The Would-Be Queens: 20 Questions with Ophelia Flame (BHoF 2014)
21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene…
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. Next up is the candid and captivating Ophelia Flame…
21st Century Burlesque Magazine Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2014 Coverage is sponsored by Fancy Feather.
Your signature style in three words: Passionate, consistent, versatile. Absurd, lascivious, fluid. Ready, aim, fire.
Previous BHOF weekend appearances and awards (if any):
1999 competitor – ‘Pacheco’ (Miss Exotic World, Second Runner-Up).
2004 competitor – ‘Ran Kan Kan’.
2007 competitor – ‘Matador’.
2008 showcase – ‘Tequila’.
2009 competitor – ‘Purple Fans’.
2010 competitor – ‘Big Pink’.
2011 competitor – ‘Copy That’.
2012 competitor – ‘Phoenix’ (Reigning Queen of Burlesque, First Runner-Up).
2014 competitor – ‘More’.
The act you will be performing: Well I wouldn’t be much of a tease if I told you now would I? I will say this act showcases my darker, dirtier side. Its inspiration comes from my young love of The Road Warrior and Paul Stanley. Since working with Danial Hellman on my ‘Phoenix’ costume I really enjoy collaborating with fellow artists. I had a blast and learned a lot co-designing this costume with local designer Sean Bolte and my dear friend and sexy style maven Elektra Cute. The feathers were sponsored by Fancy Feather.
What did you want to be as a kid?
What is your earliest memory of rebellion?
People might be surprised to hear I wasn’t very rebellious, but I guess that’s somewhat subjective based on your parents’ tolerance level. I really had no need to rebel. My hippie parents were always supportive, open-minded and cool. Although, as a teen in the eighties, being a girl with a mohawk and an early adopter of Straight Edge was pretty rebellious during a time when most of my friends were experimenting with drugs and drinking. Now I see toddlers with mohawks – little posers!
If you could pick celebrity parents (alive or dead, any era) who would they be?
Miss Astrid and the Dalai Lama.
What is one thing most people do not know about you?
If I actually had a thing, it’s unlikely I’d share it with you here, but sitting around a campfire I’d surely spill the beans. And I might tell you my secrets, too.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I am utterly without guilt when it comes to pleasures, but if I had to pick something perhaps it would be this.
Is there a rock/music star that influences you? If so, who is it and how do they influence you?
My father is a musician and was recently inducted into the Minnesota Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, so music has always been such a huge part of my life. I grew up in smoky bars, backstage and at sound checks. Proudly showing my age, my very first concert was Kiss (’78) followed by Prince (’81).
Minneapolis has always had an amazing music scene, which is, of course, an influence and great source of pride. How could it not be with bands like this from your hometown: The Andrews Sisters, Bob Dylan, The Trashmen, The Castaways, Soul Asylum, The Replacements, Semisonic, Jayhawks, Prince, The Time, Vanity Six, Hüsker Dü, Dillinger Four, Babes in Toyland, Polica, Doomtree, Atmosphere, and Brother Ali. That’s some serious inspiration and influence.
What do you want people to remember most about your performance when you’re dead and gone?
Dead and gone? You are some ass-dark people. The truth is, I’ve been drinking the blood of vestal virgins for sometime now, which is why at my tender age of 71 I appear so young. I don’t expect to ever die and plan to look fabulous for all eternity.
What is integral to your creative process in burlesque?
Music, passion and trusted feedback have always been top on my list, but I recently added another, REST. It took me a while to figure out how essential it is to take a break. The trouble with any art is there’s no endgame. As artists our wheels are constantly churning, turning, building, thinking, scheming and reinventing. It’s so important to allow yourself to jump off the freight train, stop and take an honest look at the landscape. However, this can be terrifying!
I think the reason we rarely rest is the notion that we might lose our skill or become forgotten. But if we don’t rest and look for new inspirations we run the risk of drowning in the desires of our own egos. We can then become motivated by masochistic one-upmanship, and pissing matches, and lose sight of our true vision. I have been both the giver and receiver of this bad behaviour. Resting requires some intuition, strength, faith, self-confidence and an ability to let go. Had I known this would be so liberating and rewarding, I would have done it sooner!
How long does it take you to get into hair and make up for a show? (Don’t lie, we all know you’re a diva… we all are, darling.)
