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Q & A with Rockalily Burlesque
Photo (left) by Ash Tree Photography
Founded in 2007, Rockalily is Ottawa's premiere performance troupe, comprised of local women and men with a variety of backgrounds including ballet, hip-hop, bellydance, theatre, comedy and music.
The Rockalily burlesque troupe brings a melange of acts to their shows, drawing inspiration from Vaudeville and traditional burlesque, mixed with modern dance and high-energy music. Rockalily aims to contradict gender stereotypes, defy traditional standards of beauty, empower women and embrace alternative sexuality through performance.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Rockalily founder Veronica, aka Miss Helvetica Bold, about life in the burlesque world and some of the events the troupe has coming up. Read on!
Veronica, how did you become interested in burlesque? Where did you originally encounter the art?
I think the first time I ever heard of burlesque was on the Simpsons. It was the episode where Bart discovers a burlesque house in Springfield. I don't want to say that I was infatuated with it from that moment on, but I always had a vague interest in it. As long as I can remember, I've always loved playing dressup, and seeing women adorned with beautiful and extravagant costumes. I'm completely enamored with everything about burlesque!
How did your appreciation for burlesque evolve into the ambition and creative drive to run your own troupe?
I have always been the type of person who is up for a challenge. When my friend Tyler Blanchett suggested that he and I start a burlesque troupe, I made it my business to make it happen. At the time, there was no burlesque in Ottawa. The hardest part was convincing venues to have us. Burlesque? What's that? Who goes to see that? It was a huge learning process but with perseverance and a great team of dedicated performers, we carved out a niche. When we started, I was out to prove something. Now, the troupe is run more collectively. We all inspire and encourage each other; we drive each other to evolve as performers and put on bigger and better shows.
What are the biggest challenges when putting together a show?
After two and a half years, with the global burlesque trend exploding and two other local troupes on the scene, the biggest challenge is to stay fresh. We are constantly working on new material and trying to come up with creative and original concepts for shows.
Photo by Shade Nyx
Most burlesque performers have an 'alter ego,' a name they use when they dance and a character they regularly play. What do you think this represents for the performer? Do you truly become a different person onstage?
I've yet to meet a performer who doesn't transform when they hit the stage. The alter ego, or stage name, is mostly for privacy but is also useful in defining your character. I'm Miss Helvetica Bold. I chose this name because I am a writer by day. Everyone has different reasons for choosing their name. I know some performers who have changed their stage name as their style evolved, it's a reflection of a more carnal, instinctual and hedonistic part of one's self, the part that gets let loose on stage.
What part does fashion and costuming play in the look of the show? Who designs the Rockalily costumes?
Costumes are everything in burlesque. The costume sets the scene, it tells you what character you are seeing portrayed on stage and it ties the whole performance together with the music and the choreography. We design our own costumes. Some of us are a little more talented than others when it comes to crafting and sewing, so we help each other out. Most of our costumes start with basic lingerie that we've adorned with rhinestones, feathers, sequins, tassels, fringe and whatever else we can think of that will make you feel funny in your pants.
Do you have any male performers at the moment? What does that add to or change about the group dynamic?
We currently have one male performer, Goldenrod. He's our manprop and he does whatever we need him to! I had some concerns that people would perceive him as our manager when he joined us, which worried me. Even though he is a valued member of Rockalily and heavily involved in the decision-making process, it's still a predominantly female-run troupe and we want to keep it that way. Many troupes have male members and we're not too concerned with anything other than just doing our thing and keeping people entertained.
Photo by Jonathan L'Orange-Millette
Do you always have live music during the performance, or is the live music a separate component of your shows?
We often incorporate live music. Sometimes we have our own band play as part of a routine, or even entire set! Sometimes, we choreograph routines to songs by the bands we share the stage with an we go on together. Sometimes we leave the live music separate: they open for us, or we open for them and we leave it at that.
What would you say to someone who's thinking of getting on stage for the first time as a performer?
Make sure your pasties are actually stuck! Having one fall off is scary. It's happened to me twice, and it's not something that's easy to recover from. Other than that, make sure to exaggerate everything you do. Subtlety does not translate well on stage.
Tell us about your upcoming events!
We're a vendor at both the Ladyfest craft sale and the Ravenswing craft and zine fair this May. In addition to making our own costumes and accessories, we sell custom and original hand-made costume items.
On May 27th, we are holding auditions for new performers at Babylon Nightclub. The event is called Burlesque Idol and will feature Miss Vixen Vega, Koston Kreme and Bambi Van Boom as our idol judges. Lowpass is going to be DJ-ing and Rockalily will do a short set. Burlesque Idol is a breast cancer benefit show. Cover is a suggested minimum donation of $4. We will also have lots of pink and breast themed crafts and snacks available in exchange for a donation. All the proceeds from this event are going to benefit breast cancer research and awareness. We chose this cause because one of the Rockalily girls is a breast cancer survivor.
On June 19th at Babylon Nightclub, we are proud to present the 3rd Annual No Pants Dance Party. The No Pants Party is a long-running party that actually started closer to 7 years ago in my friend's apartment. When I decided to take it public we turned it into an interactive burlesque show and dance party. This year's party will have DJ Boogie Howser taking care of the music and will feature a burlesque set by the Burlesque Idol semi-finalists, not to mention a set by Rockalily. Of course, as always, there will be cupcakes for the masses (it's yet to be scientifically proven, but I'm pretty sure that cupcakes taste better when eaten in a state is partial undress) and prizes for best pantsless outfits. Cover for NPDP3 is $8. See you there!
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