Seattle’s Golden Glamazon Sydni Deveraux talks creating a legacy, production advice, staying fit, veggie powered strippers, mentors and the importance of not being an asshole.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You’re a trained jazz singer, and you discovered burlesque while studying literature in college in 2005. After attending your first show you were hooked and asked to stage kitten, which you started doing almost immediately. From there you became a stage manager and eventually were asked to create your own act and perform, which eventually gave way to the Sydni we know today. In addition to singing and performing, your repertoire also includes hosting, instructing, writing, producing and much more. In just 7 short years you made your way to being included in 21st Century Burlesque’s Top 50 performers worldwide (2012). To what do you attribute your rapid success in the industry? If you could go back to the beginning of Sydni’s burlesque career, would you make any changes?
A: Hmmm…..it’s funny you should say “rapid success” because it’s been a road that seems long, windy and sometimes stuck at a dead end! I would say my “success” as you would call it would have to be attributed to the prodding of my mom to really put in the work and see where I could take myself (thanks mom), and to Catherine D’Lish, who mentored me in so many wonderful ways I can’t even begin to express my gratitude. Both of these women encouraged me to see my cultivation through, and I’m in no way done with my progress! I suppose in addition to that, I would have to say that the performers that I’ve had the honor of “coming up” with have constantly inspired me to be better every performance and also that I’m very stubborn and determined to be the absolute best I can be. In the grander scheme (beyond my personal development) I started to ask myself what I wanted my legacy to be and how I could add to burlesque’s present and future. My performances only take me to a few places around the globe a year, but my writing can go everywhere. I figured I should use my assets- my writing and wit- to lend a helping hand and hope that it might help someone else out. My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner, and that in a few situations in my baby-burlesquer years (I’m a teenager now, maybe) I didn’t speak up more for myself or the women around me.
Q: You’re the producer of Seattle’s weekly review “Burlesque Behind the Pink Door” and you’ve written extensively as well as instructed on production topics. Are there any production obstacles that you commonly encounter? What challenges are presented by producing a weekly show? What basic suggestions can you offer to fledgling producers that are struggling to keep up?
A: Producing a weekly is actually pretty easy at this point- the show that I have now was once in the legendary hands of Paula the Swedish Housewife and Tamara the Trapeze Lady, and then in my back-in-the-day co-producer Hottie McNaughty’s. I’ve done so many shows with them and had so many conversations, that you really do learn, and I very much learned from the best. My show is a challenge sometimes only because I don’t always have complete control as I don’t own the venue or manage the restaurant. It’s been a learning process (and I’m thankful for it!) to have to communicate with those not completely adapted to our burlesque world how I feel about the production and where I want to see it go. Like many small productions (the restaurant only seats about a hundred) there are challenges but all I can do is try and be as transparent as I can be about how it’s run and what I can do. Making sure that all of the releases go out whilst traveling can be a bit of a pain sometimes depending on access, but really, it’s not difficult. I have a set protocol now for my weekly production, and a really great group of stage managers. Also I have a ridiculously hot and talented roster of about 50 performers that I rotate through creating a different, fun show every week- so it makes it easy to cast something groovy. Another blessing is all of the wonderful talent that makes sure to contact me when they’re headed to Seattle to see if they can steal a slot in the show! I can’t always accommodate, since I have to book out in advance to make sure it runs smooth, but it’s so fun when it does work out.
I guess my basic advice for fledgling producers is:
a) to really make sure that their production lifts the face of burlesque in their town
b) be as transparent as you can
c) pay as fair as you can- don’t go below the base pay in your city- do your research
d) expect professionalism from your cast, since they will hopefully be expecting it from you too
e) go to a lot of other shows of all kinds to study (and be entertained!)
f) don’t book your friends unless they’re talented. Please.
g) get amazing stage managers
h) don’t be an asshole- if you have to turn someone down, or issue a reprimand, be nice. (I should mention that “don’t be an asshole” is one of the finest pieces of advice issued by the amazing Catherine D’Lish- and I heed it every day.)
Q: You’re also known for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and you keep yourself and countless others motivated by posting your “BQfitTips” on Twitter and Facebook. Have you been surprised by how many people are inspired by your posts, suggestions and advice? Was it your original intention to encourage others or was it more to help yourself stay motivated? Perhaps a little of both?
