Interview with the Extraordinary Waxie Moon
I am sitting here with Waxie Moon, burlesque performer extraordinaire. Let’s start at the very beginning. When did you start performing?
I started performing in the third grade. I took disco lessons, because that used to be one of the only ways to entice boys to dance. [They were] at a local dance studio. My family [and I] were living in Nevada at the time. And I started taking disco lessons and I performed two disco dances. There were maybe five guys in the class and we all partnered a different girl from the dance studio to “Copacabana”. Then I was lucky because I was so into it (I actually cried one time when class was canceled – that’s how into it I was), got to partner the daughter of the studio owner and main teacher at the dance studio in “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”. So that was my first performance experience.
From there, did you continue on taking more dance classes?
I did. What started as disco eventually became jazz, tap, ballet. I thought I was going to be a ballet dancer and I went away to the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan to study ballet, and there I was introduced to modern dance. I was immediately taken by that art form and was like, “Oh, I want to be a modern dancer. That’s more interesting to me.” More dynamic, more dramatic. So once I graduated from Interlochen, I went to Juilliard in New York, where I was also a dance major. Then I had a professional dance career for ten years in New York before making my way to Seattle. S
o what brought you to Seattle?
I knew that I wanted to be making a shift in my career. I wanted to be acting. So I eventually got into graduate school. I kept getting wait-listed for a couple years for a bunch of schools on the east coast and then I expanded my search to include Seattle and I got into the University of Washington graduate program.
I’m guessing from a pretty young age you knew that performing is what you wanted to do for the rest of your life.
Yeah, I think I even told my parents, “I want to be a professional dancer.” They were like, “All right… where’d that come from?” [laughs] But they were supportive. I was one of the only boys of my age at the studios where I would take lessons, so I would get free classes too. So my parents weren’t going to argue with free classes.
At what point did you start exploring and performing in the burlesque world?
In the fall of 2006, I was so busy producing theatre that I wasn’t having fun being in the theatre. I wasn’t having fun on stage. I was part of Washington Ensemble Theatre, which I co-founded here in Seattle, and just to work with some different artists and mix it up and do something a little different, I enrolled in the Academy of Burlesque with Miss Indigo Blue. I took her six week course and the persona of Waxie Moon was born in that class. Lily Verlaine came to my recital, and called me very soon after that and said “I’m devising a show called Land of the Sweets: the Burlesque Nutcracker and I’d like you to play men’s parts and women’s parts in this. Would that interest you?” And I was like, “Yes. Absolutely.” It’s interesting, because “Land of the Sweets” was informative to who the persona of Waxie Moon became. The gender fluidity was something I was definitely interested in and then getting to do it immediately in Land of the Sweets also kind of cemented that.
As one of the original cast members of “Land of the Sweets”, how do you think the show has evolved over time?
It’s gotten much better. [laughs] I think the quality of the production has increased. We started with maybe four performances, and now we do 30 performances, so the volume has increased. There are more group acts. I think we only had the opening number, which was a group act, then there was a swing number that I wasn’t in, one duet. But it seems like the group acts have definitely evolved. The costuming has certainly become more elaborate and beautiful, more designed. I didn’t have a solo the first two years, I think. I think the Rat King solo emerged in the third season. It just keeps getting better and better and I think last year we really hit our stride, with this beautiful new finale that Lily conceived. I think it’s so good right now. I really appreciate that Lily and Jasper are continually pushing themselves and trying to explore new things with it and devise new acts and have new visions. I’m inspired by their vision for the production because it’s their ingenuity and their tenacity that keeps it growing.
You’re also part of “[Through the Looking Glass: The Burlesque] Alice in Wonderland” Were you part of the original cast of that as well?
How did that come about?
At some point, Lily and Jasper both said, “We also have this show in mind, and we’d like to include all the original cast from the burlesque Nutcracker.” I remember her saying, “I don’t want to announce the casting yet. Jasper and I are still discussing it.” And I kept thinking, “Well, I hope I’m the Queen of Hearts.” [laughs] I just kind of assumed I would be the Queen of Hearts, and then eventually she did announce the casting and I was going to be the White Knight. And I was like, “What? [laughs] I don’t even know what that means!” And then I started to really get into the idea of being the White Knight and maybe he’s kind of a melancholy character and I started to envision, like maybe my mustache will be white and it will flow down to the ground and be really long and beautiful. But I was having trouble envisioning the gender play within it and then Lily said, “No, actually, Jasper and I have changed our minds and we’re going to have you be the Cheshire Cat.” At that time, that didn’t quite make sense to me, and then we started working on it, and made it in two hours. It totally flowed and I realized I’m half cat. [laughs] It was so obvious. It’s such a good fit. And that act, even more than the Rat King solo, is one of my very favorite Waxie Moon acts that I get to perform.
