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Rsuh Aaron Hicks

Sideshow performer Rush Aaron Hicks. Photo via Facebook

Black history month is over and guess what? There are people who still don’t know blackface is never okay. Last year, it was Brooklyn State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who wore an afro wig and brown makeup to a Purim party, and whose apologies showed his ignorance. Now New York’s sideshow and burlesque community is in a furor over the news that rubber skin man Rush Aaron Hicks did his act in blackface at the Lower East Side’s Palace of Variety, the Slipper Room, on Friday.

Initially, the performer tried to brush off criticism by posting that he did it “at random” and wasn’t racist because he “slept with two black girls this year,” which only made matters worse and provoked a rebuke on the blog Jezebel. Since then, all posts on his Facebook page that are critical of him, including outraged comments as well as friendly advice from members of New York’s sideshow and burlesque world, are being deleted.

Al G Field Minstrels

Circa 1910 Poster for Minstrel and Vaudeville Comedian Nick Hufford. Al G Field Minstrels, Otis Lithograph Co. Library of Congress Collection

What’s next for this young performer? An apology followed by an assignment to read a few books on the history of blackface and minstrelsy and write a report on what he has learned would be in order. James Habacker, artistic director of the Slipper Room, told ATZ:

The Slipper Room has always been a place that has welcomed diversity. Over the years our stage has been graced by people of every ethnicity, sexual orientation, body type, and proclivity. We do not now, nor will we ever have, a policy of telling artists what they can and can’t do in their acts. Rush Hicks made a poor choice in doing blackface. His unfortunate comments after the fact have only served to make matters worse for him. We had a few bookings with him for this spring, which we have cancelled, to give him time to reflect on his actions and their consequences.

Last season, Hicks was in the cast of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow but his scheduled appearance at the organization’s Gala later this month has been cancelled. Coney Island USA artistic director Dick Zigun told ATZ in an email:

Yes I am aware of this sad controversy. Rush is not currently under contract with CIUSA. His questionable performance took place at the Slipper Room and he was in no way there on behalf of CIUSA . He was scheduled to perform with us in a few weeks and that appearance has been cancelled.

No performer has ever appeared on any CIUSA stage in blackface. Whether or not Rush ever appears with us again will depend on his apologies and actions regarding this incident. I will personally be monitoring his personal and performance statements

William H. West's Big Minstrel Jubilee

Circa 1899 Poster of Carroll Johnson as himself and in blackface. William H. West’s Big Minstrel Jubilee. Strobridge Litho. Co., Library of Congress Collection

The Brooklyn-based performer was born with vascular Ehlers Danlos syndrome, a condition that gives him hypermobile joints and the ability to stretch his skin in the tradition of classic sideshow acts like The Rubber Skin Man and The Elastic Man. Hicks usually appears in whiteface, as seen in photos on his Facebook page. On Friday night at the Slipper Room, after showing up without a costume and white greasepaint, he decided on the spur-of-the-moment to do his act nude and in black makeup, according to a YouTube video which is now “private.”

Despite the furor on social media, Hicks is not without supporters. One friend recommends that Hicks’ critics should “get so excited about police surveillance, NSA encroachment, violent hate crimes, genetic modification of food, pollution, pay inequality and other things that actually call for 700 comments on a Facebook page and an article in Jezebel and others.” Steve Peluso, who produces a show at Lucky 13 Saloon, thinks the controversy will be good for business. As he says on Facebook:

Congratulations Rush Aaron Hicks. You are doing exactly what any good clown should. Playing the fool to expose the foolishness of others. Plus you got LOADS of FREE advertising for yourself, The Slipper Room and every other venue and performer/producer who works with you. Including me!

Thanks for saving me the expense of a full page layout in the Voice for our shows. I’m one of the few producers who understand that in showbiz Controversy like this is simply… GOLD!

