INTERVIEW: Artemisia de la Miel on Octo Claw’s Bizarre Bazaar, eating glass, & monster trucks!

There isn’t anything keeping Louisville any weirder than Octo Claw’s Bizarre Bazaar, a home for all manner of performance artists that may not have a home in conventional theatre. As a father, my time out is pretty limited, but just the thought of a local freak show that incorporates drag, sideshow, burlesque, and geek culture, all filtered through a punk rock lens is enough to make my heart grow ten sizes. This is the stuff of nightmares to the evangelical right, a hedonistic orgy or weirdness and perversion, which to my mind only makes the world a more interesting place.

And isn’t that what we all want, to experience life to its fullest? Speaking with Artemisia de la Miel it’s easy to see the bazaar for what it is, an all inclusive bazaar made by oddballs and weirdos, and that’s absolutely beautiful. You can catch her performing with the OCBB this Sunday at The Cure Lounge. I caught up with Artemisia to ask her about her art, the logistics of eating glass, and monster trucks.

Never Nervous: How would you describe what it is that you do? How did you get into it?

Artemisia de la Miel: For years, many of us performed drag, fire arts, sideshow acts and burlesque striptease independently and/ or with other troupes and casts. We developed our skills and learned much from these years, but we were always the oddballs out, and didn’t usually have a context where much of our material worked. We started to band together as friends and to support one another in our endeavors, and in late 2015, we decided to create an eccentric collective featuring all we loved to bring something new to the table. We aimed to celebrate one another’s skills and passion, and much as the impetus behind pre- WW1 vaudeville shows in Germany, we saw the world getting dangerously fucked and looked to performing arts that are unabashedly crude, sexual, experimental, confrontational, queer, empowered and loud as our way of combating what we are being force-fed to accept. It’s our small sanctuary: we wanted an egalitarian, non- hierarchical collective of friends who could perform, progress, and love one another fiercely.

We usually refer to ourselves as a queer and lady-led vaudeville collective, but others have called us a punk, DIY circus, and we love that description as well. We aim to showcase the mediums we love, so under the banner of Octo Claw’s Bizarre Bazaar (formerly the Bluegrass Bizarre Bazaar, later named after our ringleader, Octo Claw), we came together as drag kings and queens, sideshow critters, burlesque and belly dancers, clowns, and fire artists. We bring touring acts who share our hopes from around the region, and so far have given a platform to the Shadow People Sideshow (Atlanta), Blyre Cpanx (St Louis burlesque dancer), The Mystic Circus (Brooklyn and LA- based circus) and The Weasel Roadshow (Midwest circus of jugglers, dancers and magicians), and we aim to do more of this spotlighting.

We’ve been collaborating with the queer performance and multimedia arts collective, The Playbabies (for their show at Mellwood on 4/15) and have been teaming up with bands (Octo and I toured with the doom/ sludge metal band, Rat Babies last year, we just did a house benefit show for the Americana Community Center with Boner City, Blind Scryer and Godking, and we’re doing a show with RON, Time Cat, Dick Titty Blood Punch and more on June 2 at The Cure) and that’s been phenomenal; it makes for an oddly perfect night of local music and circus arts. Our current collective members are Lady Rama, Fire Benji, Dr. Dangerlegs, Mr. Tickles the clown, Stevie Dicks, Ethel Loveless, Kitty, Baby Saint Jane, The Red Phoenix, Fleur de Tease, Elizabeth Hallows, Sofawnda Peters-Cumming, Animatia, TB Sparrow, and myself, Artemisia.

NN: What kind of reactions do you usually get at shows? What’s the best reaction you’ve gotten to date? What’s an example of a lame crowd and what do you do to get them back on board?

“I had a young woman approach me and say ‘I go to all kinds of shows, but I never have the fun that I have at the OCBB shows.’ I kinda teared up from that.”

AdlM: As to reactions, it’s been overwhelming positive. Folks wanted something this beautiful, macabre and odd. After the last show, our Valentine’s Day show where we teamed up with several badass comics (appropriately named the “VD show” at The Cure), the best reactions were “when’s the next one?”; “I needed to laugh like that”; “It was nothing like I thought it would be”; and when I went to a show recently at the Mag bar (where several of our members did the David Bowie tribute show), I had a young woman approach me and say “I go to all kinds of shows, but I never have the fun that I have at the OCBB shows.” I kinda teared up from that.

We want to bring that kinda magic to every audience member. We do this because we love everything about it, and getting that kinda feedback is the best. We’ve performed at PLAY, Kaiju, the Mag Bar, The Green Room, house shows, Octo and I toured with The Doom Burlesque and Sideshow tour last year, and The Cure Lounge is our home bar. We consistently get offers to perform around town, and folks love that our shows are accessible to all (never more than $10), diverse, saucy and sassy, and that we are brining these performing arts/ circus mediums into the bars and community.

