Setting the Stage: The Intersection of David Lynch & Burlesque

With The Return (see what I did there?) of Twin Peaks to our TV screens in May, it would seem as though everyone had suddenly caught a case of Peaks fever. But for many of us who have been fans for countless years, the fever never abated; we’ve been living in a constant state of elevated temperature for years, trying to figure out a way to channel our passions.

From scholarly books to fan fiction and blogs, from Lynch-inspired feature films to handmade video essays, from big name musical acts to home office podcasts, the Twin Peaks fan community has dealt with the lack of new Peaks in various ways, keeping the flame burning as we waited for what seemed like a miracle. For the creative minds behind London’s Double R Club and New York’s Pink Room Burlesque, that meant putting their considerable talent to use in the best way they knew how–with Twin Peaks/Lynchian burlesque shows.

We caught up with Rose Thorne & Benjamin Louche of the Double R Club and Francine the Lucid Dream of Pink Rose Burlesque via email to ask them about their respective shows, how they fit into the world of Twin Peaks, and their thoughts on The Return…so far.


The Double R Club – London

 

File_003.jpeg“Audience members enter the room to be greeted by one of our 52 card pickup girls, who give them a free donut and shot of our trademark Agent Cooper Coffee Cocktail. The room is dimply lit and a haze of smoke hangs in the air. There are tables and chairs, red lights on every table,” Rose and Benjamin of the Double R Club tell us, describing the overall ambiance of a typical night at the Double R. (Rose and Benjamin responded via email to our interview questions; every response contained herein is from both of them unless otherwise indicated.) If you’re lucky enough to have pre-booked, Rose herself will show you to your table in her role as hostess. It sounds downright enchanting. “Dreamlike music is playing. On the stage a large illuminated love heart glows; strobes flash slowly.”

[Ed. note: Sign me up!]

A Double R show begins, they continue, in total darkness, while host Benjamin Louche lip-synchs to a classic song, “lit only by his handheld work-light à la Blue Velvet.

Each act in the two-and-a-half hour show (including an interval) is prefaced by a “bespoke” introduction1, read by Louche, which may rhyme or strike strange or amusing tones. “The acts are varied and may include nudity, music, absurdity, song, blood (real), humour, shocks, otherness, fire or any combination of all of these,” they say. “Some contain direct references to Lynch’s work, others merely strike a ‘Lynchian tone.'”

Whether act is original to the Double R Club or reworked by an artist from a previously existing show varies.

Double R: “There are many performers out there that have acts that fit our world perfectly, but others we build a relationship with, suggest music, themes, concepts etc. and let them run with it.”

Unsurprisingly, they tell us that many past audience members have confessed to file_0011.jpegexperiencing strange dreams as a result of their attendance at a Double R Club show. It’s entirely fitting; there’s obviously a kind of liminality at play here in this immersive environment that is very much of a piece with David Lynch’s entire oeuvre. “I think there can be [crossover appeal from trad. burlesque] but the majority of the burlesque world is a lot more, for want of a better word, ‘conventional’ than we are, or than we require.”

But while decision to pair Lynch and burlesque seems perfect, it might not be the most obvious to everyone. What was behind Rose and Benjamin’s decision to specialize in Lynchian/Twin Peaks-inspired burlesque shows?

“It occurred to us that the worlds that David Lynch created in his work often had artificial performance spaces within them.”

Thorne and Louche reference that artificiality by pointing to the stage in the radiator in Eraserhead, The Roadhouse in Twin Peaks, and Club Silencio in Mulholland Drive as examples of artificial spaces created within Lynch’s works. “And so the work of Lynch (which we both loved), with all of its associated darkness, might serve as a perfect framing device for the kinds of shows we wished to stage.”

File_004Traditional burlesque contains farcical, mocking acts that were always meant to caricature more serious works; it’s only since the Victorian age that burlesque has become synonymous with bawdy humour and the idea of striptease. How does a Twin Peaks/Lynchian burlesque fit into this wider tradition of the burlesque art form? “While many of our acts could and do exist the traditional world of cabaret and burlesque, many could not and are created specifically for us,” they tell us, “Our goal from the beginning was to stage cabaret that wasn’t ‘wall-to-wall frivolity’, shows that didn’t always give and audience what they were expecting or what they wanted, shows that were darker (but never ‘gothic’), shows that might frighten, shows that are designed to wrong foot the audience and to throw them a little off balance.”

