It’s that time of year again when the ten wonderful women selected to compete for Miss Exotic World, Reigning Queen of Burlesque face my pre-pageant interview. This year, the contenders were sent twenty questions, composed of a question contributed by each of them and some additional questions from previous Miss Exotic World title-holders. Finally, we have the beautiful Burgundy Brixx…
21st Century Burlesque Magazine Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2014 Coverage is sponsored by Fancy Feather.
Your signature style in three words: Hmm. Either ‘Love the audience’ or ‘Bag of tricks’!
Previous BHoF Weekend appearances (and awards, if any): 2010: Thursday. 2012 and 2013: Reigning Queen of Burlesque competition
The act you will be performing: ‘The Spirit of Ecstasy’ – a piece originally inspired by an episode of Antiques Roadshow which led me to a fascinating and celebratory airstream of research and creativity!
What did you want to be as a kid?
A ballerina or a filmmaker.
What is your earliest memory of rebellion?
The year I was graduating from high school, the doorbell rang one day and I answered it. At the door were representatives of the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus. They were there to present me with a gold crucifix necklace as an award for never getting into trouble and upholding Christian ideals in the community. As I stared blankly at them, I decided right then and there that I did not want to go through life being remembered for following all the rules.
If you could pick celebrity parents (alive or dead, any era) who would they be?
I already think of my parents as superstars, but I guess I’d go with Jim Henson and Dame Judy Dench.
What is one thing most people do not know about you?
My real name.
What is your guilty pleasure?
The Guess Who.
Is there a rock/music star that influences you? If so, who is it and how do they influence you?
David Byrne. He could easily have rested on his fame with The Talking Heads but he is constantly creating new works and involving himself in projects and collaborations with other artists who challenge him and feed his desire to create and re-invent his art. I also love and respect that he has remained a very private public person in spite of his fame.
What is integral to your creative process in burlesque?
For me, the process of designing and creating my costumes is completely integral to my process. Once I have a strong concept and theme for a new number, I start sourcing visual inspiration and materials. As I work on the costume, I listen to the music I’ve chosen over and over; sometimes there is more than one piece of music and I haven’t decided which one(s) to use. As I listen and sew, I begin to experience visualisations of different ways the costume and music can serve each other. Often times my initial design concept changes drastically as I allow the different mediums and senses of sound, sight and touch to speak to me.
What do you want people to remember most about your performances when you are dead and gone?
That I transported them to a magical place. That my performances helped them to open their hearts and recognise that their own sensuality should be celebrated under a full, glorious spotlight and not hidden in the darkness.
How long does it take for you to get into hair and makeup for a show? (Don’t lie, we all know you’re a diva… we all are, darling.)
Ideally I love to have a solid two hours, but I can sparkle up in fifteen minutes if I need to!
Do you have any traditional pre-show ritual that you do to calm your nerves or bring luck?
I don’t believe in luck in regards to performing, but I do have ways of centering myself ritualistically before I perform. Having the time to sit down and do my hair and makeup is one of them. It’s the time when I become Burgundy, and I prefer not to rush that. I also take the time to mentally run my performance while I prepare, manifesting positive energy toward any highly technical moves, visualising them going flawlessly. Before stepping onstage I breathe deeply and direct my breathing through my sensual core so that the energy warms me and pulls me forward into my performance.
‘I like to get up to a fair amount of hijinks on the road; what is your favourite tour story?’