The vintage posters shown above are from the Library of Congress’s collection of more than 175 original lithographs documenting the history of 19th and early 20th century minstrel shows.

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July 16: Last Burlesque Show at Cha Cha's on the Boardwalk

This weekend would have been the 11th annual Siren Festival if the Village Voice hadn’t deserted Coney Island and Brooklyn for a Manhattan venue. As one of the commenters on the Voice’s “Embrace change!” announcement in April said: “Booooooo. No rides, no beach, a giant mall and a bunch of tourists? No like.” Or as another said, “Embrace my middle finger.”

Are we bitter? Hell, yeah. It’s like being dumped by your one true love for an unattractive gal who happens to have a trust fund. But if the Voice comes running back to Coney Island next season, we’ll overlook the bad choices they’ve made. In the meantime, Coney’s beer, hot dog and ride operators are going to miss the business on Siren Day. The good news is that the sirens of Coney Island have outlasted the Siren Festival and are putting on their own show.

On Saturday at Cha Cha’s of Coney Island, the music begins at 8pm with Coney Island rock and rollers Neptune Jam, followed at 10 pm by the Girls! Girls! Girls! of the Hubba Hubba Hooplah Burlesque Revue. The presser says the July 16 show is “the last Burlesque Show at Cha Cha’s Club in Coney – this is our last summer of 2011 so come out & see the last burlesque revue on the boardwalk.” But the beat goes on through October with bands like All Mobbed Up and Windsor Terrors, and DJ Dance Parties on Friday nights during the fireworks.

Coney Island Girlie Freakshow at Coney Island USA. Photo © Norman Blake

At the Coney Island Sideshow on Saturdays at 10 pm, there’s the Girlie Freakshow starring Insectavora, Serpentina, Kryssy Kocktail and guests–sirens one and all. Burlesque at the Beach has shows on Thursday and Friday nights all summer long featuring Bambi the Mermaid, Bunny Love and “Miss Coney Island”–past, present and future.

talent show

July 30: Thirsty Girl Productions Presents in Coney Island...

Coney Island also has Jen Gapay, the siren who created and produced the first two Siren Festivals when she was Promotions Director for the Voice. Jen went on to launch Thirsty Girl Productions, which co-produces the New York Burlesque Festival with Angie Pontani aka Miss Cyclone. She has also produced events for Astroland, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project. Her current Coney Island baby is the 2nd annual Coney Island Talent Show, set for July 30 on the Boardwalk. Hey you know what? If the Village Voice doesn’t come back to the beach and the boardwalk, Coney Island should launch its very own successor to the Siren Fest. Jen could do it again. All that’s needed are sponsors.

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Lefty Lucy

Lefty Lucy celebrating her win at the Miss Coney Island Burlesque Pageant. September 17, 2010. Photo © NY_Man via flickr

What’s it like to be Miss Coney Island 2011? ATZ asked Lefty Lucy, who won the title in September at the 8th annual burlesque beauty pageant and is halfway into her reign.  Her predecessors are such luminaries of the New York sideshow and burlesque scene as Bambi the Mermaid, Insectavora Angelica, Julie Atlas Muz, Ekaterina, Serpentina, Gal Friday and Gigi LaFemme. The Great Fredini, who runs Coney Island USA’s Burlesque at the Beach, explains: “Bambi carefully curates the Miss Coney Island Pageant herself. We usually have 8 to 12 competitors and I emcee the show with a band. It’s run in a classic beauty pageant format with segments for runway, talent, lineup, etc. The thing is you just never know who will take it because the audience in the theater votes to decide who the new Miss Coney Island will be. So it’s really about who the audience loves the most. It’s very Coney Island!”

Q: When you were crowned Miss Coney Island, you looked very surprised. What is the secret of your success?

