Known as “the gem you’d love to polish,” Texas Burlesque Performer of the Year 2011 Ruby Joule talks bed sheet corsets, shattered bones, cop dramas, biker bars, and reckless abandon.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: First of all, congratulations on being voted Texas Burlesque Performer of the Year at last month’s 3rd Annual Hot Rods and Heels! As if that weren’t enough, the troupe you co-founded, The Jigglewatts, won Texas Troupe of the Year for the second year in a row! That’s quite an accomplishment! Care to comment on this achievement?
Thank you so much! We all work so hard at this art form, and it’s wonderful to be acknowledged. It was quite an honor to be named among other performers who dazzle and inspire me on a regular basis. I am extremely flattered to have won the award. The Jigglewatts is an endeavor I’m especially proud of. We’re celebrating our five-year anniversary this year and that in itself is huge to me! I’m so grateful that even with all of our solo projects, we’re also able to function together as a strong troupe.
Q: In your last interview with Pin Curl, you mentioned that you make and re-purpose all of your costumes and props. Now that you’ve become a national presence in the burlesque world, are you still creating everything yourself? If so, do you intend to continue doing it yourself, or do you think at some point you’ll have to commission assistance to get your ideal costumes and props as your visions grow bigger and bigger?
Yes, I’m still doing it the old-fashioned way, haha! My costumes are all self-made collages in one way or another. Practically speaking, I don’t think I could properly explain to another person exactly what I want in a costume. Although, I did a fashion show this year where I was asked to do a burlesque striptease out of a specially designed wedding gown to Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” as the finale of the show. The designer and I met several times for fittings, and I explained how I needed zippers and trouser hooks on each piece… I admit it was a luxury not having to do all that myself; I felt so pampered! I can also definitely see the benefit to having custom created corsetry– that is something I would never attempt… again. When I was about 13, I tried to make a corset out of fabric from an old bedsheet and some boning I found in my grandmother’s sewing chest. I wanted a corset so badly, I was determined to make one myself! I would definitely commission a prop maker, as I have little to no experience there, especially with the big props!
Q: What is your advice for gals whose budgets are much smaller than their dream costumes and props?
I was once lamenting this very thing when a wise producer told me, “creativity goes a long way in making up for what you lack in budget.” I would say don’t underestimate the treasure trove that a thrift store can be. You can find pieces to repurpose and amazing one-of-a-kind fabrics. Also, think quality rather than quantity. Maybe your costume doesn’t need 20 layers; you can have just a few pieces that look really stunning. Also, you might be able to collaborate with a designer who wants to get their name out there, and split the cost of materials. It can be an expensive art form, that’s for sure.
Q: Also in your previous feature with us, you mentioned that a devastating foot injury when you were a teen led you to shift focus from ballet to theater and other “less punishing” dance styles. If you don’t mind me asking, what kind of injury did you sustain and how long did it take for you to recuperate? I ask because after watching you perform numerous times, I would have never guessed about any injury, let alone such a serious one.
I was in ballet rehearsal one day and just happened to land a jump wrong. It sent three cracks through my heel bone, effectively shattering it. We didn’t realize anything serious was wrong until after I had walked around on it for several days and the pain and swelling got really bad. I had to drop out of the ballet performance and hobble around in a cast for several weeks. I was young so I bounced back, but classical ballet is so hard on the body, the feet and knees in particular. I guess maybe it happened at a crucial age, because my dancing was never the same. Everything happens for a reason though, and I’m glad I’ve gotten to explore and love other types of performance.
Q: Not only are you an award-winning burlesque performer, but you’re also an accomplished actress on stage and screen as well as a model. Tell us about your acting pursuits as of late, as I’ve heard you’ve been quite busy!
Ah yes! There have been some exciting projects lately in television, film, and modeling. I got to co-star as the girlfriend of an arms dealer on NBC’s cop drama, Chase, about U.S. Marshals working in Texas. When we filmed, I had to wear a tiny microphone pinned to the inside of my shirt so they could get a clean capture of my lines, but the wire it was attached to had to be hidden in my wardrobe. We ended up snaking the wire down the leg of my skinny jeans– quite an absurd and silly process, and hiding the rest in my boot! The episode aired in early May. I was also in a film called Natural Selection, a southern dramedy starring Rachael Harris (the mean fiancé from The Hangover), and Matt O’Leary (Sorority Row). I played a trashy girl who hustles the male lead in a biker bar, then makes off with all his money and his car. Charming, right? My only complaint was that wardrobe had me wearing flip flops and a denim mini skirt. You’d never wear that to a biker bar! Not if you planned on getting a ride, anyway. I’m very happy for this film, as it swept the awards at the SXSW film festival and has been selected for many other prestigious festivals. Variety predicts that it will land distribution soon, so fingers crossed. In fashion, I’m thrilled to be working with couture designer Boudoir Queen. I walked the runway for her “Secret Circus” event here in Austin in February, and am traveling with her to Aspen in August for another fashion event. Her designs are pure decadence with a burlesque twist.
Q: You’ve been traveling and performing all over in the last year or two. Other than your multiple performances in New Orleans with Bustout Burlesque and the New Orleans Burlesque Festival, where else have you been?
Oh, travel is one of my headiest addictions! In the past year I’ve gotten to travel and perform in Chicago with Michelle L’Amour, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and… Norman, Oklahoma!
Q: While doing my research, I was interested in a quote from another interview of yours, in which you said that your primary inspiration comes from the audience as opposed to anything else, and that it’s crucial for a performer to connect with his or her audience. What advice do you have for newer performers who are trying to learn the art of making that connection?
It takes practice, so keep trying! The first time I stepped out on a burlesque stage I didn’t expect to be frightened, but I was terrified! There’s something very raw and vulnerable about burlesque because in most cases, all the creative decisions are your own. There’s no other writer or director responsible if it doesn’t work. It can be tempting to shut down emotionally and just give a pretty “presentation” rather than engaging the audience in your performance. In any type of theatre, burlesque included, the audience wants to be moved. They want to have an experience that makes them feel something! Delight, surprise, longing, ferocity, reckless abandon? Whatever your goal is, you must take yourself there first! Make yourself feel it, and the audience will come along. It’s human nature. You can learn to read an audience– sometimes they’re quiet and reserved, which does not mean they don’t like you, contrary to popular belief. It may mean you have to play it coy, flirt with them in a different way. Maybe they’re just mesmerized! Go see other burlesque shows and observe the audiences, how they react, what draws them in.
Q: What’s next for Ruby Joule?
Oh, so much my head is spinning! But I’m grateful to be so busy doing what I love. There will be more travel; to New Orleans and Toronto for festivals, and Aspen for a fashion event. I’m also working with a brilliant artist who is creating fine art pieces and a comic character based on my burlesque work. I hope to incorporate more vocals into my acts as well. Maybe it’s my theatrical roots, but I love talking to the audience a la Gypsy Rose Lee and Blaze Starr.