The Burlesque Ball, 2011 is almost upon us – an annual Australian tour of grand spectacle and all-star international headliners. Founder and producer, Jac Bowie discusses the Ball’s beginnings, highlights and future direction, after recently announcing that this year’s Ball will be the last…
When and why did you create The Burlesque Ball? What were your priorities and initial ambitions?
To cut a very long story short: I was a single mother and an avid lover of burlesque. I was attending shows, but always wishing for an event that used big production, props, and where the audience all got in the mood. One night I was supposed to go to the Variety Club Ball, and spent the night instead working on a crazy idea called ‘The Burlesque Ball’. I researched and planned a whole year before my first show in 2006.
I had no money, so used MySpace entirely to promote the event, and donated tickets to press and people I wanted to talk about the event. It worked. We sold out, and set a whole new bar to Burlesque
Can you tell us what is in store this year?
2006 introduced Sydney’s top girls, 2007 expanded to Australia’s top girls. 2009 saw our first international headliner, and in 2010 we took the audience to New York and pushed their buttons with a neo/fetish/underground second half. This year I am celebrating the history, the red heads, and musically it will be very exotic/grind house – so again, a whole new feel.
I’m working with a musical director this year, and we have created an overall weaving together of burlesque, video and sounds. It’s going to be a phenomenal ‘final tease’.
Can you describe some of your highlights and ‘magic moments’ since the first ball in 2006?
The crazy night I talked my husband into affording an international performer (Amber Ray). I promised we’d get her flight costs back with just her name on the bill. It was a gamble that paid off. It was one of our most successful tours. Loved the Melbourne tour house that year too – Lena Marlene and Amber Ray took my son out the back and saw kangaroos, and our stage manager checked in at Qantas for a 6am flight, straight from after party drinks, still dressed in her corset and fishnets.
2010 was crazy – six girls in my house. Julie Atlas Muz would do naked yoga in the backyard of a night, and Ophelia Bitz was sleeping on an air bed in the babies room with Roxi DLite.
I also loved Cam Knight‘s strip to Barry White in 2009, and Imogen Kelly‘s powderpuff routine in Brisbane 2007. I still watch the 2009 opening video and get goosebumps.
What do you particularly want or look for in the international star guests you invite to headline, and the Aus performers you invite to support and/or headline alongside them?
It all starts with the creative for me. I get my vision, and conceptualise the show. I then cast based on that. We are blessed to have over three-hundred performers internationally that apply, so we get indications of interest, but it doesn’t matter who they are – they have to fit the narrative of the show, the audience, the context. I saw Melody Mangler at Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend this year and booked her for the Ball on the spot. She was a missing ingredient to my creative. Sometimes I just know.
I also look at personalities. I talk to my peers and sound out what they are like to work with. This tour has a tight knit feel to it, and it’s equally important to match personalities on the tour. I don’t book divas and I’ll happily send someone home on the first flight if they are not professional. So I guess its these three ingredients – creative fit, following and marketability, professionalism and personality.
You have recently announced that this year will be the last time the Burlesque Ball tours in Australia. Can you elaborate on this announcement and explain the future of the Ball?
Yes, I have been thinking about it for a while. The Burlesque Ball has always been a ‘story’ to me. We were innovators in 2006, and continued to set the bar each year with every show. Where can you possibly go after this year’s headliner, Catherine DLish?!
I’m also finding the market really saturated right now. Every second person is attempting to produce burlesque, and there’s not really much being produced that is unique or new anymore around us. I made a decision to take a risk and keep producing something fresh. By finishing The Burlesque Ball story, we are opening ourselves up to new possibilities!
The Bijou Group and I will have our most exciting year yet in 2012 with various projects. I am quite typecast as a burlesque producer, but have an extensive passion and production background in several arts disciplines. I am producing a theatre play for Australian playwright Louis Nowra, I will start a day tour in Sydney focussed on the 1920’s razor gangs in Darlinghurst, and I am on the creative team for the Sydney Mardi Gras, 2012.
The Bijou Group is bringing out The Hurly Burly Show, producing our first show in New Zealand, and a few other enormous projects we can’t talk about just yet.
Although Miss Burlesque Australia will still continue, and there is an initial concept in the works for our ‘Burlesque Ball time of year’ – I can assure audiences that whilst The Burlesque Ball story will be ending, we will continue to innovate and entertain with premium productions…
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.