U.K. burlesque performer Anna Fur Laxis, First Runner-Up for Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2011, talks ridiculousness, BHoF legends, knife-throwing, fans with actual anaphylaxis and ninja training.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Your breathtaking act “The Prestige” won you the title of First Runner-Up for Reigning Queen of Burlesque in June 2011 at the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend. I’ve read that it took you at least 18 months of work to properly execute the act and I’d love to know a little more about the details of your extensive preparation, especially the quick change aspect. Had you ever done quick change prior to that act?
Thank you for the breathtaking bit! I’m so glad you liked it. Back in 2006 when I saw the titular film I completely loved it, I found it gloriously evoked what must have been incredible excitement at the performances of the magicians of that period; it’s one of my favourite films. Michael Caine’s description of the three-act concept of a magician’s performance, with ‘The Prestige’ being the climax, particularly lodged in my head. I always said to myself that if I were to seriously apply for BHoF it would have to be with something amazing, I would want to perform something that no one had ever seen before, really to show myself what I could achieve as much as anyone else. A trip to LA’s Magic Castle in 2009 incepted the routine and I jokingly threw out “The Prestige” as a working title to my husband, after he’d stopped laughing at the pompous ridiculousness of it he said he loved it and his enthusiasm for the idea sealed the deal. I knew I had a killer concept but it turned out that I had no idea of the scale of the work that would be required. I had to imagine, develop and build everything myself, with only the help of my wonderful husband.
Prior to this act I’d had zero experience with magic, illusion or quick-change. I can read for England though so I picked up everything I could find on it. I started looking into the mechanics of the quick-change type act but it became clear that they weren’t suitable for the effects I was looking for. When I realized the act was more of a vanish-and-appear the pieces started to fall into place, although the effects are visually similar it’s an important distinction as it creates very different costuming challenges.
I love making costumes but it’s fair to say that this one was my biggest challenge to date and the length of time spent on the routine’s development speaks of the numerous costume pieces that didn’t quite work as required and so had to be re-made, modified and/or abandoned.
Two legends you are particularly inspired by are Holiday O’Hara and Dusty Summers. Would you please share about your admiration for them and in what ways each of them have helped mold you into the performer you are today?
Hands down, THE most incredible thing about attending the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend is meeting the legends of the industry. These amazing men and women are full of inspiration, advice and brilliance and it’s incredibly motivating to spend time in their presence. Hearing Holiday O’Hara speak at the 2008 Legends Panel really did have a profound effect on me. During that weekend’s show, Holiday had performed a striptease for which she had entered the stage with the necessary aid of her mobility walker; the act also featured her utilizing it for comic effect. Speaking of this at the panel, she recalled her mentor’s words, “if you can’t fix it, feature it”. Those words were a revelation to me, and they have informed me both as a performer and in my personal life since.
With Dusty Summers, I’d read her book and been so inspired by her story. I loved that Dusty incorporated magic into her numbers, and when I saw her perform live with doves for the first time, I was blown away. Those doves seriously appear from NOWHERE! When I started to create ‘The Prestige’, I knew I wanted to impress Dusty Summers. Winning the trophy was amazing, but nervously approaching Dusty the next day to ask what she’d thought, and to hear her say that she’d loved the number and had stood up to cheer really made my day!
Let’s talk pre-burlesque background. How/when did you get started? Do you have any formal dance/theater training, etc?
I don’t have any formal dance background (other than a performance as a munchkin in a small production of “The Wizard of Oz” aged 3) – the other dance training I have undertaken as an adult, and since starting to perform Burlesque as a career. I love learning new things and I grab learning opportunities wherever I can.
Other than dance classes, the ‘training’ I’ve found most beneficial from my previous life and careers has been from unexpected areas – Anatomy & Physiology & body positioning studies from my Radiography training has helped with modeling, my Beauty Therapy has helped with stage make up & presentation, and my time as a Legal Secretary has been invaluable in writing my contracts and the huge amount of administration that being a Performer brings.
