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Behind the Scenes at Strip Strip Hooray

Mechanical bulls, confetti cannons and fog machines jazz up Dita Von Teese's traveling burlesque show

by James Thorne in Design on 23 April 2013

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"They come dressed to the nines," says Justin Moyer, production manager for Strip Strip Hooray. He's referring to the pantheon of fans that flock to the performance, one of the preeminent shows in the neo-burlesque scene. Most come for Dita Von Teese—a pioneer of contemporary American burlesque and authority on elegance—although co-stars Murray Hill, Dirty Martini, Perle Noire, Selene Luna, Monsieur Romeo, Lada Nikolska and Catherine D'Lish command followings of their own. Fans come decked out in garters, bustiers and voluminous hair, helping to enshrine the atmosphere that Dita and company have worked so hard to create.

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But Moyer camps out in the back of the house as the audience swoons, choreographing a mechanical bull and detonating audience-showering confetti at just the right moment. The performance is unlike any other—a theatrical circus that is equal parts sideshow and broadway musical. A road show, they never stay in one place for more than a few days, spending weeks in the lead-up trying to plan a way to impart their show onto the given venue. The most recent production involved turning NYC's Gramercy Theater—a space more suited for rock shows than kinky acrobatics—into a proper burlesque stage.

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"They send me specs for all kinds of venues, and this is one of the tightest that we've done as far as getting everything to fit back here," says Moyer of the Gramercy Theater. "I use a program called SketchUp to figure out if it's going to work. I come in here and measure out each of the key elements and build out the venue and the stage in 3D. I've got all her props on the same program; I can bring them all in and do my set changes right there on the computer." dita-von-teese-backstage-3.jpg

The purpose of the work is to bring Strip Strip Hooray wherever they go. Living permanently in road cases in Hawthorne, California, everything from props to decking to curtain fringes gets trucked around the country and installed in time for the performance. Like playing Tetris with thousands of pounds of equipment, Moyer's job comes down to making it all fit.

In the end, this careful geometry translates to an intricate network of hidden components that are as much a part of the act as the performers. Lighting cues, low-lying films of fog and confetti blossoms elevate the show from parlor entertainment to something truly sensational.

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The props of Strip Strip Hooray are always critical to the reveal. In one act, the curtain peels back with Dita Von Teese standing center-stage dressed as a rhinestone cowgirl—shocking in and of itself, but it isn't until she mounts a pink mechanical bull that the audience erupts. Formerly employed as an industrial construction worker, Moyer was the obvious choice when the skeleton crew looked for someone to run the bull. "I don't know if you've ever tried to choreograph a mechanical bull to some slow jazz, but it's kind of difficult," he laughs.

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Whether she's showering in an oversized martini glass, swinging through an opium den or emerging from a makeup compact, Dita Von Teese relies constantly on a well-oiled production team. In addition to Moyer, this list includes manager and co-producer/co-director with Von Teese, Melissa Dishell, manager Albert Murcia, stage manager Erik Santiago, tour manager and publicist Jasmine Vega and J Fox lighting company.

Stay in the loop on future dates for Strip Strip Hooray and other burlesque performances by following Dita Von Teese on Twitter.

Images courtesy of Kaylin Idora photography and Strip Strip Hooray

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