I have to admit, upon hearing about a show called SLUTCRACKER, I was immediately obsessed: sluts and theatre combined? Does it get any better?
So enthralled in the promise of what this could be, I begin reading reviews. With comments like “some next level shit” (Boston Phoenix), and, my personal favorite, “a sexy-freaky holiday zeitgeist spectacular” (Elbrecht’s Corpsucle), I just had to investigate.
I gave creator, director, and choreographer, Vanessa White, a call to find out what exactly this phenomenon is, and if it’s really too good to be true. (Good news: it’s not!)
Hi, Vanessa. Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to talk with me. I’m sure you’re crazy busy, so let’s get to it. What is your role within the performance? How did you end up doing SLUTCRACKER?
I created the show, came up with story, directed it, choreographed it, came up with the costume and set designs, and then had other people make them [laughs]. I had been a dancer my whole life, with training in ballet, and I had an injury out of college, so I figured my whole life is over. I actually found burlesque by accident when I was home sick watching ballet on my couch on TV. I got the idea and everything just happened from there. My then-boyfriend and now-husband was instrumental in SLUTCRACKER’s creation. He was the one that encouraged me, and was like, “You should do that thing. Just do it already!” And in 2008, I did.
Wow, so you’re the complete originator. Impressive. How would you describe SLUTCRACKER? And while we’re at it, what is burlesque?
Burlesque’s basic and classic definition is “parody.” SLUTCRACKER is a parody in the sense that it is now a sexy show instead of a show for kids; it’s pretty much classic burlesque. If people think of burlesque, if they think of it at all, they think of strip-tease, which is only a small part of it. SLUTCRACKER is a dream come true (laughs). It plays out like a ballet, with all dance and no dialogue. There is strip-tease, but that’s mostly for the second act. We structured it very close to the original but we changed a few things. The story line is told with dance and pantomime, a lot of ballet, and we also have flamenco, jazz, and belly dance incorporated, hip-hop too. A lot of people do different versions of NUTCRACKERs, but the thing that makes this different is that we still use the classical score.
That’s really amazing.
Yeah, we don’t use any covers; we went to the Czech Republic and had our own score recorded of THE NUTCRACKER. We never expected it to take off as it did; instead of paying someone to get the rights to use the music, we decided to get our own so we could adjust it. My husband, John, found a conductor on Google; apparently there are message boards for locating orchestral people to record movies and music and what not. We went to the Czech Republic, and saw it recorded in front of our eyes: it was unreal, and brought tears to my eyes. It was the most amazing thing. I kept thinking there was no way it happened [laughs]. Unbelievable. I’m just a regular kind of person, and this magical thing happened.
Is SLUTCRACKER unique to Boston?
Yes, it’s unique to here. We brought it once to Montreal on the road. That whole experience was pretty awesome but pretty daunting. We’re an independent, self-supporting theatre company. We’ve been really fortunate. There’s no way of knowing how an audience is going to receive your work; it’s like capturing lightning in a bottle. No one is going to tell you how to make it successful.
Is there an overarching mission to SLUTCRACKER?
There’s a story line to carry the show. Instead of being siblings, Fritz and Clara get engaged; he’s no longer a brother. Her family is all vanilla and instead of a toy, her eccentric aunt gives her a dildo, which Fritz breaks, and it ultimately comes to life, inspiring a journey of sexual fantasy. People often ask me what my goals for the show are. My goals are simply for the show to be: high entertainment, beautiful, funny, a good night out, and a good show. SLUTCRACKER, to me, is who I am and how I want the world to be: it promotes sex positivity, body image positivity, and diversity. The people in the show are pretty diverse, and represent a range of sexual orientations and body sizes. It’s not like ballet where a specific body type is required; you can use all sizes. It’s beautiful. Some people will go on Yelp, or whatever, and talk about how some people aren’t “hot” or how we use actual transvestites, and former strippers—and we do, and that’s what makes it beautiful and different.
How were you able to make SLUTCRACKER happen? Creating and making the show on your own must have been an undertaking.
When we first did it, we did it straight from the bottom of the barrel, literally dumpster diving for props, and everything else was pretty basic. When I decided to use a theater with a house of 900 seats, everyone in production—and I did, too—thought I was crazy. At the moment, it was one of the few theatres available and I didn’t have to charge so much for tickets, so I went with it. Our first shows had only 140/3600 tickets sold in advance, and I was like “So all our moms are coming, great” (laughs). We sold out the first 3 nights from people buying tickets at the door and sold 760 for the Sunday matinee. It was crazy. I added 2 shows for the next weekend, and despite there ending up being a blizzard, we had over 300 people come out to see it. Crazy. It’s been quite a ride these past 6 years.
How did all the backstage professionals and onstage performers come to be?
Every year, we get probably 10 new cast members, on average, and lose 10 from the year before. There’s a core of 10 people who have been there since the beginning, for those of us who have been there, the show holds a special place in us because it’s so inclusive. I couldn’t find enough people the first year to fill all the roles, so I pretty much used MySpace and Craigslist to recruit people; there wasn’t much of a burlesque community then at the time. Most people thought I was insane, at first [laughs]. I managed to get enough people to get it together. I had a friend, her brother, and my dad all working backstage for me, so they kind of became stage managers by accident. Our first year we didn’t even have a dress rehearsal, we figured out everything during the show. We didn’t have the capacity to make the tree grow so we wheeled it offstage; I think my husband was pulling it offstage with a string and the string broke, so my dad dove on stage and army crawled backwards to get it.
What do you guys at SLUTCRACKER hope to accomplish in the future—any more travel plans?
Bringing the show on the road is a huge financial and management task, but we did it in Montreal and nobody died and we got back. Sometimes I get emails from Montreal asking us to come back. So who knows where we might end up next.
Be sure to make it to one of SLUTCRACKER’s shows in Boston this season. After seeing it for myself this Sunday, it is definitely worth the T-trip over to Somerville Theater (green and red line to Davis Square, the theater’s right across the street from the stop). For show dates, times, and you can buy tickets here. If you, too, are now obsessed with Vanessa White, you can stalk her and all things burlesque on her burlesque troupe’s website.
Images via Facebook.