A: I was surprised! While I’ve been a performer all my life, I’ve only been performing burlesque for just over 2 years. The Miss Coney Island Burlesque Beauty Pageant has been an inspiration to me for years now; it was THE destination for my birthday for almost all of the past 6 years! I think that helped, really, as far as the “secret to my success” is concerned. Since I have seen the pageant, I had a pretty good sense of what a Coney Island audience wants. Coney Island lovers tend to be funny, original, sincere, and full of joy. The competitors who stuck with me over the years (Minnie Tonka, Nasty Canasta, Trixie Little) each had strong gimmicks that reflected who they are, and by being themselves they reflected the Coney Island spirit. I just tried to be true to me and also entertain.

Lefty Lucy

Emcee Fred Kahl intros Lefty Lucy. Miss Coney Island Burlesque Pageant, September 17, 2010. Photo © NY_Man via flickr

Q: How has being Miss Coney Island changed your everyday life?  Are there any official duties or perks that come with the title?

A: I get to be involved in shows I haven’t been in before, like the big Spring Gala on Thursday, April 28. I also got a banner painted by Coney Island USA’s artist in residence, Marie Roberts, which is absolutely stunning. As for official duties, they primarily include producing a few shows at Sideshows by the Seashore and heading the Mermaid Parade as the Queen of Coney Island. I co-produced “Mr. and Ms. Coney Island Play Favorites” with the reigning King of Coney Island, Glenn Marla and we’re hoping we get to do a few more before my time is up! Beyond that, I’m working with Bambi the Mermaid to create a Wikipedia entry and Facebook page for Miss Coney Island, trying to coordinate some big press pushes for the season this summer, and making sure that New Yorkers know that Coney Island is still alive and kicking.

Lefty Lucy

Lefty Lucy as a Robot in Sweet & Nasty Burlesque at Coney Island USA. Banner by Marie Roberts. October 7, 2010. Photo © NY_Man via flickr

Q: Your costumes in the pageant were a knockout!  One photographer wrote on flickr: “I am really impressed by this girl. Three interesting costume changes and silver make-up put on and removed!” Tell us a little about the inspiration for and creation of the costumes. Did you make them yourself?

A: Thank you! I am an incredibly lucky girl. One of my best friends of all time, David Withrow (DW professionally), is a brilliant costume designer. He and I both like to have a narrative in costumes, and once I settled on doing a brand new robot act for the show, I decided I wanted all of my looks to be robot inspired. The robot act costume I made out of duct tape and tin foil. It is sort of an homage to the costumes I grew up seeing on the Twilight Zone. For the gown, DW suggested doing a take on the Metropolis robot, and we decided to use all of the iconic architecture of Coney Island to emphasize that concept. We built that headdress the day of the show using foam core, toothpicks, and silver sharpies! Glamorous, no? Then for the swimsuit portion of the competition, I decided to go 60s Fembot, which is why I’m all pink and gogo-tastic. What you don’t see are my bullet pasties under the bra!

Miss Coney Island

Bambi the Mermaid with the newly crowned Miss Coney Island Lefty Lucy. Miss Coney Island Burlesque Pageant. September 17, 2010. Photo © NY_Man via flickr

Q: Are zany costumes your trademark?  You portrayed the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters in Epic Win Burlesque, Lot’s Wife as the Morton Salt Girl in Storybook Burlesque’s version of the Bible. Tell us about the costumes.  Do you ever get any ideas that are too over the top?

A: hahaha yes, Mr. Stay Puft was a fun one, for sure. It’s made of this awful gummy insulated fabric that we found on discount. I don’t know what it is supposed to be used for, but it’s perfect for a marshmallow man. The first two times I did the act, I filled the costume with marshmallows so every time I tore a piece off, marshmallows flew in to the audience. It was a lot of fun. Morton Salt Girl was easy as she has such an iconic look; the hard part was figuring out what she would wear under the dress!

