With a strong history of striptease and a love for all that’s spooky and weird, it makes sense that New Orleans is a hotspot for the revival of burlesque and circus sideshow performance happening all over the country. Celebrating neo-burlesque and sideshow is the inaugural Snake Oil Festival, happening June 19-21 at the Howlin’ Wolf and locations on St. Claude Avenue, featuring performances, workshops and what’s sure to be some debaucherous after-parties. Burlesque producer, emcee and comedian Ben Wisdom, one of the producers of the event, talked to us about the new festival.
How was this event conceived? In 2012 I and the co-producers of the festival, burlesque performers Little Luna and Ginger Licious, went to the Americana Burlesque and Sideshow Festival in Asheville, North Carolina. We got really inspired by what we saw … it was a lot of variety. There are tons of burlesque festivals – there’s one in just about every major city – and even small ones. We were inspired to focus not only on striptease but on the variety of entertainment that accompanies burlesque. New Orleans is the perfect place for it – it’s a mecca for this neo-burlesque and sideshow revival that’s happening.
What kinds of things should people expect to see? All kinds of stuff. We have a strongman, Rusty Bolts, from Virginia. Rusty can tear giant phone books, rip them in half with his bare hands. He can drive nails into wood with his fists. We have extreme sideshow performers. There’s a woman named Mab Just Mab from Washington D.C. – she walks on glass. She can swallow a balloon that’s four feet long. Mab Just Mab wears a costume where she has burlesque dancer puppet attached to her … like a conjoined twin that didn’t grow all the way. She makes it dance, takes its clothes off. Marlo Marquise from Albuquerque does amazing stuff. The act she’s going to do for us isn’t for everyone, but you’ll never forget it: She’s suspended from the ceiling by hooks placed in her body. It’s not gory or anything like that. There’s an archer that fires arrows at live targets … and is dead-on, 100 percent accurate every time. The foremost sideshow historian James Taylor, editor of Shocked and Amazed!, will give a lecture to open the festival that tells everyone a brief history of his reporting of 20 years on the subject.
What else would you like to add about the festival? I think that the cool thing about the festival is it’s an alternative to local entertainment you see. There’s an emphasis on being professional and taking it to the next level; the thing everyone we hired has in common is they take it to the next level. It’s comprised of the best of the best with a heavy New Orleans presence. (Audiences will) see, hear and do things before they’ve never experienced before.
For more information on the Snake Oil Festival, visit SnakeOilFestival.com.