So, in other words, to recreate the Twin Peaks or David Lynch experience in full surround.

“In 2015, as part of the Twin Peaks UK Festival, we staged an immersive restaging and reimagining of the murder of Laura Palmer–the murder will be staged again at this year’s UK festival,” they continue, underscoring that immersive quality outlined above. “I think, if feasible, we’d very much like to try larger immersive productions in the future, perhaps incorporating some of our own characters and imagery that we’ve developed over the years; but such a production is a huge undertaking.”

The Double R Club has been in existence since 2009; currently, there are a number of regular performers (“We have an inner circle of about five performers who just ‘get’ it, and who can be relied on both to create their own stellar work, but also to collaborate with us and to deliver something truly special,” Rose and Benjamin write) who perform in their London shows. “We typically do nine monthly shows per year, January to June (June being our annual Miss Twin Peaks Contest) then we take the summer off and return in September (our birthday show) until November; we also vanish for December,” they continue. Fittingly, I say; sounds like this is one busy group of performers! They deserve those holidays!

The Double R Club has been closely associated with the Twin Peaks UK Fest since its inception in 2010. “[We] have had the pleasure of Twin Peaks cast members seeing our shows at the Festival,” they inform us, which begs the question: What did they think?

“At the 2015 UK Twin Peaks Festival, Sherylin Fenn, Al Strobel and Mädchen Amick came to our restaging of Laura’s murder in the old abandoned train car. Al and Mädchen loved it and were very complimentary, but I’m afraid Sherylin was terrified and watched most of it between her fingers; at the end I handed her the “fire walk with me” note (written in blood) and she nearly jumped out of her skin!”File_002

Among Thorne and Louche’s favourite moments from Double R Club shows over the years, a few key memories rose to the top.

“I think one of them would have to be Traumata’s performance at our 2014 London Wonderground show in a spiegeltent on the South Bank,” Louche pipes up. “She came on scattering rose petals to Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Rabbit Snare’, and was then suspended high above the stage on flesh hooks piercing her back. Then a strange, disturbing character we’d created called Blackhand (a man in a black suit, white shirt, black tie, with a chalk-white face with a single black handprint across it) came on, stood under Traumata and took off his jacket. She had needles in her face which she removed and then bled copiously down onto his crisp white shirt. It was all at once dreamlike, stunningly beautiful and alarming.”

INTENSE!

Thorne has a different take. “I think the very first time Heavy Metal Pete came on our stage with his trademark ‘BOB’ act,” she says. “The audience were really freaked out. He crawled, like a spider, on to the stage with his long grey hair with a maniacal grin. He’s gone on to scare audiences at the Twin Peaks UK Festival, win the title of Mr Twin Peaks and create a series of bad Lynch men. When Catherine Coulson and Charlotte Stewart met Pete in 2010, they both commented how much he resembled Frank Silva!”

I don’t think you can get a more ringing endorsement than that.File_000

“From the start we wanted to make sure that the show wasn’t only for super Lynch fans like ourselves,” Thorne and Louche say when asked about the types of audiences who show up to a Double R Club event. “We believe we’ve created something that can be enjoyed no matter how familiar you are with Lynch’s work; as long as you’re willing to go with the strangeness.”

“Interest always fluctuates,” she adds. “We’re not for everyone; but we were lucky that people seemed to ‘get’ what we were trying to achieve almost immediately.”

It wouldn’t be a proper Twin Peaks interview what their thoughts are about The Return.

“What’s most immediately impressive about The Return is just how wilfully different it is from the original two seasons. That Lynch and Frost had no interest in simply repeating themselves is definitely a good thing, though we can sympathise with those who are unhappy with the marked change,” they say. “Just as with the original, there are things we like more than others in The Return, but I think that’s to be expected in eighteen hours of television! Our favourite parts so far include: Cooper’s journey in episodes one, two and three, the glass box in New York, the phone calls from The Log Lady, Laura Dern’s incredible Diane, the nightmarish woodsman and pretty much everything about the unprecedented vision of episode eight; oh and of course the wonderful and irresistible upbeat oddness of Candie!”

