This article is from the July 2012 issue of KC Stage
If you know anything about burlesque, dance, or yoga in Kansas City, you have most likely heard of a woman called "Madame MacKay", also known as Marisa MacKay-Smith. While the chances of seeing her walk like her legs are sore are high, the chances of seeing her absolutely work it out in a sexy bra and panties are even higher.
How did Marisa MacKay-Smith get started performing?
Apparently, she was delivered ... and then she started dancing. Well, pretty much. She began her dance training at the tender age of three, and while her mother let her cut her gums on many activities - gymnastics, swimming, horse-back riding, girl scouts, violin, and music theory - Marisa ultimately chose dance (and she dove, head first, into it). "Both of my parents have always been super supportive of my hobbies and my career. I just could not imagine myself NOT dancing," Marisa says. By the way, that violin and music theory part ... she studied those for 10 years as well.
As she got older...
Like little dancing kids will usually do, she trained in studios in her native city, Chicago, and in Arizona and Dallas, and went to summer camps (where she also participated in theatre). In high school, she was highly active in theatre and dance, which led to her full involvement at the college level, where she has performed in UMKC Dance Conservatory and KC Rep graduate and undergraduate shows. She made it all the way to New York City to be a paid intern at the Theatre Arts Center, and has studied at the Kansas City Ballet. She holds a Dean's Honor Roll listing from UMKC with a bachelor of fine arts in dance performance and a minor in theatre. Marisa is also a well-known and highly-sought-after choreographer, and has choreographed most dance forms including operas (UMKC opera department) and musicals in and around the Kansas City area. Marisa also proves to be able to lead a group as well as perform in it; artistic director credits include Reach...a movement collective inc., The Smith Project, and Burlesque Downtown Underground. This girl definitely does it all. On and around a stage.
What does Madame MacKay DO all the time?
Marisa is choreographing something, teaching something, or dancing somewhere anywhere from 36 to 50 hours a week - which really only means that she's got a fabulously-in-shape body and super sore legs a majority of the time (it certainly doesn't mean she has loads of money: "It doesn't pay to be an artist," says Marisa matter-of-factly). Currently, she teaches dance at Legacy School of the Arts and at Miss Maria's Acrobat and Dance Studio. She teaches Pilates, yoga, and deep stretch at Element Fitness, and she instructs the intermediate class for burlesque professionals called "The Next Step: Beyond Beginning Burlesque" at Zumba by Mandy.
Her list of where she has worked and performed is literally far too long to include here, but you can pretty much trust that if it's a stage in Kansas City, Marisa has probably been on it. With all this and more as her resume, when she's asked about the strains of her career, she has to put the term "day off" in quotations - undoubtedly because she rarely gets to have one. She gets to sleep, sure, and gets to read the occasional book and drink a glass of wine after peeling herself out of her leotard and into her pajamas at the conclusion of each day ... but then she's back to moving at 5 am or earlier to visuals at a national lingerie company. Concerning her six jobs, excluding the two companies she runs, she exclaims, "I sure am tired by the end of the week!" Although from what I or anybody else can tell, there really is no "end" to her week: she does just as much work on weekends that she does on weekdays. It really takes a lot of love of her craft to stay moving the way she does, and it is undeniably clear how much she appreciates her husband Scott for his unrelenting and immeasurable support.
Let's talk about what Marisa loves.
She loves supporting the arts in Kansas City. If you are holding a Kickstarter or fundraiser, Marisa has probably heard of it, read up on it, and donated to it. She LOVES to be entertained. "I love being in the audience, on the other side of the curtain." And she has a recognizable affinity for the theatre in Kansas City specifically. There are so many kinds of theatre happening in Kansas City, and she loves to be a part of it all. She loves her husband Scott, who seems to be her rock amidst the crazy life she has. She loves learning about all her students. "Every class is different; every student is in my class for their own reasons," Marisa says excitedly about her teaching experiences.
How was Madame MacKay born?
Marisa was challenged to produce a burlesque show about five years ago - and in those five years, she has managed to produce, arguably, the best and most entertaining burlesque company in Kansas City, Burlesque Downtown Underground. She has worked and works with such performers as Katie Gilchrist, Aurelie Roque, Stephen Plante, Laura Jacobs, Steven Eubank, Bob Paisley, Kyle Hatley, Grant Prewitt, Matt Rapport, and Bobbi Foudree. She assembles casts of extremely entertaining, talented, and funny performers, and they all work together to create the kinds of shows that are making Kansas City known for its booming, bountiful, and bawdy burlesque. In addition to her Kansas City shows and commitments, Marisa just can't keep from spreading her wings as far as they'll go: she has shimmied in New Orleans, St. Louis, Chicago, and Dallas. This fall, she plans to teach and perform in Wichita, perform in Colorado, and on her birthday she'll be primping-up to perform at the House of Blues in New Orleans - again.
When can you see the fabulous Marisa MacKay-Smith next?
This summer, she will be appearing and performing in the Windy City Burlesque Festival before she produces and performs in her fifth KC Fringe Festival. This year, BDU and Van Ella Productions (St. Louis) will join forces to knock the socks off the Kansas City crowd in their Carnivalesque Collaboration, "Burlesque and Beggars". Performances are July 20 - 28, and will take place at the Todd Bolender Center for Dance & Creativity. Tickets will be $10, coupled with the price of a Fringe button ($5) - making a grand total of $15 for this live burlesque performance. For more information on this production, visit the KC Fringe Festival's website at www.kcfringe.org.
Nicole Hall has a BFA in theatre performance and minor credits in English and philosophy from the University of Central Missouri. When not choreographing productions, Nicole can be seen performing all around the Kansas City area.