The Wonderful Strippers of OZ on the Yellow Brick Road to BHoF
Australian Queen of Burlesque Imogen Kelly is a woman with a very special cause…
If I have a file at The Australian Council of The Arts I am sure they have branded it ‘Dirty Stripper’ with a big caution sticker sealing it shut. If I wasn’t a dirty stripper, I could get a government grant. Such is the state of the arts in Australia. In fact there are many arts and performing arts grants that would be open to me if I wasn’t getting my clothes off and showing my bare posterior to applauding fans. Thankfully, Australians like looking at my near naked tosh and have happily financially supported my artistic streakings for decades. IN FACT, IT’S MY SILVER JUBILEE YEAR AS A BURLESQUE PERFORMER! WOOHOO!
Why is a performing arts grant essential for performing artists in Australia? We are an isolated western nation. In many ways the isolation is good for us. Like all of the flora and fauna that has evolved on this desert nation, the artists here are also unique and wondrous. In other ways, though, if you want your art to grow, you HAVE to travel. If you want to be a part of the global burlesque community you HAVE to leave Australia. This costs A LOT of money. That’s why performing arts grants were set up in the first place. So the arts in Australia could grow.
I think burlesque artists in the artistic stronghold that is Burly Oz DO deserve, and need, the same financial assistance as other performing artists in this country. From my experience, financial assistance can play a major role in talented performers reaching the next level of their careers, especially if you live on the other side of the world to where all of the action is happening and there is a huge ocean getting in the way of you making a name for yourself.
I guess I see it most affecting who does and who does not apply for BHoF. Some of our best just simply can’t afford it.
Now I’m not crying poor us, because to go to The Burlesque Hall of Fame is still a pleasure, a privilege and it is a choice we individually make. The magical thing when Aussies start to attend BHoF is they start to not only value American burlesque history, but also start to wonder about their own country’s history, which is of huge importance to someone like myself.
They start to understand the value of their community, and how truly lucky they are that they are here now enjoying a world that has come to accept burlesque. They start to realise that Australia has a small but healthy circuit, with very few opportunities, but that we are capable of making brilliant work. So their confidence grows and with it their entire careers blossom. And that is all good for Burly Oz.
As Australia’s ongoing Queen of Burlesque and Miss Exotic World 2012, I am so thrilled to see that four Australians are competing in this year’s BHoF – with myself included in the Superstars Showcase – that makes five of us on stage! Not bad for such a tiny community.
I have started an initiative that will be a yearly ‘grant’. It’s a fund raising initiative for WHOEVER manages to get into the weekender. The funds raised are split evenly between the contestants and if we make extra it will be donated to BHoF itself. I really think this year is going to be a good year for the burlesque community of OZ. So with that in mind I have created BHOZ – The Burly Hopefuls of OZ. As you can see, the artists themselves came up with a pretty fabulous concept to help push it all along – The Wizards of Oz.
May I introduce to you our Lady Lioness Alyssa Kitt, our fabulous Gentleman Scarecrow, Charlie D’Barkle (who has no shortage of brains), The Tin Tart with a Big Heart, Zelia Rose (Miss Burlesque Australia- not remotely a tart but it’s catchy) and playing the Delectable Dorothy, Sina King.
To Most Australians the name Alyssa Kitt is synonymous with the next wave of rising burlesque stars. Described as ‘fierce, formidable and bawdy’ by some – ‘the golden haired dream made of curves and cream’ is truly inspiring and fabulous. Alyssa has a string of awards under her belt as a performer, including 1st runner up in 2014 Miss Burlesque Australia, Miss Classic 2014 and Miss Burlesque Queensland 2012.
Alyssa has just moved from her hometown of Brisbane to Sydney to study her other passion – journalism. So she’s fierce on the inside too. In fact it is Alyssa’s warmth both onstage and off that lights up our hearts. Alyssa is a mere 25 years old and started performing in 2008.