Lefty Lucy

Lefty Lucy as the Morton Salt Girl/Lot's Wife in Storybook Burlesque's Bible Show II. December 3, 2010. Photo © Eric Harvey Brown/dogseat via flickr

I wouldn’t say that zany costumes are my trademark, but zany concepts definitely are. As I’m getting deeper into burlesque, I’m becoming less afraid of dreaming big. I love burlesque, and I love when I see someone take something off in an unexpected way. There’s an inherent sense of playfulness to much of my burlesque, and I think having costumes that can be removed in unique ways helps engage the audience and lets them partake in the fun I am having on stage. It makes burlesque more like a magic trick, and why go to live performance if not to experience magic?

As for ideas that are too over the top, I have them all the time! Some we make come true, like Mr. Stay Puft and my wall costume. For Storybook Burlesque’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play within a Play within a Burlesque show, I played the Wall, and did an Elizabethan take on the look. I had “walls” sticking out of my hips as panniers, and a cage bodice with bricks framing it that are removed throughout the act. Other acts I dream up are not possible now, but I’m still trying to find ways to make them happen. I’d love to do an act using the sort of wheel that knife throwers use, but I would be a record. You wouldn’t see a person at all until pieces began being removed and I would be revealed, attached to this spinning upright record. These wheels aren’t the sort of thing you can find on Craigslist, though, so that will definitely have to wait.

Lefty Lucy

Lefty Lucy in Storybook Burlesque's Midsummer Night's Dream. July 29, 2010. Photo © Matt Bresler via flickr

Q: Your bio says that you made your burlesque debut in the New York School of Burlesque Showcase in January 2009 at the Slipper Room.  What was your favorite part of the curriculum?  What inspired you to enroll in NYSB?

A: The first class I ever took with the NYSB was a 4 week intensive covering all of the basics of burlesque: pasty making and tassel twirling, the glove peel, stocking peel, etc. with Jo “Boobs” Weldon as teacher. It was incredibly freeing and I learned SO much. I don’t have a dance background, and this class helped me become comfortable with movement and feeling sexy instead of silly or self conscious. But my favorite part was tassel twirling, hands down. I took to it like a fish to water, and Jo called me a freak for getting it as quickly as I did.

What brought me to the NYSB was really what got me in to burlesque. It’s a long story, but it’s partially inspired by Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog and an application I was filling out to become a member of the Evil League of Evil. I needed an outlet, and burlesque was a perfect fit. My friend Dave had a huge crush on Jo and told me about the school, so I looked online and signed up immediately.

Lefty Lucy

Lefty Lucy in Storybook Burlesque's Midsummer Night's Dream. July 29, 2010. Photo © Eric Harvey Brown/dogseat via flickr

Q: How did you come up with your stage name “Lefty Lucy”?   What is your background and how does it inform your personality as a burlesque performer?

A: Before I took my first class, I knew I was going to need a name. I was going in a totally different direction, basing my ideas off of my muggle name, but Dave (the one who had a crush on Jo) pointed out that all of the options I was coming up with sounded more drag than burlesque. I made a list of who I wanted to model my performance style after, and I immediately thought of all the time I spent watching I Love Lucy as a kid. I also have a background in theater, from on stage to being a techie, and I would be nowhere without “Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty”! I Googled the name and (at the time) only found a band with the name, so it seemed ok for me to use it. I got lucky considering how much I didn’t know at the time about burlesque names. A lot of people pick a clever name they love, only to discover there are 10 other women around the world with names that sound similar, and it can be very frustrating. But Lefty Lucy is unique to me, and I love that.

Lefty Lucy

Lefty Lucy as Mr Stay Puft in Sweet & Nasty Burlesque at Coney Island USA. October 7, 2010. Photo © NY_Man via flickr

Q: Your comedic flair and range of facial expressions reminded me of Lucille Ball.  Is Lucy one of the inspirations for your stage persona Lefty Lucy?

A: That is an incredible compliment! Thank you! And yes, she is absolutely an inspiration.

Q: What’s your favorite episode or scene from I Love Lucy?

