BHoF 2012 Weekend: Part 2, plus an interview with Imogen Kelly.
~ Written and photographed by Paul O’Connell (POC Photo) with additional photography courtesy of Derek Jackson
Special thanks to my fellow photographer Derek Jackson for photo use in this article.
During BHoF weekend at The Orleans Hotel and Casino, the surreal moments just after one of the burlesque shows lets out or during an intermission are some of the more memorable. It’s the mix of two worlds: the glittery crowd of performers, producers, fans & photographers, and the slot machine junkies pulling the levers (or in this modern age of technology, pressing buttons) for a hopeful cash payout. As one world spills out of the theater, it’s always fun to watch the other world look on in amazement and wonder at the sudden flood of people dressed so fabulously and outrageously. It’s hard not to appear like a deer caught in the headlights through all of this; I often get lost in all of it myself. (Whom shall I talk to? My Seattle peeps? Friends I’ve made at previous festivals? Facebook crushes?)
After the Sunday night show I was able to briefly talk and snap a few photos of the new Reigning Queen of Burlesque, Imogen Kelly, from Australia. I love to hear about a performer’s personal burlesque history. It doesn’t matter if they’re new to the scene or seasoned pros. That’s the great thing about festivals- you meet so many people from across the burlesque world and get their own histories and perspectives on this great art form.
Naturally I wanted to hear about Imogen’s burlesque career. I first saw Imogen at last year’s BHoF in her cheeky and provocative “Let Them Eat Cake” performance, then again this year in her fabulous winning routine. I’m hoping she’ll be able to make it to the Seattle area in the next year to see her again. That certainly is a possibility as The Burlesque Hall of Fame has introduced the inaugural Queen’s Tour (developed with the help of Miss Indigo Blue), in which the Reigning Queen of Burlesque will act as an ambassador for BHoF. One of the places on that tour is The Vancouver Burlesque Festival in May 2013, and as Vancouver is so close to Seattle I’m sure we can persuade Imogen to come to Seattle before or after.
Here is the list of festivals (so far) that the Reigning Queen of Burlesque, Imogen Kelly will headline:
- July 2012: Toronto Burlesque Festival, Toronto, ON
- February 2013: Southwest Burlesque Festival, Albuquerque, NM
- April 2013: Texas Burlesque Festival, Austin, TX
- May 2013: Vancouver Burlesque Festival, Vancouver BC
- June 2013: Colorado Burlesque Festival, Denver, CO
Imogen, currently on tour with the Australian Burlesque Festival, answered some of my questions via email the other day during some down time:
POC: Can you give a brief description of your origins in Burlesque?
Imogen: Essentially I was living in a punk ghetto as a teenager- so it started with needing to eat. I got a job in one of the local strip clubs, provided I wore a wig over my mohawk. This is all pre-table dancing and they only had stage shows, so I learned very quickly how to do a full length show. It was a fun job. The dressing rooms were full of old vaudevillians so I basically learned my schtick from them. Shortly afterwards I got into university studying performance art, so I started making performances that deconstructed striptease and everything I was seeing at work, eh voila!!! A style was born.
POC: What influenced your decision to get involved?
Imogen: It wasn’t so much a decision to get involved, when I started doing this there was no one else doing it- it was my art. I had a core group of feminist performers around me who were simply just fighting to get women spaces to perform. We have always called ourselves performance artists. It has become known to the world as neo-burlesque but we never originally identified as that. As for me I was just doing my thing.
POC: What keeps it fascinating for you now?
Imogen: I love watching burlesque grow and change. I love seeing all of the different interpretations of burlesque and also seeing how the world has changed to love striptease.
POC: How is Burlesque doing in Sydney? What has helped its progress there?
Imogen: The Sydney burlesque scene is very special to me as I was one of its pioneers. It’s a pretty pumping scene, perhaps tough to crack into. But it has some wonderful promoters and a plethora of unusual talent. Our audiences love huge sexy, fun acts- that’s one thing I can say. Sydney has the most fun-loving audience in Oz. I think that comes down to the fact that it’s such a gay old town. What has most helped its progress is that it was founded by professional performers, so performers have been paid properly from the word go. We expect a high level of professionalism from our promoters and to be treated respectfully by venues.
POC: Now that a few days of passed, what are your thoughts on being crowned Reigning Queen of Burlesque?
Imogen: Well it’s been a few weeks now and I’m having a great time! I certainly came home to a hero’s welcome. I haven’t really had a lot of time to think about it as I’m touring with The Australian Burlesque Festival.
POC: What are some of your plans for the future?
Imogen: I’m just mapping out what I am going to do with this wonderful title. There is talk of a cock rock band, a B-grade clown porn and a spaghetti western but firstly I would like to focus on The Queen’s Tour. As a part of my tour as Reigning Queen, I will be doing interviews with each city’s legends and the revival’s pioneers, probably for independent TV and the Burlesque museum. (BHoF)
POC: Do you have any burlesque heroes in your life, either Legends or contemporaries that you admire?
Imogen: Elizabeth Burton is one of the first women I met on the job and is one of Australia’s few surviving legends. She definitely keeps me going. She is 65 and still performing! One of the first things I’ve been able to do with this title was to actually give images of her to the museum- which is important for Australians to see their own legends being recognized. Other than that I am always inspired by Julie Atlas Muz for the fact that she seems also to have performance art as an undercurrent in her burlesque. I also have to mention my good friend Glitta Supernova. She is one of my oldest performing pals and started in the same way I did, at the same time. I guess we’ve been able to watch one other grow. It’s quite an amazing thing to see twenty years of another artist’s work.
Ok, who wants to go to Australia with me?
See more about Imogen here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Imogen-Kelly/211726038906314
~I’ll see you on the stage, or behind the stage, or in the crowd. Happy summer to all- it looks like it’s going to be a pretty awesome burlesque summer.
Here are some additional photos from the weekend…
BHoF Day 3 by POC Photo:
Legends Night by POC Photo: