Monday, February 12, 2018

A Conversation with Chef Paul Deiana-Molnar

First, thanks for talking to me, Paul. Full-disclosure, one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten was prepared by you—so thank you again for that! What makes one a chef?

Passion, commitment, sacrifice, consistency, being knowledgeable, and humble.

Passion:  You have to wake up every day with that drive to want to do this.

Commitment:  You have to give everything to this because it not only is mentally taxing but physically.  10-14 hour days, (or longer) could be 6 days a week or longer, it can happen when your busy time is, and this is a turnoff for some people.

Sacrifice:  I tell people who want to get into this business, it’s not as glamorous as tv makes it out.  We work holidays, weekends, early mornings and late nights.  You not only make the sacrifice but your family does as well because of the hours that we keep and how you might not be there birthdays or holidays.  Spouses are a special breed because they have to be understanding and realize what this business entails.

Knowledgeable: You have to know how to cook, I believe you need to understand cooking principles, flavor profiles, food cost (yea, we are responsible for actually knowing how much it costs and how much we should sell it for), and mentor. 

 Humble: I say this because we are known for our egos and as someone who can attest to it, success feeds the beast.  I always remind myself that you are only as good as your last meal and everyday brings its challenges.   We just can’t let all of that success go to our head because that’s where small mistakes can turn into big mistakes.

What got you interested in becoming a chef?

Basically, this is what I’ve always wanted to do.  When I was a kid, I did the usual, fireman and police officer, but later decided that wasn’t for me.  I’m third generation foodservice, my great grandfather was a pastry chef and my father was a waiter at a exclusive restaurant in Manhattan. When I was 16 I got my first chance to work in a kitchen at a summer camp in upstate NY and fell in love with it.  The movement, the craziness, the energy.  Its addicting because if you like being active and being on your feet, I can’t think of anything else I want to do.  

Do you come up with your own recipes or use others? Or a mix?

I go with a mix.  I’ll do research on a menu or dish and find several and take all components and measurements from several and make one recipe.  I’ll start following that recipe but once I’ve gotten comfortable with a dish, I might change some things to better enhance it or make the recipe more conducive to doing the volume we do at the stadium.

What's your favorite type of food to eat?

I’m an eater, so I pretty much like all foods.  As a chef, you have to try everything (perk of the job) so it all depends. 

What's your favorite food to make? 

Pasta is my go to dish most times because it’s very easy/quick to make.  Lamb and venison are some of my favorite proteins to eat and to cook (when it’s my day off).   

Many restaurants have the same things on their menus.  What items or combinations do you wish you saw more of?

I like seeing the house made stuff, homemade pickles, meats, sausages, and breads.  I know it’s hard to do depending on the restaurant, but I love this stuff.  

Is there a chain restaurant you're impressed with right now?

I think I’m more impressed by restaurants doing more to buy more natural/less processed foods are being sold.  Panera and Chipolte are both 2 chains that are doing this and working out the kinks with meeting the needs of their business. I see this happening more and more in the coming years, it’s going back to basics and real food. 

Do you cook a lot at home or are you done with it once you get back from work?

I don’t cook that much at home because I just spent 10-15 hours in a kitchen so when I do come home, its simple.  My rule is I need one day after I’m done working and haven’t cooked, I’m willing to cook.   Everyone needs some down time away from whatever they do and my wife is kind enough to do most of the cooking. 

What's the most surprisingly delicious thing you’ve eaten?

Head cheese which is basically a cow’s head that is cooked and formed into a block.  It was at one of Mario Batali’s restaurant but once I tasted it, I really didn’t share it with anyone else.  This comes back to good food/technique and it was well worth the money spent on that meal.

What's the fanciest meal you've had that was just awful? 

We went out to a restaurant in East Aurora, NY when we lived in Buffalo and the food was just bad.  The food was cold, took forever, and the quality wasn’t there for what this placed was billed to be.  It’s an “institution” in that area, expensive, and normally I would give someone another chance but that’s an expensive second chance.

Any favorite cook books that you use?

Flavor Bible: its great because it shows what foods go well together, seasonality of items, and it’s a great resource.
Garde Manage from the CIA
Chacuterie The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing
 Any book from Thomas Keller, him talking about techniques and ingredients is incredible.

The better cook I become the less tolerant I am of Hot Pockets, mac and cheese, chicken fingers and the like.  Can you eat just anything, or did you become finicky?