Initially, I started to perform Burlesque as an extension of the pin-up modeling I’d been doing. I had no clue that I would fall so in love with performing and creating acts and that I would be doing it full time within six months of my first performance!
Aside from burlesque, you’re also an established model. Care to share some career highlights thus far? Any exciting modeling projects in the works?
Modeling and Burlesque work well together and I love both. I love working with creative, retro companies such as Vivien of Holloway and Arcanum Accessories or with incredible Artists like Gary Crozier and Saarai Salmi & Marco Melander. I’m really looking forward to some of the shoots I have lined up, for example with creative wig specialist Archania by D’Licious, and I also have a new project in the pipeline with Gary Crozier. As for highlights? I’m a sucker for being on magazine covers. Five years ago I was a nerdy Yorkshire Housewife – being on magazine covers makes me feel like I‘ve broken the laws of Physics.
Your fans recently voted you number 5 in 21st Century Burlesque’s Burlesque Top 50 for 2011 (a drastic jump from the number 19 spot in 2010). In your opinion, what contributed to the increase in notoriety? Were you surprised to be in the top 5?
I was absolutely thrilled to be voted into the top 50, and to be number 5 was wonderful. I’d obviously been hoping I’d be somewhere in the top 50, but as names were announced and the numbers get smaller you do start to wonder if you’ll be in there.
I think I owe my position at number 5 to the people who saw my BHoF act – either online or on stage in Las Vegas and Leeds. It’s very rewarding to know that people enjoy what I do enough to put me alongside such esteemed Performers, Teachers and Ambassadors of this industry.
You’re also known for knife/axe-throwing, and you won a medal from the International Knife Throwers Hall of Fame recently. We’d love to hear more about that!
Haha!! Yes, I was pretty excited about that medal! Since I met Hollywood Knife Thrower Jack Dagger in Los Angeles in 2008, I’ve come to know some really great members of the International Knife Thrower’s Hall of Fame. It’s a wonderful community and, in many ways similar to the burlesque scene. It’s an international group of enthusiasts, skilled in a discipline they love, loudly spreading the word to anyone who’ll listen. I’d love to go to more events and throwing contests but I’m rarely available, so to get recognition from them was wonderful, and again, very much an honour.
I giggled at a recent Facebook post in which you stated, “I know I’ve been going in this direction for quite some time, but in 2012 I’ve decided to become an actual ninja.” You’ve got some pretty serious training ahead of you this year, no?
Totes. Although in many ways I’m almost there already; I’ve studied the martial art Aikido, I can pretty much quote the whole of Enter the Dragon, I own some REALLY tight black pants and my knife-throwing instructor has offered to teach me how to throw bo shuriken. The way I see it, my main challenge in this quest is to figure out how to be a lot less clumsy in the dark.
In December you had to delay the second act of show because an audience member was actually experiencing anaphylaxis, reportedly right after you left the stage. I’m certainly not making light of anyone’s ailment, but my goodness how incredible is that?! (What happened, anyway?)
I was performing in a run of nightly dinner shows in the Grand Casino in Helsinki, an awesome gig with beautiful performers LouLou D’Vil and Lada Redstar. One night, I noticed that the interval was lasting a lot longer than usual and asked around to find out what was happening. I was told that the show had been halted while medical help was sought for a diner who had eaten something, suffered an allergic reaction and was experiencing anaphylaxis! BOOM! You can’t buy that headline! Thankfully, we later learned that he made a full recovery; you never know what could happen next time though!
What’s next for Anna Fur Laxis?
Sewing! I’m planning two new numbers for this year so I’m currently riding a wave of costuming inspiration. I’m also working with my husband again on the design for a new prop I’ll need for one of them. Ninja Training obviously, I’ll be starting that in earnest. Then there are rehearsals for some overseas shenanigans in the pipeline, can’t give too much away about them yet but if you currently reside in, oh, let’s say… Canada? Australia? Spain? Yorkshire? Then there’s a chance you could bump into me somewhere. Drinking tea? Counting cards? Leaving no trace?