Our Q&A With featured Chicago burlesque Superstar Donna Touch! Donna Touch is an independent performer who has been part of the Chicago burlesque community since 2008. Know for her class, sass, and style, Donna took some time to share some of her accomplishments, experiences, and opinions with ChicagoBurlesque.org readers.
When was your first burlesque performance?
It was in December of 2008. It was Sexy Santa's Spectacular! Spectacular! Burlesque's Naughty List; Produced by Mo Roses and Vaudezilla.
What burlesque troupes do you currently belong to?
I am currently an independent performer.
What are some of the notable shows you have performed in?
• I'm the proud 2012 Second Runner Up & Best Costume Winner of the 2011 Southern Fried Burlesque Festival Queen Competition
• The 2010, 2011 & 2012 Viva Las Vegas burlesque competitions,
• Voted #34 in The Burlesque Top 50 of 2010 presented by 21st Century Burlesque
• Performed in the 2012 Carolina Burlesque Festival
• 2010 and 2011 Windy City Burlesque Fest
• 1st Reno Rockabilly Riot, 2011 Montreal Burlesque Festival
• 2011 New Orleans Burlesque Festival
• 2011 New York Burlesque Festival and have produced the burlesque show portion of the Indy Road Rocket Rumble for the past 4 years.
What routines would you consider to be your signature numbers?
The Jewel Thief – This was my first number that made it into multiple festivals. Using the steady beat of Wax Tailor’s Say Yes, I begin my routine in a 1940s gown, transforming myself into a cat burglar intent on stealing an enormous diamond. Although I think it is the act I’m most known for now, the Jewel Thief has been retired and the costume reworked for a new act!
In the Mood – My first attempt using fans was well received! Dancing to Bette Midler’s adaptation of In the Mood, I almost received a perfect score in the 2012 Carolina Burlesque Festival’s Sweet Tease Pageant! My costume was also my first samba frame merkin (by Johnny Cool) and started my love for feathers! In 2013, I have a new saucy fan dance planned that will be performed with Chicago’s classic jazz band, the Fat Babies.
Jumpin’ Jack – I love to surprise my audiences, and luckily Kristy White, who does the majority of my costume work, is always up for a challenge. This act begins in a 1950s style day dress, but transforms into a full sequin gown to then reveal a classic bullet bra and garter set. While putting together this routine, I discovered a high-energy, late 1950s jazz album by the Neal Hefti Orchestra. (I love this album so much that I use it for other intros and bits.) My routine is a cute, vivacious bop with a little showgirl mixed in!
Michigander Blues – Produced in the late 20s/early 30s, this song by the Rhythm Aces, featuring Jabbo Smith, inspired me to develop into a more serious character. The concept and costume are both very simple, but it has challenged me to explore ways to interpret a more somber topic through the art of burlesque. It’s quickly become one of my new favorites to perform.
Who are three Chicago burlesque performers that inspire you?
The Stage Door Johnnies are terrific. These three individuals amaze me every time I see them perform, whether it is as soloists, in their group, or mixing with other troupes and ladies. They work darn hard, are over-the-top creative, professional, polished, humble, passionate, and full of energy. They are super supportive of their fellow performers and a privilege to work with?
I have great admiration for Michelle L’amour. She is an extremely disciplined, elegant performer, and her tribute fan dance is so beautiful they bring tears to my eyes. In addition to being gorgeous, she is also a wonderful ambassador to the national and international burlesque community.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Lady Jack over the past year and appreciate her unique approach to her art. She has developed a style all her own that is powerful and full of graceful flourish. She has been a great source of encouragement for me as I continue to develop my own style and broaden my experience.
What is the best burlesque complement you have received?
My parents are a very important part of my life, and I know they are happy when I am doing something that I love. They drove all the way to Montreal for the 2011 fest, and my Mom said that I looked beautiful and that my routine was best she’d seen me perform.
What is your biggest burlesque related fear?
I used to panic when I didn’t feel in control of my performances, and my fear was that no one would clap. Now I rarely get nervous, but I did experience some tension a few weeks ago when I was booked for a corporate party. The planner did not realize that burlesque was a bit risqué, and the entire corporate audience was paralyzed with fear that they were all simultaneously breaking their sexual harassment clause (thank you comedian Adam Burke for that line)! I was able to get through the performance and even had fun doing it. I believe that when you really enjoy sharing what you have created, it gives you the confidence to move forward.
What is the strangest place you have performed?
I can’t think of a place that would be considered strange, but the places that venues have set aside for burlesque dancers to get ready have been odd. I’ve been with at least four other dancers squished in one handicap accessible-sized bathroom, stuffed in many a coat closet, parked in a moving truck outside a theatre, balanced up a flight of stairs, and scurried in and out of a restaurant’s dry good storeroom across an alley. All part of the adventure!
What is your favorite Chicago burlesque venue to perform in?
Martyrs’ is one of my favorite venues to see live bands and burlesque at. I actually snuck myself on the list during the Big C Jamboree to help stir up some Viva Las Vegas competition votes a couple times. I most recently kittened there with the energetic Pontani Sisters in their Burlesque-A-Pades tour stop. I saw some of my first burlesque stars in past shows there and I think the venue works extremely well for cabaret type shows.
In your opinion who is the most underrated burlesque performer in Chicago?
I can’t really name someone that is underrated, because I feel like we all come up the ranks and eventually find our own path. I do feel, though, that Chicago productions sometime undervalue the importance of good production support, including lighting, sound and everything else that contributes to the ambiance of the show. We struggle so much to get the venue, line up the performers, and pull audiences that shows are forced to take what they can get in terms of production support from the venue. I am beginning to see a shift, though, both in and out of Chicago, to place more value in the production of the show.
What are some of your upcoming projects?
My shows at Untitled continue to challenge me and drive up my skill level. The Kiss Kiss Cabaret still pulls a great audience for me, and I adore their girls! I’ll also be back in Indy a few times this year and looking forward to producing the burlesque portion of the Indy Road Rocket Rumble again.
In order to focus more on shows closer to home, I’m limiting how many festivals I’ll be applying in 2013. This February, I will be launching my first production here in Chicago. Named the After Party Show, it will showcase talented musicians, comedians, dancers, singers, variety performers, and some burlesque. The After Party Show will run on Saturdays from February 16 through March 30, with two performances nightly at Studio BE.