I get that but working in the food industry, there are a good amount of times that you eat whatever is available (chicken fingers, burgers, pizza, pasta, etc) or other items because it’s a quick fix.  We like to think that in foodservice we can all sit down and have nice meal or we have the time to cook better but employee meals sometimes depends on what’s available, time frame for the day, who’s cooking it, and how crazy it is. 
I’m finicky/respectful when it comes down to actually going out for dinner because I’m paying for it but I’m also understanding.  I’ve been to places and saw how crazy it is and understand because I’ve been there.  I do get picky if the food isn’t the quality (fast food, fast casual, mid level restaurant, or fine dining) that they state it to be.   

Have you ever had any cooking disasters or embarrassing moments?

We all do.  I remember that I was working somewhere and I was making a 3 layered chocolate cake (1 layer chocolate, orange chocolate, and white chocolate) on a sponge cake base.  I mixed up the bins of sugar and salt and all I can say is that it was not a good surprise when you bit into it.

I like to end with advice from the expert on what the readers can do today to bring your expertise into their lives.  What is your advice to all of us cooks at home that want to improve our skills?  A technique, a cooking tool, something to try, a new recipe--anything at all.  

First off, don’t be intimidated by cooking.  I always hear that people say that they can’t do this or that or this ingredient is so exotic.  Do some quick research about the technique or ingredient before trying.  Chefs do this all the time and I will tell you that I go to you tube to sometimes watch how to do a specific technique or what works with an ingredient. Have fun, try it out, and enjoy.  If it works great, if it doesn’t, go back and see what you did right and what you did wrong.  Don’t do anything that you’re not comfortable with and think about doing different techniques in baby steps.  Also, don’t be afraid to try something.  I tell my staff that even if you might not like it, you have to try it once (especially if you are making it for guests).

Monday, February 5, 2018

A Conversation with Female Martial Arts Instructor, Yevette Huchinson

Yevette, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. First things first, what got you in to martial arts? 

My son received the diagnosis of “ADHD” at age 6 or 7. His Doctor had terrible office management and he himself had no bed side manners at all. Funny how that sticks with you after 20+ years. However, he gave me one outstanding piece of advice. “Put your son in martial arts, I hear it really helps with focus”.  While that was our last visit to this Doctor, I followed his advice and starting looking for a school. I watched his classes for about a month and knew I should be out there too.  My back ground was figure skating and gymnastics so I liked the independent work as well as a setting with fellow students.

What arts do you train in?    

My foundation is Taekwondo and Hapkido, but when there is an opportunity to train in anything else I do. There isn’t an art I’ve tried that I didn’t learn something from. I mostly enjoy trying a style that is very different from what I’m comfortable doing. I have great respect for ground technicians for their flow, boxers for their foot work discipline and throwing arts for their use of energy.

In your experience do you find that you must alter your teaching styles between men and women?

I don’t think I alter my style of teaching depending on the gender of my student.  My style is more of a coach rather than that of a traditional instructor.  I do teach to each student individually.  Every student comes to you for a different reason.  Some examples may be increased self-protection skills, or to build strength, some train to build their confidence.  Sometimes a student (male and female) trains to help restore themselves from emotional battering. A lot of times they don’t immediately share their real reason for stepping on the mat, so I study them to learn about their physical and emotional benchmarks. Then I can work on challenging each student on their level.  We all know that skeletal structures are different between men and women. Learning those differences and teaching techniques based on their body structure is key to producing their best.  In my experience, the better instructors recognize these differences and train their students with this approach.

I find in my training that often men want to be gentle when training with women instead of doing us a service and going full on.  Do you find that in your training?  And if so, how do you get them to overcome it?

Typically, men, good men, are wired to care for women and be protectors.  (And I have a huge respect for that).  It’s hard to get a man to just let that go and swing on you.  It’s trust on both sides and you have to build up to it.  We start at a lower force and move up gradually.  You can’t train in this approach if you don’t allow both to slowly build their trust in their training and their training partner.

Have you encountered any hurdles as a female martial arts trainer?

Where we started: Martial arts training was provided by men to men for combat.  Fast forward a few hundred years and the answer is yes, there are some hurdles. When you walk in a new place or introduce yourself to someone you’re making opinions based on the information you have so far.  Now picture a 6’2 210lb gentleman looking for classes and being introduced to the chief instructor and owner, a 5’3, 130lb me.  I often have to work hard with my words and skills demonstration to prove that he has stopped at the right place.  However, if this same gentleman came looking for classes for their child, I unfortunately may have an advantage.  In today’s society, (and I hate this assumption because it lowers the guard) men are losing trust among parents with their children and as a result, someone seeing a combination of male and female instructors is positive selling point.  In other areas I have been honored with opportunities to teach at major corporations, federal law enforcement agencies and local organizations in my area. Most recently, I taught at a martial arts summit among 20 or so other instructors. I was the only female instructor in attendance. I was thrilled to “make the stage” as I worked hard to show this group my capabilities, but sad that more females were not alongside me. Of course, this has only fueled my desire to push more women to grow in their art and be an example of what we bring to the table. Yes, there are hurdles, but we will clear them.

