Lola is one of ConversationsWithBianca.com’s favourite vamps. I first interviewed Australia’s premier burlesque star a year ago: Lola The Vamp: Business, Unicorns & Richard Branson. Once again, Lola is in the spotlight with the release of her first book, A Burlesque, and an enchanting routine, Enter The Dragon, which she opened this year’s Australian Burlesque Festival with to much delight and acclaim. Lola will be speaking on a panel at the Australian Women’s and Gender Studies conference running 21-23 November 2012. We love Lola!
A lot has happened since last we spoke, most excitingly, you’re celebrating a decade in burlesque with your first book, A Burlesque! Tell us about it.
LOLA THE VAMP: My book is a collection of photography from the last decade as well as most of the peer and critical reviews I have collected. Here and there I have added a commentary of my own, but I’ve been finalizing my PhD submission so the bulk of the writing will come out whenever that gets released from its strangling shackles.
What’s your favourite thing about the book?
LTV: That it looks like an actual, real publication! Seeing a lot of work kind of squished but also displayed in one place, it’s more complete than countless pictures posted on the social media du jour.
What was the biggest challenge you ran into making it?
LTV: Selection of the images was a challenge. I used a few sounding boards for quality control as I see the images differently. To me, they are the tips of icebergs and I see the stories behind them as well as the images. I sometimes see more in a lesser-quality image than others will so new sets of eyes help vete unnecessary entries!
You can buy the book in a package with a DVD; what can we find on the DVD?
LTV: The DVD contains full versions of some of my shows that have been released this year on YouTube. Some of them were made as far back as 2005-7. The reason their release has been so delayed is partly due to my doctorate taking so long and in some cases its that I haven’t had the fortitude to get them edited until now – it can be very confronting and with one show I had been unduly concerned with my posé turns. I thought they weren’t up to scratch but looking back – they were fine. Time needs to pass to allow the anxiety to abate. Although I’ve still never seen my first TV interview from The Today Show with Richard Wilkins and that was about 2003 during my first big flush of publicity.
In November you are heading to the Australian Women’s and Gender Studies conference as a burlesque PhD student to present a panel; what are some of the things you will you be discussing?
LTV: I have a little paper that I take to conferences which outlines the theoretical side to my performance. I look at the body as an inscriptive surface, my lived experience as a life model and how that informed a view of the body as the vehicle for art. I go to the theatrical tradition of mask work for what it can say about burlesque costumes and props and finally at the historical understandings of fetish as a way of looking at props and costumes and the body as a mise-en-scene that has the potential to integrate body and object (costume or prop) so intense as to question conventional assumptions about objectification and subjectivity.
What else has been happening in your world that you’d like to share with us?
LTV: I’m commencing a research project at UQ that will unearth oral histories of our showfolk and I’m so excited to learn some new stories. I’m also curious as to how that will inevitably inform by own shows. It’s the start of a new era for me.
Who or what has been inspiring your routines of late?
LTV: The recent act that I’m proudest of is Enter The Dragon. The prop is – well, if it’s not the biggest in burlesque, its damn close! Making something so large is thrillingly audacious. The concept is sweetly silly – a girl dresses as a dragon to seduce a dragon but forgets herself and strips off her costume. It doesn’t matter and the two get together anyway. It’s good natured and fun and gives an emcee a lot to work with. Crazy Horse Paris have gave it a ‘glorious! C’est magnifique Lola!’ which was personally an incredible moment as I regard their cabaret to be simply supreme. Jim Sclavunos who I met when I supported Grinderman summed it up with ‘what’s not to like?’ it’s an act that seems to bring out fun responses and I’m laughing my head off before I enter the stage to perform it.
What is it about burlesque that you find personally liberating?
LTV: I love the movement physically, and also the way I can engage with fantasy. I think my perspective is informed by my upbringing as my nan was an amazing painter. She had art books everywhere and I was accustomed to seeing nudity in elaborate settings. Part of me must have thought that normal and I’ve recreated it on stage. I think that liberates us from the everyday.
What does burlesque mean to you?
LTV: Burlesque is the moment when reality takes flight into fantasy.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
LTV: As a first-class honours graduate, I’ve been well versed in many (sometimes conflicting) feminist discourses. I consider I fall on the side of libertarian feminism rather than feminism that prescribes what one should or should not do. My personal favourites are the French feminists Irigaray, Cixous, and even as far as Simone DeBeaviour who wrote an incredible sensitive article on Brigitte Bardot. Locally I’m in awe of Catherine Lumby and Elizabeth Grosz. I also think that by historical standards, feminism surrounds us like the water fish swim in – we are so accustomed to it we often don’t label it as such.
Where did you learn your business savvy? Do you have business advice for artists and performers?
LTV: In the second year of my PhD I completed a certificate 4 in business and it fascinated me that I could apply business principles to my art. Had I not had my ‘act’, business wouldn’t have captured my interest in and of itself, but as a way of sustaining my performance I found it fascinating. I still think marketing and media relations are very creative ways of thinking, and the results can be very rapid which fuels the rest of the business in turn.
Business advice? The best thing I can say is do your research and know your stuff – be it content or how-to. Be smart enough to recognize what you don’t know, then learn it.
In your experience and opinion, what’s the burlesque scene/community like in Australia currently?
LTV: I see it in a state of rapid change. It’s grown enormously since 2010 but with that we also see things like the sad end to 34b – a club whose opening I inspired. Many promoters have loudly claimed credit for burlesque revival in Australia, but the promoter who probably has most right to do so and never has is 34b’s Pip Branson. I’ll miss that event very much. There are many competitions now, be they for titles or awards and while this brings recognition, I’m watching to see if that has an effect on the shows we make. Australian Burlesque Festival has become the biggest festival in the world – covering more cities than anyone.
There is much growth and change. It’s become localized to each city more than I think it used to be and I’d like to see more touring performers and a return to the shows that had a clear headliner. I’ve never been a big lover of theme nights because each act is so expensive to make and I personally make my best work from my own influences and thoughts, less so when I’m asked to create something to fit. Sometimes it so happens that I have an act that suits a theme and then all is well.
When not engaged in things burlesque related, what do you do for fun?
LTV: I have a very engaging Bengal cat who keeps me on my toes and I make a great tarte tatin! My rose garden is a favourite thing, I want to have so many that I can wear a fresh flower every day. There is no more beautiful jewel.
What’s next for Lola The Vamp?
LTV: A new phase of research and performance. I’m ready, I feel overdue for it. More travel, more histories to learn, new dances and costumes. In a small manifestation of this, I’m in a phase of wanting costumes that make movement and dictate choreography – a move away from the big props that I usually love.
If you’re in Sydney November 30 see Lola perform at 34Bs 7th Birthday & Last Ever Show!
Love & sparkles,