Jeez Loueez is a burlesque performer that has recently moved back to Chicago and been traveling a lot for performing. Being voted as #14 in the Top 50 Burlesque Industry Figures in 2014, she believes burlesque is an extension of her artistic abilities in performing, dancing and entertaining people. Jeez has a strong passion to create characters based on both pop and classic culture, and her artistic goal is to make everyone have a good time. She is currently producing a yearly show called Jeezy’s Juke Joint, which is a black burlesque revue in the fourth year. Burlesque performers from all over the country will gather together in Chicago on May.2nd and 3th, and the ultimate goal of the event is to bring the art form to African American community.
When did you know you wanted to be a burlesque performer and has that aspiration changed throughout the years? If so, how?
This month will be the sixth year that I’ve been doing burlesque. And I guess there wasn’t any particular moment that I knew I wanted to be a burlesque performer. I just fell into it, not an accident, but I just happened to know people who were doing burlesque and they needed a last minute replacement. So I jumped in the show and have been doing it ever since than. And I started it as another extension of performance and interest, cause I always want to perform, dance and entertain in live theatres. I just kept doing it. I just started, like I did my first festival, and then started to get acquaint to the community outside of my talent, and started travelling a lot. Once I started travelling and going to other cities and getting the response, I kind of felt like this is something I’m good at. I felt like I can keep doing for a while.
So the positive responses from audiences make you more and more like what you do?
Yeah. And especially outside the show, the community itself has been a great positive force and resource in my life. Just meeting creative strong powerful women all over the world who are running their own companies, doing their own productions and creating their costumes. They are in charge of everything. It’s been super inspiring.
How is the burlesque community here in Chicago?
Chicago has a huge burlesque community. And sometimes it comes as a surprise to people who don’t know about burlesque at all. If they go to a show in Chicago, they find out more and more, there are a lot of performances here. There are also a lot of shows. I started perform here, like I said, six years ago, and then I moved away for a couple of years and now I’m back. And it’s great to see how everything is grown. There is everything from troupes to productions to independent performers. They have large-scale production and small bar shows, there’s all kinds of things. A lot of people tend to work with each other. You know there’s a lot crossover between different shows and troupes. And some troupes just work on their own, that’s fine too. It just depends. There is a huge variety in the community here.
Does Chicago burlesque community help you a lot?
Yes. I’ve made so many close friends and connections over the years. I started out doing burlesque here with a troupe, and the moved with Vaudezilla, which is a big troupe here. And now I’m independent on my own, but I still work with everybody. So there’s definitely a lot of support.
Your website introduces you as lethal combination of drama, hilarity, and killer kinetics. Can you tell more about your work and artistic value?
I love performing. I feel like on stage I’m an extension of myself. So I don’t necessarily feel that I’m putting on a persona or being a totally different person. But I do like to create characters. Some of my work is based on the pop culture. I do Whitney Huston, and I also have a flash dance acts. I’ve been inspired by a lot of 80’s and 90’s pop culture. But then I also love doing classic burlesque as well. When I first started, I definitely didn’t think that I would ever do classic burlesque. I just thought I was contemporary. But further I go the more I realize that one of the greatest things about the art form is that you can do whatever you want to do. So I plan to do more classic as well to get a little bit of a variety. But no matter what style or genre, my goal is to entertain people. Make everyone have a good time. I do like to make people laugh, so I do have a lot of crazy comedian characters as well. It’s kind of all across the board.
What’s your process of creating performance? Do you usually come up with a theme before creating the act?
Well, it depends. There are different ways. Like sometimes the producer will approach you with a specific theme for a show, that’s how my Whitney Houston came about. Producers were doing specific theme shows, and they are looking for performers who can fulfill those themes. So for these I created specifically for their shows, but they ended up being able to stand on their own as well. For me, if I’m creating something specifically for a show, I need to think about if I do this act outside of the context of the theme show, is it gonna be able to stand alone? Is it able to be translated to audiences who don’t know what the theme particularly is. And I think I’ve been able to do this with couple of my acts that are for themes. But other than that sometimes it’s just like I hear a piece of music and I like that, it makes me want to dance or makes me more to take my clothes off (laugh) or it makes me want to feel strong and sexy. There are a lot of different ways that I come up with inspiration.
