PHOTO/KY PLASKON: Marla Richardson, right, directs dancers for "Moon Muses" performances during Artown.

The making of art is often shrouded in mystery. The public is usually only exposed to the final piece. When we do get a glimpse, it’s for static pieces at places like the Generator, Reno Art Works, and Artech. It’s rare to catch the making of a live performance before it is ripe. 

I was privileged to get a peek within that cloak of creativity, thanks to Marla Richardson, who  pulled off something of a miracle last year. During the pandemic, Richardson, a veteran stage performer, transformed a convenience store-sized bar into a 50-seat theater. The show, , packed with lights, stage, aerial shows, musicians, singing, comedy, and sexy dancers, sold out every night. In the process, Richardson also morphed into a producer and director.

Moon Muses burlesque is back for a second year during Artown, more than double in size at multiple venues, including outside the state. Richardson provided a rare peek under the covers as she produced this year’s show. A short video is available on the Ky Plaskon YouTube Channel

“When an audience sees a show it is very glamorized because you get to see us in makeup and perfect. (But) It takes time to put something good together,” Richardson said. Hours of planning, demonstrations and practices must precede opening night.

Here’s a look at the process:

Open the doors on a hot afternoon in a strip mall in northeast Reno and a young dancer and an  instructor are prancing about. Behind a hidden door at the back of the studio, a host of women are waiting. They wear sweat pants and high heels, sports bras and spaghetti straps, with their hair up and no make-up. They are sweating and smiling.

Richardson is spells out directions, more than 80 a minute in some cases. She is just loud enough to be heard above the pounding music. Somehow, between their high kicks and fast twists, the dancers hear and understand what she is telling them to do. Each makes slight adjustments within seconds.

“Push your pelvises forward!” Richardson shouts. It’s postmodern burlesque, after all.

From the little experiment at a bar last year, Richardson’s passion is now taking Moon Muses on the road with private performances at professional venues in California, a performance at the T-Bar Social Club in June Lake in late August. In Reno, during Artown Moon Muses is performing at Good Luck McBeth through July (Promo Code M8 gets you $8 off Monday July 18th, while seats last), and more Reno performances are planned at the Alpine on Fourth Street in August.

The women watch their bodies reflected in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Their eyes dart to the other dancers as they perform their own parts in the show. They practice in black high heels and sometimes in red dresses that they flip up with a “whooo” and reveal their backsides in broad daylight rather than on stage in the dark, sultry, and misty air-conditioned theater at Good Luck MacBeth.

Time for a break. “Holy shit, whew!” one performer declares. They sit and Richardson goes over the half-dozen costume changes that happen in less than a minute between numbers. She thinks fast and her comments are rapid-fire: “You have “Dancing Queen,” bring your nude heels, then the black light number, then shorter heels, after that “Blue Moon,” then the briefcase number, (with the) leopard print. Then black bras under pink with the pink feather headpieces. Quick change into work bitch, green and purple tutus, blue lacy headpieces . . . Razzle Dazzle. We will have everything here on Saturday and will do a run-through,” Richardson says during the practice days before the first performance on Jul 11, 2022.

It’s a lot to absorb in a short time.

“I didn’t catch everything you said,” one performer sheepishly admits. Most of the dancers are professionals. To draw these pros, Richardson runs “Moon Muses” on off-nights when they aren’t performing in their other shows.

Despite their experience, the fast pace, costume changes, and style are new to some of the dancers. Richardson said it’s like inventing a new cake recipe that has never been baked before; a trial-and-error process aimed at getting every ingredient right to produce a dish that is both perfect and delicious.

“I have never done anything like this before,” said Jamah, one of the performers. “I find myself practicing all day in my head and dancing while doing the dishes. We have all become close friends.”

“I still can’t remember shit!” worried Savanah, another performer. There are thousands of directions to remember second by second for more than an hour.

“I think I might be a crazy person,” said Ivy. “To memorize, I do things repeatedly, ten times a day and then you have a point where it all comes together. Before a show, I always feel like throwing up.”

“Really?” Richardson asked. She never feels that way. 

But who can make Ivy feel better? The audience. “Some audiences suck ass!” she said. “We want them to holler and give some energy back. Sometimes people are aggressively excited. It has to happen organically.”

PHOTO/KY PLASKON: Dancers go through their moves in a rehearsal for “Moon Muses.”

The after show meet and greet can be important too. Richardson doesn’t force other dancers to meet the audience. “I don’t like talking to people after a show because I am all sweaty,” she said. But some performers enjoy that connection. “I like it when after a show they say they really liked something and take a picture,” Ivy said.

Richardson is a dancer, director and producer.

“The theatre is not cheap to rent, we are hiring an audio visual crew and paying a cast of professional people a professional rate, photography, and running paid ads this year since we have to fill more seats. So I have a pretty big expense to even break even,” she said, adding that she will be lucky to turn a profit. “I am doing it because I love it and want to put more live performing arts out there. It’s a ton of work. We do it because we love it.”

“It is all a big experiment,” Richardson says. “Last year’s success showed that Reno is ready for more live-performing art. We are experimenting this year to see if it will work in a bigger theater. And that is all financial risk that I have to take as the producer and director.”

Information about Richardson’s fast-growing, home-grown production company, Paulina Productions, can be found on Facebook.

Ky Plaskon is the president of the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance which supports artistic sustainability to beautify Reno and make it more livable. The alliance’s website is www.BikeWashoe.org

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