becky lou: interview
Becky Lou is a burlesque performer who’s no stranger to the stage. In her first solo show in 10 years, Shake, she’s exploring finding her voice in both the professional and personal realm. I had a chat with Becky Lou and found out what about burlesque inspires and motivates her.
First tell me about how you got started as a performer and in particular as a burlesque performer: what has your journey been like so far?
I’ve been performing since I was the golden haired toddler who photo bombed all my parents’ wedding pictures by pulling up my skirt and showing off my frilly knickers. Being the most precocious theatre kid at my small town public school, it was only natural that I escaped to the nearest capital city to study performing arts at university. After that I dabbled in independent theatre and film for a while, but didn’t quite find where I fit in until I saw Imogen Kelly and the La La Parlour troupe in their show ‘Tarnished ’at the Melbourne Comedy Festival about ten years ago. I then realized that neo-burlesque was a thing that was actually happening and it was sexy, bawdy and raucous and suited me to a T.
When I got back home to Perth, I found that Sugar Blue Burlesque had started producing spectacular retro burlesque shows and asked if I could have a go at one of their newcomer nights. I just took to it and started getting paid gigs straight away. Not long after, I moved to Melbourne just in time for the burlesque revival to explode in popularity and it became my job and my life for quite a while. That was a very exciting time, with a number of dedicated burlesque and variety venues opening up and plenty of opportunity for touring. The burly performers really earned their chops at that time, learning how to work all sorts of crowds and perform everywhere from grand stages to rickety makeshift boxes in dinky bars. Eventually the public interest in it died down somewhat, as is the way with fads and crazes, but by that time I was ready to start some new things.
What about the genre of burlesque do you enjoy most and what about it inspires you the most?
I love the culture of honouring the history of burlesque and the performers who were working during the early-mid 20th century when there was little respect for women who were openly sexual and unashamed of their bodies. We call them our ‘Legends’ and there are performers, mostly in the USA, who are in their 70s and 80s who are still going, or have started again due to the contemporary revival.
I enjoy working with women and men who fearlessly celebrate bodies, sex, sexuality, beauty and movement through performance. It seems that a lot of people who don’t know much about burlesque have a very narrow view of what it entails. It can be a glamourous recreation of mid-century striptease, it can be a boundary pushing, politically charged piece of performance art. It can be bawdy fun or dark and challenging, or all of those things at once. The best burlesque is joyous, powerful, immediate and honest.
Tell me about your show Shake – what was the inspiration behind it and what challenges did you face in bringing it to life?
Having performed burlesque for quite a while I started to notice that all of my acts were entirely physical – dance, slapstick and striptease, but I never spoke. I felt I needed to challenge myself to try speaking in performance, but actually found the thought of it quite scary. The irony that I was happy to be nude in front of a huge crowd, but was afraid to speak to them was not lost on me. I also thought about the other ways I was afraid to speak up in my life and started to write about them. With the encouragement of some wonderful people, including ‘Shake’s’ brilliant director Wes Snelling, a solo show started to take shape.
What do you hope audiences walk away with after seeing Shake?
I like it when people are still smiling or giggling as they leave. I had a few tears in the audience during previous runs of the show, which is very flattering.
How is your brand of burlesque different from that of other performers?
I’m known for being something of a glamourous goofball. I look like a mid-century siren, but am an idiot clown at heart. People don’t know whether to be turned on or die laughing.
Why do you think burlesque is important?
It’s a form of expression for those who want to celebrate sexuality, who want to share their fearlessness of the human body. In a world where female nipples are considered obscene, but male ones aren’t, where breastfeeding in public can be considered offensive, where marriage equality is still not considered a human right in our country, it’s an art form that challenges the status quo with humour, joy and pride.
What are your plans for the future – any other shows in the works?
Yes! I’m producing and hosting a group show in September for Melbourne Fringe! It’s called Seen & Heard Cabaret’ and is basically a spin-off of ‘Shake’, but includes more artists. I’m hosting it and it will feature four other performers a night who’s usual style does not include speaking. They’ll show us what they do best and then open their mouths and tell a story about themselves. I’ve got a few burlesque, circus, drag and adult entertainment superstars lined up and I believe it’s on sale through Melbourne Fringe very soon!
What does Shake say about being a woman? Is the show political in any way?
‘The personal is political’ and it’s very personal. It’s about being brave enough to share my voice publicly and in my personal life. It explores body shaming, self-love and fear. I’ve found a lot of women identify with my stories, which are not about wild, unusual adventures, but things that many of us have experienced.
What do you enjoy most about being a performer?
Everything, but there is nothing like the release of adrenaline you get immediately after a good performance. A clear, relaxed high, like after an orgasm, but x 100.
Lip is giving away a double pass to see Becky Lou perform this Wednesday the 8th or Thursday the 9th! Simply email [email protected] with the subject line ‘Becky Lou: Interview’ for your chance to win!!