Hardworking burlesque queen revives alternative figure-drawing classes
By Bridget Conn
Photos by Matt Rose
On a Thursday night in downtown Asheville, 15 people have gathered on Grove Street for a live figure-drawing session. The eclectic crew includes women in their early sixties sipping red wine, students in their early twenties decked in plaid, and men of various ages industriously prepared with a wide selection of drawing media. The tattooed and dreadlocked model is not nude, as one might expect from such a drawing event, but dons vertical-striped over-the-knee socks, a bright blue corset, and many flirtatious smiles. The event’s host, dressed from head to booted toe in black, announces that this particular pose is a contest. “I am the queen and I will judge this drawing contest. This isn’t one of those democracies. And remember, I like naughty business.”
The sassy black-clad woman is Queen April, a 22-year resident of Asheville and a regional performance artist. When the opportunity to revive the Asheville branch of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School presented itself earlier in 2012, she rose to the call. (Former leader Corky Bordeaux moved out of town, leaving an empty throne.)
Having been involved in the school’s earlier incarnation in 2008 as a DJ and as an occasional model, Queen April understood the unique environment that Dr. Sketchy’s provides for both artists and the local burlesque scene. It took her months of time and research to get it going again. “But after hearing so many questions of whether it was coming back and who was going to head it up, I thought, why not?”
The subject of naughty business does not particularly mesh with the academic life-drawing classroom. This was exactly the issue that Dr. Sketchy’s founder, Molly Crabapple, found with figure model work. “You were supposed to do it silently and just demonstrate tendons,” Crabapple states. “You weren’t supposed to have an opinion. I wanted to do a session that would celebrate the model.” Soon after she founded Dr. Sketchy’s in 2005 at a Brooklyn dive bar, the event began to spread to cities all over the U.S. It now boasts chapters in 100 cities worldwide, organized by individuals who appreciate a little bit of sexy in their drawing sessions.
Queen April, who was never an art student herself, was drawn to Dr. Sketchy’s precisely for that sexy element. Though having posed for a few Dr. Sketchy’s drawing sessions, she prefers to model in front of a camera, claiming to have more control in this role. “Basically, I am a narcissist,” she admits with a direct and honest grin. Since 2009, she has been self-employed under the roles of DJ, alternative model, and burlesque performer. A 38-year-old mother of two, she spent her twenties raising children and working as a DJ on the side. Witnessing a performance in 2007 by The Rebelles in Asheville piqued her interest in burlesque. As opposed to her earlier fetish-based work, burlesque satisfies her self-proclaimed “cheeseball” side, which she is pleased to express through performances in Asheville, Raleigh, Charleston, and beyond.
While the environment of a Dr. Sketchy’s session isn’t really cheeseball, there is a definite relaxed mood which might come as a relief to those uneasy with either burlesque or with figure drawing. A DJ plays music through each session, but not so loud that everyone can’t converse and share their drawings. Alcohol is present, and Queen April comfortably speaks of the attractiveness of the evening’s model, who goes by the name Memphis Moonshine. The hallmarks of the traditional life drawing classroom — studious, serious, sterile — are dismantled, satisfying one of Queen April’s goals as a performer.
“I’m interested in breaking taboos. I think the biggest misconception about alternative-lifestyle types and burlesque performers specifically is that we lack morality, and that enjoying things outside of the mainstream makes you somehow immoral. I want people to know that watching a burlesque show and liking it will not mean the downfall of society.”
Queen April shifts gears a bit concerning her children’s awareness of her performances, affirming an “old-fashioned” attitude in respect to what they know. Aged 10 and 15, they are not blind to mom’s profession, but naturally there’s a sexual aspect to burlesque that they don’t discuss. “We talk more about the ukulele-playing and fire-eating parts of my job.”
By reviving Dr. Sketchy’s, Queen April hopes to contribute to the burlesque scene in Asheville, which is lively but small. “We have lots of fantastic, creative performers … but I’d like to see it grow.” A big problem, she says, is the “lack of venues conducive to this type of performance.” Another is the haphazard frequency of the shows themselves.
One consistent venue will be Dr. Sketchy’s, on the first Thursday of every month at Eleven on Grove, for those who see no harm in a little naughty. You don’t even have to know how to draw. Queen April urges: “Just come learn about the scene.”
For details visit Drsketchy.com/branch/Asheville