Karen Lee Creates a Hullabaloo to Benefit the Lenox Library
Karen Lee is the Lady Gaga of Lenox. She’s the unlikely chair of an improbable fundraiser—Burlesque for Books—at the venerable, white-shoe Lenox Library on Saturday, March 27. The three-tiered evening features the music of Kristen Gray & Michael Raye, a performance by the Sugar Shack Burlesque from New York City, and a dance party in the reading room with DJ Bob Heck. “It’s a full night of entertainment—visually, aurally, sensually,” says Lee as she vamps on the steps of the 1815-16 Greek Revival brick library that was once the county courthouse and has been home to the library since 1874. Lee will be performing, too, with Mark Hohlstein and John Clarke in a piece called “Donut & Poke-a-Dottie.”
The daughter of a rabbi and a former trainer at Canyon Ranch, Lee is an actress, dancer, Pilates teacher, Lenox merchant, and mother of two adolescent boys. (“My son Max’s recent bar mitzvah was the best day of my life!” she says exuberantly). Lee is well-known in the Berkshires for her effervescent personality, which often shocks stoic New Englanders. “I’ve had to prove myself in this town,” says Lee who opened Pilates Central in 2002, which moved two years ago to 30 Church Street (across from Nudel.) “I think I was judged because I was independent and a single mom. I had to prove my talent. I had to learn to be a businesswoman to put food on the table for my two sons.” She says small town life is fueled by gossip: “Lenox is really Peyton Place. What happens on Cliffwood Street is like a Jane Austen novel.”
Lee seems to revel in defying convention. When she opened her business, she did not want to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops required to get a permit for a sign. “So I had a bubble machine coming out of my window to get people’s attention,” she recalls. While the teachers at the daycare center loved it as a stop on class outings, several merchants objected. “They thought I was ghastly,” she says. Nevertheless, it’s Lee’s bravado that the Lenox Library board is hoping will lure new supporters (from within Lenox and from nearby towns) because the Lenox Library Association depends on donations for 46% of its annual budget. “There’s a young guy at the circulation desk, Nic Fasano, who thought of asking me to organize a fundraiser. He wanted there to be an event that he would want to attend.”
But isn’t burlesque a bit, well, risqué for the reading room? “Burlesque done well is an art form,” says Lee. “It’s a form of expression and entertainment. At its best, it is satirical, smart and sexy—sexy as much for what you get as for what you don’t get. The women don’t give away their integrity. They don’t give away themselves. They give energy, joy and laughter. It’s not striptease. It’s not pole dancing. It’s not lap dancing.” With sponsors such as Blue Q, Fancy Pants, Peter Alvarez and the Red Lion Inn, Lee can afford to bring in lights, black curtains as well as café tables. “We want to make it feel as much like a speakeasy as possible,” she says. “What’s really nice is that the bookshelves and paintings will function like a set.”
Books are becoming a leitmotif for Lee who—in a demonstration of what she calls “karendipity”— has been cast to play Belle da Costa Greene, the personal librarian of J.P. Morgan whose sister, Sarah Morgan, built Ventfort Hall in Lenox. Greene was the woman who put together the collection at the Morgan Library in Manhattan. Lee will star in Revels and Revelations, a one-woman play by Juliane Hiam, which will run this summer at the Museum of the Gilded Age. “She was a librarian!” exclaims Lee. “Talk about life imitating art.”
Burlesque for Books
Saturday, March 27
18 Main Street; 413.637.2630
Tickets with reserved seating and table service are $100.
Other tickets are priced depending on when you arrive.
8 - 9 p.m Cocktails and nibbles with entertainment by Kristin Gray and Michael Raye ($50)
9 p.m. Sugar Shack Burlesque ($30)
10:30 p.m. Dance party with DJ Bob Heck and cash bar ($20)