“Stay Classy Quad Cities” Burlesque Showcases All Local Saturday at Spotlight
Everything about Mary Francis is big and boisterous – her brassy, unpretentious personality, her infectious laugh, her sense of fun, her voluptuous figure, and her passion for burlesque and the Quad-Cities.
The founder and leader of Mary Quite Contrary’s House of Burlesque (launched in late 2019), Mary is celebrating all things Q-C in a new “Stay Classy Quad-Cities” show Saturday, Aug. 28, at 8 p.m., at the Spotlight Theatre, 1800 7th Ave., Moline.
In addition to the flaming-red-haired Mary, performers are Sassy LaShay, Wicked Jezebel, Moira Mayhemm, Randi Sinclare, Lola Lament, Nova Foxglove, Daisy Fontaine, Primrose Grimm, Sinaman and guest performers Justine Thyme, Samantha Karadsheh, Gemini, and Race Bakeris – all from the Quad-Cities, and dancing to mainly recordings of local bands.
The theme, “Stay Classy Quad Cities,” is a catchphrase from Dave and Darren’s morning show on Planet 93.9 FM.
“This is only our second show this year,” Mary said this week of performing at the Spotlight. “We wanted to do something for our community. Starting a troupe during a pandemic has been so hard. That’s what really has been beautiful – we’ve like sold out every show during a pandemic, and being a new troupe, so we are just so grateful.”
In their first show before the mid-March 2020 shutdown, MQCHOB sold out the 500-plus-seat Spotlight, and they later had to have 150-seat capacities during Covid. “It was just beautiful seeing that, the support,” Mary said, noting the Aug. 20 show they recently did at Varieties Nightclub was a packed house. They didn’t perform between March and October 2020; they did some Zoom rehearsals, and started in person that summer.
Saturday is their first full capacity show since March 2020, Mary said, noting virtually all the performers have gotten their Covid vaccine. “I don’t want to force upon people, but most of ours have,” she said. “We ask everyone, if they’ve been exposed, to make sure they get tested before they come back to rehearsal. We’re taking all the right precautions.”
The state of Illinois is bringing back an indoor mask mandate to help prevent further Covid spread. Illinois Department of Public Health officials reported 4,451 new confirmed and probable cases of Covid-19 and 40 related deaths Wednesday, following the state hitting its highest one-day total in Covid cases since late January.
MQCHOB past performances at the Spotlight were March 7, 2020, a “Supernatural” Halloween show Oct. 3, 2020, then “A Journey Down the Rabbit Hole” May 1, 2021.
“That stage is what dreams are made of,” Mary said of the soaring, cavernous Spotlight space, in the former Scottish Rite Cathedral. “The Tubbs, what they have done, is just so nice.” Sara and Brent Tubbs are owners of the three-year-old theater.
She’s really excited about this upcoming show, including highlighting Q-C music. Cookies & Dreams will be there with a specialty cookie.
Abernathy’s is a sponsor and VIP goodie bags will be filled with items from local small businesses. “We have this idea of giving back to our community with the show, and it went like, everyone loved it and it fell together beautifully,” Mary said. “Everyone has just been on board.”
Goodie bags include coupons and little gifts from Abernathy’s, Wake Brewing, Gnar City, BB Designs, Shot 30 Podcast, G’s Popcorn, and The Project. “This is really cool,” Mary said. “This is our biggest goodie bag yet. We do goodie bags every show. We wanted to get the word out for all local businesses.”
The VIP section ($30 tickets) is on the floor in front, where dancers come down and mingle with the crowd. “You get all these amazing things,” Mary said, noting there were a few seats available Wednesday.
The performers take off clothes up to their level of comfort, she said. One, for example, takes off a skirt but keeps on a body suit. “Here’s what we have to keep covered because of liquor licenses, but do everything in between,” Mary said. “It varies.”
The burly world changes lives
Sassy LaShay and Wicked Jezebel (who asked only their stage names be used) are both moms whose lives have changed because of burlesque.
Sassy — whose daughter was 20 and son was 15 when she started burlesque — took 12 weeks of classes with Bottoms Up Quad City Burlesque, was an apprentice and became a member in May 2018, and when Mary left, she asked her to be part of the new troupe.
“It was fun; got me out of my comfort zone,” Sassy said of burlesque. “It gave me some confidence back, after being a mom for so long. Doing all the kids’ sports stuff and I didn’t have any hobbies that I enjoyed.”
“I wanted a hobby for myself and I always liked burlesque and just wondered if I could get up and actually do that,” Sassy said. “I had been to BU shows before, and I had seen some shows in Vegas. We used to live in Arizona (1991-96), so we’d go to Vegas all the time, so I’d seen some shows.”
She earned her master’s degree in social work in 2014 through Western Illinois University and finished at St. Ambrose, and she works as a social worker full-time.
“Mary was the person who was the most supportive of me. Her and I became good friends,” Sassy said, noting she took BU classes with Mary from summer 2017. Mary helped start BU in 2011 (which mainly performs at The Speakeasy in Rock Island) and left to form her own troupe in 2019.
