Portland Video Variety Show “ODDitease” Out-Weirds the Weirdos With Unpretentious Absurdity

Burlesque/drag performers Baby Le’Strange and one-half NelSon blend cabaret theater with multimedia art at the Echo Theater Company on June 15.

"ODDitease" performance, photo by Anthony Hudson.

Portland keeps it weird, but drag artists Baby Le’Strange and one-half NelSon keep it weirder.

Le’Strange and NelSon, who also goes by Nelly, are bringing their cabaret theater-video revue, ODDitease, to the Echo Theater Company on June 15. The upcoming third edition is one part drag variety show, one part video performance art show, and at least five parts abstract madness.

“We’re trying to make some different stuff that Portland hasn’t seen before,” Le’Strange says. “This is like high art, camp, absurd weird. The show is going to have a story about a kombucha mother, and there’s going to be a Wookiee and a mayonnaise orb coming to life.”

Both entertainers have worked stages since the late 2000s, always pushing the bounds of their once fringe art forms. In 2008, at a time when neo-burlesque still fit Dita von Teese’s revivalist mold, Le’Strange started choreographing striptease routines as hot dogs, doughnuts and patently unsexy characters, like the killer Bob from Twin Peaks. She now blends drag and performance art elements into her productions. Nelly, meanwhile, started throwing gay dance parties in New York in 2008. After a brief stint in L.A., Nelly came to Portland in 2019.

“[Portland] reminded me of early Brooklyn days, early [2000s], just everything felt a little rougher around the edges,” Nelly says.

The Echo Theater Company is known for circus and aerial dance-focused stage shows, and qualified ODDitease for the Regional Arts & Culture Council’s Arts for All program. Arts for All offers tickets to events across Portland at a discounted rate. Le’Strange says production manager Drew Simpson offered to host ODDitease at the Echo after seeing it debut at the Clinton Street Theater in April 2023.

“It’s kind of a curated chaos, is sometimes how I like to put it,” Nelly says. “We want it to feel like you’re getting whipped from dramatic to fun, back and forth, and there isn’t much rhyme or reason to it—but there is a huge amount of thought that actually goes into it that gets it to feel like that.”

Le’Strange and Nelly met at a Twin Peaks dance party and connected over their love of drag. They also share an interest in video art. Nelly is studying multimedia art at Portland Community College, while Le’Strange got into video art in 2019 for club nights and expanded to digital performance in 2020.

“I love the play on the two-dimensional with the three-dimensional,” Nelly says. “For me, I think there’s a lot of interest in adding one more layer to the performance.”

ODDitease comes as theater, symphony and dance shake off their stodgy reputations, and drag and burlesque artists more frequently cross over into the fine art world. Even though audience members must be at least 18 years old, Le’Strange and NelSon want ODDitease to be accessible for as many people as possible, like for college kids not yet of drinking age.

“I would love for that age group who can’t go to bars and want to see some cool performances around town to know, but I don’t really know how to target those people,” Le’Strange says. “But I’d like to, so they know these things exist.”

Bitchowar, an all-dog heavy metal rock band, will also play a set in between performances by Le’Strange, Nelly and artists Riri Syncyr and U_Phoria.

“Now is the best time to make art that stands up for rebellion in art,” Le’Strange says. “Honestly, I don’t care about people who have sticks up their butts.”

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