Harmonious Anarchy

Pantomime is not mime. It is not a guy in tights and white-face tugging at an imaginary rope. Pantomime (Panto for short) is a theatrical tradition out of England. A musical comedy for the whole family. Whole family? As in…children?? Why would Burlesque Times do a piece on children’s theater? Well, as those of you who have had the unbridled glee of seeing a Panto will agree: It’s basically burlesque without the boobs.

Hence, it makes perfect sense that a burlesque duo have taken it upon themselves to introduce Panto to an American audience. Legendary husband/wife team: Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz.

Julie Atlas Muz’s titles include Miss Exotic World, Miss Coney Island, and Queen of the Mermaid Parade, Whitney Biennial Artist, A Valencia Biennial Artist, Ruthie Award Recipient, Lambent Fellow, Ethyl Eichelberger Award Recipient and a Franklin Furnace Artist. Her unique performance style is hilarious, dirty, artistic and powerful.

Mat Fraser is a PRIX ITALIA winning, BAFTA & NAACP nominated, actor/writer, mostly known for his work portraying disabled people on stage and screen. His most famous role was as Paul the Illustrated Seal in FX’s American Horror Story: Freak Show, and he plays an ex-metal drummer alcoholic Roger, in Amazon’s Loudermilk. Apart from 2017’s Jack & The Beanstalk, and this year’s Panto, Dick Rivington & The Cat, Mat has also written 2 stage plays, a full musical, and several screen dramas, including his recently curated series CripTales.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Julie Atlas Muz about her and Mat’s latest theatrical endeavor of Panto

 

BT: What is Panto?

JULIE: Panto is a 300-year-old tradition that stems from commedia dell’arte. But it currently is such a part of British culture. It’s quintessential British humor. It’s at the root of so much Western comedy. It’s part of the reason Monty Python exists.

BT: How would you describe a Panto show?

JULIE: It is typically a fairy tale that gets pompified really. It has extremely fantastic production values. Very standard skits. It is vaudeville, it is burlesque, it is music hall and it is for the whole family. It’s not just for children. The trick for this form of theater is that kids will laugh on one level, the teenagers will laugh at the adult level, and the grandparents will enjoy it too, just because it’s fantastic.

BT: What time of year does Panto occur?

JULIE: In England it starts around November. Until about the middle to the end of January. So that’s a three to four month long run, in every town in their biggest theater. 800 seat houses, it’s packed. 2 shows a night. Just crazy. It is the equivalent of our Nutcracker and Rockettes. It is their holiday show.

BT: You are an American who saw her first Panto in England. What was that like?

JULIE: Mat didn’t tell me what it was when he first took me to one. We went to go see Cinderella and I could not believe my eyes, my ears. There was a literal call and response between the audience and the cast. A literal argument within the show. One of the principle characters would say, “Oh no you don’t!” and then the whole crowd would say, “Oh yes we do!” “Oh no you don’t!” “Oh yes we do!” There’s this real punk rock anarchy, unexpectedness, spectacle and wild fun. But with a strong message that good overcomes evil. This message is the heart of this Christmas fairy tale. It’s so, so much fun. And so many Western comedic tropes come from this form. “I scream for ice cream” comes from it. “Look out behind you” comes from it.

BT: How did you approach writing your own Panto?

JULIE: The first one Mat wrote was Jack & the Beanstalk. And I literally directed and produced it from a book.

BT: Pantomime for Dummys? Or Americans rather?

JULIE: It’s called Creating Pantomime. It’s how to put a pantomime together. We pretty much tried to follow the book. It’s so formulaic, time-tested and true that it worked. It worked!

BT: I saw Jack & the Beanstalk which was your first Panto. It was absolutely marvelous. How many years did that run?

JULIE: We did it for 2 years. 2017 and 2018. About 3,000 people saw the show, which is really kind of exciting in New York. We took 2019 off and then, we know what happened in 2020.

BT: What? What happened?

JULIE: It’s the year that never was, right?

BT: I spent that whole period drinking and wearing elastic waistbands. I saw Jack & the Beanstalk and it was everything you describe. A raucous, fun outlet for the kiddies as well as the adults. The production was frankly, gaudy. Is gaudiness part of the formula as well?

