Mother and Daughter Perform in Casper Burlesque Troupe Together
You've heard the saying, 'Like Mother, Like Daughter' but this takes that phrase to a whole 'nother level.
When Misha 'C-B' took the stage at The Bourgeois Pig as part of the Keyhole Peepshow, she did so in dramatic fashion. The show she was performing in was Halloween-themed, and so it only made sense that she would come out onto the stage strapped to a hand-truck, Hannibal Lecter style.
It was a cool visual in and of itself, but what made the moment even more special was that the person wheeling her out also happened to be her mother.
Later in the show, that very same mother became 'Grandmother,' and came out on stage herself to read the audience a very...shall we say...un-childlike bedtime story.
For Misha and her mother Mari Pennell, this was just another day at the office. The mother/daughter pair have worked together often for Keyhole Peepshow. Misha first began working for the burlesque troupe as a 'Kitten,' the burlesque world's version of a gopher. She would clean up after the numbers, help with costumes, and just make herself available to offer assistance as needed. Once she 'paid her dues,' so to speak, she began performing herself. First, it was just in group acts but the owner and curator of Keyhole Peepshow, Fathom Swanson, saw something in Misha that was undeniable. She had that 'It' factor that many performers strive to attain, but never fully do. Maybe she was born with it. Maybe it was Maybeline.
But maybe, just maybe, she got it from her mama.
"I have always been a theater person," Mari stated. "In high school I did theater and then I went to college at Casper College on a full-ride theater scholarship. I've always loved the theater and I've always been somebody who likes to make people laugh and say really inappropriate and strange things and watch reactions."
Mari said that a friend of hers called her one day to see if she or her daughter would be interested in being a 'Stage Kitten' for Keyhole.
"I met Fathom when she performed in Glenrock," she remembered. "I had taken out some friends of mine and my ex-husband for the evening, and we had a blast. I went up to Fathom and talked to her after her show and we had a great conversation, but it was Serenity ('Siren') that got us into this and hooked us up with Misha being a stage kitten."
Pennell said that while Misha paid her dues as the show's kitten, she hung out backstage as well, taking on something of a 'motherly' role for the rest of the cast. But, as it does with most performers, the stage beckoned to her once more.
"I want to say I had this idea right before our 'Sweethearts and Heartbreakers' show two years ago," Mari reflected. "I was watching this YouTube video called 'Brenda's Beaver Needs a Barber,' and I thought it would be really funny to do onstage. So I called Fathom and said 'What if there was a grandma that came on stage in a dilapidated nightgown, with gray hair, and she proceeded to read inappropriate children's books?'"
From there, a character was born.
But as much as Mari loves performing, she loves watching her daughter perform even more.
"When Misha was in 8th grade, she had a lot of issues with body positivity and things," Mari said of her daughter. "So when she went into high school, I encouraged her to do some kind of activity. I didn't care what it was, but it had to be something. And I gave her a list. And on that list, one of the things was cheerleading. And surprisingly, my goth child was like, 'Yeah, I'll do cheer.' So she did cheer for almost two years, and was in the color guard and marching band and speech and debate, and she found positivity through that. As she got older, she needed something else and I really wanted her eyes to be open to theater, because I really thought that was someplace where she could shine."
Misha's high school experience was a unique one, to say the least.
"So, high school was God-awful for me," she laughed. "It was basically like, 'Middle School Part Two,' but, like, everything hurts a little bit more. In middle school, the kids are nasty, but in high school they'll just be mean behind your back, like they're too scared to say something to your face."
Misha and Mari lived outside of Glenrock, so Misha had an opportunity to pursue a different kind of school setting as a 14-year-old.
"I went to rural school when I was in 8th grade, just to get out of the public school setting to see if it would help my mental health at all," she said. "And it did, but when I went back to actual public school, people were like, 'You're not dead?' So it was just weird trying to integrate myself back in and I was just trying different things every year to find a space that was right for me."
And that's a struggle that most teenagers have - trying to find a space where they can fit. They'll find out later that it's more important to make spaces fit to you, but in high school that's a concept that is hard to grasp. You want to fit in. You want to have friends, and hobbies, and you want the 'Ideal High School Experience.' That doesn't actually exist, but you try to pursue it anyway because even though we tell ourselves that we don't really care, most of us really do just want to fit in.
"I started doing this really fun, cool thing where I was just partying non-stop," Misha said, rolling her eyes. "That's what my friends were doing, so I'd go to parties and I hated it. But I'd stay there and I'd get drunk with my friends cause that's what you were supposed to do. I just didn't like it. I didn't fit in, nor like that sort of social setting. And then, in November of my junior year, my dad left and my parents ended up getting divorced. So going through the rest of my junior year, understanding that and trying to get a grip on having a parent leave so late in your life, and then my sister had a baby..."
It was a lot. And then, COVID hit. And it was a lot more.
"COVID hit halfway through my junior year, so I never got a prom or a proper graduation, or anything like that, which was fine because I wanted to get the hell out of there anyway, but..." Misha trailed off.
