Raven Noir: Burlesque in the Blood
Raven Noir, gothic mistress of northern Burlesque in the UK, sits down with Ivy Wilde to discuss her stage persona, opulent costumes, inspirations and renowned annual Blackpool show Burlesque Noir.
After stumbling across burlesque, when a friend roped her into a ten week course for moral support, stage shy Raven discovered a family secret and realised her destiny as a burlesque performer was calling.
IW: So how did it all begin?
RN: When I started to perform I knew burlesque would become, by some strange hand of fate, something I was incredibly passionate about and had immense respect for. I visited my beloved mum and was sure she would somehow dismiss my new passion but to my surprise she told me that my great grandmother was also a burlesque performer who had performed in 1910/20s. After marrying, she was told that not only could she no longer perform but she was never to speak of it.
My great grandmother kept to her word, apart from stories she secretly told my mother, and my mum regaled me with these and told me of the fan she would play with when my granddad was out of the house. The incredible story of my great grandmother Lilly was an inspirational catalyst that started a thirst for knowledge about burlesque and its history.
You’re known for your extravagant costumes with a gothic twist, can you tell me the inspiration and influences behind those?
I take influence from all manner of things, places, people and cultures. I love the Gothic Movement. Everything from the architecture to the clothing, the Victorian and Edwardian era and old world circus sideshow heavily influence me, as well some of our bygone legends like Gypsy Rose Lee, Zorita, Little Egypt, Josephine Baker, and of course our living legend Tempest Storm .
Other influences come from places such as Las Vegas and its multitude of showgirls who are, to say the least, visually stunning. On a stranger note, other worldly beings influence me; folklore, the supernatural and my very pagan roots!
Burlesque is about entertaining your audience, both visually and with the power of suggestion. Costuming is paramount; to walk onstage and to visually captivate your audience at first sight before movement has even begun is a very powerful tool. I feel the character that I am on stage manifests as slow and elegant and this feels organic as my stage persona.
I have been who I am and hoped audiences would like what I do, and have honestly never truly thought of where I would fit into the UK scene. I have found my place and hopefully I can inspire other performers to be themselves and not try to fill a slot or place within the community.
I found what naturally felt right, and I accept that my style of performance is not going to be to everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s ok. If I tried to cover all bases I think it would in some way dilute who Raven Noir is. There is a place for everyone in the scene, ice cream comes in all flavours and everyone has a different favourite.
What are your thoughts about the UK scene currently?
The UK scene has a lot to offer, it’s rich in talent and extremely diverse. Burlesque has a long and strong history and has changed and evolved into the art it is today, with each performer adding their own personality to the melting pot. We are inclusive and open to new ideas and concepts, and have lots of forums that offer help and advice. We have such a strong community which grows by the day and I am proud to be a part of it.
What inspired you to start Burlesque Noir?
I always wanted to run a show of my own, where everyone felt included and could see some of the best acts from around the world. I was inspired by the old music halls, the Victorian vaudevillian magnificence, or at least what these places were in my imagination!
I had envisioned a show of grandeur where people could relax and be themselves, whether that was expressed through dressing up to the nines or arriving in jeans and a jumper. A non-judgmental space where everyone could be themselves and watch a fantastic show.
It was really important to me that my shows are affordable, I’d like everyone to be able to come see an amazing show in an amazing venue at an amazing price – and I do my absolute utmost to keep ticket prices as low as possible. I also give a platform for up and coming performers to perform on stage, and as part of this I run a competition once a year called Rising Stars, the winner of which gets to perform at the ballroom.
The experience for performers is also very important to me. I run a no bullying policy that includes passive aggressive behaviour. I haven’t needed it so far but I would like all performers, stage managers, assistants and crew to feel comfortable and on even pegging. In my eyes we are all equal – we all have different skill sets and strengths.
You’ve booked big name US performers as headliners for your last two Blackpool shows; is this to showcase US talent in the UK?
As Burlesque Noir is an annual show, I like to offer something a little different that you can’t see every weekend somewhere in the UK. I book an exclusive that you can only see at Burlesque Noir; that way my audience are getting something different.
Burlesque Noir is still in its infancy. We have only been running for three years, so it has fallen that our last two headliners have come from the US: the legend Tempest Storm, and Jo Boobs Weldon. Our first headliner was our home-grown Immodesty Blaze, and this year I’m thrilled to say that we have Miss Exotic World 2010 Roxi D’Lite headlining our show.
The Blackpool Tower Ballroom is a beautiful, iconic northern venu; it must be very rewarding and at the same time very challenging to produce shows big enough to do the space justice.
The Ballroom, simply put, is the most amazing ballroom in the world! Everything inspires me about the ballroom, from the history of the place, the décor, the people who have graced its stage, to its magnificent splendour. When I first walked into that room it quite literally took my breath way. It’s one of the most well preserved ballrooms of its kind.
I knew when I finally put a show on of my own I wanted it to be a spectacular venue that was in itself an inspiration. The Ballroom is that kind of venue. The Tower itself is inspired by the Eiffel Tower and opened its doors to the public in 1894, with the ballroom we know and love today opening 1899. The whole place has an air of old world grandeur about it, in every little detail. The oversized angels that live in the rafters are my favourites.
Choosing acts is extremely difficult; there are so many amazing acts out there that I love, but some of the acts wouldn’t translate well on the stage of its size. The acts have to have balance so the bill has a bit of something for everyone. The audience is such a mix and the acts have to reflect that. I am constantly learning with every show that I put on and we already have some amazing acts lined up for Burlesque Noir 2017, and are on the lookout for 2018.
What are the standout moments for you from your Blackpool shows so far?
I already have such treasured moments from my shows. Looking out from the stage and seeing a sea of beautiful faces looking back at me and enjoying something I have created is a feeling I will never tire of. As I get older I am sure it is a memory that will stay with me forever.
I am so lucky to have met such amazing performers and people. One of the times I cherish the most is my time with Tempest Storm and listening to her tell amazing stories in the week we spent together.
By the end of the visit we had become friends, although the first morning I had breakfast with her was very awkward. I got a little star struck and was fumbling to eat my full English. She asked if I was ok, and the ice was broken by my reply: ‘How do I eat a sausage in front of Tempest Storm?!’
What do you see in the future of Burlesque Noir?
I like to plan year by year, but one of the most important things to keep going in the future is to give new and upcoming talent a chance to share such a historical stage with world class performers, and to perform to such a large and varied audience. This year’s Burlesque Noir is an all-star cast of burlesque performers bringing their own unique style to the Tower Ballroom on 7th October, hosted by the one and only Joe Black, and I am so delighted and excited to have Roxi D’Lite as our headliner.
I’d really love to use Burlesque Noir to give back to the community. This year we will be raising money for one of the oldest surviving music halls, The Britannia Panopticon, the world’s oldest surviving music hall, in Glasgow. It’s hosted some of the biggest names on the circuit; Stan Laurel’s first appearance on amateur night for example. In its heyday it had a freak show, a roof top carnival, waxworks and indoor zoo!
It’s very important to me that I give back to the community which has given me so much, and preserving historical buildings where burlesquers past have tread the boards seems to me quite fitting – that sense of looking back to look forward.
Raven Noir interviewed by Ivy Wilde.