Most tour stories for me involve ridiculous late night encounters at terrible restaurants. One evening my friend and I were starving after the show and the only place open near the hotel was the drive-through window of a fast food restaurant. Since we were on a tour bus and the driver was asleep, we decided we had no choice but to walk through the drive-through. They told us we couldn’t, that we needed a car. I got belligerent (read ‘hangry’) and strongly suggested that was discrimination against people without cars and that I would sue them. They grudgingly agreed to take our order and we moved up on foot in the car line towards the window. At this time a woman pulled in behind us and began honking at us. She pulled her car up so close it was grazing the backs of our legs. She honked again and yelled, ‘Get out of the f-ing way!’ I turned around and shouted that we had ordered food and were next in line. She honked again shouting, ‘You don’t have a car, you can’t have any food! Move your f-ing asses or I’ll run you down!’ I politely shouted that if she did that, she would end up in prison where there wasn’t any Burger King at all and wouldn’t she be sad since it was clearly all she lived for. She shouted back more incohesive expletives, peppering her shouting with more ear-splitting honking. We stepped up to the window, paid and took our food from the terrified clerk. The woman behind us was now screaming at the top of her lungs and laying on the horn with all of her considerable force. I calmly picked up the soda that came with my meal (which I did not want anyway), turned and chucked it full force at her windshield. It exploded in a wild array of sticky brown cola splatter, enraging the woman to open her car door and attempt to stumble out. My friend and I ran like bloody hell and disappeared into the darkness, slipping silently into the safety of our hotel with our hard-won, french-fried booty.
For whom you would like to perform if you could pick anyone, and why?
My late great uncle Ray. He was a great supporter of the arts and lived near Washington DC. He worked for Dupont Chemicals and was part of the team that invented the stretch material Lycra (which we dancers can truly not live without!). Ray was passionate and flamboyant, and always a bit of a black sheep in the family. So I liked him. He genuinely loved hearing about my dance recitals and choir concerts and plays, and told me that one day I should visit, and he’s take me to the BA-llet (I’d never heard anyone pronounce it that way!) I think he would have adored the glamour, the costumes, the sparkle and the artistry of my particular style of burlesque. I’m always so sorry I never got to know him and befriend him as an adult.
Old school or new school?
Pure fusion, baby.
What is your competitive strategy?
NOT to compete. Art is completely relative and my friends and peers are all uniquely phenomenal artists who I love and respect. There is no way to know who the judges may be and where their particular tastes may lie, so all I can do is prepare my number to the very best of my abilities, and once onstage, give my heart fully to the audience and enjoy the great gift of being able to share my art with a dazzling room full of my illustrious peers.
You’ve imagined yourself performing at the pageant and doing a GREAT show. And then suddenly, they are placing that tiara upon your head. What was it about you, your show and your performance that put you in first place, and how have you been preparing to make that fantasy a reality?
I already consider myself to be an ambassador for the art form of burlesque – that is nothing new and certainly wouldn’t change. This past year has been filled with performing, teaching, producing, and serving as president of the board of directors for this year’s Vancouver International Burlesque Festival. I continue to strive to create and sustain opportunities for other performers within burlesque, which I feel brings me closer to the responsibility I would feel as an official ambassador to the Burlesque Hall of Fame. In short, I am ready.
If you are selected as this year’s Miss Exotic World, what will you try to accomplish to make your mark on the title and how do you plan to distinguish yourself?
I’m always working to try to broaden the world’s comprehension of the art form we call burlesque, in all its myriad shades and flavours. This past year I earned my Canadian Permanent Residency for producing burlesque and thereby creating jobs, which I think is a milestone. I would direct any potential notoriety towards gently educating the public how, if approached professionally, the art of burlesque can benefit the mainstream arts through its unique medium of expression and ability to challenge the creative mind. I would like to see burlesque respected and understood, not used just as a word attached to some other event to sell tickets. I would like to see a global movement towards a celebration of the sensual self and the subtle elegance of the human body rather than a nudity-for-shock-value society that, for all its liberal pretensions, still shames and scandalises the very same celebrities it ogles.
As Queen, how would you consider using your title to spread the word about The Burlesque Hall of Fame and Museum?
In any art form, the past informs the present and paves the way to the future. As burlesque gains popularity, it is imperative we strive to share the connection to our history with a broader audience. Since burlesque has been such an accessible, DIY art form, I see that countless new performers and organisations using the word have little or no understanding of what it truly encompasses. I would like to encourage theatre education programs to delve more deeply into the history of burlesque and to create outreach programs that connect the Burlesque Hall of Fame with other museums and educational institutes, potentially sharing exhibits and learning from each others’ collections. In a world of digital and virtual global communication, the tangible may seem antiquated until you feel the power of holding history in your hand.
About Fancy Feather
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.