By Betsey Denberg Fri., Aug. 19 2011 at 2:44 PM
Betty Pickle Knows Her Balloons
Stage 84 is the type of place that you walk in and you're instantly taken back to your high school boyfriend's basement. AC/DC, Chicago, and various classic rock LPs decorate the walls, cozy couches fill the room, and the smell of incense tickle the nostrils. Every nook and cranny is filled with antique treasures and kitschy items and a tapestry curtain shields the outsiders from peeking in. The psychedelic decor and eye-catching art work makes you forget that you're inside a Davie strip mall off 595.
An eclectic crowd of individuals has gathered tonight for the second installment of Dr.Sketchy's Anti-Art School, a monthly live drawing event that provides an alternative solution to the drab classroom environments. Tonight's live model is burlesque connoisseur Betty Pickle, a sassy lady known for her ability to swallow a 3-foot balloon.
The cozy cafe is filled with folks from every social circle all coming together for a night of artistic debauchery. Tattooed couples, college students and a handful of 40-somethings set up their drawing stations and patiently wait for the night to begin. Emcee and event organizer Charlotte Sundquist takes the stage to explain the rules of the evening. Throughout the evening attendees will partake in a series of drawing exercises ranging from one minute to as long as 20 minutes. She encourages the crowd to show appreciation for the live model by cheering and applauding her hard work. Charlotte's booming voice and bubbly personality set the tone for the night, she's the art school teacher you've always wanted.
The red-headed amazonian Betty Pickle approaches the stage in a black mini trench coat, golden leaves and feathers sit on top of her 1950's retro hair style. A dazzling rhinestone necklace drips down her chest, reflecting the spotlight onto the walls. After a series of minute long poses, she removes the coat to reveal black undergarments adorned with glittering appliques and golden chains wrapping her shoulders. To prove she doesn't take herself too seriously, she places a fake nose with glasses on her face and smiles wide at the crowd.
Although I felt like I was reading someone's diary, watching the artists' different methods and styles of working was intriguing. The short-haired woman sharing my table moved slowly using graceful lines with little attention to detail while an older man on a couch worked with loud bursts of color.
Betty saunters around the stage, moving the furniture while trying to figure out what pose will be the most comfortable to hold for the next ten minutes. Finally deciding on an upside down position on top of a tiny wooden side table, she points her fishnet covered leg in the air to balance the sparkly hula hoop and dangles her fiery red hair along the floor.
"Everyone is drawing me skinny right?" Betty asks the crowd.
"You can't get skinnier than a stick figure," yells a curly haired brunette from behind the bar.
"So have you guys ever heard of assels?" questions Betty. "Those are like booby tassels but for your butt and you're supposed to shake them around...well you get the point."
As the night progresses, the crowd begins to warm up, switching from sodas to frosty glasses of craft beer and red wine. Participants move closer to the stage, some on the floor, and partake in the playful banter incited by the boisterous model. From time to time our host for the evening Charlotte chimes in with some fun facts about Betty. She's a Southern Baptist, has a bachelors degree in science, and used to go-go dance for The Misfits and Public Enemy. Quite the impressive resume if you ask me.
The extremely vocal Betty Pickle is clearly at ease with herself and the onlookers staring at her Marilyn Monroe figure. Every few moments she spews another priceless gem from her glittering crimson red lips.
"So, I have a boil on my ass. Yup, it's true," Betty comfortably says. "So, I named it Susan because she's clearly not going away. Oh yeah, I can't wear g-strings anymore either."
"You know where I get my sparkly things from? The $9.99 beauty store. Along with my weave. From the ghetto where I live. The life of luxury I know. If you never wanna get laid in your life, do burlesque," she explains. "Oh god, someone hand me a drink."
During the half point break, Charlotte announces that Miss Pickle will be treating the audience with a little slice of her burlesque performance. The house lights go dark, Vaudeville music booms through the speakers, and the spotlight reveals the glistening performer. Betty glides along the stage, making bedroom eyes as she blows kisses into the crowd. She picks up a few of the candy colored 3-foot balloons and rubs them along her body, occasionally licking and kissing the latex apparatus. Standing profile, she places one leg behind the other and leans her head back wrapping her lips around a bright yellow balloon. Unsure of whether to cheer or remain silent, the crowd just stares and watches patiently to see what will happen next. It's safe to say we all had the same thing running through our minds, "Can she really swallow that entire balloon?". Sure enough, Betty gracefully moves the balloon inch by inch into the back of her throat until no longer visible. She removes her black sequined bra to reveal her gold tasseled breasts, raises her hands in the air and takes a bow. A roar of cheering and applause echoes throughout the cafe as the performer leaves the stage.
Maybe it was the alcohol, but by the end of the night I became envious of the other attendees, wishing I had brought my own drawing tools along with me. There was just something about the relaxed and inviting atmosphere that got the creative juices flowing. With only two events underway -- both successful in attendance -- Dr.Sketchy's Anti-Art School is proving to be a remarkable addition to the burgeoning local art scene.