Poison Ivory, BHOF 2016 Reigning Queen of Burlesque, talks debuts, motivation, #blacklivesmatter, competition, and following your bliss.
Interview: Red Bone
Q. Ok, It seems you kind of just smacked it all in the face as soon as you hit the scene. Where the hell did you come from?
A. Well… I am originally from Long Beach, California, but moved to New York City six years ago in search of a new life. I was very much in a broken state, and was desperately searching for something to bring joy into back into my life. I had no knowledge of the current burlesque revival until I came across the documentary, “A Wink and a Smile” on Netflix. I was instantly intrigued, having come from a performance background. From there, I did some research and was thrilled to learn that I was living in a place where burlesque was not only thriving, but had a school where I could sign up and learn. I started attending shows regularly, fantasizing about what it would be like to be one of those women on the stage. However, the idea of actually getting up there scared me to my core. It was a year before I stepped foot into a burlesque class, my best friend having signed me up for Burlesque Essentials, a four-week course offered at the New York School of Burlesque. It was the best birthday gift I ever received. Three weeks later, on May 26th, 2012, I made my debut.
Q. In taking your first step on to a burlesque stage in 2012, gaining many “accolades” leading up to your debut at The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender in 2015 and Winning Miss Exotic World in 2016…What’s next? What do you have in your sights for 2017 and beyond?
A. To say it has been a whirlwind is an understatement. I never went into burlesque thinking that I would take a competitive approach. But from the very beginning of my career, competition seemed to be my path to get more opportunities to perform. I had no idea that choosing to embrace this path would lead me to The Burlesque Hall of Fame. Now, while my love of performing is stronger than ever, my interest in competing has subsided. I am open to potentially returning to the competition stage with some of my collaborative endeavors, but I no longer see myself competing as a solo performer. Aside from trying my hand at producing, my goals are to use this platform I have been given to teach, as well as bring attention to the issues that mean the most to me, namely creating and protecting our connection with our history as burlesque performers and highlighting the contributions of performers of color.
Q. I can’t help but feel a “Changing of the Guards”. Do you have a prediction of future institutions, chapters, businesses or should I ask, what would you like to see in our industry and do you think we have the people involved already to make that happen?
A. The time I spend thinking about the future of burlesque only makes me appreciate the now even more. Looking at our history, the truth is that none of us know how long this current revival will thrive. At any moment, a law can change, a new leader can be elected, and all of this can disappear. So if we have hopes for a future, I believe that the only way for us to guarantee our place in it is to take advantage of time we are in right now. Yes, I absolutely believe that we already have the people involved to make this happen. We are the generation who will carry the torch and we all have to do our part.
I agree with the burlesquers who feel BHoF royalty should use their platform in a more influential way. As I mentioned above, my plan is to focus my attention on two areas. The first is to raise membership level for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum, not just for people who don’t know about burlesque, but within our current community as well. The success of the Museum is paramount, yet so many performers today have no idea of its existence. I would love to help bridge the gap between the new burlesque community and the rich burlesque history.
My other goal, especially in the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, is to be a voice for performers of color who need a platform. I know it seems small on the grand scale of black issues, but I believe it is important that, in this community where I do have a voice, that I use it to help the performers of color who have, and continue to make contributions to this art form. We know that those contributions were overlooked for years, as anyone can see from the lack of POC representation in Burlesque History. It is time for that to change. In this revival, it is my mission that the POC’s contributions of this generation will not be forgotten. So that many years from now, the people discovering burlesque for the first time will get an accurate representation of what it was like today. They will know how magical it was because all of our voices were heard and all of our names added to the record books.
Q. The lucky ones saw your initial reaction to the win, when did it first sink in and what has changed?
A. I was, and kind of still am, in absolute shock. I don’t remember half of the insane things I did on the stage after my name was called because it still feels like a dream. Looking back, I believe the moment it really began to sink in was the following afternoon when I made my trip to the Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum. As I walked through the tiny space, I realized that, someday, I would be on that wall and became overwhelmed with emotion. I knew I had accomplished something big. As a person who has a history of giving up on myself, to finally see something through to the finish line was a life changing experience for me. Yes, I wanted to win, but I honestly didn’t believe that this would be my year. I still feel like a bit of an impostor. But I know that if I continue to move forward with an open heart, I can’t fuck it up.