What's your most embarrassing moment while training?

Ripped pants, being knocked silly by a 16 year old boy just drilling some punches, being asked why I’m crying by your husband, sparing a 60+ year old student and bring a great sidekick which doesn’t even move him (yes, I made him an instructor), the list could go for a while. Probably, my most embarrassing moment I never shared with my students. I was to the breaking demonstrations of a rank test and I failed to break some of my stations with my most reliable techniques. As a result, I had to drop from 2 one inch boards to 1. I was first embarrassed that I failed to complete the breaks, but later was more embarrassed at my ego.  I was presumptuous and it came back to bite me in the ass.      

Have you had any big injuries that left you cool battle scars?

Black eyes, broken toe, jammed this and that, but nothing visible to start a good conversation over. Still working on it.

In talking with some of your students, you've had some pretty interesting testing for your belt levels.  Tell us about a few of those.

I create each black belt test to the student. I showcase their unique abilities and push them to their limits. I like to be creative with the test so we usually leave the comfort of the school to do so. Most recently, I took a few students to my favorite park on a Friday night, in 38 degree temperatures. On my favorite hill, we did sprints, lunges, and front kicks. As a team they carried a two inch battle rope around their course. If any part of the rope hit the ground, there of course was a burpee penalty. With this rope, they ran, figured out how to each cross the monkey bars, step ups, and yes lots of burpees because the rope did hit the ground. They saw challenges and worked together to respond which was the theme of the night. Respond. Saturday morning we spent a few more hours at the school continuing their test in a more traditional manner but it is the Friday night they always talk about.

Who do you admire in fighting/training?

Just speaking of the folks I’ve worked with, about 6 individuals make my short list. I choose these folks for these reasons: 1st They are immersed in their craft and it is evident in their skills. 2nd They share it for the right reasons without a self-serving attitude and ego. 3rd there is no BS and no fluff.  No need for names. I pay my respect by continuing to show up for their classes, camps and clinics as often as I can.

Is there a martial art or aspect of martial arts that you currently do not do, but if there were enough hours in the day you would totally do?

If there were enough time in the day, I would immediately add stick fighting, Jiu Jitsu and Yoga to my schedule. I know, polar opposites of one another and yet I see how they work perfectly together.

Do you have any other unusual hobbies or interests outside of martial arts?

It’s not really a hobby, but I’ve recently taken on the role as a school teacher. I home school our middle school daughter and love it. It’s not easy and YouTube has been my best friend to refresh on math but totally worth it.  I love to fish. I love to battle the big ones and then cook them for dinner. Kayaking is one of my favorite things to do to relax on the water and camp fires is a favorite pass time at night.

We always like to offer our readers/followers something they can do right now, to taste a little of what it is you do. What's one thing you would tell our readers they can do to get started in martial arts right now, from home?

If your readers are interested in starting martial arts I would offer this as a starting point. Write down all the reasons you want to do this. Interview schools, take free classes and after you find your fit, get on that mat and go for it. You will be amazed at what you are capable of.  

Thank you so much for taking the time!

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Conversation with Lawrence Ellsworth

(Photo by Nina Harwick)
BIO: Lawrence Ellsworth is the pen name of Lawrence Schick. He began his career as a writer at TSR Hobbies in the late 1970s, where he wrote, developed, and edited a number of titles for the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. He produced role-playing scenarios and magazine articles throughout the 1980s, culminating in the publication of Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games (Prometheus Books, 1991, as by Lawrence Schick).
When Ellsworth’s father was a young man in the 1930s and ’40s he was a fan of the adventure pulp magazines. When Ellsworth was a boy in the 1960s, publishers were reprinting many of the best pulp tales in inexpensive paperbacks, and his father would buy them, read them, and then pass them on to his son. So Harold Lamb, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Robert E. Howard enthralled Ellsworth at an early age. Poring through the libraries for any book in which the hero wore a sword soon led him to Dumas, Sabatini, Orczy, Tolkien, H. Rider Haggard, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s historicals. Ellsworth wallowed in swashbucklers.
In the early 1970s, just as he was beginning to think the genre was played out, the Richard Lester / George MacDonald Fraser films The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers proved there were still new ways to approach it. The scripts led Ellsworth to Fraser’s Flashman novels, and that sealed the deal for good and all.
In the early 1990s Ellsworth led a troupe of writers who produced live-action role-playing weekends for 50 to 100 players, specializing in historical productions with romantic themes. While writing and researching The King’s Musketeers for this troupe, he became fascinated with early 17th-century France. This rekindled his interest in swashbuckler fiction, and he has since become a noted collector and authority on the subject.
Ellsworth learned French so he could read Dumas’ novels, and Richelieu’s memoirs, in the original language. In the process he did a translation of The Three Musketeers for fun and practice. He has recently completed a full translation of Alexandre Dumas’ “lost” novel The Red Sphinx.
Ellsworth has attended the Taos Writers’ Workshop (Historical Fiction program) and the Algonkian Writers’ Workshop. He is a member of Washington Independent Writers and the Historical Novel Society, and attended the American HNS Conferences in 2005 and 2007. He has written scripts for comic books, has worked in radio and narrative voiceovers, and is an experienced public speaker. He has three children, Wyatt, Sanderson, and Honor, and lives in northern Maryland near Baltimore.
First, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.  Why Swashbuckling tales?  What got you in to it?

