As both a performer in and producer of House Of Burlesque, Tempest Rose is one of the busiest people in the London burlesque scene. As well as competing at this year’s Alternative Eurovision and putting on monthly House of Burlesque shows at Madame Jojo’s (currently titled Banged Up), she is preparing to launch a series of Summer Speakeasy shows at the same venue and appear with her core crew of dancers plus guests at the London Wonderground Spiegeltent.
Below, she opines about the modern state of burlesque and discusses more personal matters.
Tempest, let’s go right back to the beginning. How did you first become involved in burlesque?
I discovered the wonderful world of burlesque totally by accident when I was asked to audition for the prestigious burlesque cabaret troupe The Kitten Club. Upon watching the show I was blown away by the intelligence, sensuality, humour and confidence the performers had. Here for the first time was an art form that allowed women to be sexy, powerful, satirical, playful, comedic and intelligent all at the same time and that was only limited by the performers’ imagination. It was totally refreshing coming from the typecast world of traditional theatre in which I had trained and was working in. I was accepted into the troupe and after a year quit professional acting to concentrate solely on burlesque. With every House of Burlesque show it is my ambition to stay true to that first impression I got of burlesque.
What made you take the step from performer to producer?
I knew that I wanted to be in charge of my own career and that I had a vision and strong feelings for burlesque as a whole art form, so producing was a natural step. I started very small: I went back to my hometown of Oxford and started to put on nights for 50 – 70 people so I could get used to putting a show on from scratch and promoting it. If you had told me that after those early days of The Tempest Rose Revue I would go on to produce burlesque shows in theatres such as The Theatre Royal Newcastle and Southampton Mayflower, I don’t think I would have believed it!
As a producer, what are you looking for talent-wise in an artist?
In all honesty, I have always had a preference for artists that come from a trained theatrical background. Burlesque is live entertainment and an understanding of performance, movement and how to connect with your audience is vital. I think in general there needs to be a little less focus on sticking crystals on costumes and more focus on studying acting, improvisation and dance. I’m not saying presentation isn’t important – it is incredibly important, but it shouldn’t replace the essence of your performance. Saying that, I would never rule out an artist who has not gone the traditional theatrical route; for me the most important skill is the ability to connect with and entertain an audience.
It sounds like you love the production side of your work. Do you foresee a time when you will only be a producer?
It’s not my intention at present to give up performing for producing. The stage is where I feel most at home and I love the mix of doing both, but I’m open about my future and what might happen next.
How did you come up with the concept of Banged Up?
At any one time, I’m always juggling a few themes that interest me. The prison/crime theme was great as prison is a very specific world that brings together a broad spectrum of people all with diverse histories and stories. It was fascinating to research this world both in fiction but also in real-world reports such as The Corston Report on Women’s Prisons in the UK which was eye-opening and very disturbing. The feel for this show is much more contemporary then our other shows; it is full of comedy but has a harder edge which was really fun to explore. I’m incredibly proud of all the artists in it for embracing the theme so fully.
This year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame contest saw only two artists (Aurora Galore and Bonnie Fox) competing on behalf of the UK this year. Do you think that says a lot about the standards in the UK?
Not at all! There may have been only two chosen from the UK this year but they came home with three of the titles! BHOF is an amazing and special institution but, like all events, it has its own ideas and preferences for burlesque. Burlesque in the States and here in the UK has some large differences in my opinion due to a mix of historical roots and cultural references which I think have influenced this.
I’m incredibly proud of burlesque in the UK. We are very lucky that, particularly in London, burlesque is now an established and accepted form of entertainment and it is amazing that there are those that can make their living purely by performing because of this.
You are back at London Wonderground again this year. Will we see something different this year compared to your 2013 shows?
Yes, indeed. Each year is a chance to build on the year before and really explore what we can do in the space. The show will still have all its House of Burlesque trademarks and will showcase the wonderful variety of burlesque as always, but as our audience has grown so have we. This year is our most ambitious show there yet and we welcome some new amazing artists to the space to join us.
There are more shows featuring burlesque in the Wonderground Spiegeltent this year than ever before. Do you think that society is finally recognising burlesque as a form of variety entertainment rather than strictly associating it with striptease?
Definitely. I think the London audience is incredibly savvy about burlesque and knows its depth and variety. I do worry, though, that as burlesque is becoming more mainstream the things that made it so refreshing and popular in the first place are being lost.
As producers and artists we have a responsibility to keep showcasing the variety of burlesque and its “screw you” attitude to mainstream representations of women and not fall into promoting the most narrow and commercial view of the art form, all whilst remembering that burlesque is supposed to be entertaining.
What is your take on burlesque and feminism? What do you say to those that think burlesque is an anti-feminist art form?
I don’t think you can call any industry that is largely dominated and perpetuated by women both on and off the stage, and that allows them total freedom to choose their own representation and individual identity anti-feminist. Burlesque should be about women choosing how they wish to display their sensuality and personality in a way they own and are empowered by.
This element of conscious choice is vital, though. As a burlesque artist you must have the maturity to understand the message you are conveying to the audience and own that message. In my opinion, burlesque lends itself very well to a feminist way of thinking, but this does depend on how it is practiced.
What can you tell us about your Summer Speakeasy shows? And why should people descend into the darkness of Jojo’s on a sunny day?
Good question! I like to think of the Summer Speakeasy as a drop into a totally hidden world for a short spell during your night on the town. It is your hour and a half of pure decadence, like a secret club, to get you in the mood for a great Saturday night. We have a mix of variety, burlesque, circus, and boylesque, and there’s much humour and audience interaction for you to enjoy before we send you out into the streets of Soho on a glamorous high on to your next destination.
Going forward, where do you see House of Burlesque going and what would you like your audience to leave the show feeling like?
I would like House of Burlesque to continue growing and becoming the benchmark for burlesque that’s interesting, intelligent, sexy, sassy and above all entertaining. It would be fantastic to take the show abroad and at some point I’d love to establish an actual House of Burlesque venue where we can run our Academy in the daytime and shows in the evening. I would like my audiences to feel uplifted and full of life at the end of an HOB show. My mother always used to tell me the ability to make people smile and forget their troubles even for a short time was something special to be valued.
You can catch up with Tempest Rose and her House of Burlesque on the official website.