Sofawnda Peters- Cumming, sitting next to me right now, says our best reactions were during Halloween, our first sold-out show when the whole crowd came in costume and went wild. That was undoubtedly our favorite show.

Lame crowd? Hasn’t happened yet, so we’re pretty lucky, I guess. We’ve had things go horribly won’t during shows, but never from the crowd. Mostly sound or light issues.

NN: What should people expect at the All Fool’s Day event? What do you hope people take away from it and why?

AdlM: We expect “all sorts of Tom foolery” (Sofawnda’s words” and a night we might be laughing to hard to get through. For instance, well have a clown sex scene, sight gags, crooked politicians, face-boobs, and butt mud flaps. We can’t really give more away than that. We’ll have comedic spins on all our elements, and local comics Stephen Holthouser, Greg Welsh and Lexington comic/ dancer/ contortionist Mason Doodle the Human Noodle will be joining us for the night. We are giving prizes during intermission for best clown costume and funniest costume. Expect plants in the audience, and lots of slapstick humor.

We want folks to laugh. We want them to escape this sick, sad world for a moment and revel in the healing power of laughter. This show is an homage of sorts to our magikal clown, Mr. Tickles, and tells part of the crude clown’s story.

NN: Tell us about the Bizarre Bazaar. How did that get started? How do you know when someone is a good fit for the ensemble and why?

AdlM: For me, OCBB came out of my love for theatre and performing arts that confront our conditioning. I love when sideshow, drag, burlesque and fire shows are a threat and a tool to express and empower. Traditionally, this was their strength, and often that gets watered down for a mainstream audience. We choose not to rob performances of the power they can have.

“I love when sideshow, drag, burlesque and fire shows are a threat and a tool to express and empower.”

As to how we have members, Sofawnda just chimed in with “does Betty Crocker give away her secrets? She do not.” It was pretty organic: we admired one another’s work and enthusiasm, and were friends and comrades long before we were collective members. There’s a core group of us who started it, and others have come to us. It’s constantly evolving, though we are pretty much at our max right now. We have performers we do shows with who will be joining the collective down the road.

NN: How do you find venues?

AdlM: As to venues open to OCBB, The Cure has been really good us. We love the folks there and they fully support all the oddness we bring. The Cure was kind enough to allow us to do blood wrestling during the intermission of our Halloween show, and other gross stuff. Other venues that ask us to bring our shows to them or venues I contact about booking, understand we are a full vaudeville show, usually 1 1-2 to 3 hours, with insured fire performers and nudity (so they have to be cool with both.) We occasionally alter our shows if the venue for instance doesn’t allow fire or Bewbies, or if it’s an all-ages show, but those are not as common. Our shows are better suited for the 21+ crowd.

NN: Generally speaking, what’s weird or bizarre and why? I mean, I dress like a total square, but in my mind I’m still flipping tables over and freaking out normals; you never know looking at someone what they’re about really.

AdlM: Sofawnda says “we transform into the ideal forms of the characters we’ve created.” (She’s a space hooker drag queen who also goes as Sia, Hilary Clinton, reptiles and Kelly Anne Conway, among others.) “Weird is an experience, a coping mechanism to deal with the BS we go through on the daily.” For instance, during the Halloween show, she and Stevie Dicks did a Bloody Mary routine in which she was sprayed with blood from Stevie’s mouth as she climbed through the mirror. She followed this up with Freddy Krueger drag. I did a Shankhill Butchers knife burlesque routine, a Rob Zombie drag king number with Lady Rama as my Living Dead Girl, an ape mating ritual with Octo and a she-devil fire set.

NN: How did either of you hone your talents? How do you practice? As a musician, I know what it is to practice. Is it the same to your mind?

AdlM: To hone talents, Sofawnda says “we bottle our emotions, obsess over something compulsively, and then let it erupt onstage.” We meet Wednesday’s and Sunday’s and workshop acts, work on costumes and props, and plan out the shows. Other than that, we usually practice separately before the act is ready to be workshopped. To come up with the themes for the shows, we usually time them for holidays (Halloween, Valentine’s Day, our December holiday show, this day-after-April fools day, 4/20, etc.) Or we do them when the timeframe works for performers we want to showcase. Sometimes it’s just us all getting inebriated and saying “you know what would be fun/ gross/ sexy…?” We also perform many shows separately around town, so practices and shows blend together with all the acts we do.

NN: Is there any narrative flow to a set, or is it just whatever works? Is it improv or organized?

AdlM: For narratives, usually. We sometimes have a story arch, and the acts often fall into that, unless it’s a show we’re we team up with other acts: if they have a theme, we work with that. If not, we bring our better material to the table. For instance, when we did our holiday show featuring St. Louis burlesque dancer, Blyre Cpanx (named “Cpanx for the Mammaries”) it was a winter wonderland, the 4/20 show is meant to represent a long night of partying and coping mechanisms, though usually it’s an umbrella theme that we fill with acts.