Being a part of those shows and doing the many numerous other shows that you do, what do you think sets shows like Land of the Sweets and Through the Looking Glass apart from other burlesque shows?
The concepts are incredibly strong, so it’s grounded and has the webbing of a very strong concept. It’s not an act and then an emcee, and then an act and then an emcee. There are added characters, and sense of story, and various things that set it apart. Also, it’s one of the highest quality shows, in terms of full production value. And we also get to do such wonderful extended runs of these shows, I think it’s deeper in us. The more you get to do something, the better you get and the more we get to perform these roles and be these characters and work on these solos, the more they improve, the more they deepen, the more they grow, the more right they seem.
You are also very well known for doing boylesque. Is there a difference between burlesque and boylesque, and if so, what is it?
I think one of the things is that “boylesque” isn’t beholden to the tradition that “burlesque” is. If people are going to go see a burlesque show, they have an expectation of what they’re going to see. Most neo-burlesque performers really rock that and really push the boundary of what it can be, but I think there’s always an expectation. Whereas, with boylesque, I feel like there’s a little bit more freedom, because it’s a made up word. Nobody would go to a boylesque performance and say, “Well, that’s not boylesque.” You know what I mean? [laughs] I think there’s a little bit more freedom with it. And it’s also less known territory, less chartered territory. There are fewer boylesque performers in the world. I think it’s like a cool cousin in the burlesque family. Maybe more than that. And I don’t think it’s a novelty. I think it’s an important part of the burlesque form.
Do you think that Waxie Moon is at the forefront of creating this new form?
I think, in Seattle, which has a thriving burlesque scene, I hit it at the right time. When I was interested in burlesque and boylesque was right at this time when burlesque was starting to mushroom in Seattle. I think nationally and internationally, I’m respected as a Seattle boylesque performer and kind of known for what I’m creating and contributing here. I think because the Seattle scene is so vibrant, that’s kind of helped for Waxie recognition as well. People are always looking to Seattle to see what exciting burlesque is happening and then if they look at boylesque, they become informed of what I’m doing. But I feel like I’m part of this community, part of this vibrant scene that’s doing some of the best burlesque in the world.
You’ve also ventured into film as a performer, which is not something that a lot of burlesque performers have done. What drew you to that form and how has that evolved for you?
What drew me to that form was not me; it was an outside force. It was a director named Wes Hurley, who created a documentary. He asked if he could follow me around for a year and interview members of the Seattle burlesque community about burlesque and boylesque and Waxie Moon. He created a beautiful documentary. It’s kind of a “follow your dream” type of story. “Don’t worry about what people say, but do what you love” kind of message. It’s done really well. This little documentary done with hand-held camera, shot in people’s living rooms and offices and various performance spaces. The success of that documentary propelled us to collaborate on something. We didn’t collaborate on that; he was the creator of the documentary, but then we became very good friends. He said, “Why don’t we put Waxie into a fictional film?” and we were like, “Oh great! Let’s create a fictional narrative and what if Waxie is timeless and genderless in this weird way? What if it’s a chick flick, then it evolves into a 1950s melodrama, and maybe changes genre again and again?” So we created Waxie Moon in “Fallen Jewel“, and we’ll see what happens with it. I’m very excited about it.
Having done film, stage and all manner of types of performance, what plans do you have for the future?
I’m very excited about working with Deirdre Timmons on a film that she’s envisioning, called “Kings” and there’s a performance component to that. I am never at a shortage for ideas. Wes Hurley and I have talked about making a soap opera. I made a seventeen minute strip to Ravel’s “Bolero” and I’d like to continue to develop what that would be if it became an evening length work. We’ll see. I’m excited, I’m inspired, I’m in the right city for what we do.
Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and do this.