With the year drawing to a close and the cold nights drawing in, where some might be reaching for that extra layer but things are always hotting up at the World Burlesque Games! Lily Laudanum catches up with this year winners about their experience at Europes’ biggest competing burlesque event.
Now in its fifth year, the World Burlesque Games has gone from strength to strength. Attracting sell out audiences and a high calibre of performer from across the globe thanks to its esteemed reputation, which is testament to the hard work and passion for the art from producers Chaz and Betty Rose Royal. They are committed to bringing the very best, high quality talent, both established and emerging to the world stage. The Games prides itself on flying the flag for all kinds of burlesque, from classic and comedy, darkwave and daring, right through to the showgirl and shimmy-tastic. As an audience member you could be enjoying a tassled tease one minute then treated to a Mad Max moment the next, such is the championed diversity.
It was a fierce competition with such wide-ranging acts, it was impossible for the rammed-to-capacity crowd to call the winners! Thank god it was the job of the judges, a prestigious panel featuring ‘The It Girl of the British burlesque scene,’ Betty Rose Royal, co-creator of the World Burlesque Games and high-calibre professional performer, with over 10 years performance experience under her garter belt; Koreo press’ Yak El Droubie, co-author of Burlesque Poster Design: The Art of Tease, curator for the British Burlesque Museum exhibition and archive-owner of 60’s glamour goddess Pamela Green; Wendy Benstead, costume maker for the film, TV, theatre and performance industries, who regularly works with high profile celebrities such as Paloma Faith and Jessie J and also frequently produces extravagant bespoke costume pieces for some of the UKs finest burlesque and cabaret performers, and professional dancer and choreographer Robert Hamiltons, whose dance credits include West End musicals CATS and Fame, The Brit Awards and the Royal Variety Performance, plus creator and choreographer for the sold out drag cabaret extravaganza DraGart.
It was a tough job, the judges had to battle through a sea of glitter, dodge popping confetti cannons and narrowly avoided being drenched in champagne. At times fierce debate flared at the table as each judge championed their favourites, with each act so talented and unique it was hard to compare them. In the end though it was clear that there where 4 stand out acts most deserving of the crowns…
Smashlyn Monroe (London), Winner British Newcomer
We loved your act! Quite a triumph to debut a new act and fire skill that won! How did you prepare for the show?
Smashlyn: “Earlier this year I made my London Burlesque Festival debut and that really meant I had to up my game and level of performance. I then applied for WBG and knew I had to bring something more fierce and ferocious to the table. As a performer I see myself as constantly evolving and this was the next step for me. The concept was such a strong theme that the costume and music had to really scream at an audience, with my new fire skill. It was a lot to put together but so proud of how it worked.
What was going through your head just before you stepped out on stage
Smashlyn: “The order of performer was alphabetical so I knew was on last so was ready on time and just had to zone out. I could hear the audiences’ response to the other performers. I had this one moment of silence in my head where I just thought, ‘Smash it’ and I went out doing this for me. I have worked hard on this and was dying to show just what I am capable of.”
What does winning the British newcomer crown mean to you and how are you celebrating?
Smashlyn: “Wow! What a question! Not sure if I have even have processed winning just yet. I entered purely on a whim and then to win with a new act and new skill [was unexpected]. Just shows that you can do anything you want and to never limit yourself. It means so much to have that crown on my head and to show that even someone like me can kick ass! Celebrating has not really started yet but think it will be pizza and a new pair of shoes!”
Betty Blue Eyes (Cardiff), Winner British Crown
What made you enter the World Burlesque Games?
Betty Blue Eyes: “I did the London Burlesque Festival and I guess I entered the World Burlesque Games to see if I could get through to the finals and I was really surprised as I didn’t think I’d get through! I was shocked and really excited when I saw the line-up; the performers on the bill were people who I really look up to – Lou Safire, Rock Hart and Lady Lolly Rouge I really admire as performers. Even if I hadn’t won, it was a really nice thing to have got through to compete at that level of show.
What was going through your mind as you waited behind the screen to step out on stage?
Betty Blue Eyes: “I was looking forward to performing in London as I’ve not really performed there a lot. the London Burlesque Festival and World Burlesque Games are the biggest shows I’ve done in London. I had very sweaty hands – I’m always nervous before shows anyway. I just kept saying to myself not to stress about it, to have fun on stage and to enjoy it more than anything and not think about it as a competition. My thoughts were, ‘I’m just going to have a good time and enjoy it and have fun with the audience’.
It’s been a great couple of years for Wales at the WBG (Oh Carolina and Lilly Laudanum both won crowns at the 2015 Games) – what are your feelings on this?
