Experience the Ministry of Burlesque...
Fusing the wild, weird and witty traditions of circus, cabaret and burlesque, The Ministry of Burlesque’s Cabaret unfolds as a bold and daring, ever evolving new-variety experience. Enjoy a myriad of musical comedy masters, provocative prima donnas, enigmatic exotic dancers and astonishing feats of human grace – all balanced on a contemporary knife edge.
With over 15 years’ experience leading the vanguard of the genre, The Ministry of Burlesque hand-pick and curate with both modern flair and old soul to deliver electrifying evenings of exceptional entertainment. We speak to performers Rod Laver, Kirsty Allan and Velvet Jones...
For those who have not managed to see a ‘Ministry of Burlesque’ show at Komedia, what can they expect?
Rod Laver: Customers can expect a riot of fun, sexiness and top of the range vaudeville and cabaret.
Velvet Jones: Have a good time! and see some real authentic cabaret performers.
Kirsty Allan: A carefully curated blend of excitement, absurdity and adventure. It’s all about pushing the norms and status quo of our culture as we experiment together with new ideas on topics such as gender, body, beauty and how we ‘ought’ to behave – or not!
How did you first get into performing burlesque? What motivated you to do so?
Rod Laver: I had been a juggler for a while in corporate shows but loved the energy and enthusiasm of Burlesque audiences.
Velvet Jones: Funny story. I got into it because I was going through a break up and hoping burlesque would take my mind off it. I signed up for a 4 week class thinking it was just a bit of fun and 8 years later I'm still here. I love burlesque. It's totally changed my life for the better and so many doors have been open for me
Kirsty Allan: I began performing 20 years ago, before there was any scene or industry. I was motivated by my own curiosity and determination to explore and smash my comfort zones and self-perception of beauty, body and what it meant to be female.
How much training/practice, making and creating goes into each performance?
Rod Laver: I have performed my main act over 1500 times but I always find a new energy and something different for each performance.
Velvet Jones: Creating a new performance can be a lengthy process. Editing your music, choreography and costuming all take time and money. They are all equally important components in a performance and this attention to detail will make a stand-out performance.
Kirsty Allan: It depends on the performance and performer. I still produce regular shows and have worked with acts for many, many years witnessing them hone and refine their art. Each performer has a unique skill set and is essentially, a story-teller - and their story gets to change an morph with time, just as our bodies, our ideas and desires do too. The best performers, in my opinion, are those who take risks and live on the knife-edge of societal norms, challenging approval and acceptability because these are the change-makers who sow the seeds of diversity and inclusion.
Each performer has a unique skill set and is essentially, a story-teller - and their story gets to change an morph with time, just as our bodies, our ideas and desires do too.
Burlesque has enjoyed a renaissance, with real social impact giving a voice to many - why do you think this is? How is it affecting so many people in 2022 and where is it going, do you think?
Rod Laver: Lots of new artists find their own take on this art form and give something new. Some performances have a retro feel which is always popular others decide to break the mould. There is a lot of difference. Some include acting, some dance, others add variety or speciality skills. The performers are very diverse so it is exciting to see where it will go but I don't know!
Velvet Jones: Burlesque is not linear, there are many facets to burlesque, it all comes in different shapes and sizes and everybody is celebrated and embraced. Burlesque is an art form that enables you to express yourself and tell your story.
Kirsty Allan: For all the reasons of a progressive society - inclusivity, celebration of all genders, bodies, minds and creative spirits. Burlesque is an ancient form and its initial heyday in the 19th century is echoed in the 20th and 21st – it is an artform that gives a delicately gloved middle finger to the established norms of how we ‘ought to’ dress and behave. Controversy drives our social evolution and when a sub-culture can deliver controversy with humour and spectacle, tot a mainstream audience, those big conversations become accessible, meaningful and important to everyone.
How much of the history of burlesque have you studied and are there any performers, writers or producers that have influenced you? If so, in what ways?
Rod Laver: The Gentlemen Jugglers of circa 1900 are the basis for my look and acts. The film and stage musical "Cabaret" is my biggest visual influence and the role of the MC in particular.
Velvet Jones: Power and strength influence me. I'm inspired by performers who command the room. My favourite burlesque performers are Perle Noire, Ginger Valentine and Jessabelle Thunder.
Kirsty Allan: A huge amount. Our book is actually due out in 2023 to celebrate 20 years of Ministry of Burlesque, in here I discuss its resonance across time and influence today. For me, the British tradition of the Victorian and Edwardian eras is of more interest than the 20th century striptease focussed American history, although it too carries intriguing political currents and themes of its day. I find the landscape of moral outrage that focussed so much on politicising women’s bodies and the breaking through of the feminine archetype itself, really fascinating. My own acts were always based on historical figures and ideas around risk-taking women, including Lola Montez, Lydia Thompson and even Britannia herself ad this also entailed a dedication to knowing their biographies and the context of their lives.
What is the camaraderie like between the cast?
Rod Laver: I love the camaraderie of the backstage. Whether you see old friends or meet new ones. There's no people like show people! And there's no show people like Burlesque people!
Velvet Jones: It's all love and backstage vibes are always fun!
Kirsty Allan: It’s a really supportive and nurturing experience. What newcomers often don’t realise is that as producers we don’t just look and consider how a performer is on stage, it’s also backstage that counts. We are a Ministry, a ‘mission’ if you like - and so demonstrating shared values is foundational for us.
What memorable moments can you share? e.g. comical moments when performing?
Rod Laver: My occasional double act partner Alex and co-producer for these Ministry of Burlesque shows travelled to Wolverhampton instead of Northampton and she also appeared on stage without a vital piece of costume and began miming it. I'm not sure what the audience thought. I've also fallen off stage into the audience on more than one occasion. Ouch!
Kirsty Allan: Too many. You’ll need to read the book… There was a time when the fastenings on my sparkly union flag leotard snapped and as I turned to my final majestic pose timed with the crescendo soprano tones of Rule Britannia, I fully exposed myself to a sea of pensioners at a charity gala. No one minded. In fact, I’m sure it added a little something.
Are you planning any special performances for the festive season?
Rod Laver: I've got about 10 shows in December including one on Boxing Day at the Burgh Island Hotel where Agatha Christie set her novel "And then there were none."
Kirsty Allan: Just in the kitchen… I love to cook with my family
2 tickets to see 'Ministry of Burlesque': Christmas Cabaret at Komedia on 16th December. To enter, simply click the link and follow the steps...
22-23 Westgate Street Bath BA1 1EP
Box Office: 01225 489070