It’s just one of the genres of fiction I grew up on (see Bio). They’re attractive propositions, with heroes who are nearly always fighting injustice, personal or general, but doing so by their own rules and their own codes of honor. And because the heroes are acting outside of orthodox processes and methods, they have to rely on their own wits and cleverness—and I love a smart hero.

Swashbuckling novels were all the rage and for a good long while one of the top fiction genres.  What do you think happened for them to fall out of favor?

They haven’t, they’ve just morphed from historical adventures into history-flavored fantasies. The Game of Thrones is just a grand swashbuckler saga with dragons, and George R.R. Martin’s extended epic bears a lot of similarities to Alexandre Dumas’s multi-volume Musketeers Cycle. Historical adventures themselves are still alive and kicking: look at The Vikings and The Last Kingdom, and even Outlander. We just had a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. And then there are fantasy role-playing games, on the tabletop, PCs, and consoles. The Assassin’s Creed games are all swashbucklers as well. The DNA of the swashbuckler story is firmly embedded throughout our popular culture’s entertaiment.

If someone said they don't like books of this sort, besides your own work, which ones would you point them to, to change their minds?

Ha! See above. If they like action stories, I’d point them toward the giant bookshelf of novels by Bernard Cornwell; if they prefer duels of wit in drawing-rooms, I’d give them Swordspoint, the first of Ellen Kushner’s elaborate “Tremontaine” series.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is you actually learned French just to better understand and translate some works by Alexandre Dumas.  That is serious passion and dedication. How was that process?

It was fun! Nobody is more proud of their language than the French, and there is a staggering quantity of resources available to a person who wants to learn, most of it low cost or free. Obviously millions of people speak French, including people you already know, and they’re nearly all eager to help you get it right. The internet has hundreds of tutorials and apps, and hey, Quebec is practically right next door! It helps if you can set yourself some big projects that can be done piecemeal—I did my first translation of The Three Musketeers as a tutorial, chapter by chapter, over a year and a half.

French seems like an especially difficult language to me.  Did you find it difficult or did your passion for the payoff outweigh all?  

It’s not so bad—it’s not like you have to learn a new alphabet, like you do for Russian, which I’ve also studied. The important thing is not to be afraid to consult experts when you’re unsure of something, like an idiomatic phrase. The internet is your friend in that regard.

Do you speak it/understand it well when it's spoken?  I guess I mean, in reading it and writing it to the depth that you had to learn to translate beautifully, does that translate to a better understanding of the spoken word as well?

To be honest, my conversational French is weak until I’ve been in-country and immersed in it for a few days. Once you start to think in it, you’re fine. Listening to the news in French is a great help.

I tried The Count of Monte Cristo at one time and just couldn’t get into it, so I stopped reading it.  Then I picked it up and read it cover-to-cover a few years ago and currently it's my favorite book of all time.  My first and second reading experiences came down to the skills of the translator. I wish I had understood different people translating a book can make all the difference.  I read that you translated The Three Musketeers by Dumas.  That one seems to have been done a lot by many publishers.  Can you tell me what is missing from other translations that you want to bring to it with your understanding of the language and the author?

Most published editions of the novel that you’ll find in bookstores and libraries still use translations that were prepared in the 1840s or 1850s, respectable but creaky adaptations endlessly recycled and reprinted, versions that simply don’t properly convey the energy and tone of Dumas’s original work. Though to be fair, those Victorian-era translators knew their business, and delivered exactly what their readers were looking for: historical dramas at the time were expected to be told in the stiff, elevated diction of writers like Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper, and the translators saw it as their job to render Dumas’s unconventionally active prose into the more passive style then prevailing. But in doing so these early translations lost much of Dumas’s distinctive voice and tone, that warmth and vibrancy that leaps off the page in the original French. And that’s a real disservice to today’s readers, denying them some of the key virtues of this really quite modern writer. In translating this, one of my favorite works of fiction, I felt my most important task was to identify Dumas’s genuine voice and bring it to current-day readers of English, so they can meet the man on his own terms and really appreciate what he has to offer.

