Creativity in the Capital: ChaCha Burnadette and Danielle Mercado on the importance of venues and lessons from Wu-Tang Clan 

Hummingbird Theatre performed “The Crucible” at the Village Green Amphitheater in Rancho Cordova in October. (Photo courtesy of Danielle Mercado)

By Casey Rafter

Without a leader like burlesque dancer ChaCha Burnadette, Sacramento would not enjoy the kind of spice her dance group, the Darling Clementines, adds to the mix. The group’s founder, a card-carrying, flag-waving champion of the queer community, has been a part of the scene for a decade, hosting burlesque and drag shows at local venues like Harlow’s, Marilyn’s on K, Blue Lamp and Holy Diver.

Founder and director of the Hummingbird Theatre Company in Rancho Cordova, Danielle Mercado has been active in the local theater scene for several years. HTC’s performances make the arts accessible and enjoyable for casual theatergoers and die-hard Broadway fans alike, employing the talents of actors with a wealth of experience. With a master of arts in directing from Roosevelt University in Chicago, Mercado has also taught acting and theater technique to children and young adults at Bradshaw Christian School.

ChaCha Burnadette is a queer advocate, burlesque dancer and the troop leader behind The Darling Clementines. (Photo by Chris Morairty) 

ChaCha Burnadette: Hi, welcome to my home.

Danielle Mercado: Oh, thank you for having me! I appreciate you. … When you see you’re going to get paired with ChaCha: burlesque dancer, I was like, “Wow, that sounds incredible.” I’ve attended a burlesque or two before and it was very fun, but it’s not something I’m super familiar with. How did you get started?

Burnadette: Well, about 17 years ago. I grew up in southern New Mexico — where finding something to do on a Friday night [I] found challenging — I wanted to find a way to add some color to my community in this small town. I had been doing community organizing and some activist work there. I have a degree in women’s studies and gender studies. I had … this thesis idea of burlesque being something that can help with self-esteem and body image. And I felt like that was something that needed to be tackled for our female community, or queer community. …

I thought burlesque was kind of this extreme thing and had never seen anything live. And I wanted to bring that into my community and see if it would actually help the women of my community at the time feel better about themselves. And it wasn’t something that we were ever going to actually perform. … We’re just gonna make a safe space for women to come together and learn to be comfortable with their bodies.

Within two months, everybody was like, “Well, you know, there is a stage here and we could maybe put a show together.”

Our first shows were in this Jazzercise center with all of the Jazzercise posters around us. Tickets were like $5 and … really quickly word caught on. Things just started really propelling from there. And then when I moved to California … [I had] no community. I didn’t realize that through burlesque I would build an even stronger connection to a community. I would have access to even more people who wanted to use this art form as something that could really benefit them and be healing and then provide a landscape of amazing queer art for Sacramento. So I’ve been doing that here for 10 years. It’s been a wild ride to say the least.

Mercado: What’s the name of the company?

Burnadette:  Our troop is the Darling Clementines.

Mercado: How did you come up with that name?

Burnadette: It’s from that old gold rush song, “Oh, My Darling [Clementine].” That’s actually a really dark song. He is a gold miner who is watching his daughter who has fallen down into the mine, and he is singing the song to her because she’s dying.

I have a dark sense of humor. And I also think that burlesque is something that could be very subversive. I felt like we have a lot of “The Hot Toddies” and “The Twinkle Toed—” all these very cutesy burlesque-y things and so I thought Darling Clementines sounds really cutesy.

Mercado: It sounds innocuous, but then — yeah.

Burnadette: And we open our show with that song. It’s part of our theme song. That song is messed up. There’s a little darkness to it. But also, we are in the gold rush part of the world, so I thought it kind of paid homage to our region.

How long have you lived in the Sacramento region?

Mercado: I was originally from the Bay Area, but we moved up to Placerville when I was 10. [I] did a lot of theater growing up and dance and my mom had a dance studio. She taught. So I started there and then just loved theater and found the community that I’ve really been longing for. I was never really one of the popular girls and I felt at home on a stage. … I was so fortunate to have such wonderful teachers and mentors in my life. Now I have Hummingbird Theatre Company and that’s in Rancho Cordova. It’s fairly new, it’s about 4 years old now. We’re getting off our feet and we just got some grant money to do some wonderful productions in the future. 

Burnadette: You remember what production really hooked you? What really made you go: I want to do that?