Ugh. I find high maintenance divas a complete bore. One of my greatest ironies is that while Ophelia Flame appears to be a glamorous and graceful lady, I am really a troublemaking teenage boy trapped in a middle-aged woman’s body. I swear almost constantly, enjoy distance spitting and fart jokes. I hate getting ready. It is my goal to bang out the hottest look possible as quickly as humanly possible. I mean really, why waste time looking at myself when you could be buying me a drink?
Do you have any traditional pre-show ritual that you do to calm your nerves or bring luck?
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama… Google that shit. Or perhaps come to Burlycon or Playful Peacock Showgirl Academy and take my class, ‘Calm The Fuck Down: Overcoming Stage Fright!’
I like to get up to a fair amount of hijinks on the road; what is your favourite tour story?
Grand Canyon. $10,000 cash. A bag of mushrooms. And a full moon.
But seriously… while I’ve enjoyed many wonderful and barely legal adventures on the road, some of my best memories are when others visit my humble abode in Minneapolis. I love hosting visiting performers. We don’t have to break any rules, because there aren’t any!
For whom would you like to perform if you could pick anyone, and why?
The BHoF audience, for sure. As a stripper I’ve done both stage and private dances for rock stars ranging from Metallica to Madonna, ZZ Top to Scott Hamilton (yes, it was as strange and awkward as you’d imagine!), but the most wonderful, terrifying, supportive, loving, judgmental and enthusiastic audiences on the planet are those at the BHoF weekend. This is who I want to perform for, continue to learn from and be devoured by. I have had the honour of performing for the Best Audience in the World many times and the connection, pressure, energy, enthusiasm and reward is utterly intoxicating.
Old school or new school?
What is your competitive strategy?
Having been in this competition eight times and not taken the title, clearly I don’t have a strategy! Or at least not a good one! But at risk of sounding trite, I have learned a lot about myself, the nature of performance and competition. It’s a paradox: no one enters a contest without hope that they might actually win, and I am no exception. However, other than doing my personal best, there truly is no strategy. I want to be recognised for my hard work, but I have learned that the work is the reward itself, that I am indeed fortunate to be recognised, and that the title doesn’t define my success. Knowing that on a deep level is my only strategy.
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?
In quiet circles (and some not so quiet) there’s much ado surrounding the selection and judging process of the pageant. People are asking, does luck really decide who will be the best representative of our organisation? Like an Olympic sport you’ve trained your little stripper heart out, but one small slip and it’s all over? Or should it, as the name Hall of Fame implies, honour people for their body of work and contribution to the legacy of burlesque, like a Lifetime Achievement award at the Oscars? I understand all of these perspectives and, while I’d like to win, I remain neutral. Because at the end of the day it’s about selling tickets to support the museum, and competitions are exciting!
I will also say that for me a perfect performance is not defined as a flawless one. While I always strive for my very best show, as an audience member I’m quite intrigued when something goes wrong. I am fascinated, especially with skilled performers, to see how they get out of a pickle. How they respond shows ingenuity, skill, confidence and sometimes even makes an act better! Is the best sex defined by a well-choreographed routine? Of course not. We are sexual magicians, magically transforming ourselves before our viewer’s very eye. This should be present, raw and viscerally passionate.
I believe I should win because, frankly, I deserve it. But the truth is, every single person in the competition deserves to win first place, as well as many people who were not selected this year. Just getting in is the greatest hurdle! All of us are experienced, talented, and prepared. So it comes down to a few fleeting moments onstage… and that, my friends, is destiny.
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?
If I am fortunate enough to win the title, I plan to dedicate my year to all things BHoF. I enjoy teaching, planning, and fundraising and would welcome opportunities to speak on behalf of BHoF. I’d like to help create a BHoF Tour, a worldwide roving museum installation and events featuring legends across the globe. That might be dreaming big, but I’d love to help make it happen.
As Queen, how would you consider using your title to spread the word about The Burlesque Hall of Fame and Museum?
I’ve been spreading the word about the Burlesque Hall of Fame since the day I stepped foot on the Exotic World goat farm in 1999. I have been a stripteaser my entire adult life, and while it hasn’t always been in fashion and is often met with criticism, I think it’s honourable work. It’s something I’m proud of, am passionate about and genuinely believe is an art form, rich in history worth preserving. At the end of the day, I do it because it’s who I am. I’ll do whatever I can to support BHoF, the museum, the legends, and the new wave of performers. Through my school, The Playful Peacock Showgirl Academy, I think I do this well and will continue to do so regardless of whether I’m awarded any title or receive recognition.
About Fancy Feather
21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.