Burlesque is most commonly thought of as blaring brass sections, peacock feathers, corsets and howling celebration. None of that is necessarily untrue, but those parameters don’t have to be followed so rigidly, now do they? Barbara Hays of Blast-Off Burlesque, Atlanta’s one and only “sci-fi, punk, vaudeville, burlesque collective” graced BANG! and answered a few questions about their strikingly original crack at performance art and why it is indeed a labor of love.
BANG! So, what inspires one to form a Burlesque group, and when inspired, how does one go about it?
Hays I think you have to have a great love the theatrical and all that entails, pop culture prowess, and an exploding creative drive that needs fulﬁllment. For us, it started as a few friends trying to entertain ourselves, and do something unique. We had some funny ideas that we thought should ﬁnd an audience. Luckily "Burlesque" calls for short acts or sketches, and variety, so the idea of starting a group wasn't a mega project at ﬁrst; it was very "Our Gang." Hey kids let's put on a show! So yeah, that small group of pals turned artists expanded, adding some seasoned performers who wanted to create and have fun with the group. It just grew.
BANG! Blast-Off Burlesque is not the typical troupe, though. Was the quirkiness of B.O.B. something that just came about from the collection of its members or more of an intentional pursuit to separate from the rest?
Hays Both really. I think by nature we're all a little "off". For us to adhere to what many people think of Burlesque nowadays would be bad silly and pretty boring, it just wasn't us. By that, I mean, Burlesque currently has a reputation of "The Art of Striptease" rhinestones, feathers, corsetry, classy (hopefully) thematic or vintage inspired clothing removal. There are many great Burlesque dancers out there. To us though, striptease was a very small part of a much wider theatrical picture. If the clothes come off, it's just a part of the show, a moment in a characters story and transformation. Though a few of our members can deﬁnitely pull off a proper strip for sure, it just doesn't work for us as a whole. As we evolved, I do think we enjoyed striving to be wackier than the rest, throwing in the mind-fuck when it was appropriate, just because we could. We always felt a little like Black Sheep Rebel children in the Burlesque community, and have heard the cry "They're not Burlesque." In reality we are though, the deﬁnition has evolved and changed. We go back and forth about dropping "Burlesque" from our name. I think eventually we will. I guess we hover somewhere between Performance Art, Sketch Comedy, Gong Show, and even a pinch of the aforementioned Burlesque…kinda.
BANG! There is deﬁnitely a unrecognized amount of effort, energy and physicality in any stage production, let alone one that involves dance. How much of life is dedicated to Blast-Off Burlesque?
Hays Yes, it is a lot of work, but most projects are. That's why we don't put on very many big shows. The concept is just the start, and that takes a lot of important creative brainstorming, and that is really hard to force, so it takes time. When Production starts, it's game on, we do everything. There is no ﬁnancial backer, sadly. It's just us trying to produce a great show on a shoestring. Everything from ticketing, marketing, stage design, concept, music, props, costumes, hair, video, choreography, booze, sometimes even providing a place to poop, it's on us. So, yep, it's a ton of work. So, it better be fun! As anyone who's an independent artist knows it's a labour of love.
BANG! Who are Blast-Off Burlesque’s idols? Who inspires you?
Hays Oh, so many. The fearless, the fashionable, the odd and the obvious. Of course The Pythons, Mel Brooks, SCTV and early SNL. Some of the artists and characters we played tribute to in our past shows include; Freddie Mercury, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, Swayze, Whitesnake, The Solid Gold Dancers, Bowie, the Six Million Dollar Man, Barbara Eden, Ed Wood, Tura Satana, Barbarella, the Wolfman, Bigfoot, Stephen Hawkings, ABBA, Captain & Tenille…the list goes on and on.
BANG! What events do you most enjoy performing at?
Hays The Plaza Theatre has been our home since Blast-Off's conception. The idea of putting on a short show in a Historic Theatre before an iconic movie is the best. The Plaza is where we do our bi-monthly "Taboo-La-La" ﬁlm series; the last one was BARBARELLA Sat. Jan 26th. We do love anywhere that'll let us do our thing though. Honestly, we'd love to play more parking lots and Suburban cul-de-sacs though. Doing Guerrilla performance is something we've always dreamed about, unexpected performances.
BANG! What sci-ﬁ movies/characters does the troupe most commonly emulate? Are there a slew of movies or does the group tend to obsess over a certain arch of installments?
Hays Probably combinations of many sci-ﬁ terrains with a bit of those 60's Peter Fonda acid trip movies thrown in. Original Star Trek, of course, Barbarella, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Forbidden Planet, Lost in Space, Planet of the Apes, 10,000 BC. Atomic Age movies, bomb mutations, aliens, giant monsters, ﬂesh eating green slime, UFO's we love all that stuff. We've always like to imagine Blast-Off as classic 60's Apollo Mission astronauts who crash down into a Psychedelic Planet, eventually give to the atmosphere, and freak out with the natives. We will dance together in a spirit of Galactic Love and understanding, then maybe some clothes will come off. Oh, and fog, lots of fog.
BANG! How do mesh the orthodox vaudeville factor of burlesque dancing with your own twist so well?
Hays Sci-ﬁ and vaudeville burlesque dancing are not exactly two peas in a pod.I think you can turn absolutely anything into a Vaudeville Act, you just need to really think outside the box and take chances. Note the Pythons, and Mel Brooks.
BANG! How does a creative workshop go down in Blast-Off Burlesque? How are the themes of a show decided, who will play what, etc?
Hays We usually get together over beer and pizza and get the game plans together, its collective creativity.
BANG! You are not strippers, so what is an appropriate response to the common asshole that confuses the two? Is there a Blast-Off Burlesque certiﬁed response?
Hays Eh. that guy will never get it, so whatever. Sure we're strippers! Only we're not getting called to the MainStage, and we're not required to take our clothes off in front of you, unless we want to, and sadly, we rarely ever get tipped. We're essentially paying to do this. Strippers are good people, they're making money, and hopefully they're having some fun at their job. Strippers kept the Burlesque halls in business back in the day, so yeah, you know, it's all part of the biz.
If those answers haven’t made you want to seek out a performance, then get a pulse. Quirky and cunning, Blast-Off Burlesque delivers one of a kind artistry to the audiences they perform for, mixing and mashing different styles and inspirations into one collective magnificence. Be kept abreast with the adventures at http://www.blastoffburlesque.com or check out their facebook page and get in on the action here.