Like the fabled, festive Coca Cola truck, five star smash La Soiree has rolled into London again this Christmas with a twinkling Spiegeltent full of sass, smut, surprise, and sensational skill. We spoke to one of La Soiree‘s most celebrated heroines, Ursula Martinez, as she marks fifty fabulous years of life, laughter, and lewd, nude burlesque brilliance!
(Hanky Panky as posted online by Ursula Martinez.)
You created your legendary Hanky Panky act sixteen years ago. How was the act conceived?
It was conceived during a very drunken night at home with some close friends. Many cocktails were drunk and much showing off ensued. In the hazy, hungover hours of the morning, as I was remembering the shenanigans of the night before, I realised that an act had been born.
You must have performed the act in a variety of venues and for varied audiences over the years. Have there been any particularly memorable reactions to the act?
The most memorable was the look of horror from the audience that at first I couldn’t understand, but then I realised I had some toilet paper stuck between my cheeks. That and a standing ovation from Prince Harry!
The act received a lot of attention in 2006 when an audience member filmed it and posted it online, and in response you created a show based on the barrage of emails and messages you received. Can you tell us more about the show and that period of your life, personally and professionally?
I had never wanted my act to go online because I had a hunch that it could be problematic. My hunch was right. When it illicitly went online, as you say, I was barraged with emails from strangers all over the world. Most of the emails were fine or innocuous, but some were at best delusional and at worst threatening. I realised that I had lost control of my act and effectively my body. I could no longer control the context in which it was presented (it was placed erotic/porn sites), and I was at the mercy of a play/pause button.
Why have you decided to retire the act?
I’ve just turned 50 – it’s time to retire disgracefully!
“The most memorable [moment] was the look of horror from the audience that at first I couldn’t understand, but then I realised I had some toilet paper stuck between my cheeks. That and a standing ovation from Prince Harry!”
You grew up with nudist parents and your comedic routines often feature nudity. How do you feel showcasing your fabulous fifty year old body compared to decades gone by?
I think the act requires uber-confidence to pack the punch that it always has. As much as I am an active rule-breaker, I am not immune to the youth and beauty-idolising Western culture that we live in, and so remaining confident becomes harder the older you become.
Do you view your body in practical terms, as more of an instrument, device or prop, and is the purpose of nudity primarily to shock or surprise? Or do you intend to project and inspire a proud, confident, dare I say ’empowered’ body image through your nudity?
I am a nudist and a performer. I guess it was only a matter of time before I put the two together. We do what works. Nudity has always worked for me, as has comedy. So I just stick with what I’m good at. For some people my nudity will be empowering, for others amusing, for some shocking or even offensive. The same could be said of my comedy.
Would you encourage the feathered, Swarovski-studded mass of young burlesque performers to embrace the use of humour in their acts and not be afraid to challenge their audience? That women don’t always have to be mute, feminine and flawless?
As an audience member I prefer originality and innovation within all performance genres, but I encourage female performers to do what they want to do, whatever that is.
Are there any burlesque performers that you particularly admire or draw inspiration from?
I recently came across Betty Grumble, an Australian performer who describes herself as a ‘Surreal Showgirl, Obscene Beauty Queen and Sex Clown’. She is hilarious, sexy, political, fearless and quite rude!
You are one of the original cast members of La Clique/La Soirée. Can you describe your journey with this incredible show, and why you have remained a faithful cast member?
It’s a fantastic show to work on as audiences around the world continue to LOVE it! I get up every night and perform to see a sea of delighted faces looking back at me and a rapturous applause at the end. What’s not to love about that!
Snatch up a ticket to the award-winning La Soiree here, running in Leicester Square until January 8th 2017. Find out more about Ursula Martinez at www.ursulamartinez.com
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.