Mercado: It was probably my very first one, which was “Snow White.” I was a dancing maiden and I did Scottish dancing over the swords with the hands, like Scottish Highland dancing. And I was like, this is for me. This is where I belong. Our next show was “Oklahoma.” And that one of my very first shows that I loved. That really hooked me and I was like, I can’t never not do this again. I have to be on stage.

Burnadette: Isn’t that crazy? When you get bit.

Mercado: You get bit by the bug.

Burnadette: I started in theater as well. I was a little bit chunkier, a lot taller than everybody else. So they tend[ed] to give me the mayor’s wife or the older woman. I remember we did have “[Of] Mice and Men” and I wanted [to be] the wife that he kept his glove on for. I wanted that role so much and of course, I think they put me as, “person in the background.” 

The burlesque thing was, in a way, trying to make up for all of those leading roles that I wasn’t getting and that I really wanted. Kind of trying to take a little bit more control over: How do I put myself in the center of the spotlight?

Mercado: For me, starting the company, I looked all around the region and went — there’s nothing here that I’m seeing that I’m wanting. You’ve heard the saying, “Create what you wish existed.” I was fortunate enough to grow up with some wonderful teachers who created magic. … You don’t start out making magic, you have to work at it, as you know. And you get better and you make mistakes and you learn. But eventually you become so much more than you thought it would be and it’s really rewarding.

Danielle Mercado (right) is the founder and director of Hummingbird Theatre Company in Rancho Cordova. (Photo by Emily Meyers) 

Burnadette: Do you still act in any of your productions?

Mercado: I don’t. I am a singer though and I will sing if we’re doing a musical gala. I always find it a little odd when theater directors put themselves in their own production. Like, “Look at me!”

Burnadette: How are [you] connecting to that creative creature inside of you if you’re not doing it any more?

Mercado: Directing is the creative outlet. I love watching people use their talents on stage. …  Teasing out the magic of that performer. And it’s so individual. You have to approach every performer differently. So it’s like a combination of therapy, play and having the beautiful artistry of what humans can create together. We were talking about how a play is not a static thing; it’s not just something you perform. It’s a living, breathing thing. It’s between you and the audience. You’re creating in that moment. I don’t ever think that will be in danger, because I think humans need that as an experience, to get that call and response from the audience and the performers.

Burnadette: I’ve seen a couple examples of that. I worked at the Mondavi Performing Arts Center for several years before the pandemic and everybody lost their jobs in the live stage world. I saw probably over 100 shows a season from a black box theater to the large music venue space within the Mondavi Center, and it was this entire machine… . [With shows], it starts, you get through it, you get to the end of it, you’re striking and you realize that this incredible group of people have all just worked so seamlessly to make this thing happen. …  Seeing that on such a constant and consistent basis really made me understand the energy exchange that is happening either with 2,000 people watching the [Sacramento] Philharmonic orchestra or 50 people watching a jazz band or even a small play.

[Post-pandemic], our show has become — I don’t want to say serious, but there has been [a] leveling up of intention. … There really does need to be an element of community healing, resources, bringing communities together, creating safe spaces for people to feel like they can be themselves, safe to explore who they are. My show is so queer-focused, we do have patrons that will come in and maybe this is the first time they’ve ever dressed femininely in public. In our space, where we’re all dressed up like different characters and we encourage them to do that. And I think a big part of it is in our messaging. I am on the microphone every show really reiterating what our intentions are and what our mission is. In doing so, it has given permission for a lot of people to come as themselves, wholly. … 

People want to talk about the glitz and glamour of burlesque. That is such an afterthought to how much work and focus and drive it’s taken to make that so evident and so clear to our patrons and to our communities. I definitely love the glitz and glamour. Theater was where I fell in love with stage makeup and costuming and putting on a character. That playfulness is definitely a huge part of what can heal people and I find that we have it in burlesque and I have seen it in theater. What can be a little disheartening is when many of us work full time and then want to do things like theater or burlesque. In order to be successful at it, you need to have — especially in burlesque — the right clothing or the right costumes or the right outward appearance. Trying to find my place in my lane to find success without having to lean too into trying to be mainstream has been an interesting balance to strike.

What does success look like for you and in your industry and in the work that you’re doing?

Mercado: About the work week: I find the monotony of everyday grind and work week horrible. 

Burnadette: Yeah.

Mercado: It is sometimes all I can do to get to rehearsal. And I knew I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. In just my little suburban neighborhood, there is an incredible amount of talent of people who are not utilizing their skills because they cannot, because they are working. What I have tried my hardest to do is make it accessible for that person. You have a great voice? Why don’t you come sing in my gala? 

