How To Get Ahead In Burlesque - Interview with Lady Maud Mitford
London’s alternative scene is known for being one of the most accepting and supportive communities around – but how easy is it to be a brand-new newbie on the block?
We sat down with marvellous MC and budding burlesque star, Lady Maud Mitford, to find out how she’s getting her sparkly-pumped foot in the door.
All photo credits: The Burly Photographer
Just like me (and like you lot too, I imagine!) Jacinta (the brilliant brain behind Lady Maud) grew up loving the glamour and fun of old Hollywood. A born performer, she took to the stage after finishing school but struggled to find the glitz she craved in traditional theatre or stand-up comedy. Cue the Dita Von Teese documentary which changed everything. She discovered burlesque and has been slowly building up to getting involved ever since.
The first challenge, she says, is knowing – quite literally – where to start. “When you’re looking for shows and competitions, it can be hard to know who is trustworthy, what nights have a good reputation- things like that. Some people boycott certain nights because specific other people are performing – there’s a lot of politics, and it’s hard to navigate that when you’re brand new.”
The best way to combat this is to find yourself some mentors – using Facebook groups, entering competitions to get feedback, or – best of all, by doing a course. Jacinta’s mentors include Little Lady Luscious and Trixi Tassels who recently helped her overcome challenge number two: costume.
Now, anyone who knows me won’t be remotely surprised that this would be MY FAVOURITE BIT. The make-up, the sequins, the glitter! But, apparently, these visions of glam are a lot harder to achieve than one might think. “I wasn’t really crafty at all before – though this has got me into this! As a newbie, you can be judged quite harshly for wearing something off-the-shelf, so there’s an awful lot you need to learn about fringing and rhinestoning and what glue to use. It’s actually really simple – but to have someone carefully explain it to you really helps!” And get ready to spend hours on it, friends, each of those shiny, shiny stones has to be glued on by hand. Individually.
The biggest challenge, however, is common to life far beyond burlesque: comparing yourself to other people. When you’re starting out it’s good to have role models (Jacinta’s is the classic-yet-cheeky Felicity Furore) because they help you figure out your style, but it’s important to remember they’ve been in the game longer than you, but you have just as much to offer. Find your niche and revel in it.
Oddly enough, it seems like the only thing that wasn’t a challenge...was actually taking her kit off! “The build-up to the first time was scary, but as soon as I was on stage I was like ‘ooh, this is great!’ The audience are so supportive and everyone is genuinely happy that you’ve had the confidence to get up there and try – even if you’re not very good!”
It helps that burlesque and body positivity often go hand-in-hand. Performers can be sleek and svelte or curvalicious, toned and tan or very, very voluptuous. It’s normal to see a variety of body shapes in any given line up, making it much easier, Jacinta says, to feel confident and comfortable on stage. This is not to say that London’s burlesque scene is anywhere near being as diverse as it should be – though the traditional line-up of able-bodied white women is being increasingly challenged – but it is a scene fervently aware of social issues and committed to taking care of any performers welcomed into the fold.
So how do you get started? Here are Jacinta’s top tips:
1) Do a course. This is the best way to tighten up choreography, brush up on your stoning skills, and gain confidence in a super-safe space. “Try to find one with a showcase so you’ll get some experience of performing.”
2) Do what you want to see. Create acts you genuinely feel proud of, and which come from you. “Don’t just perform what you think people want – find out what works for you and then go for it. People can tell when something is authentic.
3) Do your research. “Go to shows, watch YouTube videos, and try to identify styles of acts which speak to you.” Never copy – but there’s no harm in seeking inspiration from other performers.
4) Do take criticism – selectively. People will always have opinions about what it is that you do – so be discerning about what is constructive and what is not. “Either it’s helpful, and you can use it to get better, or they just don’t get you – so who cares what they think anyway?!”
A good lesson for life, that!
You can see the lovely Lady Maud hosting the "Not So Secret Society" at Elephant Artworks on May 20th, 2018, or with her troupe - The Triple Tease - at Luscious Cabaret at The Albany on June 1st, 2018!