Beginnings, Booze, and Burlesque with Brown Burlesque Founder, Serese Brown

 Photos by Jordan Joyce

Photos by Jordan Joyce

Do the words booze, brunch, and burlesque mean anything to you? If you've been a fan of these individually, you'll be thrilled to hear about Austin's new fully immersive live experience. Brown Burlesque is a passion project started by Serese Brown that features live music, burlesque, and usually some alcohol. 

I was lucky enough to attend their ultra-exclusive New Year's Eve soiree at the Graeber House in the middle of notorious Dirty 6th here in Austin, TX. The event was teased on their Instagram and only open to members of their email list due to the limited capacity of the event. The invite offered promises of potions and dancing sure to enthrall every sense and the Brown Burlesque troupe delivered. Between the strong signature cocktails and the flirtatious dancers, the crowd was mesmerized from start to finish. The troupe captivated us while dancing to live music provided by their band of gentlemen; including covers of Partition, Shine Bright Like a Diamond, and I Got a Woman (you probably know this as the sample in Gold Digger). Ringing in the new year with Brown Burlesque was the perfect start to 2018. Click through the above slideshow to see some glimpses of the night.

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Founder and Director Serese Brown gave us the inside look into the start of Brown Burlesque and what she sees in their future:

What was the inspiration behind Brown Burlesque?

About 4 years ago I started performing at Whisler’s with a sax player. We would perform twice a month and do these pop-up surprise performances and I danced on the bar and he would play. It was all improv and we would close the doors at Whisler’s and it was just a real treat. It brought back that love of me dancing to live music. We continued that once to twice a month as Whisler’s started to grow. (laughing) We can’t even get on the bar now on Fridays and Saturday at Whisler’s. But then I started performing with Ephram Owens, an extremely well-known trumpet player here in Austin and Charlie Jones as well on drums and we would still just continue these pop-up performances. It really grew me as an artist in what I wanted as a performer and furthermore I started traveling to LA in 2016 and performing with the Toledo show. That’s directed by Toledo Diamond, and he’s a legend honestly, he’s a force to be reckoned with. He’s had a regular show for over 10 years in LA and Vegas, a weekly show. I performed with him throughout 2016 in LA.

Between that and my performances at Whisler’s with Ephram, it really grew my clarity for what I wanted to do with Burlesque here in Austin and knowing that the spontaneous, in the moment, present, improv, live-music performance style was not happening in the capacity that I wanted to see it happen here in Austin.

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Though all of those inspirations, I started to notice some other major cities were doing Burlesque brunches and I basically, back in June or July of 2017, just put a Facebook poll and asked if people would be interested in that and it had a huge response. To which one of my Sass N Strut dance students reached out to me, she’s a rep for Fernet-Branca, and said I want to help you make this come to life. We started searching venues and it kinda just came alive on its own. I had been wanting to work with Jonny Huggins for awhile and just kinda waiting for the time and the moment and the show that it was gonna work with so I went to him immediately when I had this idea and I said I want to put a band together for this and I want us to be a full troupe, you know, theatrical, dance, live music, and just bring back that heart of performance to Austin and burlesque and brunch.

What has been your favorite moment/show so far?

Girl I don’t do good with favorites or go-tos! But the first one that pops back into my mind is probably our first brunch back in August. My spouse’s brother was there and I was performing a solo and I saw him on his phone (laughing) so mid-performance I went up to him and I grabbed his phone and I slapped his head and I went and put his phone somewhere else and the crowd. went. crazy. It was really funny, we actually have a picture to capture it. I brought it back to him at the end of the performance tucked into my underwear and he was kinda like “uh, no i’m good you proved me that i should not have my phone, you can keep it.”

 Photo provided by Serese

Photo provided by Serese

But that’s kinda like highlights, my favorite moments in general when performing which I know it sounds cheesy but every time I perform it is a favorite moment because nothing is ever exactly the same. There’s something so raw about performing live that I have not been able to find another experience that highlights that high for me and furthermore performing with live music because it’s never exactly the same. You get to explore so much more and it forces you to be a better performer all the way around full circle because you have to be so present and so in the moment in order to capture those times. I could have walked by him and let him be on his phone but why would I? You’re here, at a performance, to watch a performance, and you’re on your phone. So I’m like “No! You’re gonna pay attention to me!” and being able to be that present and in the moment and see that happening and utilize it as a moment, that not only pulled him in, it pulled everyone in and made it this really memorable thing. Had I not been paying attention then that would have never happened.

What’s your go-to dance song?

Girl, I don’t think I have a single one go-to. But for some reason when Jonny and I get together Beyonce always seems to come up. Quite honestly anything that’s just got some soul to it. I was raised on soul and as my dad puts it, I’m old soul (laughing). Anything that’s got that under belly of soul and rhythm and blues and jazz, I’m drawn to. It’s not really a specific song, it’s more about the music for me.

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How can people support you + the troupe? Do you have any other projects we can support?

Showing up to the performances, buying the tickets. It means something to pay for a show because what that does is, that pays us to basically make a living. All of us are artists and we're working artists, and this is our income and this is our focus. When you put money into the ticket sales that goes to all of our time that’s going into rehearsals, all of our time creating new music, new choreography, new costumes, it’s going into better produced events for you. It's going into working with different labels and venues to continue to build this brand to give you something different, 'you' being the viewer. Because for me, it's not about you just coming to see a show, it's about you coming and experiencing something that you've never experienced anywhere else and that you won't ever get that exact same experience ever again. Experience is a really big word that I use and I feel that it's very important. 

I also am setting up a Patreon which is an additional way to support. Again, just helping us invest in bigger and better productions and invest in our time in order for us to give you back what you love to see.

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My other dance company is SASS N STRUT. This started as a way to help women discover their individual movement while boosting confidence through owning their sensuality and sexuality. I started it in 2014, and it has grown tremendously. We do a bi-monthly Performance Series, and are currently in the middle of our first one of the year. You can find more under #sassnstrut and on Facebook. Meanwhile, I also teach adult classes at several studios in Austin throughout the week, and am adding a weekly Burlesque class on Saturdays in February. I also teach ballet, tap, jazz and hip hop to kiddos. Teaching, choreographing, and performing is my LOVE and my LIFE. I love seeing the growth people experience in private lessons and in group settings.

What’s on the horizon for BB?

We’re doing a slight name change from Brown Burlesque Brunch because we have proved now, in our four months, that we are doing more than brunch. As much as that’s what started it, it’s also I think only a portion of what we do. I am in the process of slightly changing that branding, looking to work with other rad performers, new inventive spaces, and showing people that burlesque is not a super specific definition, it is what you make of it. Also showing people in Austin that burlesque can be brought out of the dark and showing how much training goes into the dancing, the performing, the music, the theater, everything that brings those performances to life. Basically I want to continue to work burlesque out of having a negative connotation in some people’s minds. I know we’re in Austin and it’s liberal, but we’re still in Texas! Just broadening people’s horizon is what’s on the horizon for BB and continuing to establish our name in this town and beyond. We have some ideas for touring hopefully in 2018, but I’m really focused on making name for ourselves here in Austin and then growing it.

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We have a couple things in the works for new residencies and you can definitely keep up with that on our social media and really our email list. That is my tried and true way to stay in contact so I am encouraging everyone to get on it. The people on our email list will be the first to know about shows and performances before anywhere else.

Be sure to follow the Brown Burlesque Instagram and join their email list to get show announcements and first dibs to exclusive performances.