BG: Why did you start the DisabiliTease Festival?
MINDA: At the time I thought of the festival, I had an invisible disability, and I was just starting to find out about other performers with disabilities in the burlesque and drag community. And I realized that we just weren’t seen. Either because we were really good at hiding our disabilities, or we weren’t invited to be in shows, or we physically couldn’t get on a stage, which is very common for folks in wheelchairs. Now I am a wheelchair user and I’m finding how difficult it is to find venues, especially after Covid, with our accessible venues closing.
Our original goal was to have an in-person, 2-show festival and some classes. To give disabled performers an opportunity to perform, to bring visibility and give them a chance to show off their talents. But also, to bring awareness to other performers and producers that although we may have a disability, we’re just as talented as everyone else. And sometimes we can do some cool things that other folks can’t do because of our disabilities.
So, it’s an opportunity for us to get out there. But also, for disabled folks to realize that they are worthy and welcome on stage. In fact, we had a couple of people contact us this year saying they saw the show last year and had been wanting to start performing but didn’t because they didn’t think they would be welcome on stage. Or a lot of folks applied and thought they weren’t “disabled enough”. And my comment is, if you have to ask that question, you’re safe.
It gave visibility to performers and awareness for folks that we’re here and were ready to hit a stage.
BG: So, what sort of difference has the festival made so far?
MINDA: We’ve had people reach out and say that they didn’t know there was a place for them in the community. Whether it be performing or even producing.
People thought that their specific disability wouldn’t want to be seen on stage. Which is a lie. We are our own worst critics, and we have ableist voices within our own heads.
So, it’s great for aspiring performers to see us out there. It’s great for the performers that are in the show to get some recognition for themselves. It’s great for producers to see what we have to offer. We’ve had some people grab us after seeing our show and book us. It raises awareness for audiences, seeing a wide range of disabilities. Whether visible, invisible, physical, mental…we’re talented and, although we might look a little bit different, we can still sparkle.
BG: It also opens the conversation up about what is beauty. Burlesque may embrace what is considered conventional beauty, but it also welcomes and celebrates to all types beauty.
MINDA: One hundred percent. I think we are pre-programmed. We have preconceived notions of what a burlesque performer is supposed to look like. So, we’re out there smashing the stereotypes. And we have a wide range of gender identities, all types of disabilities, ethnicities…We’re really trying to make as many intersections with disability as we can.
Because we don’t want to be that the stereotypical burlesque show that does all white, thin, female performers. We want to be as diverse as we can. And diversity within disability is huge. It’s hard enough for non-thin white bodies to get booked, but then you also have these kind of two minorities, at one time.
So, if you’re not skinny-and-white and you’re disabled…both of them together, it’s hard enough to get on stage. So we’re really trying to show that everybody’s valued on stage and everybody has a place on stage
BG: You mentioned before that people are sometimes concerned that they’re not “disabled enough”. It’s interesting that even within this situation, people can have a fraud complex.
MINDA: Imposter syndrome is real. Even within the disability community. We have a Disabilibabes Facebook group and people messaged me saying that they didn’t know if they could join. And I told them that I’m not going to gatekeep their disability. You don’t need a doctor’s note or government letter stating you’re disabled. Both of those are actually privileged accessibility issues as well. To be able to see a doctor and get a diagnosis. Or get disability. I know people that have been waiting over five years, and may not ever get it. We’re not here to gatekeep anybody for anything. If you’ve got talent, we want to show it off.
BG: So, you must have performers with no visual evidence that they have a disability.
MINDA: Yup. I was one of those people in the beginning. Whether they’re hard of hearing or blind or have PTSD or are autistic…just because you don’t see immobility, doesn’t mean somebody is not disabled. This gives them a chance to say, “Hey, I’m here I’m valid, I have a disability.”
BG: It is like coming out of a closet.
MINDA: A lot of people use it as a time to reclaim themselves. A time to come out of the closet that they do have a disability and say, “I’ve been performing you. You have all enjoyed me. And, by the way, this is something I have and it doesn’t change my talent at all.
BG: I can’t think of a more sparkly, joyful way of coming out of any closet. What a wonderful outlet you’re giving people. And not just burlesque performers, you have drag and cirque.
MINDA: That’s right. We have pole, lyra and rope this year. We’re trying to expand every year and we’re learning every year. The quick pivot last year from our plans of an in-person show to the virtual show was a learning curve. (laughs) We learned a lot. I think it actually worked out. We were able to give more people a platform. We got people from around the world to be able to apply. And we had audience members from around the world. And it worked out. I’m not super mad about it. We look forward to a day that we can hit a real stage.
