Coming soon, podcast #5: You’re Welcome! Why Burlesque NEEDS Rubyyy Jones.

Award winner, burlesque performer and producer, and self-proclaimed ‘professional loudmouth’ Rubyyy Jones was kind enough to chat with me recently, about her star persona, her performance motivations and the politics of burlesque. This conversation will be available as Here’s Looking At You podcast #5, next week.

I thought it was therefore appropriate to talk a bit about what it is that makes Rubyyy so very special as a performer. To do this I am going to talk a little about the act through which I first experienced her.

Working as a promoter and producer between 2006 and 2016, I was constantly on the lookout for acts that enthused and excited me and that I thought would enthuse and excite our audience too. A conversation with the fabulous performer Diva Hollywood prompted to me seek Rubyyy’s work out on YouTube. I’d heard rumblings, but never actually seen her but I liked the sound of what she was doing – namely, ‘queerlesque.’

I understand queerlesque to be burlesque performance that ‘queers’ the understanding and representation of identity, particularly around gender and sexuality. These are performances that engage with a spectrum of identities rather than a restrictive, binary arrangement. I personally would describe Rubyyy as an avant-garde, neo-drag performer, promoter, producer, campaigner and general badass. (However, as I say in our podcast conversation, its probably much more appropriate that Rubyyy define herself, in her own terms.)

From the opening seconds of the first video I watched, I was in love. I started with You’re Welcome, then moved on to Pottymouth Princess, by the end of which I was a snotty, sobbing mess.

This was what I had always wanted burlesque to be. Jones’ ‘look’, in heavy drag make up, all blonde hair and big eyes, and with eye-popping costuming, accompanied by a direct and often aggressive address to the audience and a satiric intent, made her, to my mind, the embodiment of burlesque. She utilised, in fact, wielded the mode, like a weapon, in the subversive, dangerous and brazen manner that I associated with trailblazers such as Lydia Thompson and her British Blondes.

Like a school mistress, schooling her audience, You’re Welcome opens with Jones lip-synching:

‘Hello children. You might have heard of me. You might have heard that I’m an unwashed, American Lesbian.’

And as such she sets up the premise of the act – a systematic refusal and embrace of labels and identities. From here Jones joyfully asserts:

‘Well let me tell you, I’m Rubyyy! That’s with three Ys. I’m the hairiest burlesque beauty in the world, the Queen of queerlesque and I’m a big, fat, fabulous, queer Canadian!’

The act itself hinges on the notion of what it is to be ‘gorgeous,’ how this notion is subjective and how, quite frankly, she’s here to celebrate, to show (and tell) you just how gorgeous/fabulous she is. In fact, you should be grateful she is here to educate you. (Hence, ‘you’re welcome.’)

The thumping soundtrack is punctuated with dubs of Jones repeatedly asking, to varying degrees of cuteness, ‘Don’t I look gorgeous?’ As a lip-synch artist, these lines are mimed/delivered expertly, initially whilst adopting the poses and facial expressions of a preppy, cute, nubile girl or a coy ingénue, but as the act progresses, this delivery becomes more and more aggressive and absurd, and Jones’ accompanying actions and gurning facial expressions more provocative. At one stage Jones wipes her groin with her satin-gloved hand, and then mimes flicking the accumulated bodily fluids into the faces of the front row. Good taste and decorum dictates that the performance of such an action is shocking by anyone identified as female, but it is doubly so when that female has been employed to perform in a public space and as a strip tease artist.

As a result, the constant ‘Don’t I look gorgeous?’ becomes a direct challenge to Jones’ audience, rather than a question. Instead of offering a passive, reassuring example of nubile, sexualised femininity up on the stage, Jones’ striptease and her constant questioning is just that, a questioning. An act of aggression, a refusal to submit and a wilfully antagonistic assertion of power and of feminine identity.

Elsewhere, staple strip tease moves are disabused of their reassuring connotations. As Jones removes her satin gloves with her teeth, she takes on an unhinged look. Rather than provocatively nibbling on the finger tips of the glove and easing it off her hand, she crams the glove into her mouth, eyes bulging and visibly gagging. The fact that, as this is occurring, the soundtrack repeatedly asks us ‘Don’t I look gorgeous?’ suggests a performative engagement not just with female sexuality on show, but with dysfunction and the harm we can do to ourselves in pursuit of desirability.