But really…who doesn’t love a little (or a lot!) of Candie?

The Double R Club celebrates its 8th Birthday September 21st at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. You can buy tickets here. They will also be performing at the Twin Peaks UK Festival October 7-8 in Crouch End, London, tickets for which can be purchased here.

You can buy a copy of Benjamin’s book ‘Postcards from Twin Peaks’ featuring some of these Lynchian introductions, as well as other Double R Club merch like the Unsong CD of original ‘Lynchian’ music, ‘A Blue Rose For Black Bob’, here: https://thedoublerclub.bigcartel.com.


The Pink Room Burlesque – NYC

“If you have never been to a burlesque show before, it’s a type of theatrical performance

TPR_Francine_Showtime_Phenomenon_1
Screenshot from Showtime’s 2017 documentary “Twin Peaks: The Phenomenon”

that often breaks the fourth wall,” Francine “The Lucid Dream” explains via email when we asked her about a typical night in The Pink Room. “We love keeping our audience engaged. In fact, sometimes we make them part of the show! One of The Pink Room traditions is our audience participation game. Our favorite one, a drinking game, is called Chugalug Donna in which we encourage a taste for beer & a profound lack of shame. We always encourage people to dress up and come in Lynchian costumes if they like but most importantly we want everyone to have fun!”

“Aside from that, it’s just your traditional striptease show loaded with sexy schoolgirls, mysterious chanteuses, one-eyed ladies taking too many pills, high school girls doing cocaine, ladies in radiators, gigantic sandworms,” she says. “You know – the usual Saturday night!”

Sounds kinda like our staff parties…

The inception of The Pink Room Burlesque was an idea as far back as 2009; their first show was on the anniversary of Laura Palmer’s death: February 23, 2011. “Before I even performed my first striptease I wanted to be in a Twin Peaks-inspired burlesque show,” Francine says. “I had mentioned this to some New York School of Burlesque classmates who thought it was a great idea. No one else expressed interest in producing it so I stepped up to create it. For our first show, I had hoped a few friends would show up but it turned into such a major hit with massive lines around the corner and we had to turn some people away. I realized I had hit something magical and needed to do it again.”

From these humble beginnings, Francine and her team (“Anywhere from 5 to 15 [cast members] depending on the show. We have a rotating cast of performers but I would say there are about 8 regulars performers aside from myself who are in many of the shows.”) have turned their show into a mega hit. “Nearly seven years later it has grown into something I had never imagined. Many of the performers who I had taken classes with at NYSB were Twin Peaks fans and they were and still are a huge part of The Pink Room Burlesque.”

We are now well into our sixth year and this has probably been the most exciting!”

TPR_Dreams_NormanBlake
Photo credit: Norman Blake

The overwhelming demand for Twin Peaks “stuff”–across the board, in every avenue imaginable, creative or otherwise–is one facet behind Showtime’s decision to bring the series back from its forced retirement back in 1991, and Francine hints that it’s likely also part of the reason behind the success of The Pink Room, which long predates any hint of the show’s return.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision to specialize in Lynchian burlesque,” Francine says. “I was just following my passions and following the signs that appeared in front of me. I have produced other, non-themed shows but the Lynchian ones were always the ones people got most excited about. No one else was doing it here in New York City so it was a demand that needed to be filled!”

The shows themselves are structured much like traditional burlesque, with familiar elements such as the comic host, music, beautiful dancers, “…and, of course, striptease,” Francine tells us. Of course we have a lot of things that people may associate with classic burlesque such as beautiful fan dances, glove peels, sultry singers, etc. but from there it diverges from ‘classic’ burlesque.” Everything is inspired by Lynch, but the variety within is vast. “Personally, I prefer to book performances that range from silly and comical to dark and creepy. It’s the element I love about David Lynch’s work, Twin Peaks in particular – the way a seemingly dreamy scene can turn nightmarish on a dime.”

