You've certainly done a lot to preserve burlesque.
Yeah, and that was really important to me. Especially when the movie Burlesque came out and the Pussycat Dolls -- who I performed with, of course -- but, the whole commercialization and sanitization of burlesque, when all of that happened, there was a big risk. I remember reading in the press when Burlesque came out, they interviewed somebody in it and she said, "This isn't that stripper burlesque like Dita Von Teese." And I was like, hold on: First all of, it's fine; you can insult me -- I don't mind that much -- but, there were ladies that were still alive at that time that were burlesque stars on the stage in the '40s, there were a few of them that were still lingering around and they were strippers and they were upset.
I just felt like there's a responsibility when you're going to use that word and make a little movie and call it "Burlesque," since you can't call it cabaret, there was a skewed version of what burlesque is, and I feel like I have a responsibility toward the women that did perform striptease in the 1930s and '40s, I feel like it's important to say what they did and live up to what they did and perform striptease in pasties and g-strings the way that they did, instead of saying it's song and dance or it's cabaret: It's not, it wasn't. So, yeah, I definitely feel like I've had to stand up for it and I definitely took a little heat for that in the press and I probably didn't make any friends with people who were making movies like that and making faux-lesque. But I didn't really care because I know some of those old ladies that were still around and they were hurt by it, you know?
I have to assume it's difficult for people to be terribly progressive in modernizing burlesque without towing the line of a common stripper. The focus always seems to be on the vintage aesthetic and history
Right, but it doesn't have to be so! When I went to the Crazy Horse Paris a month ago and saw a new act that they just made, there was nothing about it that was retro. And it was incredible, it was mind-blowing! It was my favorite act of the night! And there was nothing retro about it! So, I think it's really just about polish, and also technology. Think about using technology in shows. There's a lot to be done! If I weren't already settled in my own style that I developed, and I hadn't already invested my whole life into my own brand of burlesque, I can think of lots of things that I would direct.
You have your hand in a lot of pots right now as far as work is concerned, but on that note: Do you ever see yourself becoming more of a consultant or director as time goes on?
Yeah, in a way. But, you know, the problem is people always ask if they can be my protege and whatnot. The thing is, I still believe in good old fashioned show biz: You can't arrive to greatness unless you did it yourself because the stakes are high. When the curtain opens on every single one of the performers in my shows, we created those acts ourselves. It's high stakes.
I've done that before: I've put beautiful, talented dancers in my costumes, in my show, on my props, and it falls flat. And it's not because they're not amazing -- it's because there are no high stakes to it. It's not their creation, it doesn't come from their heart. It's hard to become legendary if you haven't put your heart and soul into it yourself, is what I'm getting at. So, that's the conflicting thing I have about directing and showing people the way; it doesn't usually work out.
You have to have your own struggle, right?
Yeah! That's what people are buying into! When you watch a movie and you watch a great actor, you're watching a whole bunch of layers and I think that's what makes someone a great actor -- it's really about everything that character goes through. I think it's the same for burlesque: You're watching the curtains open on somebody's heart and soul right there and you can lose something very quickly when it's just a choreographed piece of work.