By Carley Stavis
His name is Dr. Wasabi. His profession requires that he partake in various endeavors of the comedic and artistic variety. And his main job of late has placed an eclectic mix of clever clowns and brazen beauties in his care.
Dr. Wasabi is the directorial brain behind the Clown Burlesque Extravaganza, opening March 7 at the 418 Project, located downtown, and running two weekends through March 15.
The doctor himself took a break from rehearsing to talk to City on a Hill Press (CHP) about the show and the spectacle that is Clown Burlesque.
CHP: How did this show come to be?
Dr. Wasabi: Clown Burlesque shows have been going on for a while in L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, and Turlock. I saw a show in San Francisco and thought, “Santa Cruz could do that.” It was just time for neo-burlesque to get a jump-start in Surf City. I talked to [Santa Cruz resident and well-known author, teacher, and performer in the erotica industry] Susie Bright, and her immediate response was “Oh my god! In Santa Cruz? Finally!”
CHP: What sort of background do you have that lends itself to directing a show like this?
Dr. Wasabi: I’ve been working professionally as a clown for many years. And obviously I’d seen the shows performed elsewhere.
CHP: What do you see burlesque as being — and how would you explain it to someone who’s never heard of it or seen it?
Dr. Wasabi: Traditionally it meant this sort of upside-down parody. It was a style of entertainment that took normal things and exaggerated them in a comedic way. Neo-burlesque, which is the sort of movement that this show stems from, is basically similar but different from traditional burlesque, and similar but different from stripping.
CHP: Could you explain the distinction?
Dr. Wasabi: In stripping, the focus is on people like Paris Hilton and Barbie — a very defined variety of beauty. Neo-burlesque celebrates all genders, sexualities, and body types.
CHP: Anyone specifically that exemplifies this?
Dr. Wasabi: The late Heather McAllister was one — she created the Fat Bottom Revue in San Francisco, a fat-positive, queer burlesque troupe. She’s famous for having said, “Anytime there is a fat person onstage as anything besides the butt of a joke, it’s political. Add physical movement, then dance, then sexuality, and you have a revolutionary act.” Neo-burlesque is a way of celebrating the combination of sexuality and comedy as a revolutionary act.
CHP: What is the most unique aspect of the show you’re putting on?
Dr. Wasabi: There’s really a great variety of entertainers, people, performances. You can see UCSC students doing kick-in-the-pants, punk-inspired clown chaos and hot dancers doing down-and-dirty delights on the same stage.
CHP: What do you hope attendees will take away from the show?
Dr. Wasabi: Hopefully they’ll be able to see a perfect blend of sexy and fun, and then carry that into the rest of their lives. My hope would be that they’d find their own inner burlesque dancer or clown superpowers; that they’ll look at the performers and think, “Hey, I can do that,” and that they’ll enjoy knowing that they have that power.
Tickets for the Clown Burlesque Extravaganza, happening at 8 p.m. March 7, 8, 14, and 15, can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets, online at BrownPaperTickets.com, or by calling 1-800-838-3006. General tickets are $15, and student tickets are $12. All proceeds benefit the 418 Project, a nonprofit center that supports the expressive and healing arts.