“David Lynch Burlesque is a form of neo-burlesque,” she continues. “Some people call it ‘nerdlesque’ since it’s a form of fandom but I also consider our show to be a dark cabaret. It’s all of the above and more! […] It’s a fun environment where we encourage a diverse crowd to enter a strange world where they will laugh but hopefully also feel haunted.”

Haunted. That’s as good a word as any to describe the feeling one gets after a Lynch film, and it’s entirely appropriate to hear a Lynch-inspired burlesque use the same word to describe their performances.

In trying to imagine the Venn diagram that would encompass the audience that lines up around the block for a Twin Peaks or David Lynch-inspired burlesque show–one circle being burlesque fans and one being Lynch fans–this writer had a hard time, but Francine illustrates it perfectly.

I believe that Lynch’s work is so weird, sexy and quirky all at the same time. It’s the perfect combo for burlesque and I think that appeals to fans.” (Now that Francine says it, it’s obvious to me too.)

She continues. “The costumes of Twin Peaks alone can be so ‘burlesque-y’ that the ideas are sometimes too perfect. Our group within a troupe, The Pink Room Dreams is currently a trio and we watch a lot of The Return episodes together. When we were first introduced to Candie, Mandie & Sandie, I don’t think we even had to speak to each other. We just all knew that was going to be an act. Amy Shiels, Giselle DaMier & Andrea Leal (Candie, Sandie & Mandie) along with costume designer Nancy Steiner have all been so sweet and supportive by reposting The Pink Room Dreams’ costume photos online! I want to thank them and David Lynch for giving us that little gift! They had a small role when we first put together the act but we’re so excited to see those characters have a larger role on the show!” 

 

Mr. Twin Peaks
Photo credit: Sachyn Mital

Francine is also correct in pointing out the more overt elements of burlesque peppered throughout Twin Peaks and David Lynch’s works in general. “Of course we’ve seen versions of burlesque throughout the years in David Lynch’s work: from the topless dancers in Wild at Heart to Lana Budding Milford’s ‘contortionistic jazz exotica’ in the Miss Twin Peaks episode of Twin Peaks. There have always been elements of theater and vaudeville in Lynch’s work even going back to Eraserhead.”

“David Lynch is the ultimate teaser and is an expert at the slow burn. He’s been pulling away layers for 25 years and still has us yearning for more!”

So that audience? “I love our audience,” Francine says confidently. “I feel comfortable saying we have the best audience around. We have a mixture of burlesque/Lynch fans but I’m proud to say we’ve introduced many Lynch fans to the world of burlesque and many burlesque fans to Lynch’s work. My ultimate goal is to get everyone to love and obsess Twin Peaks as much as I do!”

Burlesque as an art form and mode of entertainment seems to be exploding all over the place, but, as Francine points out, the sentiment isn’t always so. “It’s funny because you can find a burlesque festival or at least a troupe in nearly every major city these days yet I still see people in the media writing about how ‘burlesque is over’,” she says. “I think it’s sadly part of our culture to trash art and pop culture in order to stay current or “cool” but the burlesque scene speaks for itself–it’s huge, it’s growing and it’s evolving! Just 8 years ago when I began performing I felt that I knew most of the performers here in New York City but now there are so many people I have never even met or worked with! I feel that this is happening everywhere.”

She adds: “Of course, with The Return of Twin Peaks there is a much bigger demand for Twin Peaks Burlesque. I have been a committed fan of Twin Peaks for many years but I think some moderate fans were able to reconnect with the show by rewatching on Netflix and Showtime, leading up to The Return. All the amazing press that has been coming out about both The Pink Room Burlesque and Twin Peaks itself lately has draw attention to all of it.”

When asked if she has any favourite memories or moments in the Pink Room’s history, Francine can’t limit herself to just one.