I grew up in a community theater, our rehearsals were so long in length; like six months. I can’t commit to that as an adult. To keep the turnaround fast, a lot of theaters will do it like, “Oh, we’re putting on a play in four weeks and it’s six days a week.”  I also can’t do that because I have young children. I am watching them and I can’t commit to six days a week. I can commit to three days a week. That’s doable and even that can be hard on people. I’ve found that strikes a good balance for people who are working.

My mission is to help people who are talented escape the drudgery of their everyday lives where it gets so non creative and just nose-to-the-grindstone and you’re just like, “What are we even living for?” And it’s to play. It is to play.

Burnadette: Oh, you are singing my song. You hit the nail right on the head, trying to bridge that gap between accessibility. You realize that, if you have to be able to have six days off in order to do those rehearsals, then you’re probably somebody that doesn’t have to work. So either maybe you are a retired person or somebody who is in a privileged position yourself that you can have that kind of flexibility. That really creates a lack of access for many of us who are still existing in late-stage capitalism. …

You said you’re in a small town. Are you feeling like you have everything that you need in your area to be successful?

Mercado: I don’t think yet. I’m in Rancho Cordova now and we’ve received some grants from the city, which is incredible. So we’re able to put on productions. I know the City of Rancho Cordova is trying so hard to create production space. But it has been a huge struggle. There’s a park next to my house that we have had shows at, the amphitheater, but we’re keeping the sets in my garage and people are breaking in taking craps on stuff. I’m not kidding. Somebody once stole a giant foam horse that we used for “Into the Woods” out of my driveway. I found it in an abandoned house. We had to call the police and were like, “Have you seen my giant foam horse?” So it has come with challenges.

We have to keep it in Rancho Cordova because our grant is for Rancho Cordova., but then we don’t have places to put it on. The local high school has a great performing art studio and it’s completely booked all the time and it’s $2,000 a day. The event center always has weddings. We did it last year and it was $6,000 for two weekends and it was just a lot. We can’t afford this.. 

But I know that there are a lot of things in the works. The Mills Art and Culture Center is going to have an expansion across the street where they’re doing a new performing arts center and Rise Up Theatre company’s opening a space with help from the city. We’ve been invited to be part of that. We’re chomping at the bit ready to go, but we still don’t have a place to call home.

Burnadette: That’s something that we probably share. If I were to ever lose the venue that we are at, we would find ourselves in a pretty sticky situation. At my last show, I was trying to give a little bit of the history of our production. I was going through the list of, “We went here and then we went here and then we were here,” and I started realizing and I had to make a joke about it, “Yes, those are all out of business now, but that had nothing to do with us.” Things were already going that way. 

When DOCO was being built, a lot of venues that burlesque dancers were using, Marilyn’s on K, The Assembly, which was a really perfect mid-to-large sized cabaret theater, fully functioning backstage, could have easily thrown theatrical productions, dance, bands. Those places all closed right when DOCO started their development and then we continued to move and places continued to fall.

It’s been a conversation that I’ve had for a really long time: the elements of pay to play. Sometimes the cost of putting on a show becomes so substantial that the artists don’t get paid. But the venue who is getting paid for alcohol sells, or if they have a kitchen, food sales are profiting off not only that, but also profiting off of our ticket sales. I have yet to have a production, other than when I worked with Blue Lamp, that would let me have 100% of my ticket sales. And yet I have had very little support helping market our shows. We’re not getting preferential treatment at any of the venues that we work at. There is a high expectation on the producer to put on a show that makes a lot of money for them, but the afterthought of needing to pay the artists. It has been a huge driving force of what we do and I know that if I was not at the venue that I had now and if I did want to downsize, I couldn’t afford to be able to give my artists that wage that they need and survive as a show. Right now, I have one of the highest-paying shows in burlesque that I have ever seen and that I have seen in our region, absolutely.

Mercado: That’s amazing.

Burnadette: Many of our performers at a minimum get anywhere between $250 to $350 a performance.

Mercado: That’s incredible.

Burnadette: If I’m working with other professionals, it’s usually the minimum, but what we see in our industry is mostly free, $30, $50, some of the biggest shows in San Francisco offering me $50 to go out there and wear a costume worth $2,000 and drive out to San Francisco for a show that starts at 11 p.m.

Mercado: So, really, you’re paying.

Burnadette: So if you are in this, it’s because you’re passionate about it and it fills you up in another way and not financially. I would love to build an industry where that isn’t the case. In order to do that, it does take combining with other art forms that also are looking for equity and equitability around access to spaces. There are so many places that do go empty.

