Burlesque b*


a sit down with the producer of Fierce, Queer burlesque festival

by Burlesque Bitch

I sat down with festival producer Viva Valezz! to talk a little about her upcoming Fierce! International Queer Burlesque Festival. This is Fierce!’s fourth year, this time hosted in Denver May 12-15. Viva! is very excited to be taking the festival the farthest West that it’s gone so far. Fierce! is the only festival of its type -- celebrating the art and artists who identify as queer.

I am proud to be a part of what Viva! calls her “Fierce! Family.” I was a member of her pre-festival tour, “The Fierce! Tour” of 2012, that first started introducing the idea of the festival to the burlesque community. I also performed in the very first Fierce! Festival in 2013 in Columbus, OH. And, I’m super excited to be joining Viva! in Colorado in a few weeks as a sponsor and vendor.

Knowing Viva! for years as a friend and co-worker, and being a fan of the Fierce! Festival, I thought we could chat about her unique festival concept.

BURLESQUE BITCH: What made you decide to go to Denver?

VALEZ!: Denver has a thriving burlesque scene, and a very strong queer community. My goal for choosing Fierce! host cities is to pick locations that have both elements - strong burlesque and strong queer communities. I also try to choose cities that aren’t over-the-top expensive. I want queers and allies who participate to be able to afford the weekend stay. We have some Fierce! participants who travel to participate from across the country, so I try to offset their airfare by offering cheaper hotels. It’s easier to do that in mid-sized, dynamic, cities.

BURLESQUE BITCH: What other cities do you want bring Fierce?

VALEZ!: It is challenging to have a traveling festival. I always have to keep in mind that Fierce! has to be in a city where people would actually come to the shows! Fierce! also has a “home base.” So, I’ll be bringing Fierce! to my own home town - Pittsburgh - every other year, and then a different city in a different part of the country every other year. A few that I have on my radar screen are Toronto, Austin, Boston, Seattle, San Jose… a few others. 

BURLESQUE BITCH: Oh, so you are thinking of taking Fierce! out of the US?

VALEZ!: Yes, it has always been my intention to take the festival to other countries. But I wanted to make sure the festival got its legs first. So, yeah, I’m thinking Toronto will be our first foray outside of the US. It’s important that I also have a good support staff or supportive venues everywhere I go. I have friends in Toronto who have promised to support, so I think Fierce! will take international baby steps to Canada first. 

BURLESQUE BITCH: Why do you want to travel with it? Why not just stay in Pittsburgh?

VALEZ!: When I first started dreaming up Fierce!, I was living and performing in Columbus, Ohio. When I started performing, there wasn’t a strong burlesque community like Columbus has now. Back then (in 2007), there was only one troupe, and very few shows. Definitely no queer burlesque. And there wasn’t anyone for me to learn from. So, I went to NY and took some classes at the New York School of Burlesque, and took classes with Michele L’Amour when she traveled, and then went to Chicago to  study with her. During my studies in these big cities, I discovered a whole other world of burlesque. I wanted my friends back at home to experience all of the talent and excitement that I was. So, I figured, why not bring that talent to them? So, I devised a plan to bring the festival to different small and mid-sized cities so that other burlesque performers, being like me from smaller cities, could see what they were missing. I wanted to elevate the art, and share inspiration, by giving small town performers the chance to see what burlesque is like in “big cities” and other parts of the country.

BURLESQUE BITCH: So, that’s how the festival came about?

VALEZ!: Well, yeah. And, in my professional “day job” career, I have been a conference and event planner. In 2011 when I was a part of the “Queerly Yours” Midwest tour with my friend Fever Blister (where you and I first met), I was sitting in a coffee shop in Madison and started brainstorming my initial idea to a few of our tour members. Being surrounded by other queer burlesque performers on that tour, while visiting other cities, the inspiration was there. I figured I could use my skills in event planning, and my passion for the art form, and the fact that there wasn’t a festival that celebrated and highlighted queers… well, the idea just kind of just came together and gelled during that tour. I just hoped that the queers wanted to be a part of it. 

BURLESQUE BITCH: Well, it looks like they do! How many applicants do you get each year?