Have you found that the noble characters of many swashbuckling heroes have influenced your personal life in any way beyond mere entertainment?

Well, I did name my daughter Honor!

You also have an interest in swashbuckling films.  What are the top 3 everyone should see?  

That’s a tough one, because I love so many of them—I’m adding a whole section to my website called The Cinema of Swords! I think I’d have to go with the Errol Flynn Adventures of Robin Hood, Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers (I know, cheating), and Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai.

What about the top 3 authentic swashbuckling scenes everyone should see in a movie that perhaps wasn't so great?

“Authentic,” eh? Hmm. The final swordfight between the aging Robin Hood (Sean Connery) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw) in Robin and Marian, though that whole movie’s great; there are some early scenes of nasty, period piracy that are just spot-on in the first third of 1924’s The Black Pirate (the silent with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.); and the depiction of samurai warfare in Kurosawa’s Kagemusha is unequaled in film.

What other interesting or unusual hobbies do you have?

Between my day job, designing and writing video games as Lawrence Schick, my second career as Lawrence Ellsworth, and the wonderful challenges of being a single parent, that’s about all I have time for! I used to run and play in a lot of live-action role-playing games, but I haven’t done that much lately.

I like to end each of the conversations with advice from the expert on what the reader can do right now to take a step in the direction that you did.  This can be how to grab a little of that swashbuckling panache, to advice on pursuing passion. Anything at all. What can you tell them to get started?

Set your own goals, play by your own rules, and then you’re the one who decides when you’re winning. Set out to be good at something you like, because if you like doing something, being good at it will naturally follow.

Thank you so much for taking the time!  

Readers, for more on Mr. Ellsworth, to purchase his books or to review The Cinema of Swords go to 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Monday, January 22, 2018

A Conversation with Burlesque Performer, Siren Santina

Siren Santina is a burlesque performer, educator, and producer from Knoxville, Tennessee. Miss Santina has traveled throughout the country, performing at burlesque and vaudeville festivals from coast to coast including notable events such as The New Orleans Burlesque Festival, The Show Me Burlesque Festival, The New York Nerdlesque Festival, and The Burlesque Hall of Fame’s “Movers, Shakers, and Innovators” showcase. She made it reign as Queen of the inaugural  Southern Fried Burlesque Festival in Atlanta, GA and represented the United States at the World Burlesque Games in London, England. Siren is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Salomé Cabaret Burlesque Revue, Lead Instructor of the Salomé Cabaret Burlesque Academy, and Executive Producer of the Smoky Mountain Burlesque Festival.
You can find her on her website at and on social media (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) as sirensantina.

First things first, how did you get started in Burlesque?

Kismet. I didn’t necessarily go out and pursue burlesque. It came to me. I was an active participant in our local goth subculture. When a promotor from the community decided he wanted to have a burlesque performance as part of one of his special events, he started looking for people from within the community that had stage experience or interest in burlesque and pin-up culture. I was already known to him as a singer, and had spoken to him about how much I enjoyed a visiting performer with burlesque influence, so I ended up on his short list of folks to discuss the idea with. The rest, as they say, is history!

What is the biggest misconception about burlesque that you’d like to correct?

I think the most common misconception regarding burlesque that I encounter is the art-form’s relationship to “stripping” as we know it in today’s culture. Sometimes I encounter folks that consider burlesque to be the synonymous with the type of dancing seen in modern-day gentlemen’s clubs (i.e. “strippers” or “pole dancers”). I encounter others that are staunchly opposed to the comparison of the two art-forms, implying that one is better or worse than the other and that both are entirely different animals. The truth is that the art-form exists somewhere in the middle. I believe it is important to be aware of the art-form’s history. Burlesque dancers in the art’s heyday WERE adult-industry entertainers. While their performances may have been less risqué than those of today’s exotic dancers, they were no less a part of the sex work industry of that time. I like to explain the difference like this: “Strippers” are performing to the audience’s definition of seduction, a set of unspoken standards often driven by the male gaze. “Burlesque Dancers” are often performing to their own interpretation of the same thing, highlighting what they personally find attractive or arousing about themselves regardless of how it fits into society’s beauty standards. Are the two different? Yes, they can be. I, however, don’t find them to be nearly as disparate as some people describe.

