The infamous Miss Catherine D’ Lish graces our “Best of Pin Curl Magazine- Sping/Summer 2012” Issue and we couldn’t be more thrilled! To get the entire interview with the amazing Catherine D’ Lish, as well as *more exclusive* images from the photoshoot, visit our shop!
Miss Exotic World 1992 and 1994 Catherine D’Lish talks Cabaret New Burlesque, costuming PTSD, rabid ambition, scrapbooking, being a pleasure junkie and using props.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You began performing as a stripper at the age of 18 or 19, but you were once a music student, which is evident in your impeccable timing. I’ve read that the first time you stripped was “the first time [you] performed on stage without an instrument to hide behind.” The band geek in me is curious to know, what instrument(s) did you play and for how long? Do you still play at all?
Thank you for the compliment and yes, I was a music student for a long time. I started with piano from a pretty young age, then picked up the viola in 6th grade, but then quickly added the cello and soon after just stuck with the bass through the rest of my school years. I played the bass in the youth symphony and civic orchestra, and at the school for the arts that I attended (our school color was the rainbow, no joke.) I especially enjoyed playing in the pit for the school musicals and some local theater- I was a pretty bad girl, so being in the pit gave me plenty of opportunities to joke around, and I’ve always enjoyed the company of musicians. I still play the piano at home to relax.
You mentioned in an interview I read that you worked with teachers who helped you strengthen your body and learn how to correct “bad habits that were causing chronic injuries.” What sorts of injuries did you end up with and which bad habits led to them?
When I first started dancing, I was just some girl thrust out onto the stage, and I quickly got into the fun of it, and began rehearsing at home. After some time had passed and I’d been doing my own thing, moving the way I saw fit, all that squiggling and wiggling began to take its toll on my knees. Turns out, some of that stuff we do that looks so great can become problematic if you haven’t developed the strength to carry yourself correctly- there are also lots of other contributing factors, but having a good strong centered body is very important to prevent injuries. I started studying various physical therapy techniques, and different things that were very helpful to me- Alexander Technique, Pilates, Yoga, etc… I’ve learned a lot along the way, and am still fascinated by this sort of thing- bodywork is one of my favorite interests. And I’m a pleasure junkie, so I’m really into the great feeling you get from it.
You became known for your prop performances as a feature dancer and have joked that you were “sort of the Gallagher of Stripping.” As a bona fide expert on prop burlesque performance, what are your suggestions to performers who are trying learn to incorporate more large props? I’ve always been especially curious about the logistics side of using large props – the storage, the transport, etc. Do you have any stories in which logistics went awry and props didn’t arrive, or arrived in a different condition from when they were shipped/transported, what have you?
I do love working with props- I always have. Mostly, I just like having something fun to crawl around on. I was “sort of the Gallagher of Stripping” because I also liked to make a mess, lots of bubble bath, showers, paint, cream, etc. One thing I would like to stress to other performers is the importance of respecting everybody else that is using that stage too. I really frown upon those that carelessly litter the stage with glitter, and am appalled at anyone that leaves the stage wet with anything. This also carries over into prop set-up and breakdown. Your prop should be engineered to come on and off the stage without making any enemies of the show staff. Please take the time to lay down tarps if you must cover yourself in something gooey, or strew glitter about- and spend a little extra dough to have your giant whatchamacallit break down in a manageable process.
There was one time that I was doing a show for Doug’s cabaret in San Francisco and my props and costumes didn’t get shipped in time- I was coming straight there from Europe, and just used what I had in my suitcase and made up a couple of acts on the spot. Actually, it was a pretty good time… (and Doug, bless him, saved on the shipping expenses! Could have been worse.)
You’re self-taught in prop-making and costuming, correct? You built your first champagne glass prop in around 1990, and unless I’m mistaken, it’s the same glass that you use now. Do you have any stories about the development phase of some of your props? It’s obvious what ended up working for you, but I’d like to know more about the tactics/materials that you tried at first that didn’t work out to your liking. Tell us about your failed burlesque experiments, if you will.
Yes, self taught. Still self-teaching. I am still using the same glass- it’s a good pal to me. I’ve often wondered just how many hours I’ve logged in that thing. Luckily, I haven’t had too many failures with the props; I try to work out the kinks in my head before construction begins. My giant penis started as a stuffed thing- when I had the inflatable version made with an internal blower, which was a great improvement. But the first one was on a whim for a small contest, so I’m not sure if that counts- although I’m glad it led to the real “Chubby”. Most of the design for props is based on how it can be broken down for shipping. The spider web and the bird cage both un-assemble into very sensible pieces for travel. Dita and I had a giant acrylic bathtub made years ago for us to perform in together, but it was such a big beast (with a leak!), so that might be a fail… for comedic material though, I consider it a great success…
You’re an established costumer, especially known for your work with ornate crystal and feather detailing. You also work hand in hand with Fabulous Feathers, right? Please share some of your favorite costume projects you’ve done (either for yourself or another.) What were some of your most painstaking/difficult costume pieces that you’ve made?
Most painstaking pieces? My costuming PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] prevents me from getting too much into that- forgive me. I have enjoyed a great relationship with Fabulous Feathers, Jason (Mr. FF) sources excellent feather products, and is a terrific feather-buddy to me. One of my favorite dye-jobs ever is the blue bird costume, he gave me the perfect blue I was asking for; it photographs so well!
You’ve earned more than 30 performance accolades, including Miss Exotic World 1992 and 1994, and you performed at the first Tease O Rama in 2001. What are your thoughts on the evolution of the national burlesque festival circuit since then? What are the biggest changes and/or trends that you’ve noticed developing over the years?
There have been so many more performers attracted to burlesque over the years, and with them come oodles more, they are breeding like wild rabbits! It’s been fun to see the growth in enthusiasm, but the biggest change I’ve seen as time passes is a rabid ambition for fame and success in some girls, and I don’t think it always brings out the best in them. On the other hand, the growing numbers surely has to produce some very special performers, so fingers crossed for that…
Speaking of festivals, you also act as burlesque competition judge from time to time. Personally, what do you consider to be the most important traits in a winner?
I like to see well-honed skills, honest confidence, and actual talent, but most importantly a personality that is appealing. I prefer performers that are genuine on and off stage, that are just clearly fun people and hot (in whatever way they are hot). I just want to be entertained, and it really doesn’t take too much, I don’t need pyrotechnics, just a nice mixture of some of the above qualities.
What’s next for Catherine D’Lish?