A: It was a huge surprise to see how many dig it- I just figured I’d try to put more good/informative stuff on the internet instead of complaining or the “me me me I’m awesome” stuffs. So much of what we all talk about online has to do with burlesque, but our burlesque has so much to do with our bodies and health that I couldn’t resist tackling it from the back end. I know it’s important to advertise ourselves, and I still do post “me” stuffs sometimes, but after all of the research I’ve done about health (mind and body) and fitness it just seemed natural to share what inspires me and what calls me to be shared. It’s a huge passion of mine (now) to try to cultivate the healthiest and most peaceful life that I possibly can- and knowing that I might even inspire one person to try something new in their day inspires me to keep doing it.
Q: Speaking of fitness and health, I was really struck by your reading your Tumblr and learned that you and your husband dramatically changed your diets and workouts and cumulatively have lost more than 90 pounds in the last two years! You transitioned to veganism in late 2012 (more on that later) and you’ve stated that that life change, along with a few other modifications, has helped you “feel incredible” and that you’re “experiencing the best health of [your] life.” What was the deciding factor in making that change? What advice do you have for those considering adopting a vegan lifestyle?
A: Heavy questions! You’ve really done your homework! Yeah- my Veggie Powered Stripper Tumblr is where I get healthy, political, esoteric and really into what I’m interested in besides burlesque. I needed a place to vent and be weird, since I don’t think my Facebook profile or performer Twitter was appropriate.
As to the deciding factors- I was miserable, body, mind and spirit. I suppose my soul ached for a change. I started on the surface, which if I knew then what I know now- I’d do the opposite, start from within. I consulted with nutritionists, trying to get to the bottom of my body woes which ran the gamut from tired, achy, bloated, carrying fat that I didn’t desire, etc. I incrementally made changes to my diet to get where I am now. First I tackled just eating regularly, you know? Spasmodic eating certainly doesn’t make your body trust that it has what it needs to function properly. Then I tackled portion sizes- I was eating too much of some things and not enough of others. I moved on to organic. I started to eat less meat in general and then decided to give giving it up a try for a bit and I felt even better (as to why- I suggest watching Forks Over Knives). As for working out, I started with cardio and then moved into hot yoga and weight training. I don’t lift much anymore as I hold a lot of muscle naturally on my body- but lifting was the thing that absolutely transformed my body. Yoga keeps me in flow and centered.
My advice to those considering a vegan lifestyle would be to do your research. I’m certain that if I wasn’t already eating enough prior to taking it on, I would have failed. Learn to cook if you don’t already know- knowing exactly what’s on your plate feels empowering. Avoid packaged stuff for the most part- it’s mostly junk. Don’t be fooled thinking that you can’t “get enough protein”- it’s absolutely a fallacy. You will have to take B-12 since it’s been depleted out of our soil over time. Make small incremental changes to start- make Monday meatless for a month. Then up it to another day or 3…..only eat organic meat (really- with what they inject into animals these days, please do yourself a favor and only eat organic if you are a meat eater) as well as dairy and cheese. Do what you can. I’ll admit, sushi and cheese were the last to go. But after I took a look at the state of our oceans, and what kinds of toxins are being discovered in fish now, it wasn’t hard. Now- I don’t even miss it. Our transition took a little less than a year, and I think we paced ourselves well.
I want to note that there is a Vegan Burlesque group- there’s not a ton of us, but we are there and I for one am totally willing to answer questions and supply links (I’ve amassed a ton). Besides making changes to what goes in my mouth, I decided to really discover why vegans say “want world peace? go vegan!”- For so long it sounded like hippie-dribble but then I started to learn about what’s going on in our world when it comes to animal ethics (how they’re treated). I realized that my feelings and findings about animal rights match up with my feelings about women’s reproductive rights, surprisingly. I started to learn more about sustainability (ie: feeding starving nations and what it actually takes to produce our food resource-wise) and what I found was horrendous, and I cannot participate any longer. Since I was looking for peace within, I decided to eat the most peacefully for me and to do what I can personally do. I have to say that it very much has helped my aspirations for inner tranquility. “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
I don’t mean to get so serious on you (in general I’m super goofy, I swear!), but the world is going through so much right now, and I want to see it change! As they say- change starts within. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
Q: Another aspect of your veganism that I found particularly interesting was its impact on your costuming. You’ve stated, “Since my transition to veganism in late 2012 I’ve been learning more what it means to be a performer who no longer purchases costuming items that come from animal sources and phasing out the things I do have and replacing them with other sources as I can afford. The trappings of a showgirl are INTENSE- feathers, furs, leather, all of it. In my most selfish moments I wish my eyes hadn’t been opened at all to the injustices we place on animals, but then I realize that it would cause so much more pain if I had remained ignorant to my part in this world. I believe that peace starts within, and since I’ve transitioned to this kinder, gentler life, I am indeed more peaceful.” What vegan-friendly costuming alternatives have you sought out? Are you finding it difficult or costly to replace existing costume pieces, or have you retired certain pieces (or acts) altogether until you can find suitable replacements?
