Inside D.C. entertainment

Katie Balloons is not abandoning D.C. for television

October 8, 2010 - 01:10 PM
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Katie Balloons in one of her dresses (Photo courtesy Katie Balloons)

Roink! Scrink! Wub-wub!

Katie Balloons is building a balloon dress for Saturday's Burst! party at Artisphere as we speak on the phone. She's had easier builds.

"I am in charge of making a couple of balloon costumes for a couple of nice young girls to wear," she says. "I usually wear the balloon costume."

She is a little out of sorts, but not about that: it's more that her first attempt at a dress was shot down by her "balloon captain": "I’m afraid I’ve more funky than I should have," she says.

You can't blame the balloon captain for having the yips: The Artisphere event is the backdrop to a show TLC is producing about balloon artists called Totally Twisted. In it, Katie Balloons, whose government name is Katie Laibstain, travels around the country with other "pioneers in the balloon industry," installing balloon art at various events. TLC suits are coming to Artisphere. Everything has to be just so.

And this is posing another problem for Laibstain, who does plenty of children's parties and family events but has an entirely different act for grownups, such as those she does for D.C. party admirals Brightest Young Things. The producers want her to tone down the balloon burlesque number she's supposed to perform.

"Usually when I do this," she says, "I show a little skin."

"I don’t know how i’m gonna feel doing a dry version for this crowd," she says. "I’m actually contemplating skipping it."

She asks me what I would do. I've never been in a comparable situation, I tell her. That said, it's kind of hard to imagine TV producers running away from an attractive young woman who's not shy about public nudity.

Addi Somekh, a balloon artist in Los Angeles (warning: visiting his website will inflate your browser), had the idea for the show; he asked Laibstain to come to New Orleans and help him make a "sizzle clip" that eventually sold the show. She and Somekh, along with San Francisco balloon artist Brian Asman, have formed a super company called New Balloon Art for the show.

Laibstain says business was fine before television ("It's not that it's gonna help my business, it's going to change my business," she says. "I was and I am Washington, D.C.’s greatest balloon artist, and I have no intention of abandoning my client base"). If some out-of-town gigs arise because of this, great.

Five years ago, Laibstain got into the balloon business "out of necessity. I had to pay the bills somehow." The idea of combining balloons with burlesque appealed to her.

"I spent some time in the sex industry working as a go-go dancer," she says. "The thing about being a go-go dancer is when you spend two years doing it you’ve got a master's degree in it. You don’t want to waste that master's degree."

Laibstain says she's turned down an invitation to appear on America's Got Talent ("I think it could be a small mistake to contaminate my newfound art with it," she says, and anyway, "I don’t know what act to pull out besides showing some skin") and is hoping TLC will grant her some creative freedom, especially when it comes to future dresses. She understands the constraints of the format, though.

"It's a 21-minute show," she says. "It's really not enough time for a lot of personal drama."

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