“I wanted to create a safe space for burlesque. I wanted to create a space where your art would have no censorship,” she said. “A place for you to be you, do you, body positivity. I wanted to create a platform where you could just create freely.”
With Mary’s troupe, “it’s just a fun environment. I never felt self-conscious,” Sassy said. “I enjoy just the learning aspect of it. It made me feel good about myself.”
Mary said four women came from BU to the new troupe, another student joined, and now they have 11 performers total, including the emcee Sinaman, a drag queen.
“We want to be the Quad-Cities burlesque variety troupe,” Mary said. “We don’t want to be just a burlesque show. We always want to being in drag queens, drag kings, comedians. We’re gonna start having a local band at every show.” One guest performer Saturday – Samantha – is a belly dancer.
“We don’t have that in our area. We’ve always been interested in being something more,” Mary said. While there won’t be live music for this
show, many performers will dance to recordings of local bands, like Sassy choosing The Dawn. “We want something different,” Mary said. Others will dance to Three Years Hollow, Bix Beiderbecke and Mary picked Des Moines-based Slipknot.
The troupe performed recently at Varieties, a gay nightclub on West 2nd Street in downtown Davenport. They will also perform shorter sets at QC Fall Pride outside in front of Varieties on Friday. Sept. 10 (at 10:30 p.m.; Bottoms Up performs at 11:30 that night), and Saturday, Sept. 11 at 11:30 to midnight. Mary and her troupe have been strong supporters of the area LGBTQ community.
“It’s a natural thing for burlesque to be supportive of, because we work a lot with drag communities,” she said. “Prides all over have opened their doors to burlesque performers. For us, we have a lot of LGBTQ members, and a lot of friends and family as well that are, so for us, it’s really important for us to be
involved in Pride and Varieties, and Clock, Inc. We host a quarterly charity event with Clock, Inc.”
MQCHOB has hosted two “Period Parties” in February 2020 and 2021, with Clock, Inc. (the LGBTQ community center at 4102 46th Ave., Rock Island), to collect tampons, pads, panty liners, underwear, period cups, and baby wipes. This year’s also included a food drive.
Wicked Jezebel, who works as an office assistant and has kids ages 27 and 23. She used to volunteer with Bottoms Up for several years, selling merchandise, but never performed before joining Mary’s troupe.
“It’s just the building up of each other, the honesty, the great vibe we have here,” she said. “As soon as I heard they were holding auditions, I said I have to audition for this troupe. I’ve been wanting to do it. This is the one. I knew this was something I wanted to do.”
Jezebel auditioned in December 2019 and was ready for it. “She slayed it; you would have never guessed it was her first time doing burlesque,” Mary said.
“When I get on stage, I become a different person than I am offstage,” Jezebel said. “I think I’m way more expressive on stage. I’m more vivacious and everything on stage.”
“I’m sass mouth my entire life, so I knew it had to be part of my name,” Sassy said. “I can let it out more. I have to repress it more at work.”
The costumes, makeup, facial expressions, movement, music and performers’ attitude all help get the wordless story across, the women said.
“The way you carry yourself,” Mary said. “Take ‘em on a journey. I use ballet as an example. You use the choreography.”
Jezebel said performing has definitely helped her off-stage personality.
“My confidence from 2019 has grown like 1,000 times,” she said. “I never used to wear like crop tops, and I have five of them now. I think I’m beautiful now and I’m not worried about anything, and that’s all thanks to being part of burlesque, being on stage to express myself.”
Mary teaches a “Burlesquercize” class Friday nights at 7 p.m. (Sept. 17, 24, Oct. 8, 22, 29, Nov. 12, 19, and Dec. 3 and 17). Classes are $15 each or four for $40. “It’s like a high-impact choreography of an hour and a half,” she said. “I make a new choreographed routine every class. We go over that over and over.
Some people take because they’re interested in getting their toes wet in the burlesque scene. Some people take it just as fun; I’m getting out of my house. It’s social, move and groove, and some people just take it strictly for workout.”
Mary – who works as a hair stylist at Salon Envy in Davenport — also leads a Striptease Academy, a Saturday class through Oct. 30, from 10 a.m. to noon. It teaches Burlesque 101, costuming, choreography, confidence, self-love, the history of burlesque and much more. The graduation show is Nov. 6, and registration costs $200. Their studio is at 1730 Wilkes Ave. (off Locust near Division),
“Whether you want to dip your toes in the Burlesque world, get to know some creative humans like yourself, get out of the house, exercise, to gain confidence or to love yourself and body better this class is for YOU!!!!!!” the Facebook page says.
“Hairapy is a real thing,” Mary said of hair styling, which she got back to pretty quickly in May 2020, with eager customers. “Hairdressers are basically an expensive therapist.”
MQCHOB will do another Halloween show on Oct. 16 at Spotlight.
Tickets for the Saturday show (doors open at 7 p.m.) cost $20 for general admission, $30 for VIP, and general admission seats at the door are $25. You can reserve seats at https://mqchob.booktix.com/seating.php. For more about the troupe, visit https://www.facebook.com/MQCHOB.