But there's something to be said about being a teenage girl who gets to put on a dress and feel like a princess for an evening. But the closure that comes with properly saying goodbye to high school and hello to the rest of your life really only happens when you're throwing your cap in the air at graduation. But there were so. many. other. things going on in her life at the time and why couldn't things just be easy or normal or fair?
Still, Misha said she doesn't feel like she missed out on anything. She always felt like she was above the idea of high school. Not above the people, per say. She didn't think she was better than anyone. She just knew that high school was not the be-all and end-all, and that she was destined for bigger, more important things.
One of those things was helping her mom raise her sister's baby.
"It was just a year of not being in school, working a fulltime job, and coming home to a kid," Misha said. "I was like, 'Oh, I'm a 32-year old.'
Both Misha and Mari said that the experience of raising a child "together" brought them even closer as mother and daughter. But they were always close. They were less 'Mother and Daughter'and more, just, 'Friends.'
"We went to Comic Con in Cheyenne when Misha was 13 and just had the best time," Mari said. "I think that was literally the best time we've ever had. We insulted Flash Gordon."
"Because it's Flash Gordon," Misha laughed. "Why would you pay $30 for a picture of him when he's not even C-List anymore?"
Misha and Mari have always been close, which is why it shouldn't be surprising that they would work together in a Burlesque troupe.
Burlesque combines all of the best aspects of theater: music, singing, dancing, comedy, and multiple body parts displayed in varying states of undress. All of this and more contributes to an eclectic form of entertainment that has to be seen to be believed.
It's a fascinating world and it's one that both Misha and her mom wanted to be a part of.
Last summer, Misha found out that'd she had graduated from 'Kitten' to 'Performer,' and, as most things are in the world of theater, her first show was chaotic.
"About a week before the [Casper Pride] show, Fathom got us all in one giant group chat," Misha said. "She asked if she could get me in some group numbers for a Saturday show at the David Street Station, and I said absolutely and asked if she needed another performer for the Friday night show as well. I told her I've had this idea bouncing around in my head for a while. It's not going to be good. It's not going to be pretty. But Fathom said 'Something is better than nothing.'"
So, Misha gave the audience something. And boy, did they get something.
"I had practiced it1,000,001 times in my room and I thought I had it down," Misha said. "But obviously it was my first time in front of people, so I was terrified. It was a really scary experience. And the guy who was running the music didn't have the right song downloaded. It was a weird remix, so my timing was off. So, I was just kind of throwing things somewhere and making it work."
That wasn't the only issue, either.
"It was obviously very hot and sweaty in there that night, and my pasties came flying off."
That moment would be a terrifying one, even for a veteran performer. For a young woman, doing her first solo act, it was mortifying.
"My life was flashing before my eyes," Misha remembered. "All I could see was my friends, just sitting in the corner on the floor, looking up at me and just going, 'No.'"
But, ever the professional, the show had to go on.
"It was happening in slow motion and there was nothing I could do to fix it," she said. "I just kept telling myself, 'You can't run off. You can't just run away from this. You've gotta just work with it and make it work for you."
That moment, under the hot lights, with her friends and family looking on, could have been the worst moment of her life. But she didn't let it be. She didn't run off. She didn't run away from it. She faced it and she got through it.
And, really, that could be the perfect metaphor for her entire life. The same could be said for her mother. Things happened to them and those things could have destroyed them. Failed marriages, a dad leaving, an unexpected child to raise...all of these things could have leveled them. But they didn't let that happen. They didn't run away. They faced these things, head on.
And they did it together.
"Working with my mom, having her here with me, it's just like a comfort thing," Misha said. "Because even if I screw up or I do something bad, I can go backstage to get a Mom Hug, and those are the best kinds of hugs. It's just nice to have someone who you know you're comfortable with, who knows everything, and who is there to support you and everything you're doing."
For Mari, it's all of that and more.
"There are some very famous parents that have shared this with their kids," Mari said. "Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, for instance. It's nothing new in the state of the world but, for me, it's cathartic. It's something we can do together and still have that connection as family. But on that same note, now that we're going through that evolution of her being an adult now, there's that natural progression to pull away from your parents when you turn 19. So this is still a time that we can connect and do something together. It feeds both of us in how we're growing and changing. For me, it's coming alive again after being asleep for so long. This is bringing me back to life and I think, in a way, this is helping her find her life."
It's not often that a mother and her 18-year-old daughter are as close as Mari and Misha are. It's even less often that they spend their Saturday nights playing dress up together in front of dozens of people. But if both Mari and Misha are anything, it's unique.
Misha gets her smile, her sense of humor, and her compassion from her mother. Mari tries to instill confidence, empathy, and independence in her daughter. These two women have transcended the typical mother/daughter relationship. They're best friends. They're partners. They are, in the truest sense of the word, soul mates. And both of them bring that soul with them to each and every performance.
"I'm grateful for everything my mom has ever done for me," Misha said. "No matter what I decided to start or get into, she always supported my decision and pushed me to go further. And whenever I decided I was done with what I was trying, she supported me through that as well. I'm thankful for her being my shoulder to cry on."
Mari feels the same way, and she wants her daughter to know just one thing.
"No matter what you do or where you go, I will always have your back and I will always, always, be proud of you."