Lola Van Ella took time out of her busy schedule to discuss merkin malfunctions, St. Louis, spontaneity and the role of comedy in burlesque. Lola Van Ella will be performing in Dallas on Feb 27th. Performance info.
Interview: Divertida Divotchka; Photos: Joshua Rowan and Connie LaFlam
Q: You’re coming to Texas for the Amour show at the end of February. Will it be your first time performing in Texas? Do you have to make any modifications to your routines to perform here?
Yes! It will be my Texas debut and I’m so looking forward to performing in the Amour show. And yes, it’s funny, because although I live in the “conservative” Midwest, there is a lot of freedom for performers. One of the acts that I am bringing to the Amour show is my Van Ella Frosting act which involves more nudity than maybe most acts. And I will be modifying it slightly for the Dallas audience. I wouldn’t want anyone to faint (or get anyone or myself in trouble). Ha!
Q: Your burlesque resume is rather impressive. You dance, sing, instruct burlesque and emcee (and I’m sure much more.) How and when did you get your start?
I have always performed in some capacity since childhood, and have been singing, acting, dancing and doing voice over work professionally for 8 years. At one point, about 6 years ago, a theater company in St. Louis asked me to sing and perform a reverse strip tease, which I did for the entire run of the production, and had no idea that it was burlesque! It was one of those, “I was doing burlesque before I knew what it really was” kind of thing.
Of course, I loved Gypsy, Busby Berkeley musicals, Marilyn Monroe, and show girls, but I didn’t realize that these things were all connected. I knew I was an exhibitionist at heart, and shortly after that performance, I played the lead character in a comedic play that required me to do full frontal nudity. I discovered that I had absolutely no issue with that. It was fun and plus, it was funny, which I enjoyed being.
In 2005, I was singing in a cabaret when I found out that there was a burlesque show that had just started in St. Louis. I went to check it out, and found a very small, unpolished, rough show, with no real lights, costumes or emcee. But it had a ton of potential. I started a week later. In the beginning there were only a few of us, including Greta Garter, Mariel ala Mode and Honey D’Lite, but it quickly grew. The Alley Cat Revue was the only weekly burlesque show in St. Louis for over 4 years and it’s where I really had a chance to hone and polish my craft. Plus, I got to sing and dance and tease and strip for lots of people, every week. How great is that?
Q: Is burlesque your full time job?
Yes, and sometimes it’s my overtime job! When I’m not performing, I teach a weekly class and am constantly working on producing the next show. I also travel frequently, to teach and perform, and get to run an amazing troupe of performers, The Bon-Bons. So yes, very full time! I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Q: Watching your routines, it seems that you really understand the importance of comedy in burlesque. Please tell me about your philosophy on the use of humor in your acts.
I strongly and firmly believe in a strict regimen of laughter and wit within the realm of the burlesque arts. It’s of the utmost importance to find the humor in a show that you are doing. Comedy is a serious business, and therefore needs to be taken very seriously, as does burlesque. It’s a very serious business. I am funny because it is the only way to make burlesque legitimate and work in an applicable way. Of course, I am completely kidding.
Burlesque is supposed to be fun. Comedy is fun. I like to think I’m fun. Even when I am performing a classic or sexy strip, I still like to find places for humor. Burlesque as with all types of entertainment, needs to be just that- entertaining. I live to entertain and to be entertained. I can’t imagine life any other way.
Q: While doing my pre-interview research, I found a Youtube clip in which an audio malfunction almost ruined a routine for Gravity Plays Favorites, and as the emcee, they asked you to sing a song so they could finish. You sang “Whatever Lola Wants” A CAPELLA while they ended the act. I was so impressed by how calmly and confidently you responded. What was going through your head at the time?
Why, thank you! That is a great memory, actually, though I’m not even sure what went through my head at that moment. Michelle and Katrina are such good friends and in that moment, I knew and they knew that they needed to finish. The show must go on! It just kind of happened organically. It was really spontaneous and fantastic. I really love that moment. It’s one of my (and happy to say, their) favorites.
Q: Do you have any other stories of show/routine/costume malfunctions and how you handled them?
Oh plenty! The most recent and notorious one is the “Lola loses her merkin” incident. It was right before the New Orleans Burlesque Festival and I was performing my competition piece for the last time before leaving. At the end of the act, when I was supposed to turn around and pose with my spatula, the back of my merkin fell off! In a split second decision, I pulled it completely off, and turned around and used the spatula to cover the rest of my modesty. Immediately after, my dear friend, Michelle Mynx ran back stage and said “I don’t know if that was on purpose or not, but that has to be the way you perform it in New Orleans!” I knew she was right, even before she told me. There have been so many others that there is this running joke about me and my technical difficulties. I’ve actually had numerous fans and friends tell me that they love when things go wrong for me, because they think it’s so great to see how I’ll handle it. I guess I’m supposed to take it as a compliment!
Q: What suggestions can you offer for burlesque success?
Self awareness. The understanding of the importance of quality over quantity. The desire and need to constantly learn- Always. Respect for those who came before you. Lots of perseverance and self motivation. And of course, lots of sparkle, smile and charm.
Q: How do you like to spend your time when you’re not working?
I love to travel. Always. I’m a total outdoors-y kind of girl, actually. I love being outside. Walking, dancing, climbing things. I also love animals. I love to read. Daydreaming. Music. Spending time with loved ones. And I absolutely love to cook. And eat. A lot. I adore food.
Q: Please share 3 little known facts about yourself.
1. I am a fantastic cook. Really. I humbly admit that I’m very good at it.
2. I know the names, stories, and authors of dozens of children’s books, including “Where the Wild Things Are”. I know that book by heart.
3. I can stand on my head for a disturbing amount of time.