JULIE: Totally. The Dame is the mother figure. Look at that picture. (holds up a photo in “Creating Pantomime”) A kiddie pool is part of the Dame’s outfit.

BT: That’s marvelous.

JULIE: It’s about fun. The Dame is traditionally played by a man. There’s cross dressing. There’s people dressed up as animals. Animals dressed up as people. Pie fights. There’s always a Splosh Scene. For our next show, Dick Rivington and the Cat, I’m working on a pizza pie Splosh Scene.

Everything in the play must move as fast as you can. I feel working in burlesque is good training for Panto. There’s a lot of crossover. Our Good Fairy last time was the international burlesque sensation, Dirty Martini. That tickled my heart that Dirty, known for her legendary strip tease was the force of good for these children.

BT: The stripper is the force of good, as always. Do you want to embellish a little on that crossover of Panto into burlesque?

JULIE: It’s comedy. In burlesque, we get a group of drunk adults in a room on a Saturday night and they’re like a bunch of kids. It’s the same in Panto, dealing with that level of attention span. Trying to get the audience to misbehave in a way that you can anticipate and encourage. As opposed to letting it be disharmonious anarchy, you want it to be harmonious anarchy. And you want that good feeling. It’s the same feeling, really. Except for we can’t show titties. And when you deliver the double entendres, you can’t wink. You gotta just do it as a double entendre. Like in Dick Rivington and the Cat, all the dick jokes are sincere. As opposed to how I would play them at the Slipper Room which is more like…(mimes a blowjob)

BT: What’s that? A lollipop? Now, I understand you’re performing at Abrons Art Center in New York.

JULIE: To do it in a space like Abrons Art Center is a real gift. It’s a 300 seat venue. It’s traditional. I can’t wait. But I’m curious to see how we’re going to move forward with Covid regulations. Hopefully by December, kids will be able to take off their masks and scream as an audience. Because that’s important. The kids have got to be able to yell back at the stage. When Mat took me to my first Panto in England, I was blown away. I could not believe it. It felt like a punk rock concert that lasts for 2 hours. But there were little miniature ponies on stage. Alive! It was unbelievable.

BT: Well Jack and the Beanstalk was so magnificent. So fun. I couldn’t recommend it enough. As I did to countless people. Not just parents, but everybody.

JULIE: I just want to add that Mat grew up with the form. And I wouldn’t be able to create the Pantomime without Mat. He understands it. I don’t get it.

BT: In what way?

JULIE: I err on the side of too dirty because I’m trained in the burlesque world. He knows where to ride that fence. He knows what side to fall on for the most part. I mean, with Dick Rivington and the Cat, we’re going to have to cut a lot of the dick jokes. There can only be, like, three dick jokes per act. There can’t be 14 dick jokes per act. Only one joke about throbbing veins. Not two.

BT: More dick jokes. That’s my policy.

Dick Rivington and the Cat will be hitting the Abrons Art Center stage this December 2021.
For more information visit www.thepantoproject.com

THE BIG REVEAL
with
JULIE ATLAS MUZ & MAT FRASER

 
We invited Julie & Mat to participate in “The Big Reveal” our rapid-fire question/answer interview…

QUICK FIRE WARM UP:
 

1. Glitter Lips?
Julie: YES.
Mat: On stage, yes. In the bedroom, no.

2. Dance shoes or stilettos?
Julie: STRIPPER SHOES which are DANCE SHOES.

Mat: Stilette-hoes, one of my favourite bands.

3. Enter with music or start on-stage?
Julie: Depends on the number.
Mat: Enter with music.

4. Bumps, Grinds, Shakes or Shimmies?
Julie: YES TO ALL.
Mat: Grinds all the way.

5. Dermablend or Sally Hansen?
Julie: NONE, I used to use both but realized it’s all in your head!
Mat: No need for either, you can’t improve upon natural perfection.

