From Flames & Feathers to Setting Up a New Business with Burlesque

For Katherine Skipper (aka Cheri Flambé), the powerhouse producer and performer behind Flambé Cabaret, burlesque brings together a lifetime of passions. As a classically trained dancer in her youth, she took notice of the circus arts in high school and quickly began adding to her repertoire. From specialized skills like handling a contact staff and flaming torch, she quickly moved to eating and breathing fire. 

Not long behind was learning burlesque with Sinful Thoughts Vaudeville in Western Massachusetts. For those unfamiliar, burlesque is an art form involving dance, comedy, and often a risqué edge. And the combination of theatrics, modern and classic dance, and costume design it creates is right up Cheri’s alley.

She’s now excited to be setting up a new business that brings her own flavor of burlesque to this part of New England through community performances. Already, she has racked up an impressive list of local productions in just a short time. Collaborations with EveryBody Burlesque and Keene Pride have put her front and center in the local performance scene, and she’s aiming for an exciting year ahead. 

A white woman with tattoos and blonde hair sitting in a white burlesque costume.Part of the drive to get things moving so quickly is that “I just really missed burlesque. I wanted to do it again. My initial idea was just to have a show, and that was kind of the full idea at the time,” she says. But it’s since turned into a bigger vision.

Having heard about the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship’s (HGC) free coaching, Cheri signed up through the website, met with the program director, and was invited to become part of the Business Lab.

She’s been blown away by the support HGC has provided. Despite living in Keene for years, “I always thought it was just the marketplace,” she admits. And even when she knew the Center existed, she worried about affordability and not finding the right programs for someone just setting up a new business. “It turns out they have even more than I needed,” she says.

Through the Business Lab, she’s delved into the structure of her dance production company. “One thing I’ve learned from Business Lab is the four-year, one-year, one-quarter, six-week, three-week project planning structure,” Cheri explains. It has helped her look at Flambé Cabaret with a new framework.

She says it’s been beneficial to “disassemble those goals into that structure and decide what I’m working on over the next few weeks, a major part of which is production. But I tend to forget everything else when I’m focused on production.” 

Another aspect she’s found helpful is translating business jargon that would have just frustrated her before. “I tune out immediately and have zero interest. So it forced me to learn the business words and what their purpose is. That’s been useful,” Cheri explains. 

For people without a business background, like her, she thinks the idea of “entrepreneurship” can be a barrier. “If you’re an entrepreneur, you know what you’re doing, right? Business is your thing,” she describes. That can often be the assumption, but it certainly isn’t the case for many small business owners.

But HGC has helped her bridge that gap while setting up a new business. And she feels like it’s definitely a valuable resource for creatives who want to make money. Not only has she taken advantage of the workshop experience, but she’s also collaborating with other entrepreneurs from the program. 

Two women in burlesque costumes dancing together. Cheri plans to dish up performances with fellow cohort member Sarita Drew, owner of EveryBody Burlesque, who is focusing on burlesque with a spin. Drew offers educational shows that focus on talking about sexuality in a healthy way and body positivity. One goal the two performers have is to create a traveling show that visits colleges as part of freshman orientation to set a culture of consent and communication. 

For the moment, Cheri is continuing to flesh out additional goals for her production company and is looking forward to her first full year in business after a busy launch season. As an impatient person who likes to get things done, she’s sure to drop an exciting lineup that will have local burlesque fans coming back for more. 

Written by Caroline Tremblay.