A: I think my absolute favorite is the one Harpo Marx is on. The Duck Soup mirror bit is classic and hilarious! I also love when Lucy tries to make the apartment feel like Cuba for Ricky, and does a great Carmen Miranda bit. I pay homage to that scene in one of my acts.

Q Who are some of your other heroines?

A: The two icons who got me through high school were Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe. They are still huge inspirations for me today, along with Goldie Hawn, Debbie Harry, Cyndi Lauper, and Ann Margaret. As for real-life heroines, Little Brooklyn is my all-time favorite performer. Her comedic timing and command of an audience is unbelievable, and her ideas are brilliant and spot-on. I also really admire BB Heart, who is one of my friends and co-founder of Storybook Burlesque. Her work is incredibly inspiring and uniquely her, which is fantastic.

Q: You’re a founding member of Storybook Burlesque, which is described as “literary burlesque” inspired by storybooks, including tabloids, the Bible, Shakespeare and Doctor Seuss. Which stories do you find inspiring and why?

A: I love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and Peter Pan the most. I love the imagery and fanciful elements of Alice, not to mention all of the satire and social commentary involved. Peter Pan has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid; I always dreamt of being able to fly (and playing the part Mary Martin made famous!). Both books really get you out of the everyday and into your own imagination which is one of the most important things you can be in touch with as a performer. They make me want to be extraordinary, and to help others do it too. My favorite novel is Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant. He is one of very few authors who takes advantage of the uniqueness of books as a medium, and introduces you to characters that you only later discover look differently than you had imagined. I love this because it pushes me to reconsider the assumptions I make and why I make them, and also because it’s something any visual medium simply can’t do. I love artists who take advantage of what makes their medium special.

Lefty Lucy

Lefty Lucy in Storybook Burlesque's Dr Seuss Show. Banner by Marie Roberts. February 10, 2011. Photo © Eric Harvey Brown/dogseat via flickr

Lefty Lucy is Miss Coney Island 2011 and a founding member of Storybook Burlesque, which will be presenting Grimm’s Fairy Tales in Summer 2011. She is a member of Epic Win Burlesque, which is debuting their newest show, Rated R for Violence, on April 22nd & 23rd at the Tank, and will be performing as part of Nerdapalooza in Orlando on July 16. She also co-produces Drive Thru Burlesque with Sizzle Dizzle. Drive Thru Burlesque is a monthly 5 hour burlesque extravaganza one Friday a month at the Parkside Lounge.

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November 25, 2010: Happy Belated Birthday to Harpo Marx

October 21, 2010: Halloween In Coney Island: Behind the Scenes at Creep Show at the Freak Show

December 1, 2009: TLC’s Cake Boss Sweet on Marie Roberts’ Coney Island Sideshow Banners

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Guardian Spirit atop the Spook-A-Rama in Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Photo © Tricia Vita

Guardian Spirit atop the Spook-A-Rama in Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Photo © Tricia Vita

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 10

Legislative breakfast and briefing on the future of Coney Island’s amusement district

Coney Island USA, Save Coney Island, and Astroland co-owner Carol Albert invite you to the first of several breakfasts that we, advocates for a vibrant Coney Island amusement district, will host this summer to share our thoughts and ideas about the City’s proposed rezoning plan for the area.

Coney Island is a world-renowned amusement destination and a “People’s Playground” for New Yorkers of all backgrounds and incomes. Its future is a matter of city-wide concern.While we welcome the City’s interest in Coney Island’s redevelopment, we have misgivings about several aspects of its plan. We would like to share our concerns with you in advance of the City Council ULURP review. We hope to see you or a representative of your office at our briefing.