6. To wig or not to wig?
Julie: Depends.
Mat: If possible, not.

7. Three words that describe you:
Julie: Old, fat, angry
Mat: Disabled Metal Ox

8. Favorite Body Part?
Julie: My ass.
Mat: On stage, mouth. In life, brain. Up front, flippers.

9. Last thing you do before the curtain opens?
Julie: Stress out.
Mat: Deep breath, kiss my wedding ring.

10. Dressing room must have?
Julie: Trash can.
Mat: An atmosphere of mutual support and unconditional love.

AND NOW THAT YOU’RE WARMED UP….

1. What was your introduction to burlesque?
Julie: The 1st ever Red Vixen Cabaret.
Mat: The Whoopee Cub London 2003.

2. When did you know you had what it took?
Julie: As a child.
Mat: The Whoopee Club Wild West show 2004.

3. Who is your inspiration?
Julie: Lucille Ball, Dirty Martini, Pina Bausch, Beyonce.
Mat: Julie Atlas Muz.

4. Assuming it doesn’t say Julie Atlas Muz on your birth certificate, where did your stage name come from?
Julie: My birth certificate says Julie Ann Muz. Atlas was given to me by a Dominican bodybuilder friend who I was hot for…He said Julie Atlas would be a good name, so I changed my middle name.
Mat: n/a!

5. What percentage of Julie Atlas Muz would we see if we ran into you at the grocery store?
Julie: uhm… I poo on cupcakes.
Mat: still n/a.

6. What is your signature move?
Julie: High kick, drop split.
Mat: The windmill I retired in 2014. Walking in 2nd position whilst writhing my flippers and gurning is hard now as I approach a hip operation, but I think my current signature move is still nudity.

7. What is your favorite costume piece of all time?
Julie: A giant balloon.
Mat: The Las Vegas rules safe rhinestoned cock piece Julie made for me, so we could do “American Trilogy” in Vegas without being arrested.

8. What is your most embarrassing on-stage mishap?
Julie: When my dress knocked over an entire table’s freshly poured red wine glasses on their laps. I wish I had evaporated at that very moment.
Mat: Unwittingly inviting a drunken fascist onstage as part of some audience game, realising too late, then having to get this raging homophobe offstage and out the venue without being beaten up, or losing the crowd, who were understandably terrified. Tough gig! Got the fucker out though.

9. What was the best performance of your career so far?
Julie: My next one.
Mat: A couple of memorable ones at The Box in NYC & London, but for me, singing Elvis’ “American Trilogy” to 800 people onstage at BHoF, after hosting the Movers & Shakers night, in Las Vegas, Elvis’s spiritually bereft show home, in was it 2013?

10. Who is your dream collaborator?
Julie: My husband, Mat Fraser.
Mat: Julie Atlas Muz.

11. What is your favorite venue?
Julie: The Box, the production value is just awesome or Abrons Playhouse, which is my artistic home.
Mat: All things considered, The first Slipper Room.

12. How much do you ACTUALLY work out?
Julie: 3-6 times a week.
Mat: 4 times a week, one hour home gym, plus cycling about 3 times a week.

13. Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to other performers?
Julie: When they are really really bad and someone tells them how great they are.
Mat: Ableism.

14. Have you ever dated a fan?
Julie: Yes.
Mat: No.

15. What is the strangest gift you ever got from a fan?
Julie: A dildo in the mail with the base shaped like Australia.
Mat: The offer of a threesome, or a monkey’s hand skeleton.

16. Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Julie: Yes, tons of them.
Mat: I mentally run through the act just before doing it, it helps centre me.

17. If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
Julie: More cash, more risks.
Mat: All venues would be fully wheelchair accessible, have an induction loop for deaf and hard of hearing audience members, and have braille signage within.

18. If you could give one piece of advice to a newbie, what would it be?
Julie: Floss your teeth every night, seriously.
Mat: Make another act.

19. What would you be doing if it wasn’t burlesque?
Julie: Vaudeville? LOL Maybe gardening? No, what am I saying? Anything showbiz.
Mat: Dreaming of an acting & writing career.

20. What would you like to be remembered for?
Julie: My work.
Mat: That I never knowingly hurt anyone. You said “like”, not likely!

To watch the entire interview find it now on the Lusty Library or Link to it directly.

For more about this power couple of burlesque and beyond, check out their websites: Julie Atlas Muz & Mat Fraser: Home and follow them at @julieatlasmuz & @mflidfraser

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