Mercado: Oh, there’s so many buildings in Rancho that just stand empty and I’m like, “I could put something on here in a second.” But they want a year lease, it’s $2,000 a month. I can’t do that, but if there was a way to subsidize that or make it accessible so that you’re actually able to pay your performers from your ticket sales, the costs are kept at a bare minimum for the venue. I mean, that’s the dream.

Burnadette: It is absolutely the dream.

ChaCha Burnadette says of burlesque, “[I] know that if I don’t do this, I feel like I will die.” (Photo by James Blonde Photography)

Mercado: I feel completely overwhelmed at times with the business aspect of the theater. … It would be so nice to have multiple directors, multiple creatives in a leadership position in a collaborative format where we’re helping each other with the business side of things, making that stronger for all of us. If we’re stronger collectively, that’s just going to be better for everyone.

Burnadette: As a woman and as a lesbian and as a feminist, I have found strength and impact when I bring a bunch of women together around a table. I would like to expand on that, and …  just see creative artistic leaders in a roundtable situation, ‘cuz it is kind of like stone soup. You have this bowl of water, but if the community all comes together, someone brings a carrot, someone brings some celery, I got the potatoes. What can come out of that? 

I, for a long time, thought I wanted to open up a venue. I do not come from generational wealth, I barely got through the pandemic on unemployment and a hope and a wish and a dream. I’ve never been in a place financially, where I have $100,000 to invest into this project. … 

If creatives can be put in a position where maybe they’re seen with a little bit more respect and revelry, we can say, as a collective, “We are missing this, and we need support in this area.” But I think as long as we continue to be isolated in our own individual bubbles, where I’m at home crying into my hot tea, wondering —

Mercado: What’s wrong with me?

Burnadette: Yeah! When I was a Pride director, I would go to these cabaret and music license meetings at the police station and I would see every venue owner in there. These guys would walk in there with holes in their T-shirts and mustard stains and their phlegmy cough and interrupt the whole time while people are talking. And I’m sitting there, actually asking questions and wanting to do a good job and looking at these guys who are rolling their eyes at everything that’s being presented and I’m thinking, “I just don’t understand why I have to continue to live in a world where this is what the norm is.” This is who is successful. These are the people who are making the decisions about what bands come in what art comes in, who gets those jobs. And so often it is people that are either always getting that attention, or they’re out of touch. And I have literally worked in almost every single music venue in this town — long residencies, over a year  with these different groups — and oftentimes, what I see is such a lack of vision. … 

Oftentimes, I have found those who really championed us still had a difficult time pivoting when it came to making a place successful so that they can sustain. A lot of the places we had the most support, even some of the more female-run venues in town, were trying to still do what worked 15 years ago. And they just kept using that same formula. And then that formula wasn’t working. And then they went under. And then we had to go back to the old white guy and ask him if we could perform at his venue.

I know that this isn’t working, but as a singular person. It has to be a collective.

Burnadette: Sacramento has something really special. And I do see that there’s —

Mercado:  — there’s so much room for growth and potential.

Burnadette: So much.

Mercado: It’s almost like we just need to stage a little bit of a revolution and take over these empty buildings for art’s sake, right?

Burnadette: It honestly feels like there needs to be a renaissance.

Mercado: That’s a great way to put it. Even if you guys don’t give us permission. Even if we don’t have a venue, we’re still freakin’ doing this.

When we started our company, this lovely church invited us to have our rehearsals there and then for whatever reason — they said insurance reasons — they pulled out, so we had rehearsals in my driveway. Sometimes it feels like such a Herculean effort to get it even off the ground.

That’s, I think, the burden of trying to create art. It’s not the art that’s the problem, it’s everything surrounding it. It’s just begging to be created. I would love to be able to have a couple of venues in Rancho Cordova or Sacramento somewhere where you book six months in advance, you have this many weeks, it’s $50 a day, you get to put on whatever you want. Can you imagine the explosion of creativity if it was more accessible and affordable?

Burnadette: One of our larger festivals in town is Chalk It Up. They do chalk drawings at Fremont Park, I’m walking around this park, and I’m watching people with basic chalk. And they’re making these amazing pieces of art. It was raining and soon to be washed away, so it was very temporary and very impactful to see how many creatives we have in this town. And I think if those same artists had the resources to put their art in a bigger scale, yeah, that’s who we should be having in our Wide Open Walls art initiative in Sacramento and not bringing in artists from all over the place.

