Two recent trends in the New Orleans variety-show scene collided recently when rising burlesque performer May Hemmer prepared to open her new monthly “Haus of Mayhem” show at the Old Marquer Theatre — only to learn of its closing in January in an ongoing shakeup of theater spaces.
Undaunted, the performer and aspiring producer struck a deal to open the show at the nearby Theatre at St. Claude behind the AllWays Lounge on St. Claude Avenue.
“Haus of Mayhem” will debut Friday at the theater, with May Hemmer hosting a mix of burlesque and drag performers from New Orleans and nearby.
The hope, she says, is to provide a performance space for performers who otherwise can’t find the right venue for a given act. That means classic burlesque along with its many, idiosyncratic offshoots: neo-burlesque, nerdlesque (a mashup of burlesque and comic or SciFi elements), boylesque (performed by men) and of course drag.
“Most shows do classic burlesque, or they’ll have a theme, which I’m all for,” said Hemmer. “I’m a nerd. But this is where someone can do whatever they want. If you have a nerd act, bring it. If you have classic act, do it. (‘Haus of Mayhem’) gives you a taste of everything. “You won’t know what you’ll get each time.”
Friday’s debut show will feature New Orleans burlesque performers Remy Dee and Foxy Flambeaux and New Orleans drag performer Eureeka Starfish, along with a burlesque performance by Felix Elixir out of Lafayette.
Christy LaRitz will serve as the show’s floor manager or “stage kitten,” a role Hemmer serves in Trixie Minx’s popular monthly “Fleur de Tease” show at One Eyed Jacks when she’s not performing herself.
The collaboration with The Theatre at St. Claude co-owners Jim and Ryan Fitzmorris seems like a nice fit for both parties; Jim Fitzmorris, New Orleans playwright and actor, wants to create a diverse lineup that can include burlesque — a subject he’s also covered as a freelance journalist.
He tried out the burlesque show “Hocus Pocus” last fall and liked the feedback and sees “Haus of Mayhem” as building on the kind of success of other intimate, regular shows like Bella Blue’s “Dirty Dime Peepshow” at the AllWays.
“With the neo-burl scene going on, there’s sometimes an attempt to shove every burlesque show into every location (around New Orleans),” Fitzmorris said.
“Part of that is understandable because theater space is a premium right now. What appealed to me with May’s show was its rotation of lineups. It’s a place where people can come see performers, most of whom are local, and get this wide view of the thing. The goal is to see if we can build an ongoing audience. … What I’m not interested in is a show where, ‘Here comes everybody.’
“I’m interested in new work, and in a way, this constitutes new work and development of a new performance,” said Fitzmorris, who recently released the theater’s spring and summer schedule.
Hemmer also sees “Haus of Mayhem” as building on the success of the special New Year’s Eve party, “A Gatsby Affair,” held at nearby Mag’s 940 — but as a way to learn how to do a more regular show.
“(A monthly show) is not my normal shtick, so it’s teaching me how to organize so many people for something that is going to go on for like six months,” said Hemmer. “This gives me a different level, and different skills set, of organization. I’m used to doing one big thing every six or eight months.”