One woman is walking around wearing a bra, panties, and blue slippers. Another is applying glittery makeup. Another is sewing part of a costume. Another is ordering pizza. All of them are giggling and catching up. In the tight quarters of the Howlin’ Wolf dressing room, what could pass as a sexy slumber party is actually preparation for an electric performance. Most people rarely get a glimpse behind the curtain to see the personal lives of burlesque performers—a fact that will change in coming months. While the ladies of Slow Burn Burlesque star in a monthly show, they will make their debut this fall through another medium: the documentary Save Our Souls.
Slow Burn Burlesque was formed by dancer Nona Narcisse and MC Ben Wisdom. Since its inception in 2009, Slow Burn has put on shows “with sexy, satirical, and over the top acts that are drenched in sensuality and overflowing with subversive humor,” as the say on their website. “We’re a little avant-garde in our style,” says Narcisse. “We’re very passionate about what we do; we’re a little bit more rock ’n’ roll.”
“We’re like the punk rock burlesque show,” Wisdom says. “I think we take it to the next level.” Their “Hollywood Babelon” show was a prime example of the punk rock mentality. Lady Lucerne and Ginger Licious poked fun at Hollywood’s plethora of drugs in the 1920s, while Bella Blue parodied Kennedy’s affair with Marilyn Monroe. The ladies (and gentleman) of Slow Burn have a knack for displaying debaucheries in the raunchiest ways possible, while still staying classy and glamorous.
People see the glamour onstage, but rarely do they see the human beings behind the makeup. Directed by Michael Sanchez and produced by Richard Barnes, the documentary Save Our Souls is actually less about burlesque and more about people.
Sanchez was in New Orleans working on another film when he stopped in a bar where Slow Burn happened to be performing. There, he met Wisdom and the dancers, and they came up with the idea for the documentary. “I was introduced to a group of people that I thought had a unique story that just happened to do burlesque,” Sanchez says. “There are a lot of heavy stories in this film, and burlesque binds them all together. You learn what it is to be a burlesque dancer in New Orleans, and in a broader sense, what it means to be a denizen of this city.”
A movie about a burlesque troupe that considers itself rock ‘n’ roll deserved a soundtrack with nothing less. Sanchez called his friend Robert Davis—guitarist of the hit band Revis—and asked him to write a song for the movie. The band collaborated and named the new song after the film, and they released it as the first single off their sophomore album. “We appreciate the fact that [burlesque] is an art,” says Davis.
“At the same time we’re men,” lead singer Justin Holman says with a laugh.
Dancer Roulette Rose hopes the film will “bring to light a healthy and fun openness towards sexuality.” Fellow troupe members Roxie le Rouge and Ruby Rage hope people who see the film will “see what burlesque is really about,” and Moxie Sazerac believes this film will get people who’ve never seen burlesque to go out and experience a show. “If they can relate to us as people, they can see what it’s like when we do burlesque,” she says.
This documentary covers real, raw experiences. “We’re covering so many different themes,” Sazerac says. “There’s death, there are people talking about being adopted, there are people talking about their sexuality. We’re real people, and there are very real struggles.”
With struggles come triumphs. Bella Blue is a mother of two, and she is living her dream. “I made the choice to have children, but it doesn’t mean I have to give up doing what I love to do,” she says. “I hope that there are other women out there who can maybe find some sort of strength in seeing that if I can do it, they can do it too.”
Along with triumphs, this film also examines the idea of a secret life as a burlesque dancer. The filmmakers decided to use the performers’ stage names, as some of them, including Lady Lucerne, are trying to keep this life separate from their real life. “My parents are born-again Christians, and they would have a heart attack if they found out what I did,” she says. “But I’m not going to not do this because of that.” Kitty Twist is open with everyone in her personal life about what she does onstage, while some dancers including Ginger Licious “don’t tell, but don’t hide it,” Sazerac says.
While they may or may not hide their night jobs, what the ladies don’t hide is their skin. Folks can catch more than a glimpse of the women of Slow Burn at the Howlin’ Wolf every month. The documentary Save Our Souls debuts tonight at Republic at 7 p.m. “New Orleans deserves this movie,” Sanchez says, “and we feel very blessed that we were able to make it.
To see Save Our Souls, email an RSVP to RSVP@gorgeouspr.com. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; the show starts at 7.