Something must be said for Australia’s love of Burlesque, our own scene here is undeniably one of the best in the world, done in a distinctly aussie way, full of cheek and humour. Though burlesque as a form, is perhaps to stuck in it ways, Burlesque Queen Becky Lou, is out to shake it up. Here in this performance, she combines the classic “five-minute routine” with spoken word, influenced by her continuing work with director Wes Snelling, perhaps better to know to some as Tina Del Twist. With a creative pairing such as this, Shake looks certain to be sensational, teasing and an enticing late night booty call of a show… and you can catch it this Saturday at The Butterfly Club. Writer Jessi Lewis met with Becky Lou to talk burlesque, sexual irreverence, feminism and the melding of forms.
Becky, introduce us to the work, what can we expect from Shake?
This is the 5th season of Shake, I’ve been doing it for about a year and a half, it came out of doing burlesque for quite a while, nearly a decade now, but I just had the urge to do something more. In burlesque I was always a strip tease revivalist, I’d never used my voice in performance, all though I did come from a theatre background, but I hadn’t been doing any theatre or spoken work for a long time. Wes use to work with me quite often at burlesque, he sort of went “you need to do something more than what you’re doing”, I think he knew I was getting a bit bored with the same old five-minute burlesque routine format. Then I realized that I was actually terrified of speaking, and thought about why I was comfortable being nude on stage in front of people, how they thought I was so brave for doing that, but I couldn’t actually get up and use my voice, so the show came out of that. Now it’s a combination of storytelling and me performing all of my old burlesque routines without leaving the stage, which is a fun experiment in itself.
What’s your take on the resurgence of popularity surrounding Burlesque in Australia?
The burlesque revival started about 20-25 years ago, and I think it’s really dying out a little bit now. But it came at just the right time, in that kind of second wave feminist surge of sex positivity. It was just perfect, it started as a revival of the early 20th century art form which was the precursor to modern day stripping. It had kind of become a lost art, it came out of all these different movements like the swing dance, the retro scene and vintage scene and the New York performance arts scene and the Sydney queer performance scene. That’s was sort of late 80’s early 90’s, all these things happened at the same time all over the world. Part of it was a revival of that old stuff, and honouring the woman who did that, but never had the respect they deserved back then because of the performers that they were. I think its maybe been twenty years now that it’s been really popular, and in Australia it’s in the last 5 to 10 years that it’s become huge. So I think it was a lot to do with that movement, and since I’ve been doing it I’ve seen the waves of different kind of people doing it. When I started it was quite an underground scene when, then it became a really popular thing in the mainstream and got a lot of media attention, lately its sort of hens parties and people coming out from the suburbs to have a fun night out.
So, what was it about Burlesque that really drew you in, inspired you?
The comedy really, I started in Perth, I saw the first burlesque troupe there, Sugar Blue Burlesque and loved the costumes, they were beautiful, and the vintage inspiration, I took allot from that. I love the visual comedy element to, the physical element and the irreverence towards sexuality.
Let’s talk about feminism, it’s become a hot topic in media lately, what do you think is the reason behind this?
I think social media has a lot to do with it, because people are getting braver at talking about things we never used to talk about for so long, people are getting more comfortable with sharing personal stories, they have seen what other people have gone through or are experiences, I think its reached boiling point at the moment. That’s part of the reason that the spoken element to the work is really important. Basically in the show, I’ll do an act, then I will tell a story, it kind of works in the cabaret sense, some of the stories sort of lead into an act, or the acts comes out a story that I’ve just told.
What have been some of the highlights and lowlights of your career so far?
Performing in New Orleans in The House of Blues is definitely a highlight, we kind of blew the Americans away which was really cool, it was great to go and show that our scene was of a really high standard, in the birthplace of mid-century burlesque. Doing my solo show has sort of changed everything, I’m not so much doing burlesque so much anymore, I’m kind of doing story telling as well, that the direction I’m going in now. Though low-lights, I don’t know if I can talk about low lights without offending people, but you get your awful audiences every now and then, particularly in the last couple of years, you get audience that are a little rougher around the edges.
What do you think sets us apart from other burlesque scenes around the world?
Definitely the sense of humour, is huge a part of what sets us apart, the burlesque revival in Australia had its roots in the Sydney queer scene in particular, with people like Imogen Kelly, coming out of Kings Cross strip clubs in the 80’s 90s. and they were kind of these amazing punk feminist, and there’s a real sense of humour, irreverence and a “fuck you” element to it.
Shake is playing this Saturday night at The Butterfly Club, book your tickets here