As all you lovely readers of Conversations with Bianca know I love supporting female performers, artists and business women—Lola the Vamp is all this and more! As well as being Australia’s leading burlesque performer she operates the Brisbane chapter of Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, has supported Nick Cave with her act on his solo tour and appeared in several music videos including one for You Am I’s Tim Rogers; she’s performed for Dita Von Teese, been featured prominently in books on burlesque and headlined the US-based premiere burlesque convention Tease-O-Rama. Lola the Vamp’s star is shining brighter than ever as she gets set to launch a new V.I.P section on her site. Thanks to her business savvy, genuine passion for what she does, well-researched knowledge (she performs burlesque for her PhD), super positive attitude, integrity and supercharged creativity Lola is a lady to watch.
What was the motivation for your career choice?
I was excited by the combination of high and low brow in burlesque at the time – 2002. It presented ‘classy’ imagery combined with striptease and brazen sexuality, things that may not have always been easy bedfellows.
I was also enchanted because it didn’t deconstruct in two seconds. It required consideration as to the ultimate meaning of each burlesque act. I was interested in creating a character that could encompass these things. I saw in burlesque, the capacity to express my ideals about the beauty of dishabille, the history of the female body in art, freedom and a poetic view of sexuality.
How did you first get turned on to burlesque?
I travelled to the USA to audition for Dita (Von Teese), Catherine D’Lish and Kitty West, aka, Evangeline the Oyster Girl from 40s Bourbon St. I was Dita and Kitty’s favorite auditionee, and Kitty gave us a stage direction: ‘you know when you’ve just had an orgasm?’ I was sold. The act didn’t go ahead but I knew I’d found something I could work in.
What are your aspirations?
To create imagery in performance and representation with a brazen and sassy attitude and to bring what I have honed in burlesque to as many genres, companies, venues and outlets as I can, without compromising my ideals of sexuality and glamour. Lola the Vamp is an expression of poetic glamour, erotica and a little bit of sass and rebellion.
Can you tell me about the various creative aspects of your job?
There is the obvious, such as creating shows, choreography and planning and sourcing costumes and objects, and also the business side.
What do you do to nurture your creativity?
I try to aid and abet love. This comes from a Tom Robbins book that describes love as the greatest outlaw. The best we can do is promise to aid and abet, rather than to honor and obey. So if I’m sick to death of touring, I’ll stop and stay in a place I love for a while. I hang out with my Bengal-Siamese cat too, she is endlessly inspiring. I look to history and painting, I try to develop a personal relationship by discovering cool new things on my own rather than watching what everyone else is into. Time on my own as an artist is important to my process.
What is your favourite burlesque tradition?
The simple and complex act of striptease. It conveys so much about the performer, our culture, art, history and women. Everyone does it differently, so no two acts display the same viewpoint on these things, and that’s delightful.
Tell me about your favourite ever live burlesque performance that you have seen?
You know I can’t think of one performance, but I’m thinking of details of many performances, Dirty Martini’s happy face, Catherine D’Lish’s walk, Dita’s bottom! But I can never go past Crazy Horse Paris, that revue changed my life. Incredible concepts and choreography, and they are not ashamed to have acts that are just simply sexy as well as acts with a high level of skill.
You’re very successful in the burlesque world – do you attribute that, in part, to being a savvy business woman?
I think you absolutely need to understand business to be successful in burlesque. It’s a difficult genre to make work as a business; there are many financial constraints and high costs. Having a business understanding, training in keeping accounts, marketing and branding, and a clear philosophy is essential.
On your Facebook page recently you commented that at business school you were told that “there is no market for burlesque these days” and you mentioned “business can be creative” can you elaborate on that a little please?
I am very inspired by Richard Branson’s take on business as an adventure. He has followed wildly divergent industries and copped flack for moving from the record industry into aviation, for example. Sure, he had to learn the aviation industry, but he knew the Virgin ideals backwards, and both recording and aviation were expressions of that. I’m looking forward to Virgin Births.
My brand as Lola the Vamp is similarly able to transcend burlesque, if and when I choose it to. I’m Lola first, and burlesque is where I was born, but stepping into other fields that suit my ideals enriches and expands the Lola brand. It’s about Lola more than it’s about being in burlesque. This leaves me free to continue to create interesting work. I disagree with some of the directions that burlesque has taken in the last few years, and that’s ok. It’s not to say that it’s no good, just that I don’t have any interest in being a part of a grotesque burlesque act, for example. But I love to see other people doing that. I’m free to express the ideals of the Lola brand anywhere I may find them.
Who are your style icons?
Brigitte Bardot and Leslie Caron. That moment when the ’50s glamour came a little undone with the fiery nature of some women! It always goes back to Brigitte for me, undone balletic poise with long hair.
What’s your advice on achieving great style without breaking the bank?
Secondhand stores and antique centers. Get to know the people who run them. I’m not a great sew-er, I’m too impatient, so I tend to collect readymade pieces that I love and wait ’til they find their act. Do it your own way, no matter how cheap or expensive it is, just don’t go bankrupt and cause financial pain!
What is the most sentimental piece that you have in your wardrobe and what significance does it hold for you?
There are two pieces, both are props. One is my unicorn, which is a homage to a pony I had as a child, the other is an antique Japanese paper umbrella that has been passed down in my family since it was given to my great-great aunty Winnie by her Chinese boarders in the ’20s.
I’m sure you have had some amazing moments in your career so far, what is one of the ones that really stand out for you?
Being a headliner on the 2008 Tease-o-Rama North American tour, without a doubt! Traveling with Catherine, Dirty, Kitten on the Keys, Baby Doe, Satan’s Angel, and Michelle L’Amour. My first burlesque show was my audition in 2002 for then-headliners Dita and Catherine, so coming back as a headliner myself six years later was amazing. And supporting Nick Cave at his request with less than one day notice wasn’t too shabby either. I’d stop myself in the middle of the show to make sure I was really present and seeing what I was part of.
What matters most to you as a burlesque performer?
The freedom I saw in burlesque. The freedom to do with it what I want and to stay true to my vision despite perceptions of what is acceptable in this country or that city. That leaves me free to explore my burlesque ideals in other genres such as photography, film or acting. I can do mainstream things like pose for Penthouse and then do the Lismore show within the same month with equally intriguing experiences. It’s not selling out when you stay true to your desires and people recognize and respect that. I’ve performed at the most exclusive of balls for ‘high rollers’ to doing feature performances at strip clubs with equal sense of adventure and successful results.
What projects are on the horizon for Lola The Vamp?
I’m launching the long-awaited VIP area of www.lolathevamp.com. Presenting my character and aesthetic in still and filmic imagery is something I have always worked towards doing and I have a backlog of years of images and video.
I’m also looking into importing exclusive French lingerie and shooting fantastical imagery with it, then enabling a shopping cart so that my viewers (or voyeurs) can purchase the items they like best and add to the fantasy and the story by owning pieces and having their own mad adventures in them!
And, I’ll be publishing my PhD in my work as a burlesque performer within the next twelve months. That’s also taken a long time to become ready for the public. All my secrets will soon be revealed!
For a brief history of burlesque written by Lola click here.
*Photo credits: 1 / 2 / 3 – Kahlia Litzow