Interview Part 1: Green Tea, Octo Sushi and Chit-Chat with Kitten La Rue of The Atomic Bombshells

Posted on November 8, 2013

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Kitten LaRue

Kitten La Rue. Mod fantasy, c. Jiamin Zhu

On Tuesday evening, I had the unique opportunity to sit down with Kitten La Rue of The Atomic Bombshells during a break from rehearsing her upcoming show “Lost in Space” which opens at the Triple Door for six shows running from November 13 through November 16. We met at Octo Sushi, a clean and enjoyable out-of-the-way sushi joint nestled away inside a non-descript building in the Capital Hill area of Seattle. We sipped warm green tea at the sushi bar, as we discussed her life, the upcoming show at the Triple Door and the 10th anniversary of The Atomic Bombshell burlesque troupe, she founded in 2003.

“You grew up in Louisiana.” I said, drawing a nod of agreement from Kitten La Rue, “At what age did you decide that burlesque was something that you were drawn to?”

“I started doing burlesque and became aware and interested in it while I was living in New Orleans as a young person. I went to go see a show there which was incredible, the Shim-Shamettes, one of the first burlesque revival shows happening in the country. It had a 10 piece jazz band, incredible costumes and was very much in line with what we do with The Atomic Bombshells. The classic old-school bourbon street style of burlesque. I fell in love with it immediately.”

What you might not know about Kitten La Rue is that she grew up on the old MGM musicals and because of that, she has always been drawn to the nostalgia, glitz and the comedy of burlesque. I was interested in learning more about her first experience as an audience member watching her first burlesque show and inquired whether or not it was what she expected it to be.

Kitten LaRue as Oyster Girl in J'Adore

Kitten LaRue as Oyster Girl in J’Adore

“It was more than I expected it to be, because you hear the word burlesque and you aren’t sure exactly what that entails. Is there stripping? Is there dancing? I don’t know. What is it? It was that and so much more. There was comedy…sexy moments and incredible costumes. More than anything it was about fantasy, which I loved. So it blew me away.”

I must admit that I had a serious misconception of what burlesque was before reviewing my first burlesque show. Growing up in a church going home may have influenced my expectations, as I anticipated that burlesque shows would be seedy, targeting the wretched and depraved of society and, to be frank, a bit gloomy to watch as exploited naïve young ladies debased themselves on stage. I could not have been further from the truth. While there are no doubt places like that in the world, the old school burlesque and the neo-burlesque revival movement of today is completely contrary to that.

I discovered through shows like Lily Verlaine’s Land of Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker”, “Through the Looking Glass: The Burlesque Alice in Wonderland” and “Burlesco DiVino: Wine in Rome”, as well as The Atomic Bombshell’s “J’Adore”, that they can be amazingly tasteful, artistic, tongue-in-cheek fun and packed with quality dance routines and marvelously intricate over-the-top costumes. Contrary to the image of the coerced or exploited young lady forced to perform on stage against her will; the performers all seem to be truly enjoying their time on stage, not just individually but as a group, playing off of each other, the audience and having fun.

KittenLaRue

Kitten La Rue. Meow! c. ouchmyeye

Many of the performers come from profession dance backgrounds, so it’s no wonder that the shows frequently involve complicated dance routines and challenging choreography. They have chosen their career in burlesque based on what they are passionate about doing. How many of us can say the same about our own careers?

The audience may not be what you expect either. Contrary to the mental image of 3-5 lonely guys in a dark room, watching ladies parade themselves around the stage in various forms of undress, I was surprised to discover that audiences were packed to near capacity for the shows I witnessed. They were comprised of mainly young to middle-aged woman and upscale business couples. I asked Kitten why she thought that was.

“As a genre, it’s so playful, so fun and light hearted, that’s why so many different kinds of people respond to it. That is what it has always been, going back to when it was so huge in the 50’s. Couple would get dressed up and go see a burlesque show. It wasn’t ever a seedy, weird thing, it was a glamorous night out. That is what we strive to recreate as well.”

As there is some confusion regarding what burlesque is and is not, I asked how Kitten La Rue might describe burlesque to someone who was unfamiliar with it.

“There are lots of different kinds of burlesque, so I can’t speak for all of it, because there are lots of people doing lots of different stuff. For The Atomic Bombshells we are definitely trying to create that golden era of burlesque where it’s this exaggerated, fantastical presentation of the feminine form done with a wink and a smile. It’s very tongue-in-cheek. Above all, our troupe, we’re all really great dancers, for one, so you are coming to see a dance show…we are also great comedians.”

Believe it or not, she graduated college with a degree in English Literature and Art history. I inquired about the other possible career paths she may have been considering as a young adult.

“I kind of imagined myself at some point being in academia…being a professor… and I just got derailed.”

Kitten La Rue

Kitten LaRue (photo by Bobby Miller)

My mind began to wonder at this point, trying to image what a college course in English Literature or Art History taught by Kitten La Rue would be like. One thing for sure, is that the class would be packed and entertaining. Like all versatile artists, none of that learning has gone to waste. I inquired if she still remembers her English literature and art history days?

“I do. I do. You would be surprised how much I pull from my education when I am making shows. I am making art. We reference all kinds of things, including art and literature.”

We discussed this further and I began to see how her college studies in additional to the influence of her musician father provided her with a wealth of background material to draw upon for the shows which she creates. She confirmed this and added that she also draws from the rich New Orleans’s culture and from classic movies.

We were just a few minutes into our interview and it was becoming clear that there was much more to Kitten La Rue than what meets the eye. She was driven, fearless in tackling new challenges, intelligent, articulate with business savvy without losing any of her charm, personality and beauty. Avant-garde and innovative but with a strong reverence for the traditional classics. She was a walking paradox with depth and layers, which I hoped to glean more insight into.

As we continued to sip our green tea amidst the background chatter of folks ordering Unagi, Shrimp Shumai and Baha California rolls, we delved into family life, her recent marriage to the talented Lou Henry Hoover, as well as her recent first appearance in an off-Broadway musical in New York and of course the 10th anniversary of The Atomic Bombshells and their upcoming show “Lost in Space” at the Triple Door November 13-16.

Continues in Interview Part 2: Green Tea, Octo Sushi and Chit-Chat with Kitten LaRue of The Atomic Bombshells

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Posted in: Interviews