- July 6, 2016
It's been 10 years since the Black Diamond Burlesque company had its first show, but things have changed since.
What was once a fledgling enterprise operating out of Selva Grill on Main Street is now a Florida burlesque staple offering shows filled with dancing, musical numbers, daredevil acts and plenty of strip teases and glitter.
Owner Laura Daniel Gale, known on stage as Lady LaLa, misses putting together all those pieces the most — the creativity that comes with each performer’s act and the cheers and gasps her performers would elicit from the crowd. There’s an energy that she feels can only come from a live burlesque show.
"There is nothing like live entertainment," Gale said. "There's nothing like that energy you get in a room."
Although the company’s planned 10-year anniversary show has been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still a time of pride.
"[I'm proud of] landing on an idea 10 years ago that the audience continues to have a desire for," Gale said. "We've evolved over that 10-year period. I've grown and changed as a producer and performer."
Black Diamond Burlesque started while Gale owned a boutique in the Rosemary District. She was hosting fashion shows and street festivals at the time but had an affinity for vaudeville acts. Burlesque emerged alongside those traveling shows as an adult entertainment alternative.
She knew burlesque had been seeing a resurgence in New York and Chicago, and she figured Sarasota, with its circus blood, would appreciate a vaudeville act with some adult content.
“The [burlesque] rebirth hadn't quite hit the second-tier or even third-tier cities,” Gale said. “I knew if we could jump on that before anybody else, we could be the premiere troupe [in Sarasota].”
One of the original performers suggested the name “Black Diamond,” and the title stuck. The past 10 years have been a story of determination and reliability, with Black Diamond putting on shows every other month. Gale said her company has made a name for itself through consistent shows and taking care of its performers without hassle.
It also helps that Les McCurdy, the owner of McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre, has let Black Diamond use the location as a venue for 10 years. A deeply grateful Gale said the stage and extended runway has added a touch of legitimacy and cabaret style to her productions.
Black Diamond prides itself on themed events that have its eight to 10 performers putting on more than a dozen acts. Be it Halloween, Valentine's Day, a carnival showcase or countless others, Gale thinks up costuming and staging that will bring the idea to life. A “Secret Garden” show had characters in a field of flowers and a performer as a caged bird, and one Halloween show had a ghost story showcase where performers spun spooky tales.
The years of solid performances and consistency have earned Black Diamond a good reputation, and that has granted Gale the ability brings in performers from across the country. One of Gale’s best gets was Bill Barry, a Guinness World Record-holder in sword-swallowing and juggling.
Gale does have her favorite local performers from St. Pete, Tampa, and Sarasota who she uses for several shows. Amanda Heisey, also known as Karma Kandlewick. has been part of the crew for two years. She brings a witchy theatricality and a strong singing voice from her years in theater.
More so than a traditional theater — which can place a performer into more rigid roles with defined expectations — burlesque allows Heisey to think up her very character and persona and act it out onstage.
She performed a comedy mashup at a more-recent show of the classic “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” song with Mariah Cary’s “All I Want For Christmas is You.” The routine jerked back and forth between the old-timey Christmas jingle with a Vegas showgirl-esque act. The production won Heisey a burlesque award, something she said she’s still proud of.
“I love it actually as [an] outlet to do these different performance things that I don't always get to do on stage,” Heisey said. “It's nice to be able to make your own thing. You have your own character."
As with so much in the pandemic, Black Diamond's future is uncertain. Gale said shows will only be able to resume again when the current situation has changed and when McCurdy's is able to safely reopen. This year hasn’t brought the 10th anniversary show Gale had hoped for, but she still has been taking time to reflect on a full decade of shows and stories.
“September 2020 is my 10-year anniversary with Black Diamond Burlesque, from conception to 10 years of performances,” Gale said. “No matter whether we're on stage or not, that's still a milestone that we will celebrate privately.”