Mercado: I know people have so much talent and it’s just all fading away. There’s no place to put it. That’s why it’s so important to highlight people who are right in front of us. Of course, there’s great artists that we should celebrate, but I don’t think that there is a need to bring people in when we have ones right in our backyard.

Burnadette: I don’t need a million dollar gummy bear looking thing at the DOCO center. I think that it was a really hot topic in our town because we were bringing in an artist that is — obviously the Kings and Sacramento was really trying to elevate ourselves as being like this big city.

Mercado: Yeah. We’re all grown up.

Burnadette: The lack of access to these outlets feels almost like an emergency situation for me. I feel it heavy on my chest. I feel it when I’m going to bed at night. I feel like I’m trying to save something before we no longer have that. It probably comes from losing multiple venues, building momentum in the work and then this venue wants to sell, we’re completely starting over. Very rarely in Sacramento have we been given the opportunity of even a Friday or Saturday night show. Our shows are usually on —

Mercado: Midweeks. Yeah.

Burnadette: Thursday nights, Wednesday nights, Sunday nights. That speaks volume to me. Granted, right now I’m at a venue that, on the majority, we have more sold-out shows than we have not. We meet our goals almost every month. When we came back from the pandemic, we made our intentions on our mission very strong. We’ve always been queer-ran troupe and a queer troupe. All of our performers are queer. But after the pandemic, we made sure to make it a little bit louder so that we can be like a beacon for those who want to come in.

I’m almost 40. I am a public figure in my community. I want to bring safe spaces and bring people together. Also, where are the lesbians at? Where do we go? Where do we find our groups of people? I felt like I had to establish and build that myself in order to find it.

Mercado: So do you work with the dancers yourself? Or do they come up with their own routines?

Burnadette: For many years, I taught and I’ve had space at a studio. I would work with people individually, we would work together as a troupe. Now 10 years into it, our big monthly show at Harlow’s has become drag and burlesque excellence. Our last show, we had the winner of our Miss Exotic World. She won 2019. So we are working with people that are established performers in that show. I don’t need to work with them, but we did start a new show because I didn’t want it to feel like there was any gatekeeping happening.

Mercado: There needs to be a place for beginners to walk in.

Burnadette: … I’ve had to carve and make my way, every step of this process. I have laid every foundational brick. So why wouldn’t I have to continue to do it like that? It’s just starting to get disheartening as I’m getting older.

Mercado: It wears on you.

Burnadette: I’m feeling way burnt out. And I’m thinking, “I don’t actually want to own a venue. I just know that, unless I do, it’s not going to happen.” And I don’t want to continue to make choices — especially huge financial choices — based around, “Well, I have to do it because nobody else will do it.” It’s not necessarily what I want to do.

What I would like to do is just have regular shows and be a creative director or event and show Mama for some nice venue who’s gonna give us some space.

Mercado: I think it’s easy to feel like it’s all on your shoulders. I definitely have felt like that. And did I have a breakdown last week? Absolutely. I get it. And I’m crying and calling my friend who’s one of my assistant directors. And she’s like, “It’s not just you. Remember that.” And I think that’s hard to remember. Because we’re the ones who lift it and start it. But the thing is, we’re not the ones who keep it going. It gets momentum, other people want to take it on…. 

Burnadette: As a leader, I find a lot of solace in learning about the Wu Tang Clan. The leader of the Wu Tang Clan has this really great interview where he talks about his leadership style. They’re a whole conglomerate of rappers that are in this group. He said, “Out of all these artists, I am the only one looking out for all of us. They’re all individual artists paying attention and working on themselves and their art. I have to worry about my art, myself and the collective.” 

As we grow, people are more invested in it, in the way that the show has worked. I’m still way more invested, my taxes are invested in it. I don’t have an LLC, I still do it as an independent contractor. A lot of that came from just me not knowing that I could do it differently. We started as a small burlesque troupe and people were getting paid $40. It was all in cash. So we were just doing it for years and years. And then as things have evolved, our earning is getting higher.

Mercado: Good problems.

Burnadette: It’s a great problem. But it does also make me take a whole step backwards to figure out how I can do this in a way that is sustaining. A big part of what we’ve done to try to boost our income is through tips and tipping culture. If we did not have tipping culture at our shows, and we’re talking about thousands of dollars that people tip, we would not be able to do the show. I’m constantly having to ask people to continue to invest directly to the art that’s happening right in front of them, and then be continually fair and transparent with my performers that this is how this works, this is how payment works. Fortunately, Sacramento has taken really good care of us since the pandemic and we do have a really great tipping culture at our shows. That’s why everybody’s able to get paid what they are. If our venues were more generous about what we earn, we might not have to rely on that so much, but we are pivoting and constantly having to come up with solutions just to exist.

