Interview by Danielle Boise, Photos Courtesy of Leo Photograpahy
I had the great pleasure to sit down and chat with Persephone Phoenix, the mastermind behind Sexpelliarmus, A Whimsical, Wizarding Burlesque Revue Part 3!! and get the dish on the next set of Harry Potter-inspired burlesque shows that Hysteria Machines are putting on at The Atlanta Shakespeare Company. The first showing will be Saturday, May 21 for a late night viewing starting at 11:30p. The second run of Sexpelliarmus will be on Monday, May 23 at 7:30pm. Each night will offer something new and exciting to see. So if you are fans of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or even Slytherin, then this is the show you MUST see. If you are looking for something a bit geeky, with a side of nerd and a twist of titillation, then look no further because all you need is a good dose of Sexpelliarmus, A Whimsical, Wizarding Burlesque Revue Part 3!! and you can grab your tickets to either night’s show here.
What is the thesis statement behind the production company Hysteria Machines, and how in your opinion, what do they offer that is different than other burlesque troupes in the area?
Hysteria Machines is Atlanta’s Own Nerdlesque and Pop Culture Burlesque performance collective, filled with professional, dedicated performers of all shapes, fandoms, and specialties. Founded in 2013 by Sketch MacQuinor and Persephone Phoenix, Hysteria Machines’ goal was to provide a unique, atmospheric burlesque and variety revue, engaging the audience in an immersive experience while also giving new local talent the opportunity to shine!
Currently, Hysteria Machines is Atlanta’s Own (and ONLY) troupe dedicated exclusively to Nerdlesque and Pop-Culture Burlesque.
For those who do not know what Nerdesque is, can you provide some insight for them?
Burlesque as an art has evolved greatly through the generations. Its origins are in so-called “common man theater,” where the acts consisted of satire of serious literature. In the early 20th century, American burlesque gradually incorporated more and more striptease into the lineup, featuring the artists as principal performers. The terms “burlesque” and “striptease” eventually became tied, and remain so to this day. After fading out of popularity in the 1970s, American burlesque had a revival in the early 1990s with the so-called “Neo-Burlesque” movement. This modern version of burlesque broadened and expanded the classic striptease theme, and included a strong female empowerment movement as well as more contemporary subjects, music and themes.
This is where the term “Nerdlesque” comes in. Nerdlesque merges the classic satirical roots of burlesque with the Neo-Burlesque movement, by parodying current pop culture, geek fandoms and common nerd archetypes. As Atlanta’s Own Nerdlesque and Pop Culture Performance Collective, Hysteria Machines seeks to immerse the audience in this art form, steeped in history and peppered with current cultural phenomenon.
Now down to the nitty gritty. What is the wonderful world of ‘Sexpelliarmus, A Whimsical, Wizarding Burlesque Revue Part 3!!’ and how did the show go from the first inklings of a thought into the ever evolving production we are about to see at The Atlanta Shakespeare Company on May 21 and May 23?
Sexpelliarmus started out with what seemed like an impossible dream. I remember thinking “this is way too big for me to do.” My first brush with nerdlesque was graciously provided by Atlanta performer and producer Talloolah Love when I was accepted to perform a Ravenclaw love potion number, where my character devoted it to Neville Longbottom, on the Dragon Con Burlesque stage in 2013. It was very easy, when further diving into the Potterverse, to see each of these significant characters as parodies of themselves: Lupin peeling to “Hungry Like the Wolf.” Bellatrix swinging her wand and dancing with crazy fervor to “Maneater.” A whole host of silly, sexy acts played out in my head, but at the time, they felt like pipe dreams.
It wasn’t until I got some real production experience under my belt, through various other outside endeavors –some successes, some not-so-successful- that I even entertained the idea. Honestly, at first, I was just hoping to bring some acts to a local Harry Potter party! I had sourced a whole cast worth of people who shared my passion, all ready and willing to perform these acts, putting together costumes, discussing plot, planning meetings. When the party fell through, it seemed a waste to discard all the preparation the cast had done, so with the help of a mutual contact that was scored through my partner in Hysteria Machines, Sketch MacQuinor, Sexpelliarmus found a venue!