Elsewhere formulaic chorus girl and stripper moves such as high kicks, shimmys, grinds, hair flicks and even doing the splits are given an aggressive, isolent inference, making them sexy as hell, in a very assertive way.

As the act, and Jones’ aggression gathers pace, Jones repeatedly breaks synchronisation, shouting out into the audience and drawing attention to the falseness of her mode of address. Furthermore, her non-synchronised interjections are to directly goad the audience. Whilst the soundtrack sweetly requests that the audience ‘cheer for me!’ Jones breaks synch, snarling loudly to her audience ‘Come on!’ At one stage Jones again breaks synch to shout directly into the crowd,  ‘Cheer for my gorgeous, natural body, assholes!’ This moment, this direct and determined disregard for the opinions of the audience who are paying to see her, and the provocation inherent within it is why I am so glad this performer exists, why I  cry every single time I see this act live and I was so thrilled to talk with her for the podcast. Rubyyy rules.

video of act below:

Rubyyy Jones wins ‘Most Innovative’ at Burlesque Hall of Fame

RubyyyFeatured in my last couple of podcasts (podcasts #2 and #3) is the wonderful queerlesque performer Rubyyy Jones, who has recently won the ‘Most Innovative’ award at this year’s prestigous Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend event.

Rubyyy received this award for her hard-hitting, taboo-busting act Pottymouth Princess. This act is about sex discrimination, body image and sexual violence against women and was the last act ever performed at my regular Burlesque show, The Cat’s Pyjamas.  I can tell you, sitting at the side of the stage, as she performed this act, and watching the women in the audience’s reaction – tears, anger, exhilaration, punching Continue reading

Here’s Looking At You Podcast #3 – ‘I Am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar!’ Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival Panel Discussion Event (Part Two)

I Am Woman Hear me Phwoar!

(L-R) Sadie Sinner, Heidi Bang-Tidy, Rubyyy Jones, Dr. Ellen Wright, Dr. Jacki Willson, Dr. Claire Nally.

Welcome to the second and final half of the #DMUEngage panel discussion event ‘I am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar!’ which took place on the Sunday of the 2017 Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival.

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Here performers, promoters and activists Sadie Sinner, Rubyyy Jones Continue reading

Here’s Looking at You Podcast #2 – I am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar! Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival Panel Discussion Event (Part One)

I Am Woman Hear me Phwoar!

(L-R) Sadie Sinner, Heidi Bang-Tidy, Rubyyy Jones, Dr. Ellen Wright, Dr. Jacki Willson, Dr. Claire Nally.

Welcome to  the first half of the #DMUEngage panel discussion event ‘I am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar!’ which took place on the Sunday of the 2017 Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival.

Here performers, promoters and activists Sadie Sinner, Rubyyy Jones and Heidi Bang Tidy and scholars of burlesque Dr Jacki Willson and Dr Claire Nally joined me and a room full of interested members of the public to discuss the politics of female performance.

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It’s Good To Talk: My panel discussion event at Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival

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The panel from left to right: Rubyyy Jones, Sadie Sinner, Heidi Bang Tidy, Dr Claire Nally, Dr Jacki Willson and me.

I’m thrilled to say the panel discussion event ‘I Am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar!’, on the politics of female performance went exceptionally well.

We had a fantastic turn out (so many that not everyone who turned up could fit into the space!) especially considering other events were taking place at the same time and the weather was lovely. The atmosphere was amazing. Very open, honest and supportive. A number of complex ideas were discussed and the panel and audience were great, asking and answering some really interesting questions around intersectionality, personal politics, disabled bodies, classism, misogyny, gendered bodies, sexuality, ethnicity, exploitation, sex work and what brought our panelists to burlesque. Continue reading

Here’s Looking at You Podcast #1 – An interview with Heidi Bang Tidy and Lady Wildflower

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image courtesy of James Lynch.

In this podcast, I talk to Heidi Bang Tidy and Lady Wildflower, co-producers of the award-winning Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival. We discuss the politics of burlesque, the history of the festival and this year’s round table discussion I Am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar featuring Myself, Dr Claire Nally and Dr Jacki Willson (and others tbc) on the Sunday of this year’s festival.  I also discuss my broader research and engagement project in more detail.

