Each year audiences gasp and sigh, faces turned upward, as witnesses to the magnificence of the aerial acts presented at Moisture Festival. As Aerial Coordinator, Cathy Sutherland has chosen the acts that perform at the annual vaudeville/burlesque showcase. She also – with Rhonda Sable and Martha Enson – organizes which artists will tease, tickle and, sometimes, taunt audiences at the Festival’s Libertease Burlesque shows.
“It truly is a labor of love,” Sutherland said of the Festival, and the small army of volunteers that make Moisture possible each year. Her husband, Ron Bailey, founded the Festival over nine years ago (according to Sutherland, the name came from a joke about an ‘oyster’ festival,) and rather than simply be tolerant of his consuming hobby, Sutherland has thrown herself into organizing and performing – sometimes head first.
Honoring The Work Of Performers
“I had been doing aerial for about three months when we decided to put a show on,” Sutherland admitted. Even new to aerial work, she knew members of the community – and friends of friends from her years as a singer and gymnast – and she found aerialists anxious for the chance to perform.
Word-of-mouth, Sutherland admitted, still remains her primary method of finding acts. Rather than scouting acts, performers will contact her after hearing about Moisture Fest and, thanks to YouTube, she can check out recordings of their past performances to see if they make a good match for MF, and can win over Seattle audiences.
“I was in 9 acts in the second year,” of the Festival, Sutherland recalled, “then seven, and it kept going down.” As high-quality performers hear about the Festival – and the opportunity it offers to get them out in front of welcoming audiences – Sutherland and other Moisture organizers have given up performing slots. “I think [Moisture Festival] is a success because it actually honors people,” she explained, and shows appreciation for performers whose unclassifiable skills don’t get a lot of mainstream stage time.
Today Moisture Festival attracts acts from all over the world, but Sutherland started booking local aerial talent from what she described as a growing aerial community. According to Sutherland, over the last ten years Seattle has built a large, supportive network of aerial performers – a phenomenon begun just in time for the opportunity Moisture Festival offers.
The Local Appeal of Aerial
Aerial arts – trapeze, rings, rope, fabric, etc. – began here, she explained, with classes offered by individual, highly-talented performers (Robert Davidson, Bev Sobleman, Lara Paxton, etc.) SANCA began teaching aerial, and circus arts, and “it proliferated,” Sutherland said. “In the last five years,” she observed, “[aerial] has become hugely popular as a way of staying fit,” offered at more and more Pilates studios as an alternative form of exercise.
The need for exercise, “that’s part of the reason I started,” Sutherland explained, about eight years ago, at age 46. “I had done a little bit before with UMO,” she said of some minor aerial experience she’d had. “I think it is a natural progression for ex-gymnasts,” Sutherland observed, “I love being upside down, and I love being up in the air.”
As a performer, Moisture Festival audiences will recognize Sutherland as a member of The Aviatrix and The Velone Sisters, as well as a Du Caniveaux Can Can Girls. These acts that have provided a backbone to many Moisture Festival shows, and bring in audiences to see them – and stay for the unfamiliar but amazing acts that the Festival now draws from around the world.
Aerial & Burlesque Entertainers
Not that Sutherland believes all aerial acts are created – or developed – equally. Sutherland praised performers that demonstrate the ‘hard skills’ – moves that take years of training and practice to develop – such as Terry Crane and Duo Rose. Sutherland also pointed to acts like ones by Sally Pepper, who will put together a well-considered costume, character, story, and “the complete package.” She will still give new performers a chance, even when “many just rely on flexibility,” she admitted, because audiences still recognize, and respect, the risk they put themselves in for. “You are in the air,” she said simply, “and you can fall.”
While Sutherland joined the aerial community with the advent of Moisture, she had sought out burlesque shows long before – and as an organizer, she still reacts as an audience member when choosing acts. “It’s not enough to just be able to get up there,” she said, “You are an entertainer.”
The strip tease is a burlesque staple, and Sutherland acknowledged that the ability to tease can be as necessary as the ability to strip. She also seeks out those burlesque performers that offer acts with character, creative costumes, and story development, and a comic element is also appreciated, along with titillating nudity. As a result, Moisture Festival attracts “very professional” performers, Sutherland agreed, “That are creating a higher standard.”
Moisture Festival burlesque, Sutherland pointed out, also contains elements sometimes disdained by the purists. “There was a question about putting burlesque with varieté,” Sutherland explained, yet varieté acts – comics, singers, aerial acts, jugglers, etc. – fit with the history of burlesque. As Sutherland acknowledged, “that is what we are honoring.”
Get A Fix Of Moisture
The aerial acts at the 2012 Moisture Festival have already won raves – even in the first week at Hale’s Palladium. More aerial acts, in a slightly smaller space, will be performed at the Georgetown Ballroom over the weekend of March 30th. Libertease Burlesque shows take to the Broadway Performance Hall stage over the weekends of March 24th and March 30th – for the first time ever on Capitol Hill.
Wherever you go for your fix of Moisture, expect to benefit from Sutherland’s efforts – especially if you get the chance to see her spinning overhead with The Aviatrix. However, Sutherland is quick to credit the amazing talents and hard work of all the MF producers and volunteers. The “small handful of people,” she explained, “putting on this huge thing!”
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©2012 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.