Q. Can you give me a brief history of your relationship with House of Noire’s Mother, Perle Noire? Did you taking the win this year effect your relationship in anyway being that many people thought it was going to be her last year.
A. When I first became interested in burlesque, it was Perle Noire’s videos that gave me the courage to get onto the stage myself. The first time I saw her perform live, at one of my first kittening gigs, I was completely captivated by her. To watch this beautiful, black woman dominating the stage filled my heart with a pride that I had never experienced before. She instantly became my idol.
Getting to work with her so early on motivated to become my very best. She kept me inspired through her words, her teachings, and her examples while always encouraging me to find my own voice. Now, as a member of her house, she continues to mentor me, as well as push me out of my comfort zone. Constantly giving, whether on stage or in the classroom, Perle encourages us to be gifts as well. And even though it was hard, winning the title was a gift that she helped me accomplish. I know that I will never be able to thank her enough.
Q. You have referred to your website blog on FB in the past. Is there anything you want to and haven’t commented on in burlesque?
A. I created my blog, Seeking Internal Satisfaction, shortly after moving to New York, long before discovering burlesque. It was meant as a place for me to rediscover parts of myself that I had lost, through the process of writing. Because the focus of the blog was so broad, it was easy for me to incorporate all things that I was passionate about, without the pressures of it being any good, because it was never intended to reach the masses. I just needed the accountability for putting my thoughts out into the world that I could not get with a diary.
Now, in the midst of this win, I realize that I have a bit more of a voice in the burlesque community. That also means that more people will potentially come across this blog, so I would love to take the direction of it to a place where I speak about the issues we are currently facing, through the perspective of a semi-new, but established performer of color, and this year’s reigning queen of burlesque.
Q. As a full time performer, Do you see educating, merch or any other source of NTR (Non Traditional Revenue) in your future?
A. In order to be a full-time performer, I feel the key to success is to constantly grow and expand your brand. While I do plan to start developing merch, I am a teacher by nature. I have been hesitant on offering classes at festivals or the School of Burlesque because I still have so much to learn. But over the last year, so much has changed and I finally feel like I have something valuable to share. I absolutely plan to seek out more teaching opportunities in the future.
Q. What would be your top 3 notes be for all burlesquers every where? or Any advice you’d like to share?
A. My first bit of advice is to follow your bliss. The great thing about burlesque is that we can literally create the career we want to have. Whether a hobbyist or full timer, you are in control of the types of gigs you take, and at the end of the day, if you are working somewhere where you are not satisfied, leave and create your own path.
Secondly, burlesque is meant to be fun. If you are not enjoying yourself, please take a break. The audience can tell if a performer is not having fun, and if you’re not having fun, neither will they. You never know who is watching burlesque for the very first time and their experience will largely be influenced by you. It is our job to entertain them, so if you don’t love entertaining, then please, move along.
Lastly, I’d like to share the piece of advice that has had the greatest effect on me as a performer so far, and that’s to never ask the audience for applause, but to earn it. You can take that advice literally, by eliminating the “hand to ear” gesture before removing an item, or you can take it deeper and embrace that attitude every time you set foot on the stage. The audience is not there to be a gift to you. You are there to be a gift to them.
Q. Step down plans?
A. I have been thinking about my step down plans since the morning after my win. And I know that in the past, many soloists have invited performers from their local community to join them on stage as part of their step down acts. I love that idea because it’s a way for the performer to honor their community members for helping them get where they are. I don’t have the specifics yet, and I am still looking for music (I will definitely take your recommendation into account), but I do know that I want invite some of burlesque’s most influential black performers to join me on stage that night. Being the first black Miss Exotic World in 20 years is such a huge accomplishment and I want to share that honor with those who inspired and paved the way for me.
Q. Closing words?
A. I just want to thank you, Red Bone, for taking the time to construct this interview. And thank you so much to PinCurl Magazine for wanting to feature it. The last two months have been a whirlwind of excitement and I am so honored to be sitting here as your 2016 Reigning Queen of Burlesque. I hope that this year will continue to provide me with opportunities to spread the gospel of burlesque around the globe, but more than anything, I hope to make you all proud.
And finally, if you are a burlesque performer, producer, fan, or ally and you are not a member of the Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum, then I don’t know what you are doing with your life.