Paco Fish

Photo by Philip Laubner

It is difficult to wander the streets of Baltimore’s strange and eccentric world of performance without bumping into Paco Fish. Whether smiling from ten feet in the air on stilts, seducing you with his charm at a burlesque show, or even upon random encounters, one thing is clear when you cross his path—Paco is not only a consummate showman, but one of the most caring people you will ever meet.

Paco, who grew up outside Philadelphia, moved to the area in 1999 to attend Goucher College in Towson. His major was biology, with a focus in genetics. After three years of making the short trek into Baltimore, he officially moved to the city in 2002. The past ten years have served as a unique example of what this city can do to someone when they have the desire to learn, grow and share. Though Paco recalls some minor performance work in college, along with a poetry reading here and there, it was not until 2004 that Paco’s now legendary performance career truly began.  During this time, through hard work, a genuine passion for entertaining, and a series of magical events, the Paco Fish we have come to know and love was formed.

Photo by Philip Laubner

It all started with the Dresden Dolls, a band with whom Paco found himself enamored.  With no major performance experience under his belt, but with the desire for more, he responded to an open call in 2004 for fans of the band to come and perform in the venues at which they were presenting their shows. Their goal was to provide performance opportunities for those who may not have felt like they had them. Paco embraced the opportunity and became an active member of the Dresden Dolls Dirty Business Brigade.

Suddenly committed, but with nothing to perform, Paco taught himself to walk on stilts. He would go on to perform on stilts at close to 20 Dresden Dolls shows over the next two years. The motivation of the band was to encourage people to take the leap into a creative life, and for Paco, that mission was not only accomplished, but also set him on an entirely new direction.

Photo by Philip Laubner

From the Dirty Business Brigade, Paco became involved with the Stolen Heart Cabaret, a weekly show operating out of the Copy Cat Annex. This sudden “trial by fire” gave Paco the necessary stage time, improvisational skills, and production experience that he would need to take his own work to the next level.

After witnessing a Fluid Movement show, Paco was exposed to Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey. He enrolled in an Act Development class taught by the dynamic duo, and much to his own surprise, developed a strip tease act on stilts. With this theatrical strip tease, Paco had his first exposure to the world of burlesque.

“I have always considered myself a storyteller,” says Paco, “and with the discovery of burlesque, I knew I had found the medium for storytelling that resonated with me the most.”

Photo by Theresa Keil

Over the past six years, Paco has run with his love of burlesque. Building on all of the new skills he had been learning, he began producing monthly shows at the Palace of Wonders in Washington, D.C., called Viva la Decadance. Later on, he brought this show to Baltimore, finding its home at Load of Fun. With even more stage time under his wing, he eventually became associated with Gilded Lily Burlesque, as the official Master of Ceremonies.

After two and a half years with Gilded Lily, Paco decided that he was interested in exploring Burlesque with a much more theatrical approach, wanting to incorporate storytelling not just into the individual pieces he was performing, but to create an entire burlesque show with an over arching story.

Photo by Theresa Keil

With a new vision for Burlesque in mind, Paco started Sticky Buns Burlesque with his partner Marla Meringue. Together they auditioned other performers and eventually added Shortstaxx, Roma Mafia and Gigi Holliday. When Roma and Gigi left the troupe Sunny Sighed and Nicolette LeFaye joined the gang, and the Sticky Buns of today was formed.

“We’ve always done revue shows to build our audience,” Paco says, “but our true passion was always our fully scripted work.”

Sticky Buns has produced three scripted shows so far, and are preparing for their fourth to appear mid-August— their first with the new troupe members. Strip Club Time Machine is their latest production, which will premiere on Thursday, August 16th at the Ottobar in Baltimore, then appear on Saturday, August 18th at the Red Palace in DC, and later in August in Knoxville, TN.

This show is a journey through time, exploring female objectification and power through Burlesque and comedy. It features guest performers Salome Cabaret from Knoxville, who will be on hand for all three performances of the show. “This is our most biting satire so far, but it will also be one of the most fun shows we have ever done.”

Photo by Philip Laubner

In a blog post from late 2011, Paco proclaims that “I am seeking the essence of burlesque, and giving myself to it completely.” That commitment has certainly paid off.

Paco’s romp into the national burlesque scene, both with his troupe and with his solo work have earned him the titles “King of Southern Exposure 2011,” “King of Carolina Sweet Tease 2012” and “Most Humorous” from both 2012 Great Burlesque Expo and 2012 Carolina Burlesque Festival. In the next month he has shows in Toronto, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and here in Baltimore, and is rapidly become a force to be reckoned with in the burlesque and boylesque world.

Photo by Philip Laubner

Paco is quick to point out that burlesque is more than just dancing & stripping. It is an art form that combines elements of dancing, acting, stripping, mime, storytelling, and comedy.  In fact it is these varied and diverse interests through which he became involved with Charm City Movement Arts.

As we reported on back in April, Charm City Movement Arts is a circus, dance and movement school located in Highlandtown. Shortly after the school opened its doors late last year, Paco began enrolling in acrobatics classes. As his friendship with school Director Erica Saben began, they both saw an opportunity, and Paco began working for the school. Six weeks ago Paco began teaching classes in Burlesque Technique.

“What I hope to teach in these classes is how to Burlesque, rather than simply how to do Burlesque. I don’t promise to make you a burlesque performer in seven weeks, but my focus is preparing people for performing if they choose to. It’s less about what to do, and more about how to do it.”

For those who might be interested in venturing into forbidden territory, Paco’s class is about getting in touch with who you want to be, and fully projecting that to the world. Each of the classes will focus on one topic which Paco sees as critical to performing burlesque: making moments, choreography, developing character, conveying emotion, connecting to props, and connecting to an audience. The next round of classes begins On July 30th, and run for six weeks, every Wednesday night. You can register here.

Photo by Philip Laubner

Arsene Dupin, a street performer from Paris, who Paco crossed paths with at a performance boot camp called MiniFest many years back, presented Paco with a lesson that has stayed with him forever: If you perform from the heart and give all of your love to the audience, then it fills all of their hearts in a way that they can give your love to their audience—their friends, family, etc.

For Paco, not only his performance, but his entire being seems to embody this idea. What started with the Dresden Dolls presenting anyone who wanted with the opportunity to perform something magical, has spawned one of Baltimore’s most well known, well loved, and well respected performing artists, whose primary goal is simply to share the love.

What’s next for Paco Fish? For 2013, he is planning a giant 52 state tour, where he will perform in each of the 48 contiguous states as well as a few stops in Canada and DC. Living in his van, traveling the country for a year, scoping out the national burlesque scene, and sharing the love he has kindled in Baltimore with the rest of the world.

 Photo by Larry Cohen