With over a decade in Atlanta burlesque, Shellie Schmals and her troupe Roxie Roz continue to create, innovate the genre, as well as entertain and inspire the next generation to step up and strip off.
With a few performances coming up quickly and lots more on the horizon, Schmals sits down with Q to chat about all things burlesque and Roxie Roz. She’s not shy about creating inclusive spaces for queer and straight performers as well as audiences.
Tell us the inspiration behind Roxie Roz Burlesque.
Our name Roxie Roz captures the spirit. Roxie – from Roxie Hart in Chicago, and Roz, my grandmother’s name (whose favorite saying was, “She doesn’t know her ass from a hole in the wall”) and Roz Kelly, who played Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days. All strong women and tough talking broads!
The heart and soul in helping me see a new vision for Roxie Roz has been working with my artistic team of Royal Tee and Emily Rose. These two talented ladies have brought fresh air into what could have become a one–note concept.
What’s your elevator pitch for what Roxie Roz does?
Roxie Roz Burlesque is a collective of dancers, performers, comedians and artists who celebrate the art of the tease in both vintage and contemporary styles.
How many years have you been involved in burlesque?
10 years. It was a slow start with a few pauses. In 2008, I inched into the scene by meeting Katherine Lashe (Syrens of the South) and Talloolah Love (The Candybox Revue).
We co–produced a burlesque and stand–up comedy show at Relapse Theatre together under the SOS brand. I took a few classes, and watched from the sidelines, trying to figure out where I fit in. I’m not a dancer, but I loved the artform so much – everyone I met was super supportive. I knew there was a place for me, I just didn’t know what it would be.
In 2009, I coordinated an art show/fashion show fundraiser that included performers from SOS and a future creative partner, Kellyn Willey. In 2010, I co–founded Minette Magnifique as lead producer, publicist and emcee. Shortly after that, we won 2013 Best Burlesque (Creative Loafing).
I stepped out to take a break. When I stepped back in, it was with Roxie Roz burlesque. Our debut show was in October 2015 at Star Bar, and we’ve grown to include over 40 different performers in 25(ish) shows since then.
How has the burlesque scene in Atlanta changed over that time?
So. Many. More. Performers! There’s been an organic expansion to the community, and a paradigm shift that’s inclusive of troupes (who meet weekly or monthly), production companies (who book gigs for show), and independent performers.
In Atlanta, you can enjoy all different genres of burlesque with routines that vary from classic burlyq, neo–burlesque, nerdlesque, boylesque, vaudeville, and circus acts!
What makes a great burlesque audience?
My Likes: Fun folks ready to have a good time and enjoy a show! My Dislikes: Audience members who talk throughout a show (take it to the bar) and non–tippers (If you like what you see, give a little sugar. It costs $$$ to look that good!) Also, don’t ever–ever–ever touch the performers – not kosher.
What makes a great burlesque performance?
I love seeing a performer who is comfortable on stage, in the moment with their music and dance work, storytelling with the routine, and brings the audience in to experience it with them. That encompasses all kinds of musical and dance styles.
Burlesque often features performances with a comedic element. Why do they pair so well?
Burlesque is parody. The word burlesque is not fundamentally indicative of stripping. It’s meant as a commentary on society. Sometimes the best way to take a serious issue and make it relatable, is by making it comedic. It helps bring the audience together with a collective understanding.
You are one of the producers of The ABCD Show, 'A Burlesque Comedy Drag Show.' How does it differ from other burlesque?
The name says it all! No other show in town will bring these three genres together in such a distinct but cohesive manner.
We are curating an experience to celebrate the body and mind. At every show, there’s always someone who has never seen burlesque or drag.
How does Roxie Roz differ from Shellie Schmals?
The main thing is that Roxie Roz is a group of performers, and I’m one person! Back in my former troupe, I performed under the moniker “Baroness VONschmalhausen” and when starting back up again, I realized that I just wanted to be me on stage. Maybe a heightened cheerleader version of me, but still me!
Advice to anyone reading this considering becoming a burlesque performer?
Dive right in. Start going to local shows, meet performers (they don’t bite and you can even find a mentor), watch Youtube videos and listen to music, join the Burlesque Atlanta Facebook group, attend Talloolah Love’s meet–up at Metropolitan Studies, take a class at Atlanta School of Burlesque, or go to a Roxie Roz show at Relapse Theatre then ask to be in next month’s show!
You can take two paths to the stage – a traditional one with classes and a graduation show, or just start doing it. It all depends on your personality and comfort level of being on stage. Invest in all the aspects of character development, choreographing routines, creative costumes, exploring theatrical narratives, get as much stage time as possible, and have fun!
A version of this article originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the full issue below: