by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Whenever I interview Cherry Tart, local burlesque star and event producer, there's always laughter and sharing of stories - and she introduces me to the most interesting people. So when I'd heard that our latest interview would be done within hours of her leaving Harborview Medical Center's ER, bruised and upset - I was first and foremost concerned, and secondly, left with the feeling of deja vu.
Let me explain.
Last week, when I met with Cherry Tart to discuss the success of her fundraiser, 'You Are Loved: A Big Gay Cabaret!' at Meander's Kitchen, she had explained that it was because of her full figure that she had survived a childhood car accident. An accident that was so bad, doctors assured her, that had it not been for her extra 'padding' she would've almost certainly been killed. The accident years ago was a head-on collision which resulted in the car bursting into flames, requiring the use of the jaws-of-life to extract her from the vehicle. She needed to be airlifted to the hospital.
T-BONED BY PICKUP
The May 5 crash was, thank goodness, not that bad. But it was still a doozy. 'I was on my way to an audition to emcee a monthly show and as I was going down 5th Avenue a guy in a pickup truck ran a red light and hit me in the intersection,' Cherry Tart told SGN. 'I've got some awesome three-point restraint bruises and a nasty sprained ankle, but I'm glad it wasn't worse. I am grateful to the bystander who held my hand until help came, to the first responders and all the ER staff who made sure I wasn't broken, and to all my friends and family who've been checking in on me. I will hopefully be up and saving the world one over-commitment at a time very soon.'
According to Cherry Tart, the truck T-boned her car. Now, anyone who knows Cherry could tell you that she is one hell of a personality. When she walks into a room, you notice her. And that is not because of her voluptuous curves either (well & maybe a little). It's because of her positive personality, amazing costumes, and willingness to talk to everyone - especially those who look like they might need a friend.
Following the accident, Cherry Tart updated her Facebook, saying, 'Ug. Car got totaled. Truck ran red light. In Harborview ER. No blood, just bruised & upset. Waiting for X-ray results.'
A little somber, but understandably so.
Then, just so we all would know she was truly OK, she posted, 'Pretty bummed about my car and sassy pink dress.' Cherry Tart is, among other things, obsessed with costume making - especially dresses. She once told me, 'Seriously, my house is like that show Hoarders, only it is just rainbow-colored fabrics and glittery things everywhere.'
Cherry Tart was released from Harborview and is currently at home, resting and recovering from being 'pretty darn sore, nursing a sprained ankle, and a whopper of a seatbelt bruise' from her shoulder to her ribs.
'I'm happy that the accident wasn't worse,' she said, adding, 'and grateful my extra heft managed to spare me from major damage.'
FROM HOSPITAL TO STAGE
Most would agree that out of tragedy grows triumph. And more still might agree that the best artists are tortured souls. The same could be said for Cherry Tart. Only thing is, this rad chick isn't bitter about it one bit. She's taken broken dreams (and bones) and dusted them off, thrown some glitter on them, sewed some sequins in here and there, and got on with it.
'When I was 18, I was hit head-on by a truck that crossed the center line on Highway 522. My car was on fire and they had to use the jaws-of-life to cut me out of the wreckage before I was airlifted to Harborview,' she told SGN, having just returned home from Harborview. 'As part of my recovery, I learned how to belly dance.'
After many years in the dance community and traveling to places like Egypt, Turkey, and Morocco, Cherry Tart said she couldn't reconcile the amount of cultural appropriation and misinformation that seemed to go along with the art. 'It didn't feel right, so I stopped dancing,' she said. 'Around that same time, I started looking for another artistic outlet.'
'I've always loved the stage and discovered the Queer burlesque community in 2005,' she told SGN. 'I started performing in a group in 2006 and as a solo performer in 2008. I love that there is so much flexibility to make social commentary within the art and to be shamelessly body-positive (at least in Queer space).'
'I've had a life-long love affair with performing and collecting sparkly costume pieces, so was a natural progression,' said Cherry Tart, who is known for making glamorous, albeit sparkly, gowns and costumes. 'I love seeing all different body types and performance styles on stage and I believe the way to keep that space going is to be a different kind of body on stage and to help create space for other folks on the margins to shine.'
Her stage name is like a triple entendre. Cherry explains, 'I'm a fat girl named after a sweet and savory pastry, which equals awesome!' she says excitedly. 'Is it sharp or sarcastic? Yes. And it is old slang meaning promiscuous and/or adorned flamboyantly. Love it!'
'Plus I've been dyeing my hair red since before I could drive and challenging the status quo for just as long,' she said.
QUEER BURLESQUE DIFFERENT
Seattle has long had a love affair with burlesque. Any night of the week, one can see a burlesque entertainer - or a whole show, for that matter - almost anywhere in the city. Cherry Tart says, however, that Queer burlesque is a horse of a different color.
'I hope Queer burlesque keeps happening and that it gets more recognition because it is so different from the mainstream interpretation of burlesque,' she told SGN. 'Queer burlesque performers are often so savvy in using one's body to be subversive in shifting cultural norms and challenging the messed-up stuff that happens in society around sexism, sizeism, gender norms, Transphobia, and even racism.'
'There is a huge social justice aspect to Queer burlesque and so much of it, at least what I am involved with, is about giving back to and celebrating our community,' she said. 'It's about finding the joy in who we are and who we love. Being an 'other' body on stage is an inherently political act and can be downright revolutionary.'
'If the mainstream wants to adopt a more open stance to all the different types of Queer love, explore body celebration, and become more welcoming to critiques of society in the form of fabulous folks wearing glitter, I think that would be pretty awesome,' said Cherry Tart.
DEBAUCHERY AND GLORY
'I love Seattle,' Cherry Tart said, in such a way that you actually believe her. 'It's my home town.'
'I was raised by two Lesbians in a log cabin out in the woods with a big red truck out front and organic gardens out back,' she explains. 'My mom is a self-employed glass artist, from a family of glass artists and painters. She cannot figure out how something so femme-y came out of her body, as she's more of a soft butch girl.'
Growing up in a small town with two moms certainly was not always the most socially accepted thing at the time, Cherry Tart explains, 'but I learned at an early age that it is important to be who you are, love who you love, and work to build a strong community.'
But things have changed and these days, Cherry Tart finds nothing but community.
'I'm lucky that I get to spend time with a lot of amazing performers,' she said. 'Some of my favorites have got to be Lily Divine, Randy Andy, Tiger Bombshell, Cinnamon Maxxine, okanomode & THE CAROUSEL and the Luminous Pariah.'
Outside of town, Cherry Tart enjoys The Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins, who she says 'would have to be my most favorite classic performer.'
'And I've had the honor of spending a bit of time with the amazing legendary performer Miss Toni Elling.'
SIZE SOMETIMES MATTERS
But all that glitters certainly is not gold. Even in progressive Seattle, there can sometimes be venue owners or management that seeks to divide the community for whatever reason. Cherry Tart is well aware of this. 'I'm disappointed that there are some venues that have spoken or unspoken policies barring larger performers.' Cherry Tart says she just doesn't get it 'because I have never seen an audience that didn't love good artistry no matter what the size/shape/color.'
Cherry Tart is a regular performer at Debauchery every third Thursday at Neighbours Nightclub (1509 Broadway). She's also involved with Randy Andy Productions as her drag king alter-ego, Glitterace (the lost love child of Freddy Mercury and Liberace).
'I just produced my first show, 'You Are Loved! A Big Gay Cabaret at Meander's Kitchen,' she said.
Other performances include 'West Side Glory' at the Skylark, hosted by Jeffrey Robert, and several 'Oh Snapz!' She also starred in productions of 'The Wiz,' a multicultural cabaret. In addition, she has taught costume-making at The Femme Conference and NoLose.
'I've been performing at least once a month at various shows for over two years, and I donate a lot of performances to fundraiser shows benefiting local charities,' she said.
YOU ARE LOVED
It is important, Cherry Tart believes, that people - especially LGBTQ people - hear and know that they are loved. To fight bigotry, she created 'You Are Loved: A Big Gay Cabaret!' held April 26-27 at Meander's Kitchen in Seattle as a fundraiser for LGBTQ youth. Meander's was scheduled to host folksinger Michelle Shocked at the time, but canceled her appearance following her anti-Gay onstage rant in San Francisco.
'I wanted the show to be the antithesis of what Michelle Shocked said,' said Cherry Tart. 'Whatever her excuse, I feel like repeating hate speech has a lot of power, and claiming to be ironic does not erase the fact that words like that were used to make me afraid my mommies were not going to come home when I was a kid.'
'I wanted to build the show theme around creating a loving community response in the face of hate. I wanted a positive celebratory space to let the Queer kids know they were loved. The actual title comes from a Facebook friend, Sister Glo Euro N'Wei, who posts a message of self-acceptance every day followed by the phrase 'You Are Loved.'
'That is amazing and clear, yet hugely profound,' she said.
'I mean, there are posters all over town saying 'You Are Loved,' and I get to start every e-mail to performers and helpers with the same sentiment,' said Cherry Tart. 'If that isn't a positive and intentional message in the face of anti-Gay remarks, I don't know what is.'
The two-day 'love-fest' was a hit. Cherry Tart, alongside Adra Boo of Fly Moon Royalty, James Bound, Lily Divine, Ceasar Hart, Al Lykya, Cinnamon Maxxine, Solange Corbeau, Lily Divine, Al Lykya, comedian Jeffrey Robert, Pidgeon Von Tramp, Cori Connilungus, Lady Laycock, Sarey Savy, Chocolate Saucy, Randy Andy and Cock Saucy, Honey Bucket, (just) David, okanomodé and THE CAROUSEL, and Mary Lambert, raised $2,500 to benefit two amazing Queer youth organizations: Camp Ten Trees and Queer Rock Camp.
A $500 donation from Pride Foundation's Beyond the Bridge program put the total amount raised at a healthy $3,000.
Cherry Tart hosted and produced the event, with the raffle hosted by Mac MacGregor. Assistance to Cherry Tart was provided by Miss Violet De Ville, while Shannon Sounders handled stage management.
Astro worked the sound system; Angela Merici gathered raffle prizes; Tiger Bombshell, Sky, and friends were on cleanup duty; and chocolates were provided by Sister of the Mother House of Washington (Sisters Assisting, Angela Merici, Gaurd Saturnalia). Drinks were donated by Burners Without Borders, and poster printing was done by Seattle Event Printing.
There are a few things about Cherry Tart that you might not know. For instance, 'I don't like chocolate,' she says.
'I spent my last two years of high school attending college thru the Running Start program, so I graduated college with an AAS degree the day before I graduated high school,' she said with a grin. 'I serve on two nonprofit boards of directors: The Northwest Network for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Survivors of Abuse, and Lily Divine Productions.'
'Oh, and I've had three cars totaled in not-my-fault accidents and I have never had a broken bone or required stitches,' she says. 'I know I'm super-lucky. I've said it before and I will say it again: I'm grateful that my curves have managed to spare me any permanent damage.'
Cherry Tart hopes to produce more shows in the future, 'because You Are Loved was an amazing experience.'
'I have an essay on body-positivity and survival in Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love, & Fashion, edited by Virgie Tovar,' she said. 'The book is amazing and I highly recommend it to folks who are struggling with body love.'
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