‘Pepper Grinds’ of the Brazen Belles burlesque troupe
The Brazen Belles are saucy. Now approaching their third anniversary, these risqué, all-in-good-fun dancers with stage names such as Mini Teasecake and Olive Mia are bringing the spirit of classic burlesque to the otherwise family-friendly Cape. We caught up with Aanjes Hershfield, who plays Pepper Grinds in the Brazen Belles burlesque troupe.
Q. Did you think the Cape needed some loosening up?
A. Yeah! Basically, I come from a performance-art background. Living in the Bay Area, I had the idea that if I ever moved back to the Cape, I wanted to start a burlesque troupe. In the Bay Area and New York, I was exposed to some crazy performance art. I thought, if I move back to the Cape, I have to do something.
Q. Did you move back for family reasons?
A. I never thought I’d want to live in this town [Woods Hole] again. I left when I was 18 and didn’t move back until I was 32. As soon as I hit 30, I said to my then-fiancé, “I really want to move back to Cape Cod.” It’s an amazing community. All the things that seemed to bother me before, I was embracing. I know it, I love it, it’s beautiful. For me it was lacking just one thing, which was, “What can I do creatively?” So I decided to start a burlesque troupe. It’s funny, we were talking about it in California, and my husband was like yeah, yeah, whatever. We got married in October, and he actually put in the wedding vows something like “If you want to start a burlesque troupe, I’ll support you.” I was like, OK. A month later, I was finding girls. And he was like “Wait, what?”
Q. How does one go about looking for burlesque performers?
A. We had a couple performers who are actually no longer in it. One has a performance art background, and one went to acting school; she now directs and writes plays. They seemed like a natural fit to me. I have another friend who’s an artist, a crazy girl. We all got together, and then I started looking around. One of the girls is now one of my best friends. She was one of the most hilarious people in high school, but we were never friends. I saw her at a bar and I thought, I’m just going to ask her. I said, “Hey, I’m going to start a burlesque troupe,” and she said, “Absolutely, I’m totally down. What’s burlesque?” Since then, we’ve had auditions, and we’ve been really lucky with the last two who joined. They’re just amazing.
Q. What’s the range of day jobs the performers have? Any librarians or schoolteachers?
A. Yep. We have a wide range: scientists, nurses, school teachers, hairstylists, servers, lawyers [laughs], or about-to-be lawyers. We have a wide variety of people who do all sorts of things.
Q. Tell me about your stage names. You have some great ones.
A. We ask each of the girls to come up with their own name. I started as Scarlet Fever, and I loved that name so much. I was Googling, and I found another Scarlet Fever in England. I don’t claim we’ll ever be huge, but it just ate me up that someone else had that name. But I also loved the name Pepper, and I came up with Pepper Grinds. Some of the girls go with more classic names, like Savannah Boudreaux, an old-school, classic burlesque name, but a lot of us prefer the double entendre.
Q. Do you have more business during the summer tourist season or in winter, when people need stuff to do?
A. This year has been kind of different. People have been paying a lot more attention to us. It’s sort of both. In wintertime, we’re locally busier, because there’s nothing else to do. People look forward to having something that’s not bingo [laughs]. This summer we’re doing the Cotuit Center for the Arts in July and a place in Dennis called the Improper Bostonian. We’re starting to get busier and busier. We just went to our first burlesque festival, in Burlington, Vt.
Q. Burlesque in Birkenstocks? Seems like a bit of a culture clash.
A. Yeah [laughs].