VALEZ!: Well, we’re only in our fourth year. I’m not even sure how many applications other festivals get, so I can’t compare how Fierce! is doing in terms of applicant growth. But, I do know that every year we have more and more performers apply. In fact, this year we had enough performers that we even added two more shows, and I still had to turn a few performers away. I hate to do that. I’ve been rejected from festivals many times, so I know how disappointing it is. But, being that I pay each performer a small “thank you,” and the fact that I have to pay for traveling costs for the festival, the expenses might be a little higher than some other festivals. So, because of expenses and being limited to the size of shows, I do have to turn a few people away. I was so glad to be able to include more people this year. This year we have more than a hundred performers in six shows over the weekend. It’s nuts!  

BURLESQUE BITCH: Did you think it would be as big as it is?

VALEZ!: Big? I guess I really don’t think about it. Like, I just wanted to have a celebration every year, a big queer party. I really had no goals for how big it could get. I only wanted it to grow stronger, not necessarily bigger. It’s been a labor of love. A lot of it, well most of it, I do all on my own. Fierce! is basically like a child to me. I put my whole heart and soul into it. I jwant to keep growing and learning as a festival producer, and hopefully everyone will want to keep coming and having fun.

BURLESQUE BITCH: What part of Fierce! makes you the most proud?

VALEZ!: Oh geez. All of it! I’m just glad that it’s still going strong, that makes me proud. I guess, probably the fact that the performers of Fierce! represent all queers. It has always been important to me to give opportunities to queer performers who might not necessarily get the opportunity to perform at other burlesque festivals. Although I do see things changing in the burlesque world - I see some of my favorite Fierce! alumni showing up in other festivals, and it makes me smile. It’s awesome to see. So yeah, Fierce! will always be inclusive in that way - everyone deserves the spotlight. I’m proud of that.

BURLESQUE BITCH: So, what have been some of your biggest challenges?

VALEZ!: Well, you know, it’s a lot of work. Of course there are challenges that come with producing a largescale event from long distance. That’s always the biggest challenge. Big surprise… I’m a bit of a control freak. So, I have to be sure that whoever I’m working with in other cities understands how crazy and anxious I can be, especially closer to the date of the festival. At least I’m far enough away that they can’t slap me. (laughter)

BURLESQUE BITCH: Do you ever get hate mail?

VALEZ!: Yikes, no. Well, you know, that thought always crosses my mind, especially right before the kick-off show starts the weekend each year. I guess since I make sure to have the events at queer-owned or queer-supporting venues, there’s not likely to be much backlash… I hope. There’s always a first time for everything. Who knows. As conservative and backward as our country is getting to be these days, I can’t rule out the thought that people will contact me with hate mail or boycott the shows. 

The closest thing I ever got to anything hateful actually, was resistance from some burlesque queers when I first started planning Fierce! A few colleagues were upset that I was planning to include allies in a queer festival. They were so upset that they decided not to work with me and to walk away from the festival. I guess that has been the most the most hateful thing I’ve experienced. It shocked me, honestly. All I could do was keep on going and hope that I didn’t get a lot of resistance from other queers who felt the same. From the beginning, it was always my intention to include allies in Fierce! I wanted Fierce! to be a celebration, an inclusive and happy event. Only good energy. So, yeah, I guess that was the closest thing to hate that I’ve experienced yet. 

BURLESQUE BITCH: That’s awful, I’m sorry you went through that.

VALEZ!: I dunno. To me, even though I was scared that other queers might feel the same way, I had to stay true to my vision.  
BURLESQUE BITCH: Have you already started planning next year?

VALEZ!:  Well, I know the city, and I have a few headliner and feature performers in cue. But, that’s all I’ve got so far. Since I alternate my home town every other year, we know that Fierce! will be back in Pittsburgh again. And, like I said, I think Toronto in 2018. Choosing the city is always the first step. But for now, just let me get through Denver!

BURLESQUE BITCH: Well, Viva! thanks for chatting with me. I’m happy that Burlesque Bitch could be your partner again this year. I’m excited and nervous for you. And I can’t wait to see you in Denver.

VALEZ!:  Thanks, honey. I’m nervous too. I just can’t wait to get there and get things started! And thanks for everything, as always!

This Article was published in the Burlesque Bitch Ezine on May 03, 2016.
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