You were voted as #14 in the TOP 50 Burlesque Industry Figures in 2014. What do you think makes a successful burlesque?
In my opinion, definitely stay truly themselves and doesn’t change their ideals for anybody. And just really stage truly their art. And will be honest inside themselves about what they want to present to the world. I also feel like a successful burlesque performer is humble. They know when to shine but also know when to improve. You definitely never stop learning, or never trying to stop improving. I’ve never been to a point where I feel that this act is done. I could always add more, and change the choreography and switch things around. As long as you constantly trying to improve, being truly yourself, being humble, you should entertain the audiences.
What are some basic skills for being a burlesque performer, like dancing?
I think one of the common misperceptions right now in burlesque community is “burlesque dancer”. Like you have to dance, or you have to have this training in movement, and how to do all these things. But (burlesque is not only about dancing), performing is also a part of it.
You can be an amazing performer with your voice, facial expressions with your comedian timing, it doesn’t have to be one thing (dance). Burlesque performance have to be multi-talented, just something I feel a lot of people outside don’t realize or don’t get to see.
What is the most challenging thing for being a burlesque performer?
Right now the biggest challenge is just balancing my life and my schedule. I travel a lot and I love performing. I’ve been a full-time performer for a few years now. The biggest change has been to balance travel schedule, my relationship and friendships and family, and my cat.
Why do you choose to travel a lot?
Sometimes it’s just because I’ve never been to this town and I want to go. Burlesque is a good way to travel more and see different cities and meet people. And also I feel like it’s definitely important to see what the burlesque communities are like in other cities because there’s so much going on. And those Middle Western small towns are my favorite places to go to, cause they don’t have a lot of burlesque there. So when they have such an event there, they are like “Wow, this is the best ever!”. There are places where people don’t know that burlesque exists, so it’s great to be able to go to these places.
Any upcoming projects we should know about?
I produced a yearly show called Jeezy’s Juke Joint. It’s a black burlesque revue and this would be the fourth year. It’s coming up on May 2nd and 3th. This year is the first year it would be two nights, so it’s a Saturday and Sunday. And there are burlesque performers coming from all over the country, including our local performers as well. It’s gonna be huge and it’s very exciting. That’s my baby project that I focus on once a year.
How did you come up with the idea of Jeezy’s Juke Joint? Did you do the show because you want to create a new platform for black burlesque performers?
Yeah. It started out just as a blog that interviewed and highlighted black burlesque stars around the country. It’s just because I didn’t know there were many black people who were performing burlesque. Not saying they weren’t doing, it’s just I didn’t know where they were. I had to look really hard and research it and found out about it. It started as a blog, and it turned into a show. The great thing about it is what I need to do is not only highlight that these are some black people who are doing burlesque, but also to bring burlesque to a new community. Because the more that audiences see a poster or a show that has people of color or people look like them, or people they can relate to, the more they are apt to come to the show when they find out it exists. One of the problems I would say is that when I was performing, I wasn’t seeing any black people in audiences. So I was thinking how could we bring the African American community come to burlesque show or find out about burlesque. So it’s not just about having a line of black performers, it’s also about bringing this art form to our community as well.
Through the four years, do you feel you find more and more black burlesque performers?
Yes. Last year and this year we open it up to application. The reason for that is that I don’t want it ended up this booking people I know over and over again each year. So with the applications, tons of people are applying. In that way I found out even more people from all over the country are doing burlesque.
How did you know You’re So Talented and Sam Bailey?
Love her! She’s good and she’s a great friend of mine. We went to school together, she was one of my three black friends in Columbia College. I was in musical theater major, and she did acting. She’s an amazing actress and writer in Chicago. She just branched out doing her own web series called You’re So Talented. So check it up, http://www.youresotalented.net. I must say I might be in the background for a couple of the scenes as an extra. This web series is going to be amazing.