“Burlesque to me has always been a fantasy land … it was like opening Pandora’s box of creativity. I began researching, going to shows, creating costumes and never looked back.”
Alyssa is a very classic performer (“This works really well next to my history degree.”) Alyssa is also a very proud plus-size lady. “In this media-saturated age, there are not a huge amount of positive plus-size figures present. I am here to present an alternative view of beauty and glamour to an audience and allow all women to learn that their bodies are beautiful, no matter what shape or size.”
When asked if Australia’s isolation from the rest of the world made our careers difficult Alyssa responded, “Absolutely. We have our own little world down under but still follow what’s going on overseas. While the online community has substantially closed the gap, nothing beats making the physical trip and performing at festivals and connecting with fellow performers face to face. I’d love to travel to perform in festivals every year but it’s very expensive.”
This year Alyssa Kitt will be competing in Debut with her Follies tribute. If one could whip up a delectable sundae of sensuality and smiles, Alyssa would be it.
Playing Scarecrow we have a gent from Perth, the current Mr Burlesque Australia, Charlie D Barkle, competing for Best Boylesque. Charlie grew up training as a musician playing classical guitar and percussion and singing as a bit of a hobby; he picked up drama in high school, and post high school launched himself into a career in theatre and music. As well as exposure, through theatre, to many great directors, Charlie has studied at the WA Academy of Performing Arts and trained as a classical singer. “I call myself a performer in the truest and most general sense of the word.”
He began his burlesque life as an all-essential Man Prop (three cheers for the man prop!). He was one day approached by Australia’s premier burlesque school Sugar Blue. “They informed me that I was going to be doing a solo ‘song and dance’ style act at their next show. I obliged and the rest, as they say, is history.”
That was only in 2012. In a few short years he has not only conquered Mr Boylesque Australia but now has been accepted to BHoF! That’s no minor feat!
Being of a theatre background myself I really enjoy Charlie’s work, and am excited that he has aspirations for burlesque in Australia. Simply put Charlie is hot intelligentsia and a dream to work with. Charlie was the first person I thought of when I recently needed a giant slug puppet to eat me onstage. He met the challenge with glee! He and the Slug were one!
Charlie acknowledges his difference. “I feel that my particularly odd and broad set of skills places me in a unique position. I have aspirations of being a producer and director, creating touring burlesque shows and subsequently raising the profile of Australian performers on the international stage.”
When asked if our geographic isolation affected our artistic potential, his answer was this: “Absolutely, but it is not a difficulty that we can’t overcome; social media plays a big part in bringing us all together. I guess the hardest part is travel. Suffice to say that distance is hard, as a performer from the most isolated capital city in the world, Perth. It occurs to me that the biggest issue facing Australian performers is money rather than distance. It seems that money begets recognition which begets opportunity and subsequently breaks down the distance between us all.”
Like a rocket ship flying in from out of the blue is the incredible Zelia Rose. Now, this lass has appeared out of nowhere to completely take our collective breath away. I can only say that I think – we all think – she is incredible. She is the current Miss Burlesque Australia. None of us know where this beauty came from; it was like the teleport in Star Trek broke down and beamed down a glorious hottie! We are all soooooo excited she is going to BHoF. Meanwhile Zelia has no idea of how this is all happening – so hold onto your rocket ship, Zelia. You’re about to blast off all over again.
Zelia, a Melbourne lass, is 25 years old and comes from a background of dance. “I have always focused on dance throughout life as it’s something that grounds me and makes me feel alive. I don’t know where I would be without it. Further on I also became a vocalist and acknowledged an interest in theatre and cabaret which branching into learning circus, physical theatre and fire performance.”
Zelia has been performing burlesque for around two years but, like Charlie, has been a performing artist in other genres and forms for many years. “Burlesque gave me the opportunity to explore solo performance and to formulate ideas, views, themes and storytelling into a performance. Most importantly you get to do all this whilst being a spectacular showgirl. Burlesque opened an opportunity for me to combine all my skills and my love for eras gone by. I’m a tragic nostalgic.”