 

FilipWolak-Burlesque-TwinPeaks-5737-2
Photo credit: Filip Wolak

“My favorite night of the year is the Miss Twin Peaks Pageant and back in 2015 I remember stepping out onstage to perform our big, group number inspired by the Miss Twin Peaks episode from Season Two,” she says. “I was dressed as Nadine Hurley and let me tell, you: dancing with umbrellas & limited eyesight is a challenge – kudos to Wendie Robie! I could tell that the audience was loving the act but it wasn’t until we took our final tableau positions and I looked out into the crowd with my one uncovered eye and saw Dana Ashbrook sitting in the audience! It was a dream come true to meet him and have him attend one of our shows!”

Another standout? “This spring we were hired by Showtime & BBQ Films to perform at ‘A Tribute to Twin Peaks’ at Brooklyn Bazaar. Every aspect of the show had to be approved by David Lynch and his team. Part of our job was to do immersive acting and walk-around. I performed as multiple acts that night but I rightfully chose Nadine as my main walk-around character. I found myself serenading “I Only Have EYE For You” in a small, seedy karaoke room to an audience of young, hip men as Nadine. It fulfilled a personal fantasy I never knew I had before. For the record, this was an improvised moment so I’m not sure if David Lynch would approve but I sure enjoyed this surreal moment personally.”

Francine was also instrumental in bringing an act from the show into the world of film. “The first time Schaffer the Darklord hosted The Pink Room, he debuted his original song “A David Lynch Movie” which he rapped for the audience,” she tells us. “I was listening backstage and could tell they loved it. When he came back I gave him a big Gordon Cole-style thumbs up and he returned it with a big Coop-style thumbs up and grin. I knew then that he was going to be an important addition to the show. I tossed out the idea of making a short music video for his song and about 5 years later we finally screened “A David Lynch Movie” which I wrote, shot, directed & edited! The 20-minute short film just screened at multiple film festivals around North America including the Twin Peaks Festival which was such a huge honor!”

BBQFilms_Francine_Nadine
Photo credit: Christopher Gregory (for BBQ Films)

Francine: “A non-show related favorite moment was when The Pink Room cast members joined together for a private Twin Peaks premiere viewing party and were able to witness ourselves on television as part of the Showtime-produced short documentary “Twin Peaks: The Phenomenon”. Showtime had approached us earlier that spring about shooting one of our shows at Joe’s Pub where they also interviewed me. They had previously interviewed Schaffer the Darklord at SXSW when he was performing down in Austin, TX. His Gordon Cole impersonation made it into the doc and many of our performances were featured including my singing/fan dance number “Sycamore Trees”. We were pleasantly surprised to see David Lynch’s interview cut directly into our performance shots when he said ‘Anyone who creates art is a friend of mine’ which gave us a bubbly feeling that maybe he was talking directly to us! He sure has a way of making people feel special!”

With so much accomplished in such a short amount of time, one wonders what’s next for Francine and The Pink Room?

We always joke about doing a show to tribute The Straight Story but it would just be one long striptease on a John Deere lawnmower,” she says, and I can almost hear her laughing. (Side note: this Alberta girl would pay good money to see a John Deere striptease, just sayin’!) 

“But seriously,” Francine continues. “I would love to revisit some of our past themes such as Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, Wild At Heart, Dune, etc. The demand lately has been for Twin Peaks Burlesque but I really want to encourage Twin Peaks fans to see more of David Lynch’s big screen work. I do hope to collaborate with more live musicians in the future for live band David Lynch Burlesque which we had the pleasure of doing a while back with Pittsburgh band, Silencio.”

“Aside from that we have a lot of great, new material from The Return which we have already been incorporating into the show. I hope to make more films, create more photography, create more original music & hopefully go on another tour!” Francine tells us. “We have some exciting new secret projects bubbling up right now but I will have to tell you about that some other time. Aside from that we’ll keep rockin’ and create bigger and better shows!”

FilipWolak-Burlesque-TwinPeaks-4657

Francine closes off with her thoughts on The Return, which are as Special Agent Dale Cooper likes the answers given in interrogations: brief and to the point.

“I love it,” she says. “I want more.”

Amen to that.

You can find more information about the Pink Room’s NYC shows and merchandise on their website. You can also follow the Pink Room on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Francine also has her own website with links, archives, and more!

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