Alaskan troupe VivaVoom Brr-Lesque sits down to answer a few questions about burlesque outside of the big cities.
Q: What is the population of Anchorage?
Anchorage has a population of almost 301,000 of the 735,000 who live in Alaska. However, that includes several suburbs which spread out over an area of about 80 miles.
Q: Please tell us a little about the beginning of Viva Voom Burlesque? When/where/how? Describe your style.
Lola Pistola and a friend started the troupe in Anchorage in 2004. It was New Year’s Eve, and, as the absinthe bottle went around, someone posed the drunken question: “what would you do if you could do anything and money was no object?” Lola’s friend answered “start a burlesque troupe!”, which was something they had joked about until that point.
We didn’t have a lot to go on when we first started, those were the days before Google. So we watched a bunch of VHS tapes and styled ourselves after the glamour of Las Vegas showgirls.
When we started, we thought we were starting something totally new. We had no idea about the neo-burlesque explosion that started in the mid-90s, with The Velvet Hammer and the Slipper Room. Once we started finding out about those things, though, we did everything we could to soak in all of the information we could get.
We are definitely neo-burlesque, with some classic thrown in for good measure. We write our own full-length shows sometimes, and other times, it’s all about how much variety we can pack in to stun our audiences. We do things a little differently from other troupes we have seen. We don’t have an MC. Lola introduces us, and lays down the law and does curtain calls for us, but in between acts, we have a sign siren who displays the sign of the next performer while a very short piece of music plays. Lola is all about ambiance and designs our soundscapes to be small adventures on their own. It makes the show flow seamlessly and takes our patrons on a personal journey.
We also readily accept tips. We prefer them crumpled up and thrown at us onstage. We have trained our audiences well to throw the bills, not put them into our clothing. This gets more tips than a tip jar or pass the hat.
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?
Up until about two years ago, we were the burlesque scene. Since then, seven other troupes have popped up. We know we started the fire and that it was bound to happen!
As for inspiration, at first, we inspired ourselves. Our goal was always to top the previous season with the current one. Now we have a little competition, which is a good thing. We have to keep the bar high.
As time went on, we were able to do more internet research and subscribe to magazines and join yahoo groups etc. We started attending BurlyCon and BHoF. We (Lola and Danger Maus) are both members of a few FaceBook groups pertaining to burlesque. It is much easier today to keep up with the burlesque community at large than it was 10 years ago. It’s disappointing to see these new troupes make the mistakes we did years ago when it is so easy to do research at this point.
Q: Do you travel often to see burlesque?
Getting out of Alaska is at least $500 these days just to Seattle. With food, lodging, events, etc, it starts to get really expensive. So, many of us make the pilgrimage to BHoF yearly. It’s the easiest way for us to see burlesque from all over the world. Lola and I also go to BurlyCon, which has been invaluable. Other than those, it is about impossible for us to get out with our day jobs and family lives. We do travel around the state to see and perform for and with other Alaskan performers. In addition, we host and provide support for many outside burlesque troupes/performers up here, which is always a pleasure.
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)
We sold out our very first show, and there have only been a handful of shows that we haven’t sold out since. We have a constant influx of new patrons, because Alaska is a somewhat transient place and people come and go with the weather. But we are never hurting for audience members. we hate turning people away, but we have to do it quite often. In Alaska, it’s hard to find affordable things to do that allow you to dress up, have a cocktail (or 3), and transport you to a sparkly world outside of the cold and dark cocoon that you get trapped in up here.
We get all types in our audiences. Men and women seem to be almost equal, with a few more women attending than men. Our patrons range from early 20s to 60s, though we have the occasional 70, 80 and even 90-year olds! Our shows are generally affordable for most working-class folks, and we get all kinds there! It’s an eclectic mix who get all of our jokes and social commentary, get along with one another, tip well, drink a lot, and dress up!
Q: Is education an uphill battle? Have you had any push-back involving your town at large/venues/ or the law?
The only battle with education is our problems with travel. We do a lot of teaching, but it’s difficult to teach yourself. We’ve made A LOT of mistakes. BurlyCon has been the best thing to happen to us, really, as far as education. We take our workshops on the road all over Alaska, too. They are well-received because we are so isolated and it’s difficult for others to get out of the state and learn, too.
We’ve had a few problems with large venues, but only because of profit. not because of our art. They can charge high rental fees. Why charge us a little, when you can charge a corporate gig a lot? Totally understandable, of course.
Our strip clubs are totally nude, so we don’t have any laws prohibiting us from going to pasties and a g string. Some of us have occasionally forgotten our pasties as well!
Q: Any interesting blue laws you have to work around? (If you don’t have them, you may not know, but blue laws are old laws on the books involving sexuality or alcohol. An example could be you have to cover your under-boob (true story in Nashville, TN)
Nope. No Blue Laws in Alaska, really. It’s sort of like the Wild West here. Anything goes. We have many full-nude commercial strip clubs, so being in a g-string and pasties at the end of an act is really not a shocker for folks who live around here. For being a Red State, we are pretty lax about nudity. Bummer about the under-boob thing though.
Q: What are the pros and cons of running a burlesque troupe in a smaller town/state?
There’s something to be said for being a big fish in a small pond. You make a lot of excellent connections. It’s always interesting, if not exotic to hear about burlesque in such a small place. It’s also satisfying that everything we have, we’ve worked incredibly hard for. We’ve earned it, and we haven’t had anyone do the leg work for us. However, we don’t get the opportunities that people in bigger cities have. We don’t get the education, we can’t see the shows, and it’s very difficult to tour. Getting out of AK is spendy and flying inside AK is at least as expensive. There are a lot of places you can’t drive to, so you can either fly there, or take a ferry. Which is time consuming and expensive. Plus we have limited resources. We have to buy many of our costume pieces online, and there are places that won’t ship outside the continental US. Or sometimes they will, but the shipping is more than the piece itself. Some places tell us they will only take US money! It’s exhausting sometimes.
Q: Do you feel under-recognized in the national scene? What are three things you want everyone to know about Alaskan burlesque?
Up until a few years ago we did. We raised the most money for the Legends Challenge for BHoF in 2013. Practically NO ONE knew who we were when they announced that and all 15 of us (there were others who could not make it that year) stood up, whooping and hollering! Unfortunately, while many people have heard of us, few have seen us perform. I think that frustrates me most of all. Three things about Alaska burlesque:
- We are isolated, so everything is more difficult: touring, education, inspiration, costuming…
- Due to our location, we have to be very innovative!
- There is no market for making a living at burlesque in Alaska, truly. The population just isn’t there. So we all work some sort of day job.
Q: What are three troupe goals for 2015?
- Tour more! In-state as well as somewhere in the Lower 48
- Offer more workshops (we can’t seem to offer enough classes, as we are bombarded with DAILY emails begging for classes!)
- An Alaskan burlesque festival!