Tell me about your first burlesque performance.
My first burlesque performance was a bit of a “trial by fire” experience. I began performing in 2006, while the neo-burlesque movement was still relatively young. While there were developed communities practicing the art-form in larger cities, the resources available to us here in the conservative Southeast were extremely limited. There were no shows being produced that we could attend for inspiration. There were no classes being taught. We built our material based on written accounts of live performances and clips of vintage stag films from the internet.
I had been approached about performing in Knoxville’s first burlesque show based on my stage experience as a singer, and it was my intention to provide live vocals while other more confident performers disrobed. This was a common format of the vaudeville and variety show striptease I had encountered in my research. When our big group act was complete, the emcee started introducing each performer from one side of the stage to the other. As each name was called, the performer ripped off an extra part of their costume and took a bow for the audience. This improvised reveal sent me into a panic. I was not prepared to take my costume off and I was embarrassed by my size at the time. When my name was called, I made the split second decision to follow the pack. I ripped my skirt off and braced myself for the backlash of the audience. To my surprise, my plus-sized pantslessness was met with applause and adoration.
I was approached by a multitude of audience members after the show, many of which were also plus-sized or otherwise unconventionally shaped women. All of them expressed gratitude and pride in my participation, in my bravery, in my confidence. I realized in that moment how important it was that I had taken off my skirt. Although I had felt terrified and insecure I had sent a message to those watching that my body (and others like it) was beautiful, desirable even, and deserving of sharing the spotlight with those more closely resembling society’s ideal.

Tell me who/what inspires you from the following:

Old School Burlesque:
I am inspired by the glamour of old school burlesque in general. Finding recorded performances of classic burlesque starts can be challenging. Many were never recorded, and those that were have often had the original musical accompaniment replaced with jarring or disconnected generic canned music due to copyright concerns. Jennie Lee, founder of the Burlesque Hall of Fame museum, is a favorite based on her contributions to the modern community. Candy Baby Caramelo was an inspiration to me as well, as comedic, singing burlesque performers were not necessarily the norm in the artforms heyday. I got to see her perform several times at the BHoF weekender in Las Vegas and always found her campy shtick to be sexy AND entertaining.

I am routinely inspired by the innovation I see coming out of the neo-burlesque community. At this point there is a long and established history, with documented examples of art-form archetypes. I love seeing someone pay tribute to that history while applying their own unique spin. For example, Iva Handfull is known for performing fan dances to modern, electronic music. She uses the same traditional fan dancing movements, but alters the speed and affect to fit the more modern accompaniment. The result is a very different, non-traditional fan dance. I am also completely enamored by performers who have mastered another art-form and incorporate it into their striptease performance. For example, Mr. Gorgeous with hand balancing, Midnite Martini with aerial silks, and Roxi d’Lite with cyr wheel. I attempt to do that myself by incorporating my music talents into stripteases with live vocal accompaniment.

What Non-Burlesque sources inspire you?

I am inspired greatly by strong female entertainment personalities, particularly those specializing in comedy and/or music. Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Bette Midler, Vicki Lawrence, and Julie Andrews are particular favorites.

Do you make your costume pieces or buy them/alter them? 

I am the daughter of a retired Home Economics instructor and professional costumier, so the majority of my costumes are hand made. Some of my costumes are created to ready-to-wear bases, but all have at least some level of unique hand-crafted embellishment that help them to illustrate the creative vision of the piece for which they are created.
What is your favorite costume or piece?

My favorite costume piece is probably the tail skirt I use in my turkey trot act. It is an unusual and unexpected costume element that I collaborated with my mother to create. The skirt construction is based on a common peacock costuming trope. I hand-cut every single feather in the costume out of crafting felt, so it has a unique “elementary school theatrical production” aesthetic.

What’s your favorite burlesque moment (This can be past or present/yours or someone else)?

My favorite burlesque moments are almost exclusively surrounding the “legends” of burlesque, the women and men that were performing in the art-forms heyday that are still actively involved in the community as mentors, teachers, and (in some cases) performers. Every year at the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender in Las Vegas, NV the organization holds a panel where the attending legends speak about their lives and take questions. It is always impactful in many ways to hear these incredible individuals talk about their lives. Depending on the era in which they performed, their experiences were very different. Some speak about the glamour of the stage, others speak about the work ethic the burlesque lifestyle required. One message that is consistent amongst them all is female empowerment. Even those that performed only out of necessity to support themselves spoke about the independence the work provided them. Burlesque, in its early days and now, allows women to control how they present themselves to an audience, glorifies the beauty of womanhood in all its various forms, and demonstrates the power that women have to captivate… with as little as a ripple of chiffon or revealed wrist.

