!
Follow me on Instagram for pictures of street art, tomatoes, and my cat: @nephilarose
How can people get involved with the STP if they want to?
Shoot me an email! firstname.lastname@example.org
I am finally in a place where I'm accepting the reality that I need an intern. If you have 5-10hrs per week to spare, have great organizational skills, don't need to see me in person, and are good at social media (super bonus if you speak Spanish or Japanese), and you wanna learn all about the film and the process, I'd love to hear from you!
If you know of an artist who identifies as a woman and incorporates themes of aggressive, taboo expression into her work, please connect me!
If you'd like to help support us financially, we have fiscal sponsorship under IFP, through which you can make a tax deductible donation. Some friends want to give directly (because IFP takes a percentage of all donations), so Paypal is also an option :)
Do you have any pets? Can we see a picture? Can we follow them on Instagram?
I do! I have one perfect demoncat named Scout. You can see pictures of her on my IG, but she's not allowed to have her own profile because she's a charming beast and the world couldn't take it.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
There are mega superstars in other parts of the world, of whom you've never heard in your life; at best, a fleeting picture on your IG, but their versions of Queen Beyonces to millions of others. Considering that, there's an epically high chance that most people have no clue about your personal dramas, and out of those who do, there's an even higher chance that most of them don't give a damn. Take back your personal power and decide how much you let that control your life.
Also, tip your bartenders and strippers. Ain't nuthin for free.
Burlesque Boston's Blog is a collection of contributions from burlesque artists.