Lola Love talks burlesque on the Hawaiian Islands.
Q: What is the population of Honolulu, Hawaii? 338,000
Q: Please tell us a little about the beginning of burlesque for you? When/where/how? Describe your style.
The first neo-burlesque troupe in Hawaii was founded by Meghan Mayhem (resides in Portland now) and myself in 2006. We named our group (a duo at the time!) Cherry Blossom Burlesque. As many first troupes we were just trying to figure it out; there weren’t a lot of resources back then. We wanted to stick to the vintage aesthetic and act wise we did what a lot of baby burlesquers do and we performed a lot of the burlesque standards: my heart belongs to daddy, our second act was of course, fever, big spender, bugle boy, etc. Our troupe slowly grew into a 10 person troupe and although really green to the world of burlesque we found some local success. In 2014 I left the troupe to focus on my production company, Pretty Peacock Production and formed my current troupe, The Aphrodisiacs.
The Aphrodisiacs are dance heavy and we focus on a modern approach to burlesque. We take vintage concepts and attempt to present them in a modern way. We work a lot with projections, black light, scripts, contemporary music, and focus on reveals we haven’t seen yet (not that it means they haven’t been done before!). Aesthetically we go for a more we try to keep a modern, futuristic look over traditional burlesque.
Q: Do you have a local burlesque community to speak of? With their being little, if any, burlesque in your town and/or state, how do you stay inspired and how do remain informed of issues/evolutions in the burlesque community?
Since I work in Seattle I see how their community works and I have to say that no, we don’t have community in that sense but I hope to some day.
The problem with being so isolated is its hard for a community to grow and compete at a national level. Many performers haven’t had the opportunity to take classes from the heavy hitters of burlesque so our burlesque isn’t quite as advanced as a city with a lot more resources. With that said we still have some great performers and there are some great things happening.
I went to BurlyCon a handful of years ago and it was amazing. I came home and told everyone how awesome it was and now many people from our state attend. It’s always great because I see (and our audiences!) a significant difference in our performances. It has made a huge change in folks and it benefits everyone because other performers learn from it.
I stay inspired by traveling a lot and watching as much burlesque as I can, I read a ton of burlesque blogs, I keep connected on Social Media and I work for BurlyCon as the Director of Programming which requires me to be up to date with our community on a global level. Thankfully the Internet makes it easy these days.
Personally I don’t typically seek inspiration from the community so being isolated is fine. I love art, theater, music, nature, films, etc and I seek inspiration from those sources. I love keeping up with burlesque to see how our community is progressing.
Q: Is there burlesque on the other islands?
Although we have a small community compared to say, Seattle or New York, our community is growing and it’s so exciting! We have 3 troupes on Oahu plus 15-20 independent performers. Maui and the Island of Hawaii (The Big Island) each have 3. We are slowly getting there.
Big Island- Acme HourGlass Burlesque Co, Pin Up Burlesque
Maui- Kit Kat Club Cabaret, Maui Ultraviolets, Cabaret & Cocktails
Oahu- The Aphrodisiacs (my troupe), Cherry Blossom Cabaret (my old troupe), Volary
Q: Do you travel often to see burlesque?
BurlyCon requires me to be in Seattle a few times a year so I always see at least 1 show while there. Most often, more! I also make the trek to bhof each year plus I take 1 trip a year to visit a city to check out their scene. This year I have seen about 20+ shows in Seattle, Vegas, Chicago, and New Mexico. It’s really easy to see trends, learn and get motivated. Especially from cities like Chicago and Seattle where the quality of burlesque is very high. There is also a ton of variety in those cities. I love seeing what smaller communities are up to as well. There are a lot of hidden gems in tiny towns and I learn a lot from folks who are in the same boat as me.
Q: How have your audiences responded to your shows? Was it slow growth in audience numbers or a big boom from go? Is there a pattern among your audience (mostly male or female/ age/ socioeconomic class)
Our audiences LOVE our shows. They are such an excited, appreciative and vocal audience. On one hand it’s not good because it doesn’t require you to earn their love as you do in other cities but boy, it feels really good to be on stage. I can’t complain!
My company has been pretty fortunate and we haven’t had an issue with building an audience. It’s normal for us to sell out whether we are in a bar or in a larger venue. A large scale venue can draw an audience of about 300 and a small bar show can draw 75-100 (all we can fit).
Hawaii is such a diverse place and or audience reflects that. Being queer my shows always include members of the lgbtq+ community so you see folks from the lgbtq+ community, women, men, military, old, young and people of all types.
Q: Is education an uphill battle? Have you had any pushback involving your town at large/venues/ or the law?
Our state loves burlesque. It’s part of our history and Chinatown on Oahu has a rich burlesque history. We don’t have problems on Oahu but the liquor commission on the other islands has made it very hard to do burlesque. We once had a show in Maui interrupted by the liquor commission and the required us to change everything to stop the stripping element. We had to runoff stage to do the removals! It was very vintage blue law era.
Q: Any interesting blue laws you have to work around?
On Oahu we get away with everything. On the other islands you aren’t allowed to remove any costume pieces on stage including a hat or towel you are carrying. When naked you must cover from the top of your areolas to the bottom of your breast. Your g-string must cover an inch of your butt.
There are some underground venues that don’t enforce it but if the liquor commission catches you it will be pricey!
The easiest way for the outer island gals to get around the issues is to host shows in theaters or private venues. They have to be creative and I really respect them for that!
Q: What are the pros and cons of running a burlesque troupe in a smaller town/state?
Pro’s- it feels really good to be part of the duo that introduced burlesque to our state. We traveled to the outer islands to perform and now some of those folks are performing burlesque!
It’s great because we have a hungry audience. We do have a few troupes but we are all so different that it’s not a big deal for our audience. One is an aerial burlesque troupe and the other is my old troupe who is more cabaret.
The cons are not having a lot of costume resources and being forced to order everything from the Internet. As I stated earlier, not having the resources of regular instruction by high level performers makes it hard for our community to grow. We get a couple opportunities a year but I would love for it to be monthly! Or at least quarterly!
Q: Do you feel under recognized in the national scene? What are three things you want everyone to know about Hawaii burlesque?
Many people are still surprised we exist!
- We are very diverse. Maui created the first black light troupe (100% of their work is in black light), we have lots of full length scripted burlesque plays, we have an aerial burlesque troupe, we have butoh burlesquers, samba dancing burlesquers, etc. We get weird too.
- We are pretty dance heavy in Hawaii. From those who perform on the ground (excluding aerial) I’d say 75% of performers come from a dance background. It’s a trend I noticed after traveling a lot to other states.
- We are masters of tiki burlesque. Like for reals. We have all the resources for that!
Q: What are three troupe goals
- Neon Dreams – we are reprising our black light show. We took a year off after two years of sold out shows and we are working on new material for the show as we speak. It’s great to have a product people love but it can artistically feel stagnant if we aren’t inspired.
- BHOF – only one of my troupe mates has attended so this year I want us to go as a group. Because flights are so expensive it’s really hard for all of us to get there!
- A successful fundraiser show so we can meet our first two goals!
More on Hawaii Burlesque: 2013 Interview with Violetta Beretta