Audacious dreams of sumimasen
by Vivacious Miss Audacious
I was selecting the perfect kawaii figurine from an impulse rack near the check out.
“Sumimasen!” I exclaim as a little girl with indigo veering on fuschia hair and her mother press close to me. “You have matching hair,” the mother says. I am confused. I see myself from above, with bleached white blonde roots and screaming fuchsia locks. We do. Antics ensue and I wake up with the realization that I was dreaming in Japanese, with my natural red hair a tangle across my pillow.
It’s quite possible that I have never spoken another language in my dreams. I don’t recall ever having done so. To me, such a thing speaks to the indelible mark Japan has made on my psyche. Japan was a dream. A faraway place, out of reach, but a place I am certain that would not only entrance me, but would love the art I make. Zany, colorful, outrageous, sometimes surreal. Kawaii.
To summarize fourteen madcap, bursting at the seams, kaleidoscopic days in Japan in a thousand words or less is a fantasy not worth having. But, I will happily paint you a glimpse of traveling showgirl life across the vast expanse of Tokyo and a sliver of Kyoto in postcard brevity.
A five-year, long story short: in 2018 I began to book a nationwide Japanese tour of Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima scheduled for March of 2020. We all know what happened next. Fast forward to June and July 2023 and the gates of a faraway place being flung open once again and my neon platform sneakers landing on the soil of a mesmerizing land bustling, rushing and oh, so polite.
Nestled between a proper holiday experience bookending showbiz, there were 5 days, 4 shows and 5 performances across Tokyo and Kyoto. Shows booked, bags yet to be packed, I recruited my comrades and fellow performers The Great Dane and Eddie Lockwood to join me for some magic making.
Show One: July 1, 2023
In the Heart of Shinjuku lies ROSSO 198, a cabaret club tucked down two flights of cement stairs and past a hallway that served as a sanctuary for smokers. The gregarious Toku San, proprietor, and man at the helm of the modest stage, replete with a runway, kindly mounted 'New Orleans Burlesque Carnival' on our behalf. A sold out affair, the show was bursting with incredible talent from a rousing and near hysterical group rendition of a famed scene straight out of Chicago, to the avant garde stylings of SNATCH, a veteran of the stage pumping out anarchic energy and impeccable musicality.
The Tokyo debut of my Pineapple Mambo act, where I enter as a pineapple with legs and emerge as a glamorous, hula hooping showgirl was a huge hit and the exclamations of “Kawaii!!” are a treasured memory and affirmation that I chose correctly when trekking to another hemisphere with 13 hula hoops. We celebrated through the night and emerged into a city aglow in neon lights.
Show Two: July 2, 2023
Dear, lovely Kyoto. The Heart of Japan (as I’ve been told). A charming city where we glimpsed a real life Geisha under the light of the full moon. I am eager to return and will never forget our first moments there. Sparing you the melodrama of the bullet train, we hurtled toward Kyoto from Tokyo in about 2.5 hours, arriving just as rehearsals were beginning. Our taxi deposited us and all of our worldly possessions onto a noteworthy street and we tumbled out, blinking and bleary, looking for the venue sign.
“Miss A!, Miss A!” I hear from above, searching, I look skywards and MECAV, my friend and one half of the production team, was hollering from a third floor window. We sardine into an ancient lift and we step into a hallway where she ushers us towards a door, flings it open and we are hit with a darkened room, a stage bathed in red, a single spotlight and a hauntingly gorgeous vocalist singing House of the Rising Sun in Japanese.
This moment is one I will forever cherish. Every moment of each day is packed with a thousand stories but in the interest of concision, I end Varietease Kyoto with the happy moment I am tipped not in a thousand yen bill, but a ten thousand yen bill (around $70 USD) which I discover in confusion after purchasing a glass of wine and receive a bounty of bills in return.
Show Three: July 4, 2023
Back to Tokyo, solo, and just in time for my third performance at the legendary and long running After Party Tokyo. APT is on the sixth floor of an enormous building and perhaps the tiniest cabaret I have had the privilege of performing in, with shows Every. Single. Day. Of. The. Week.
APT is a gem of a club. Walls clad in velvet curtains, ceilings close to my towering bun, and cabaret tables clustered around a petite so-called-stage provide for an intimate and in your face entertainment experience. I had a joyous evening filled with fellow performers, an epic music malfunction and the hilarity of an ostrich boa meeting a sweltering neck. We chatted, we translated, we drank endless wine.
One of many cherished moments was when the headmistress of the establishment Lady Nana and new friend Violet Eva obliged me on my quest for oysters. We ventured out into the lively streets of Shinjuku once again, and traveled down a notorious side street lined with bored, babydoll attired ladies and a few grizzled men.
We walked through throngs of youth and past glowing arcades, around corners, more sidestreets, down an alley, into an unmarked building, up several staircases, through a hallway and into a cubby sized bar, accommodating a mere six barstools and featuring one Japanese man with a shoegaze vibe, shaggy hair and a Betty Boop T-Shirt.
My friends flanked me in disgust (oysters were out of season and I did not care). We drank tokkuri of sake after tokkuri of sake. They pierced curious side dishes of organ meats with chopsticks, and ordered me an abundance of the best raw oysters I’ve ever gulped, freshly shucked amidst swirls of chain smoking by everyone but me. We stumbled out into the gleaming neon and I was deposited into a taxi clutching handwritten directions to my flat.
July 5, 2023: Show Four
Still flying solo in Tokyo while my pals adventure elsewhere, I embark on my final booking of the tour, performing in, what I found out later would be, two shows. L&S is a showbar featuring a stage longer than it is deep, and ceilings not built for hula hooping showgirls who reach nearly 6 feet tall in ballroom heels. I am nothing if not a professional and eek out the perfect and only position to manage barely unhindered hula hooping.
To get on stage while swathed in yards of ruffles and a towering pineapple crown, I duck and squeeze through an impossible seeming crevice and wait behind curtains for my grand entrance kicking off the show. Backstage, in a once tiny kitchen and now green room complete with live bunnies and doves (for the magicians), drag gowns, burlesque ephemera and one single stool, I learn we are doing the show again for a fresh crowd.
I lean, I switch my weight between my feet, and I discover that there is Veuve Clicquot in the mini fridge. I had glimpsed nary a champagne bottle my entire trip and was delighted. Kily Shakley, the dazzling showgirl producer, offers to get me a glass. Confused, I accept. Much like taxi dancers of yore (look it up) the deal was high rollers would purchase bottles of the good stuff, encouraged by the showgirls, who would then enjoy the privilege of partaking.
I wait, I perform, I finally sip my bubbles and go out to mingle. The drag queens are clustered around the high rollers, drinking heartily. I sidle up, I smile, I wiggle, the stage kitten cum hostess pours me a fresh glass from their bottle. The young jack of all trades magician moseys over for a glass. We down them. I smile, I display my empty glass and the high rollers exclaim, “More!”
And this continues, with bottle after bottle popping until their companions look bored and exhausted, the men with the abundance of yen become increasingly boastful and near belligerent, and I keep smiling, sipping and relishing the fact that I don’t personally have to make small talk due to, in this instance, the beauty of the language barrier. Nine bottles later, and with the trains long on their nightly service shut off, we climb into a taxi and journey into the night once again.
Vivacious Miss Audacious is a performer and producer based in New Orleans.
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Or for upcoming shows and tickets, see her website.
BLOWING HOT AND COLD IN THE ALASKAN MOUNTAINS