The acts weren’t the only big plans that seemed impossible, though I wanted a whole, immersive experience, complete with floating candles, living newspapers, seating by your House, character mingling, food and drinks from the Potterverse. So, with a lot of ingenuity from a cast I consider to be some of the most professional, committed, positive, amazing people ever, most of these things came to fruition. And what started as a small time production quickly had greater demand than we could accommodate in a smaller venue. We then moved to one of the most immersive venues in Atlanta, The Shakespeare Tavern, which brings with it a whole host of new, fun challenges to creating that signature Harry Potter experience.
Now, having one run of this show (and several runs of other shows) under our belt at the Tavern, we are ready to magic the pants off of our audience!
Will each night offer something a little different or will they be the same show, just at different dates and times?
Yes! Saturday will be our opening night, which is always very exciting! Those coming that night will be able to see a ONE NIGHT ONLY performance by none other than Coquette du Jour of Athens, Georgia. Monday night will also have some special offerings, with the house opening early for the Students of Hogwarts to enjoy any one of the Shakespeare Tavern’s many British dishes, participate in a photo booth, or maybe even get to dance a little!
Can you give us any secret tidbits of what can one expect to see, taste and experience walking into the world of Harry Potter at The Atlanta Shakespeare Company, which by the way is the perfect place to see this show, as seen through the eyes of Hysteria Machines’ Sexpelliarmus?
Well, as always, we will have themed adult beverages, including Butterbeer and a special Dragon Heartstring Potion, as well as chocolate frogs and pumpkin pasties. You will be surrounded by fully-costumed characters, epic Harry Potter music, and decor, including living newspapers, banners, props and more. We really go out of our way to make the experience magical for everyone. This is, of course, not to mention the awesome BRAND NEW acts that we’re bringing for this show.
What is your favorite thing about producing a show of this magnitude?
There is something really magical (and I hate to keep using that term, but it’s accurate) about walking out into the lobby or the house of the Tavern, with the audience in their costumes, characters mingling around, music piping in through the speakers, with decorations all about. Literally the experience of that is what I find the most gratifying. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.
There are multiple options of how one wants to experience a show, from full immersion of a VIP experience to more of a laid back approach for those that may be a little more timid. What can you offer as advice for first timers coming out to a burlesque show as what to expect, especially from this particular show, as it is layered with such an intricate storyline? Also, is there encouragement to dress up as your favorite character, like Hermione Granger or rally behind say one’s favorite house, for instance say Gryffindor?
Yes, there are a lot of options on how you can experience this show. Tiered seating, for instance, comes in three levels: floor, which are tables and chairs to fit your party on the main level. Box, which is on the perimeter of the main level, with tables and chairs. Or balcony, which overlooks the entire event from above, with counters on which to eat or set your drinks or wands. VIP, however, is a whole other level entirely! You’re super close to the stage, you’re included in the show throughout, the table is littered with goodies, signed posters, and you get themed drinks! Our VIPs receive a really neat experience. Also, if you can’t do a whole VIP table but still want some of the experience, we offer upgrade goody bags and themed drinks.
My best advice for those coming to this show as their first show: expect to laugh, and be prepared to become a student at Hogwarts, if even only for the night.
Geek is the new chic, do you think that’s half the fun of putting on a Nerdesque show?
Geek is definitely in right now, so riding that wave is no small contribution to our success. But truthfully, my biggest love of this genre is transporting people out of the real world for a few hours.
Finally, what is the one thing you want viewers to walk away from an experience of ‘Sexpelliarmus, A Whimsical, Wizarding Burlesque Revue Part 3!!’?
I want them to leave with a warm, fuzzy feeling, which is a potion consisting of excitement, humor, and nostalgia. I really want the audience to EXPERIENCE this production, and not just WATCH it.
I personally have been lucky enough to see each rendition of Sexpelliarmus, and let me tell you it’s so worth the ticket price. There is comedy, lots of laughter, inside jokes and you get to immerse yourself in the world of Harry Potter for a couple of hours, with lots of laughter and a bit of naughtiness. What’s not to love about that? I know I do. So you should come out and check out one of the shows. So grab your tickets, because this show will sell out and you don’t want to be left out in the dark all alone, by yourself, now do you?