As we count down to the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend, let’s find out more about the eleven talented temptresses competing for Reigning Queen! I have asked each of them about their lives, personalities, preparations and plans, so that those who don’t already know them well can learn a little about them and their work, and those of us who know them better can enjoy their thoughtful and entertaining responses. First up, Australian superstar, Imogen Kelly…
If I looked you up in a twinkling, rhinestone covered burlesque dictionary, what would the entry for ‘Imogen Kelly’ say?
Thankfully someone else would write that entry, but it would have to be something along the lines of being a daredevil pioneer, a scintillating rule breaker, and somewhere it would also have to mention that I’m a hell of a lot of fun.
Paint us a little picture of your everyday life and work in Oz…
Ha! There’s nothing everyday in my life really – every day is so different. I’m a full time mum, so there is the routine of child raising to consider, but outside of that I’m always getting on a plane to go somewhere to perform, promote or give a talk. I am also a local historian and create walking tours that focus on the wild side of Sydney’s history, including showgirl history, gangland history and a walk on the queer side. I also work in circus, sideshow and theatre – so there’s rarely a still moment.
What would you say is your greatest strength?
My self belief is definitely the core reason for my survival as an artist. I have a tenacity that is rare and I work very hard to maintain my dream lifestyle.
What has been the highlight or defining moment of your career to date, and also in your life overall?
Gosh – there have been so many. I think the moment I realised that I had so much potential was at the Edinburgh Festival 2004 when all these star performers from comedy, variety and cabaret – people who I completely idolised and would never in my dreams have thought I could make an impact upon – came up to me after my shows gushing with enthusiasm. Many were just so inspired which was very, VERY flattering. Prior to that I would never have assumed people outside of my own nightclubs would have had a moment for my ‘art’. It change my life as it changed my opinion of myself – as I said, I had no notion of my true potential. I thought I was just another performer and was getting ready to retire. To this day there are still billboards of my face all over Edinburgh at festival time and they always ask if I’ll come back. So if I win, that is the first tour I’ll be doing as I have a lot to give back.
Can you tell me a bit about your chosen act? Why have you chosen it, is it an old trusted act, or a new routine? Have you made any special changes or ‘upgrades’ to it for BHoF?
Actually this act is one I have been working hard to solve for about eight years. It’s very flamboyant, colourful and fun. It’s also a very technical act as so much can go wrong, so it’s a risk. I have been warned against making too many changes which made me laugh as the footage I sent basically shows me surviving a massive costume malfunction and is very funny. I just hope they don’t expect me to repeat that chaos. I will be doing the muchas speedy version too, as it’s normally an eight minute routine and I have to get it down to four minutes. It’s going to be a roller coaster, but it is an absolute joy to perform so I’m thrilled they picked it.
“My self belief is definitely the core reason for my survival as an artist. I have a tenacity that is rare and I work very hard to maintain my dream lifestyle.”
You competed last year for the first time – what was that first experience like? What has that experience taught you; do you plan to do anything differently this year, or adopt a different approach or attitude?
My first experience was of course very interesting. Everyone was very civil and some of the women in the dressing room were especially lovely. I hope that I feel as welcome as last time. The experience taught me not to attach too much to winning as you never know who you are up against and the event is so interesting and joyful. Some performers were gutted they didn’t win, but there can only be one winner. I had such a great time, I don’t think I would change a thing.
Is competing something you enjoy, or that pushes or encourages you to excel?
To be honest I’m a very big fish in a small pond in Australia, actually I’ve kind of run out of pond for myself. So I am looking for new ways to challenge myself and to get my work seen by a bigger audience, and you can’t get bigger than BHoF.
How would you spend your year as Queen – do you have any specific plans or goals if you win?
I have many plans. I’d like to do a world tour, create a new theatre show and just have the opportunity to show my work to the rest of the world. I also have a lot of plans for the Australian burlesque scene – ways to help it grow and flourish and to help other performers get their work into the world as well.
What are your dreams and hopes for burlesque in the future, and yourself as a part of it?
I hope burlesque keeps growing. Not necessarily in size but in style and flavour. I sometimes feel it has stagnated a little and I will always push performers to be as creative as they can, to work with integrity and to push boundaries of what we think is possible. The minute an audience think they can take you for granted you need to shake things up a bit, so I’m all for the shaking. This revival is very special after all, and I would only ever want to see burlesque be at the top of any audience’s list of things to watch – so it needs to keep evolving.
The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.