BG: Are you considering doing something live next year?
MINDA: Yeah, our hope is to do two live shows, and then one virtual show. We will always have one virtual show going forward because we proved what a success it can be.
It was also an accessibility feature. Because there are a lot of folks that can’t get to a venue, whether it be because of mobility, or they can’t get on a plane, or they can’t leave their house. For a lot of performers, being able to do the multimedia style, where they can record parts and then edit together, is a lot easier on brains and bodies than doing one number, all the way through. So, we kind of want to keep that as an option going forward. Even with our live shows, we’re going to be live-streaming that so people everywhere can still watch it and participate.
BG: So, in that regard Covid did you a favor.
MINDA: Yeah, it was funny, we were going to be “groundbreaking” and live-stream it, and then Covid happened and everyone’s like, “We can do this, too!” So, not quite as groundbreaking anymore. But I think, honestly, watching everybody do that was helpful for folks with disabilities. To see that they could be accommodated for. And we’re hoping that that continues going forward.
We found more ways to be accessible. Our original plan was to have a sign language interpreter, and this year, we’re able to get live captioning service.
BG: I find that if a person with a disability is given a chance to really wow an audience, it alters how people look at things.
MINDA: I think, having a disabled person on stage, the audience is going to see how powerful we are. And then they’re going to change their preconceived notion of what a disabled person is and take that into the world and their daily life. A lot of people assume a lot of things about disabled folks and we like proving them wrong. (laughs) And if we can do it with a lot of rhinestones, I think it’s even cooler.
I saw Jacqueline Boxx before I became a wheelchair user…Um, we hate the word “inspiration”. Inspiration porn. We hate it. However, within the disability community, I feel like it’s okay to be inspired by someone else. And seeing how somebody in a wheelchair could do things and perform and tricks that an able-bodied person couldn’t do, helped me realize what I could do. Even though I started in heels, I ended up in wheels.
BG: Love that. So how can people support you now and in the future.
MINDA: Right now, you can buy tickets to the show. (laughs) We have shows Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Recordings will be available. Also, we are partnering with the DisabiliTease Academy. It’s a school for disabled folks by disabled folks. And we’ll offer six classes. We’ll have movement classes. We have classes about how to fundraise that include not only disabled folks but also BIPOC. We have hands and faces, which is really important for us people that may have some mobility limitations to still kind of get across emotion. It’s something I struggle with, so I’m really looking forward to that class. And we even have one about accessible marketing. How to market yourself in a way that’s accessible to most folks. And it’s a school that will be continuing for as long as we can keep it going
Our applications for next year will be coming out in the beginning of the year, and we will also be looking for sponsors for next year show.
BG: We like sponsors.
MINDA: We do!
BG: Fantastic. You are incredible. I don’t know how you do it.
MINDA: Well, my co-producers, VaVa Vashti and Lakota Shekhar, if I didn’t have them, this wouldn’t be happening.
BG: Well, Minda, I don’t want to be triggering but you are an inspiration.
About the DisabiliTease Festival
The DisabiliTease Festival is a multi-day, multi-show festival showcasing diverse performers with both visible and invisible disabilities in the genres of burlesque, cirque, and drag performance. Learn more at www.disabiliteasefestival.com and facebook.com/DisabiliTeaseFestival
Friday, July 16 at 7pm Central: Headliner: Jacqueline Boxx, Feature: Chaos X Machina
Saturday, July 17 at 7pm Central: Headliner: Jacqueline Boxx, Feature: Tre’ Da Marc
Sunday, July 18 at 12pm Central: Feature: Azzure Service
Tickets start at $15.
About the DisabiliTease Academy
The DisabiliTease Academy is an online dance, burlesque, aerial, and movement arts school focused on performers and producers with disabilities and their allies. Learn more at www.disabiliteaseacademy.com and facebook.com/DisabiliTeaseAcademy.
Saturday, July 17:
12:00pm – Energy Flow: Safe/Centered Stage Presence with Jacqueline Boxx
1:30pm – Faces and Hands for Stage with Skirt Vonnegut
3:00pm – Glitter Activism: Using Burlesque to Create Social Change with Eun Bee Yes
Sunday, July 18:
2:30pm – The Mind: Dance for Mobility Restrictions with Jacqueline Boxx
4:00pm – The Movement: Floor/Chair for Mobility Restrictions with Jacqueline Boxx
5:30pm – Accessibility Design Basics for Sparkle Showbiz Marketing with Foxie La Fleur
Workshops are $20