Our audience is quite bulletproof, but the only way that we have created such a bulletproof audience has been because we connect with them outside of the stage. I make moments within our events to have our performers come out there and engage and we’re friends on Facebook and Instagram. They’re sending me congratulations for my engagement. …

It does take a lot of passion to continue to keep going. Was there any time in this process where you were ready to throw your hands up?

Mercado: It was about a year ago when I had a baby. I have a 4 year old and a 19 month old. … It was like: I can’t do this. I am going crazy. We had the company for a couple years and then went into 2020 quarantine with a 7 month old and I was not OK. And I don’t think a lot of us were. It was a really mentally tough time, suffering from some postpartum depression and anxiety then not knowing what that was and learning how to deal with that. It was a big transition and it was just kind of like … I know I have something to contribute and this part is hard, but it’s also so worth it. It’s for the kids but it’s also for the adults.

Burnadette: I don’t know if I’ve had that moment. … But I also know that if I don’t do this, I feel like I will die. I know that sounds, like, dramatic.

Mercado: No, it makes sense. It resonates so hard, it becomes a part of your core and you’re like: No, this is obviously what I meant to do because I can’t live without it. …

Burnadette: I’ll be taking my clothes off whether people want to see it or not.

Mercado: I think it’s good for them. You know what I mean?

Burnadette: Yeah, I think so. Yeah. I love that I got to see women in their 80s and 90s feeling sexy [at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas]. And people cheering for that and them getting that love and having that experience of that energy exchange that happens on stage then after Burlesque Hall of Fame. Then, they go back to their retirement homes or their little houses — somebody’s grandma. I would like to build an industry here in Sacramento that will allow me to sustain that as well.

Mercado: That’s one thing. I’m gonna be in old folks homes, putting on “The Sound of Music.” Let’s do it. You’re Kurt and you’re 80. I don’t care. The possibility of just fading into old age oblivion where you don’t do anything anymore. Maybe you’re in pain or maybe you’re disabled and maybe you can’t afford it. God, I so admire the people who do.

Burnadette: But if you have to get a full time job to pay your bills, it’s hard for you to find the space to be able to continue to do stuff like that, so it is creating the kind of support that we need so that we can sustain this because I want to see what another 20 years of experience gives your perspective and how you can continue to serve people in that way.

Burnadette: What are some of the things you are most proud of so far?

Mercado: Hummingbird Theatre is theater for everyone. It’s theater for the people. That’s our slogan. I try to think about my dad, and then when my husband came along, are they going to watch this and be entertained? They’re not going to go to theater unless I make them. Okay, but I’m going to make this as enjoyable as I can for the everyman. I think fostering that culture of creativity and trying to draw people’s talent out and letting them use it.

Burnadette: I mean, that flexibility is what probably creates the safe space. … I read an article the other day that was talking about how people are not attending theater the way they used to and when I worked at Mondavi Center, I understood: the majority of people — granted it’s Davis, but the majority of people coming to this show has white hair. What happens when the white hairs can’t come out anymore? Who is going to start filling these venues? How are they going to continue to thrive? And there is this thing of trying to appease your stakeholders, appease the people who are coming to your show. If everyone coming to your show has white hair, you probably don’t bring a burlesque show, because they’re probably not going to be interested in that.

But if you want to be starting the next generation investing into art and investing into performance art, you do have to give them what they want. When I see these 21 year olds and 18 year olds coming into the bar to see our show, they love the vulnerability. The flaws, the glitter and the glam.

I would love to continue to create shows that feel accessible and feel like they’re really serving our community in a way that makes Sacramento a better place to live, that makes the people of Sacramento feel like they’re being taken care of.

Mercado: And seen.

Burnadette: And seen. Big time. …

If we continue, I don’t know how to get the money to do what I need to do. So I absolutely need some help. We have to start talking. We have to stop being afraid to not know everything. I’m like a neurodivergent super creative weirdo who would really love somebody to trust my visionary experience and my ideas and my creativity. …

It does sometimes feel like … we’re on a little bit on an island. And even though we come from very different backgrounds, we are not actually all that different. We are still just women trying to pioneer something better for the greater good of our community and this art that we love.

This conversation has been edited for length, clarity and flow.

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and Solutions Journalism Network. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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