Sultry fire, thy name is Foxy Tann. Ask anyone who’s seen her in action: not some run-of-the-mill stripper, the lady enlivens the timeless art your granddaddy used to call “the burly-q.” Basically, it’s the difference between looking at a quick-print snapshot and viewing a painting. As she puts it, “burlesque is an artform that has to be done well with thought and skill, just like any [other] genre of performance art.”
When Foxy Tann talks about performance it’s from experience. She’s done tons of improv, including, between 1989 and 1991, opening Walt Disney World/MGM theme shows in Orlando, Florida—among them, acting for the Indiana Jones Spectacular. She won the American College Theatre Festival’s nationally coveted Irene Ryan Acting Award and is one of a few actors who can say they trod the stage at the Unicorn Theater, the Twin Cities’ first venue devoted to non-heterosexual theatre. She also worked with MaMa mOsAiC, Minnesota‘s only theater company dedicated to illuminating the experiences of women of color.
There’s more, and had she stuck with theater, Foxy Tann likely would’ve done well. As it is, she segued to performance work and ever since has done quite fine for herself. She’s just about the area’s most-sought emcee, especially at block parties (Twin Cities Pride, Art-a-Whirl), having built up a celebrity reputation and a fiercely loyal following. She started producing the Foxy Tann series in 1997 at the Gay 90s in downtown Minneapolis as, of all things, a female female-impersonation character. For two years there, she did a weekly show as well as hosting weekends in Foxy Tann’s Superior Lounge. “It got difficult,” she recalls, “because the drag community, it was really open for a while. And then everybody was, like, ‘You’re confusing. Everybody thinks you’re a man, but you’re not.'” Foxy Tann never let any of it dent her fender and just kept establishing a winning presence.
She went on to perform a laundry list of hit productions, including Miss Biracial Upper Midwest 1984 (Red Eye Theater, Minnesota Fringe Festival)—for which she copped a Jerome Foundation Performance Art Grant—and The Cheap and Tawdry Side Show and Fox on the Run (Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater). And, of course, she is an institution in Twin Cities burlesque, beginning with The Naughty Naughty Show, which ran six months at premier Minneapolis gentleman’s club the Seville, and starring in Twin Titties Burlesque at St. Paul’s Station 4 two years straight. For good measure, when she took a trip to Las Vegas, Foxy Tann and the Wham Bam Thank You Ma’ams walked off with Best Troupe and Most Vegas honors at Miss Exotic World 2006. That’s where she met international icon Immodesty Blaize, who invited her to London to do the T.I.T.S Show.
You can next catch the audacious lady live at the Ritz in Northeast Minneapolis on August 28th. Without doubt, if your taste in stage shows runs toward the prurient, Foxy Tann is your cup of tea. She’s got a routine she does with the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Foxy Lady” chugging in the background that is sassy class personified. In short, it’s so sizzling you could fry an egg on her, uh, navel.
I meet the illustrious ecdysiast for a chat at a Dunn Bros in Minneapolis’s Warehouse District. In short order, it’s clear: this individual hits the ground doing 90 and then picks up speed. She even sits still in a hurry, bustling with snap, crackle and pop, shifting from animated expression to animated expression. Intermittently, when something hits her funny bone, she’ll give an impish grin or, if she’s really tickled, you’re treated to a 100-watt smile and hearty laughter. When she’s pensive, pausing over a thought before answering a question, there’s a fierce intelligence at work. It clearly signals that though she’s a gorgeous woman who sheds her clothing as a profession, Foxy Tann is nobody’s bimbo.
You were a prodigy in school.
No, I wouldn’t say that. I was smart. I hung out with the smart kids. I wasn’t the smartest of the smart. My parents knew how to work the system, so they taught me how to work the system. I just did what I was supposed to do.
Well, okay, you excelled.
I got a [scholarship] to go the University of South Dakota. When I was a senior in high school, in Vermillion [South Dakota], I was taking freshman college courses at the same time, in theater. They wouldn’t let me graduate when I wanted. I was 15. I graduated when I was 16.
How did Foxy Tann—you’ve been doing it 12 years now, and have reached the point to where you also are a producer—how’d it come about?
I wanted to do a show and one my best friends was a drag queen down at the ’90s, she was the show director, Camille Collins. They had Tuesday night open up in the lounge and went, “Sure. Go ahead.” We costumed the whole show. It ran for six months, eight months? It was written by Sarah Moore.
You really plug into the gay world.
Well, it just happened that way. I was basically raised by a pack of wild drag queens. My friends started taking me to drag shows and I was, “Oh, my God, there’s my people!” I had no idea I was going to be doing this kind of theater for my livelihood. I mean, I’m classically trained.
Why you like taking your clothes off for money?
Y’know, I don’t see anything wrong with it. I was basically doing it as [an emcee] anyway. I just never took my bra off. If you look at the typical drag show, there’s the reveal. It’s the same concept in burlesque. But you have clubs where they do lap dances and the whole emphasis is on Hoovering out guys’ wallets. I have no interest in doing that kind of work.
You’ve got your own style.
Yeah. I deal in comedy. My numbers are pretty funny. I’m moving more into the straight-up sexy thing, but I’ve always done comedy. I think that’s what’s been missing in burlesque in the Twin Cities. Everybody’s very serious. Minneapolis burlesque is very different from Seattle and for sure New York. And San Francisco. Everything here is about being pretty. My group is called Twin Titties Burlesque. We’re about comedy. We’re the bad girls of Minneapolis.
There’s a bunch of different names for your shows. In July at The Ritz it was Foxy Tann’s Red, White, and Boob. You’ve got Foxy Tann and the Wham Bam Thank You Ma’ams.
Yeah. My main group is Twin Titties Burlesque. I’ve got six people I work with on a regular basis. We all do shows together. I also have worked with Lily’s Burlesque. All over the country with other burlesque shows, as a solo artist or with my two backup girls. There’s also the Sirly Girly Show, which I do with the producers of Dykes Do Drag. Female to male as opposed to male to female. That’s longest running drag king show in the country.
I guess you can’t help but run into guys in the audience who don’t know where to draw the line and get grabby.
I think I scare them.
‘Cause you’d got a real powerful personality.
You’re nobody’s shrinking violet.
No. Actually, the ladies are more grabby than they guys are.
The lesbians. The butches.
Yeah, but it’s part of the deal. You kind of get groped a little bit. It just happens. You say, “I gotta go” and keep moving.
How’d you get to be such a tough cookie?
My dad. My daddy brought me up right. He brought me up telling me I can do whatever I wanna do. Absolutely. I can do whatever I want to do. All you gotta to is learn about it, work at it, do it.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.
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