A: I still have lots of feathers, and there’s not much I can do about it at this time. I plan on loving and using them until they are no longer suitable for stage. Replacing thousands of dollars of feathers on this stripper’s budget (right now) is just not possible. So, I still have pregan stuffs (pre-vegan), but I donated and got rid of what I couldn’t use properly and have no plans of buying animal products in the future.
For shoes, it hasn’t been so bad- since I wear 5 inch spikes typically, there’s all kinds of different materials, and I certainly know how to make a shoe prettier with paint, fabric or baubles. Tulle and chiffon make for excellent boas- I know my vegan stripper sisters have already been successful in making them, and there’s lots of feather alternatives out there. It’s kind of exciting to dream up new ways to make boas or fans though- I look forward to the costuming challenge! I do have to say that a benefit is not spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars of feathers…..now they can go to rhinestones!
Q: You’re an outspoken advocate of the importance of burlesque mentors. You personally sought out your mentor, the incomparable Catherine D’Lish, after making the transition to being a solo performer. Care to touch briefly on the importance of having a mentor and the difference it’s made for you?
A: A mentor can change your life. However- I should say that not every mentor or apprentice is right for each other and that I was incredibly lucky to have had a good fit with Catherine. From Catherine I learned the absolute importance of gaining control over my body and my mind, and to work through things thoroughly. I learned a work ethic that probably unnerves some people- and Catherine’s work ethic and genius is like no other- I remain in awe of her dedication to creating beautiful things. Ultimately it made me happy to somehow learn that I absolutely had permission to value my body and to work on myself to whatever end I desired, and that I should take care of “me” first. Whilst under Catherine’s tutelage I made a variety of different decisions that impacted my entire life- not just my burlesque, like giving up sugar, meditation, yoga, stretching, watching my thoughts/beliefs, way less booze, how to move my body like I’m a 6’2” lady, you know- good stuff. Throughout it all she never blatantly told me what I needed to do, she somehow in her sensei ways cleverly guided me to my own truths. Before I met Catherine I had already placed an intention out to the universe to find a teacher- I have to say it was a better result than I could have imagined! As a performer I would say that my time with a mentor certainly made me a better performer. I’m more present, more engaging, more interesting, more stable and strong, and more loving to my audience. I loved burlesque since I started, but I’m crazy in love with performing now! Having a teacher like that can crack you open to your core and reveal all of the things that you never ever, ever wanted to deal with- a good mentor will hold compassionate (but firm) space for you while you work through it so long as you have a desire to be better. A mentor should want to see you succeed and you should want to learn everything you can help them in any way you can, and you absolutely have to be open-hearted. It’s an exchange of many things, and when your time of apprenticeship is over, it should move you to continue onward and upwards all while paying it forward.
Q: Your popular burlesque advice column, Stripper Talk, is widely read and discussed among the burlesque community. Which topics have you found received the most responses from readers? Have you been surprised by any reactions to your column, or discussions that started as a result of one of your topics?
First off- I feel blessed that so many people have read what I have written, since I can be very opinionated, and I love that it has sparked discussion! Besides Burlycon and smaller discussions at festivals all over the world with your peers, all we have is the internet. We have so many topics that I feel are of the utmost importance to the survival and success of our craft, and they are the same things that readers have really run with and they are:
a) cultural appropriation/racism/isms in general
d) in general how not to be an asshole.
Q: What’s next for Sydni Deveraux?
A: Well, I have this BHOF competition thingy to do and I’ve mostly been focusing on that besides the local gigs that I have coming up. I am STOKED to be performing with and for so many talented performers that weekend and the queen’s category is fully-stocked with so many women that I adore! The backstage time I’m afraid, is going to be a love-fest! After that I have a new act to tackle- it’s quite a different style than I am used to, so I look forward to really getting into the meat and potatoes of it. I’ll keep teaching private sessions and a few bigger classes (I’m venturing into self-improvement workshops for onstage and off, I think), hopefully get back into writing (by the way I’m always taking Stripper Talk questions). I might be starting to produce bigger productions again, in addition to my weekly show and of course I would love to be in some fun shows all over the world- I am always taking new bookings!
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: Thank you for asking such tough questions!