The best piece of advice I ever received was from one of the legends at this annual panel. She told those of us in the room “If you can’t fix it, feature it”. Those words echoed in my mind as I later watched her perform. Unable to walk or dance, she performed her act seated in a wheelchair. Rather than treating the wheelchair as a restriction interfering with her previous abilities, she utilized the chair as a prop. It might as well have been Dita von Teese’s giant martini glass they way she lovingly slid her legs across the arm rests to assist with her hosiery removal. She turned the focus of the wheelchair into a celebration of innovation rather than a hindrance or obstacle to navigate. I use that memory not only when facing challenges in my burlesque performance, but also when facing challenges in my day to day life.

What’s the funniest (or strangest) burlesque experience you have had?

I think one of the funniest moments in my burlesque career was rather early on. I was debuting a new act in which I sang a song with some quite suggestive and inappropriate lyrics. I looked out into the audience and was surprised to see one of my college professors sitting close to the stage. As I walked out to great him, I heard a familiar voice. I turned to find my mother as another surprise attendee to the show. The two of them ended up sitting together, chatting about some of my collegiate vocal performances, both excited that I would be singing in the show that night. When it came time to perform I was extremely nervous. What would my professor think about my song choice? Would the graphic sexual lyrical content embarrass my mother. I found out near the end of the first verse, shortly after dropping my fourth or fifth musical “f-bomb” when my mom screamed out in a moment of silence “THAT’S MY DAUGHTER!!!” I couldn’t help but laugh, and neither could the audience. I did them both proud that night, in a weird and awkward way.

Tell me about a time your act went awry.  How did you overcome it?

My acts have gone awry on several occasions. I love to create authentic, organic performance experiences and structure my material in a way that leaves room for improvisation. My performances are tailored to each specific audience and their unique energy and response. For the most part, when something doesn’t work in an act the way it is supposed to it creates an opportunity for me to react in real time and add completely unplanned elements to my performance. Some of the most magical moments of my career have happened in those situations.
Other times stage accidents haven’t been so happy. Relatively early on in my burlesque experience I gave a performance in which I severely injured myself. Part of the act included me cutting through some fake blood capsules that were bandaged to my wrists atop of steel safety plate. For this particular performance I had forgotten my safety plate at home. Thankfully, one of the other performers was able to secure me a solid metal guard and I continued with my act as planned. When I approached the stage effect in my act, muscle memory took over. I glided the knife through the blood capsules as usual, but then felt a snap. It took my brain a couple of seconds to understand what had happened. The blade had slid off the side of the plate and cut through the side of my arm. I looked into the audience and yelled “I cut myself!” The audience roared with applause, thinking it was all part of my act. I screamed again, “No, really. I cut myself. Does anyone know where the closest hospital is?” I then proceeded to step out into the audience and directly into the car of a front row volunteer. I headed to closest emergency room and endured the most awkward medical experience of my life.
Needless to say, that act has since be retired and I now teach a class to help students safely navigate performances and respond to unexpected challenges as they arise on stage.

What’s your favorite move?

My favorite moves are the old standard bumps, grinds, and peels. At burlesque’s height in popularity, stripteases were performed to accompaniment by a live band. Musical elements, particularly those performed by the percussionist, were used to accent the dancer’s movements. In today’s burlesque performances, which are often accompanied by recordings, the reverse can be applied. Bumps are perfect for quick percussive accents, grinds for repeated motives, and peels for long legato melodic elements. I use these choreography elements intentionally to emphasize musical cues and parallel compositional elements, effectively creating that same collaborative effect between myself and the music that was present in traditional performances.

Do you have any other extracurricular activities besides burlesque that might surprise someone?

I am a classically trained singer, originally focused on choral performance and direction. I occasionally belt out an operatic aria for a burlesque show, but more commonly use that skill to incorporate showtunes or jazz standards into my performance. This year I have also started to experiment with drag performance, focusing on gender illusion and exaggeration. This allows me a platform to express my femininity in a way that depends more on my general appearance and mannerisms than my actual physical form. It has been a similarly insightful experience of self-discovery.  

What do your family and friends think about your burlesque?

I am lucky to receive a great deal of support in regards to my burlesque. My mother attended my debut performance, collaborates with me on costume design and construction, and frequently suggests songs or concepts for performance. I have been doing this for such a long time now, most of my closest friends have become part of the burlesque community themselves – either as fellow performers, producers, or dedicated fans.

Do you associate the body-positive movement with your work, or is it simply burlesque for the glory of burlesque?

I definitely associate the body-positive movement with my work. The neo-burlesque community does such an amazing job of glorifying performers, regardless of their size, age, gender expression, or personal interpretation of what is sexy. One of the most fulfilling parts of my personal experience has been teaching and mentoring new performers and observing their journey to the stage. Watching as students discover their best assets and ways to creatively showcase them is an inspiring experience. As each performer’s confidence builds, so does my love of the art-form.

