You’d be surprised to know that Annie is quiet. She considers her next words as thoughtfully as she cuts apart her grilled cheese sandwich and a cloud of calm settles over the conversation. When she speaks, it’s always clever, unassuming, and devoid of any sort of pretension. If it wasn’t for that pink velvet coat, Ann-Margret red hair, and supermodel height, her unruffled demeanor would allow her to blend right into the crowd.
As it is, Red Hot Annie’s career is one that makes old ladies clutch their pearl necklaces and conservative Southern senators gasp in shock: Annie is a burlesque dancer. And she’s damn proud of it.
She wasn’t always the in-demand, barely dressed beauty that she is now. A few years ago, she couldn’t get a bit part in a chorus line. As an actress, Annie gained a decent amount of notoriety and fanfare in the suburbs. “When I moved to Chicago, I couldn’t get anything! I couldn’t be the person standing in the background holding the spear with a mask on!” The frustration of dealing with local theatre troupe politics and the prospect of starting at the bottom after nearly a decade of experience drove Annie discover a new way to express herself. “2008 is when I started performing and my goal for the year was just simply ‘perform more.’ It didn’t matter how or what I was going to do, I just wanted to perform more.” Her friends encouraged her to try burlesque and the rest is rhinestone-encrusted history.
In only a few short years, Annie has transformed herself into one of the most recognizable faces on the Chicago burlesque scene. “I’m a hustler,” she jokes. Annie performed at every dog and pony show, talked to anyone who would listen, and created her own burlesque troupe along with husband Dick Dijon, Vaudezilla. “I realized by creating my own production company, I could create my own opportunities.” Of course it doesn’t hurt that she’s incredibly talented too. Blending a flair for shtick with irrepressible sexiness, Annie breaks hundreds of hearts weekly.
Vaudezilla’s latest (and largest) project began in January 2009 when they paired with another local troupe Belmont Burlesque to plan and create the first ever Windy City Burlesque Festival. Why did she take on such a huge project? “Oh, I don’t know: insanity probably!” Red Hot Annie’s popularity quickly grew beyond Chicago’s city limits. As she became a sought-after burlesque jetsetter, Annie realized how much the Second City needed more shimmy. “I had gone to all these major cities (with) big annual burlesque festivals and Chicago didn’t have one. . . There are so many talented people here! There’s got to be 150 performers in Chicago- which is a lot for burlesque! We didn’t have an annual festival (celebrating that) and I felt compelled to make something.”
The culmination of all that hard work begins tomorrow at the long-awaited Windy City Burlesque Festival’s opening night. “I’m just really excited to be a part of it, honestly,” says Annie. “I’m really excited to just be a part of this community and making something that can really showcase everybody here who has working their ass off.” The past few days, dozens of red-lipped, winged eye-lidded beauties have been flying in from all over the country (and, in British headliner Anna Fur Laxis’ case, halfway across the world) in preparation for this weekend. Corsets will be unlaced, garters will be unhooked, crowds will roar, and you better hope you get a good seat before all the tickets sell out.
Ready to see Red Hot Annie in action? The first annual Windy City Burlesque Fest blows into town tonight, Thursday April 15th, at the Blue Bayou (3734 N Southport Avenue) with two free bar-top shows at 10pm and 11:30pm featuring a mix of local Chicago talent and special guest stars. The WCBF shimmies through the weekend with a dizzying seven additional shows at the Greenhouse Theatre (2257 N. Lincoln Avenue). Friday April 16th houses two shows at 8pm (featuring San Francisco’s Kellita) and 10 pm (featuring the UK’s Anna Fur Laxis). Saturday continues with an 8pm Main stage show featuring Minneapolis’ Foxy Tann, a 10pm show featuring Kitten de Ville, and three shows running simultaneously at 10:30pm. The weekend shows are $20 a piece and tickets can be bought online. For more information and a complete list of all the bawdy broads performing, visit the Windy City Burlesque Fest’s website.