Wednesday, June 10th at 8:30 a.m. at the Puffin Room, 435 Broome St. between Broadway and Crosby, SoHo. Please RSVP to 212-608-0333 or info@saveconeyisland.net

Rally: Don’t Shrink Coney! Fix the City’s Plan! Save Coney Island Demonstration on the steps of City Hall

With the City Planning Commission now reviewing the rezoning plan, Save Coney Island is rallying those who love Coney Island to urge the City to fix its plan:

The future of Coney Island is in danger! The City’s current flawed rezoning plan would destroy Coney Island’s unique character and undermine its historic amusement district: It allows high-rise towers up to 27 stories tall in the heart of Coney Island’s amusement district. It limits the area reserved for the outdoor rides to a narrow, nine-acre strip of land. It endangers Coney Island’s historic buildings.

And time is running out! The Planning Commission will vote on the plan in just a couple of weeks!

We must urge Mayor Bloomberg, Council Member Recchia, and the rest of City Council to fix this flawed plan:

* Expand the acreage for outdoor rides and amusements. Nine acres isn’t enough!
* Keep high-rises out of the heart of the amusement district.
* Protect small businesses, create amusement jobs, preserve Coney
Island’s historic structures.

Wednesday, June 10, 1 p.m., New York City Hall, Broadway and Park Place. Meet at 12:30 at the Fountain. Parade immediately after the demonstration

THURSDAY, JUNE 11

World Premiere of “Sea Legs” by Craig Butta at the Brooklyn International Film Festival

Sea Legs is a vivid, harrowing journey through the funk, vitality and downward spiraling world of Coney Island. With the power of gesture and a minimum of words, a riveting character embarks on a doomed enterprise — his responsibility for his father’s inheritance is transformed into a search for elusive, otherworldly beauty.

Craig Butta is a native New York artist who has been working in film and theater for most of his life. His short film Coney Island, USA, which he wrote, directed and starred in, premiered at SXSW in 2007, then traveled the country playing various film festivals and finally was acquired by PBS for their ReelNY series.

Thursday, June 11, 8 p.m., Brooklyn Heights Cinema, 70 Henry Street. View trailer and purchase tickets here.

Burlesque at the Beach featuring Scott Baker’s Coney Island Babies, The Old Time Naughty, Bawdy Laugh Riot

Photo of Scott Baker by Laure Leber via Burlesque at the Beach/Coney Island USA

Photo of Scott Baker by Laure Leber via Burlesque at the Beach/Coney Island USA

It’s the Minsky’s show gone mad at Coney Island, featuring the old-time Burlesque comedy routines we love but haven’t seen in twenty years or more.

Every Thursday & Friday during the Summer season, The Great Fredini & Bambi The Mermaid present our popular Burlesque on the Beach program- A revival of the most glorious and notorious of the “girlie revues” in Coney Island history.

Thursday, June 11, 9 p.m., $10

Coney Island USA, 1208 Surf Ave at W 12th St, Coney Island

FRIDAY, JUNE 12

Pay What You Wish Fridays at the Aquarium

Admission on Fridays beginning at 3:00 p.m. is pay-what-you-wish. Suggested donation is $13 for adults, $9 for children, and $10 for seniors.

New York Aquarium, 3-5 p.m, Surf Ave & W 8th St, Coney Island

Dreamland Roller Rink Funk & Soul Skate

Every Friday night skate to Funk, Soul & Gospel, 8 – 11 p.m. All Ages. $10 Admission, $5 Skate Rentals. Group discounts available,

Dreamland Roller Rink, Boardwalk at W 21st St., Coney Island

OPEN DAILY IN CONEY ISLAND

Rides & Attractions: New York Aquarium, Cyclone Roller Coaster, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, Eldorado Bumper Cars and Arcade, McCullough’s Kiddie Park, Shoot the Freak, Dreamland Park

Food & Drink: Nathan’s Famous, Ruby’s, Cha Cha’s, Gregory & Paul’s, Grill House, Gyro Corner, Denny’s Ice Cream, Footprints Café

Shops: Coney Island Beach Shop, Williams Candy

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