What one piece of advice would you give to rookies thinking about trying burlesque?

My advice to a new performer would be to remember that BURLESQUE IS SUBJECTIVE. There are quite a few highly opinionated voices in the burlesque community at large, and sometimes those voices can be discouraging. The most appealing aspect of this art-form to me is the creative control that each individual performer has, and it is important to remember that in the end there is no right or wrong way to perform burlesque. Yes, take feedback from your peers. Yes, learn from your mentors and take their advice into consideration. But also, create art that YOU find fulfilling. Don’t let another person’s idea of what burlesque is or isn’t determine how you express yourself on stage.

Is there something you would like to add that I’ve not asked?

No, I think you covered A LOT. I’m so excited to see you embarking on another project! Things have changed in our group dynamic since you left. If you ever feel inclined to stop back by and see if you’d be interested in stepping into the occasional performance, PLEASE DO!

 Will you tell us where we can see you perform?

You can see me perform regularly with the Salomé Cabaret Burlesque Revue. Show schedule and ticketing information is available at

Thank you so much for taking the time, Siren. I want to say that not only are you an excellent performer, you are one of the most welcoming audience members I’ve ever seen. Your face watching others at work whether they be rookies or pros is always one of appreciation and pride. That is a rare thing!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Conversation with Marina of ArtPool Gallery

Marina, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me.  I just love your shop ArtPool Gallery and stop by there once or twice every time we're in St. Pete.  What made you think up the idea to open such a neat shop?

I have always loved creating, being an artist and studied fine art for my undergraduate and masters degrees. The idea of opening a shop right out of school was a dream come true and it has been a wonderful adventure for the past 10 years come April.  I always enjoy collaborating with my community so running a shop has been a fantastic process.  I have met so many amazing and wonderful people like yourself through the process.

How do you find your items to sell? 

I have been buying and selling, collecting and hunting vintage for over 15 years.  We buy items when we travel and bring them back to St Pete. I am always searching for that next best thing to bring my shoppers.  

Do you make any of your items?

Many, I make most of the jewelry in the shop.  I love creating and making unique one of a kind pieces for my stylish community. 

I feel like your merchandise is chosen with care.  Was there ever an item you put up for sale that you thought was amazing that customers just didn't go for?

Not really and if something didn't have enough spunk them I just take it apart and rework it. Nothing goes to waste here, we love re-purposing and recycling.

What advice do you have for others that are crafty and would like to try to start selling their items?

Get out and go for it.  Nothing like the present to follow your dreams.  Markets are great, etsy is an awesome resource.  Create and wear your designs, you are your best advertiser and marketer. :) 

Have you ever made something that just turned out so bad you didn't want to show anyone?  I know I have.  If so, what was it?

Nope, even weird things are good things.  Everything makes us better, even our so called failures.  Thank god I have had a loving mother who has even treasured by weirder artsy items and framed them, but looking back, some of the strangest art that did not come out as I intended is some of my most successful work.  I guess the true art is in acceptance of creativity and not being our worst critic which is easy for an artist to be.  Picasso once said "It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child."  Experimentation in art is such an important part of the artistic process. 

You have some very interesting events going on at your shop year-round. What's your favorite and can you tell us why or a little about it?

We host artistic collaborations throughout the year in the form of Art pARTies and Crafty Fest Markets.  I love both so much because of the community aspect of supporting other artists and giving them a stage to promote their talents and grow their audience with our established art buyers.

What thoughts were you having before you opened your doors for the first time on the first day of the shop opening?

This is going to be awesome!

You really have a family operation going--your mom helps out in the shop (she's such a sweet lady) and your dog, Franklin, even hangs out there.  What does it mean to you to have your family with you in this venture?

It means absolutely everything.  My finance works with me too and runs the mens collection and his vinyl record store right next door.  To be honest it wouldn't be the same with my family.  They are all a huge part of my life and working together is the best thing ever.  They mean the world to me and are beyond supportive.  I am so thankful and blessed to have such an incredible family.

What other interesting or unusual hobbies do you have?

Dog training, specifically dog agility.  Our doggy Franklin is such a sweet and smart boy who we have loads of fun with.  He is a super shop pup and absolutely awesome team mate on the course. 

I would recommend to others to go out there and follow your passions, never give up and drink coffee. :)  Being a small business owner means working 80+ hours a week.  Make sure you can live on ramen for as long as you need and be passionate about your work thoroughly.   You can and will succeed so don't be shy and remember you only live once so do it up sooner than later.

Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences!

You are so very welcome.  Hugs and much love to you and your family.

A Conversation with Chef Paul Deiana-Molnar

First, thanks for talking to me, Paul. Full-disclosure, one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten was prepared by you—so thank you again for th...