Zelia is competing in Debut with a fantastic tribute to the patron saint of all showgirls, Josephine Baker. “At first it was a scary thought becoming a solo performer who created and performed a self made act that you hoped people would like, but I’ve found it to be thrilling and rewarding and it’s helped me define who I am as an artist. The best thing about performing for me is being able to captivate and inspire people in the process, which to me is the most rewarding.”
Yup – definitely feeling inspired. She’s awesome.
Finally we have Sina King as Dorothy competing for Miss Exotic World/Reigning Queen. Now, I’m pretty excited by this act. It’s unusual, visually powerful, regal and sensual. It’s one of my favourite acts this year and as always from an unexpected source. Sina is full of surprises.
For those of you who may not know Sina, she competed in BHoF Debut in 2013. This is her first year competing for Reigning Queen. Sina began performing as a child and has studied tap, jazz, ballet, contemporary, musical theatre, completed the Commonwealth Society of Teachers of Dancing (C.S.T.D) examinations in Tap and Jazz and performed and competed in various dance competitions and events over two decades before burlesque. No wonder she has chosen to throw herself at the biggest burlesque competition in the world. Competing is in her blood. Once again, here we have another lady with oodles of skill and experience.
Once again Sina was an artist who just shot out of a cannon in 2012 when she took out the title for Miss Burlesque Australia as a complete unknown in burly land. Even at that she was a wild card! It was an unexpected win. For Sina, Burlesque gives her a platform “to combine my passions for sensuality, fashion, performing, choreography, music, and storytelling into one expression. It will be my four year anniversary next week!” Happy anniversary Sina!
Her comment on the constant outlay and travel: “It’s a little harder for the Aussies as we have to go there (abroad) to meet people. It would be nice to have a burly teleportation system.” Hmmm… let’s ask Zelia…
My little initiative has so far raised over $1000! That’s $250 per performer. So we are all very thankful, but there is still more to go. The performers have all covered their own airfares which range from $1500 – $3000 return to Oz. My aim is to have their accommodation, per diems and airport transfers covered. 24 hours of flying is pretty hardcore; they deserve a cab ride at the other end. So if you have $20 you can donate to our little cause we are extremely thankful.
In closing, the BHoZ perfomers would like to say words of thanks to BHoF and the global community for their support.
“I’m struggling to put into words how deeply honoured I am. It is a dream come true to perform on the Vegas stage in front of my idols, peers and best friends. It’s the holy grail for the burlesque community, especially for international performers.” Alyssa Kitt
In being accepted to compete, Charlie D’ Barkle is “Overwhelmed, even now it seems very surreal. I still see myself as a relative newcomer to the scene and to be accepted to perform alongside and against some of my idols and performers that provide inspiration to me is both terrifying and amazing. As I was mentioning before I feel that attending BHoF immeasurably helps to raise Australia’s profile. As performers accepted to BHoF we are ambassadors of the Australian burlesque industry.”
Miss Australia Burlesque, Zelia Rose put it very simply: “I didn’t expect it but I’m very honoured to be chosen and so excited to make my international debut.”
And from Ms Sina King: “I feel awesome to go back again. It’s such a huge challenge to entertain a ferociously fabulous crowd of entertainers from such a huge stage. It’s a great feeling to be a part of the history of such an important and magical event. It’s a showcase of talent and representing Australia also represents the talent in our country and demonstrates the calibre of entertainers a (country) has.”
So yes, we are all very proud to be attending The Burlesque Hall of Fame this year. I personally can’t wait to see you all – and yes, I am packing a big act, a huge smile, a big heart and my new set of titanium boobs… and whatever booze I can stash off the plane.
Much love and thanks, Queen Imogen 1st.
Fundraising event on May 24th in Sydney Australia: (We are kindly accepting donations of costumes, pasties, signed photos etc for the auction. Please get in touch with me on FB if you have anything you would like to donate. )