Organized. Some acts are open to improv, like when we do fire acts or striptease to bands, but normally improv is not the case.

NN: Is anything off limits live? Is there anything that anyone has ever wanted to do live that someone else had to put a stop to? If so, why?

AdlM: There are indeed acts that are off-limits. Nothing racist, class- discriminatory, sexist, homophobic, or ableist. We had to cut an act due to the possibility of people seeing the act as accepting of suicide; the performer who does it wanted to do it during suicide prevention awareness month, but it was too dark for that particular show. I think that’s the only time we’ve made that call.

NN: The concept of gender is brought up throughout the show. What is gender to your mind and why? Better question: why does it even matter to anyone really?

AdlM: Gender is a social construct, and one that should be parodied. There’s much gender- swapping and gender ambiguity in our shows, and we are always playing with the conditioning of masculinity and femininity.

Some of us more so than others. My roommate, Sofawnda, and I come out of the drag and burlesque traditions, which poke fun at pre- conceived notions of gender performance. Octo comes out of the sideshow world, so he deals with it less so.

“Gender and how we perform it in our daily lives is fluid and limitless, and with many gender non-conforming folks being attacked for who they are, now is the time to show our solidarity and support for all genders.”

It matters to others because gender and how we perform it in our daily lives is fluid and limitless, and with many gender non-conforming folks being attacked for who they are, now is the time to show our solidarity and support for all genders. That is a large part of our full-length shows.

NN: How do you know when something is funny? I realize that may seem like a silly question, but it’s got to a be a lot harder than it seems.

AdlM: We know something is funny when we meet up to discuss an act in our meetings and we can’t even get the whole idea out due to us all laughing. Getting ready for this comedy show has been a damn hoot.

NN: How in the hell do you eat glass? What happens after you eat it? Yes, I’m asking that.

AdlM: Haha. The glass question. I didn’t tell my parents I could do that. They saw a video octo and I posted of me eating glass in a Waffle House at 3 AM, and my dad, a semi-traditional Argentinian dad, commented with, “Camilita, call me right now. You mother did not pay for your braces to have you ruin your mouth doing this.” My mom’s response was “you’re gonna regret doing this one day, but good job for now.” The advice given to me from a sword swallower was “never ever go down on someone after you eat glass.” I’ve gotten offers to perform all over this side of the country due to it. I can’t entirely explain it. You just gotta see it in-person.

After I eat it, well… small glass shards in my poo. Ain’t no say to sugar-coat it.

NN: What are your thoughts on extreme sports and why?

AdlM: Extreme sports? I mean, I love watching aerials and circus arts, but I doubt those are the extreme sports yer referring to. A bunch of my friends have been skate boarding all their lives, but I see their injuries more often than anything else. I ran track and cross country, but I don’t think that counts as extreme at all.

“I will never claim to have good taste.”

NN: You own Bigfoot the Monster Truck. What (or who) do you run over and why?

AdlM: Steve Bannon. I’d run my Bigfoot Truck over it several times.

NN: What non-musical things have you been into lately? Have you read, watched, eaten, or drank anything worth mentioning? Inquiring minds want to know.

AdlM: For non-Music acts locally, aerialist Pixie Pistola produces a series called “We Are The Weirdos, Mister”, which several OCBB members (including myself) performed in recently. She’s a badass who puts together amazing shows, and folks should check out her next one on May 12 at the Cure, and she’ll be joining us for the punk show on June 2. Love what The Playbabies are putting together, and I’m thrilled that they asked us to join them on April 15 at Mellwood.

My buddy, Karla, has a queer women of color burlesque troupe up north called the Raspberry Royale that fucking rocks and we really want to bring them here. Well soon be honoring our crazy-talented circus buddies in Lexington, the Tinderbox Circus Sideshow, and doing a “Lexington invades Louisville” punk circus night and we’re excited for that. We’ll be doing an “Octo Claw’s Bizarre Bazaar presents the Cryptozoological and Animal Hour” show this summer, and bringing our buddy, Wohlglmut, a guitar-wielding goat-demon-man from Chattanooga, up to headline the show.

I’ve been reading “Haunted” with my partner as a junk food read, and reading the comics Maus and re-reading Transmetropolitan. Although I should eat better before a show, I’ve been stuck on fried PB&J waffle sandwiches, which I totally recommend. Started finally watching Black Mirror and Peaky Blinders whenever I can. I had an oddly-perfect pickle juice booze thing recently, but I don’t remember what my buddy called it. I’m usually just a gin and tonic or red wine dude.

NN: What are your top three desert island albums and why?

AdlM: Desert island albums would prolly be the guilty pleasure ones I can listen to to no end: Tom Waits’ Frank Wild Years, The Decemberists’ Picaresque, and Coheed and Cambria’s The Second Stage Turbine Blade. I will never claim to have good taste.