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A Certain Type of Audience – A short essay written for pin-up artist Melanie Adams

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image courtesty of Phyll Smith. Taken at the Slipper Room, NY.

Audiences have always been key to burlesque. Not just in the obvious sense, as the means of financially sustaining the form, but their obvious and vocal presence has been key to the success of many a burlesque act and has very much helped to shape broader perceptions of the form.

Burlesque audiences have historically inspired panic and condemnation because of the sexualised nature of the burlesque form and because of the bad behaviour that it was assumed that this form would inspire or arouse in these audiences, who were often presumed to not know any better. They were too bawdy, too large, too demonstrative. In short they weren’t a polite, middle class audience and this got up some people’s noses.

When burlesque trailblazer Lydia Thompson and her ‘British Blondes’ first appeared at New York’s Wood’s theatre, on September 28th 1868, the novelty of scantily-clad, saucy, subordinate women, who showed their legs, directly challenged the audience and mischievously parodied events and celebrities of the day in the manner of current day British performers such as Abigail Collins or Glory Pearl (AKA The Naked Standup), she attracted considerable critical acclaim and a large, respectable, middle class audience. However, this audience, always hungry for the latest sensation, eventually became bored. Thompson and her Blondes ultimately became a source of vilification and moral speculation and the ‘leg show,’ as burlesque had come to be known, lost its cultural cachet, becoming increasingly associated with working class audiences, in less prestigious theatres and in less prominent and salubrious parts of American cities. Continue reading

A Jolly Jaunt to London’s West End!

mrshendersonwithlizzy.jpgYesterday I went on what seems to be coming an annual outing with my friend and burlesque promoter/producer Lady Wildflower to that thar London.

Having enjoyed our trip to see the magnificent Imelda Staunton playing Rose in Gypsy at the beautiful Savoy theatre last year, this year we took a trip to see the musical stage adaptation of Mrs Henderson Presents at the Noel Coward theatre.

We are both big fans of the film, starring Dame Judi Dench and the late, great Bob Hoskins as the ultimate showman, Vivian Van Damm and we were keen to see how it would translate as a musical. Reviews had been good.

As you can probably guess from our photo, we had a wonderful time.

 

In terms of setting, the theatre was lovely and the staff were extremely helpful. The performances were excellent, the music/songs were great and the sets were great too. I particularly liked the way in which the stage space and the auditorium were used. We, the audience we repeatedly pulled in to the action. This made the piece even more affecting, like you were part of theatre history and it was happening around you. I’m not going to lie, I cried at several points. As a historian I’d love nothing more than to be able to travel back in time and actually go to a Windmill show.

Of particular interest to me was the way the myth around the Windmill was developed and used in the piece. The notion that the theatre ‘never closed’, that in the best theatrical tradition ‘the show must go on’ and that notion of the British stiff upper lip were all invoked here. Continue reading

Burlesque & Feminism with Long Eaton Women’s Institute

On Tuesday I gave a talk on burlesque & feminism to Long Eaton WI for their branch birthday meeting!

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After our talk.  Against a backdrop of the formidable Rubyyy Jones I initiated a couple of the ladies into the burlesque sisterhood by teaching them the art of the glove tease. The remaining ladies at the event were schooled in burlesque audience etiquette and given a few shout outs to try on.  They provided a hugely supportive and very audible audience for the first time glove teasers, with regulars shouts of ‘hell yeah!’ I even heard a few ‘awoogas’!13124984_580210565470622_1694447362604648705_n

What a lovely group of ladies, what a lovely branch – and an amazing burlesque birthday cake! Very glad to chat with them #InspiringWomen all of them.

Burlesque & Feminism with Hull Women’s Institute

This week I got to speak to/with another Women’s Institute group, having been invited by the lovely ladies of the Hull WI to talk about burlesque and female empowerment.

It was a great bonding exercise and all about creating a safe, supportive space where everyone can learn a little history, have some of their expectations challenged, and some of the ladies can do something they wouldnt have thought they would do and have the full and very vocal support of the rest of their group as they give it a go.

Tonight I’m emceeing a show in a circus big top! Woop! Lets see if they can out-cheer the good ladies of Hull.

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