May 4, 2014

Interview with Calamity Chang, NYSB Instructor and Co-Producer of The Asian Burlesque Spectacle



NYSB: How did the Asian Burlesque Spectacular start? What’s it all about?

Calamity Chang: ABC started with a conversation with Sukki Singapora who is a co-producer of this event. Sukki, from Singapore, is very active in women’s rights in conservative Singapore so our conversation started on that thread, and a few Skype meetings later, the “Asian Burlesque Spectacular” was born. Sukki had always wanted to hold a giant burlesque show specifically for Asian or Asian origin performers, as a continuation from her society, The Singapore Burlesque Club (to promote and nurture Asian performers in environments where sometimes burlesque is a difficult choice, or perhaps not celebrated enough). We enlisted Thirsty Girl Productions (Jen Gapay) right away. With her acclaimed experience and finesse in producing, she was the obvious choice to help realize the dream.

NYSB: The Asian Burlesque Spectacular is in its second year now. What will differentiate the show from last year’s premiere? 

Calamity Chang: We have an entirely new cast and we are at DROM in the East Village this year. We have an incredible line-up featuring some heavy hitters like The Shanghai Pearl (Seattle), Cherry Typhoon (Montreal) and Orchid Mei (Denver) , as well as international performers like Violet Eva (Japan) and Miyuki Divine (Calgary, Canada). Our host this year is NYC drag extraordinaire Yuhua Hamasaki (Miss Asia NYC 2014 and Miss Fire Island 2012), and we have added a boylesque performer, Wrong Note Rusty (Toronto) this year for the first time as well.Lastly, we are proud to be officially sponsored by ByeJoe: Spirit of China. We are very excited about this particular sponsorship, because “baijiu” has been a traditional Chinese spirit but as “ByeJoe” the liquor is expanding to a more Western palate to appeal to a young, modern Asian audience.


(Above, Calamity Chang. Photo Photo by Michael Webb)

NYSB: While show is all current performers, there is a strong element of homage to burlesque legends performers as Barbara Yung and Mei Ling. How important was that in so far as a production decision? 

Calamity Chang: Tributes are important to us, because Asian burlesque legends were less well known and less celebrated than their Western counterparts. Last year Sukki and I did our tribute acts to Yung and Ling. Other performers did their own interpretation of what constitutes their “Asian-ness” or whether that is relevant to them as a performer. Having that variety added an interesting layer of texture to the show. That’s the key for us. We are not going around forcing people to do Asian acts or collecting acts to create some kind of hyper-sensitive, somber event. Some of the acts addressed current topics with a comedic twist. For example, last year Fancy Chance’s act was about a hungry Korean student and Stella Chuuu’s act was to Monty Python’s “I Love Chinese Food”. We also had Dame Cuchifrita’s beautiful and haunting piece which addressed the colonialization of Southeast Asian women and sexuality. Show us how your ethnicity has influenced you as a performer and the acts you create, or how it hasn’t. We also are in agreement that one does not have to be Asian to do an act that is Asian-inspired. It is important this year to not only grow the show, but also to celebrate Asian culture without making it inaccessible to any other cultural group. To quote The Shanghai Pearl, there is a difference between “appropriating” and “appreciating.” I don’t think people know the difference so ABS is trying to be part of the answer to that question.


(Above, Calamity Chang. Photo by Michael Webb)

NYSB: Asian women have always had to deal with a very specific Western stereotype and fetishization of their bodies. Do you feel like the platform of the Asian Burlesque Spectacular is able to comment or take away from some of that?

Calamity Chang: I will posit that Asian men are also grossly sexualized and diminutized by Western stereotypes quite possibly even worse. Asian men are constantly portrayed as nerds, under sexed, or gay in popular television whereas Asian women are oversexed, “sluts”, and sexual objects (i.e.: the Tila Tequilas). ABS gives us a platform in which we present ourselves, our bodies, and our own sexual projection on our own terms whether through allure, comedy or confrontation through the art form of burlesque and live performance theater. The blessing of working in a niche art form (versus Hollywood) is that we have control over how we are presented to the public.

NYSB: What are your hopes for for the future of The Asian Burlesque Spectacular?

Calamity Chang: We are working on taking it to the West Coast (San Francisco) and to the UK. We aim to turn this into a 2-3 day festival! The possibilities are endless. We’ve received so many inquiries since last year from interested Asian performers all over. ABS stands as a strong beacon of hope for many Asian women (and men) interested in burlesque but who may be afraid to pursue it because of cultural taboos. We are here to challenge those ideas and also to create new images of Asian sexuality.

To find out more on The Asian Burlesque Spectacular visit The event page

Doors Open: 7:00 PM. Show Time: 8:00 PM

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