Betty Blue Eyes: “In comparison to the rest of the UK, Wales has a relatively small scene so it’s great that performers from Wales are being recognised. Sometimes Wales feel a bit disconnected to the rest of the UK scene as people think it’s this foreign land that takes hours to get to and from, and getting shows can be harder, so [these wins] feel like Wales is really connected to the UK scene. It’s great to see Welsh performers being recognised, it is a great scene here.
Now that you’ve won the British Crown, will you be knocking on that Vegas door for your Liberace-style residency? Will you be Rhinestoning a Rolls and getting chauffer-driven on stage?
Betty Blue Eyes: Maybe I’ll get a bigger piano and a bigger suitcase. And on top of that, I’ll need a chauffer to drive it around! I’m really chuffed I won because I went into the competition with no expectations – I genuinely didn’t think I would win, I was just happy to take part. Maybe feeling like that allowed me to enjoy myself! I have a full-time job where I have to be a certain type of person to deal with others. There’s no outlet in that job to be creative. I base burlesque around that life and the person you see on stage – the silliness and the dressing up – is truly me. It’s nice to show that off and for people to like that is amazing. Winning the British Crown is the best thing that’s ever happened in my burlesque career.
Sandy Sure (Exeter), Winner Alternative Crown
We saw your alter-ego Beetlejuice washing pants and vests via Facebook in preparation for the World Burlesque Games, what else did you do to prepare in the weeks/days ahead?
Sandy: “I really stepped up my exercise routine so it included extra lunges and epic burping. I also pulled out my secret weapon – Sidney, my best rubber snake which I bought in the US. He usually just hides in my suitcase but this time I let him be part of the action and he brought me extra luck.”
You are a London burlesque festival regular, this is the first time you entered the games, what made you enter?
Sandy: “I rarely enter competitions as I’m not a competitive person, so I mainly entered the games as some of my fellow performers enjoyed taking part in previous years and it looked like it was a fun event to be part of. I also love meeting and watching performers from other countries and occasionally throwing myself outside of my comfort zone to test myself, and this experience included all of those things!”
Tell us about the atmosphere back stage
Sandy: “The atmosphere backstage was great, everyone was so lovely and friendly, helping each other out – just like most shows! The stage management team were all super-organised too, so it all ran wonderfully.”
What does winning the international alternative crown mean to you?
Sandy: “I really didn’t expect to win, so I was completely stunned but very happy! Even though I’ve been performing my Beetlejuice act for a few years now, I still absolutely love performing it and enjoy audiences’ reactions to it. It was great to get a little extra recognition for that particular act and I now feel I can move on with bringing some new characters to life that have been lurking in the back of my mind.”
Veronique DiVine (Lisbon, Portugal), Winner World Crown
Tell us about your winning act
Veronique: “I created this act with World Burlesque Games in mind; I wanted to do something within my personal performance style, but that was challenging technically and in composition. This competition was the perfect place to present this act and get some feedback about what I tried to accomplished. The first time I performed in UK was actually in WBG back in 2012 and I won first Runner-up in the International Newcomers category, since then I have been wanting to take it to the next level. I have been participating in London Burlesque Festival for a few years and it’s always a pleasure to perform at Chaz and Betty´s events, not only for the work quality but also for the love and care. Participating or just attending burlesque shows in London is a privilege, the audience is amazing and the colleagues performers are truly inspiring.”
How did you prepare for the games?
Veronique: “I made a few changes to some of the steps in the act because I wasn’t completely happy with it and the costume was tested and readjusted a few times so the clothes would flow as part of choreography. I rehearsed in a dance studio for quite a long time to make sure the routine was nailed so I could just enjoy the moment and not think too much about it.”
What was going through your mind as you were announced as a winner?
Veronique: “Mixed feelings – happy and dazzled at the same time! The act went really well but I didn’t know how the judges and audience would react to it since it was a little different from ‘mainstream burlesque’. Deep inside I was confident and obviously, I wanted to win otherwise I wouldn’t have competed but at the same time I wasn’t expecting it. When I heard my name, I couldn’t control my smile and the tears; I was completely overwhelmed and I think that the penny only dropped about three days after.”
What are your plans next after winning the World Crown?
Veronique: “I would love to showcase my style in different locations and I think this tittle can probably help me in terms of exposure and work opportunities. I’m currently working on two new acts that I would love to present at the next London Burlesque Festival – I could not be more excited about it. No words can describe the joy of being on stage, sharing my passion with the audience and feeling their energy back, hopefully winning World Crown will increase the opportunities of that happening.”
British Newcomer Crown
1st – Smashlyn Monroe
2nd – Lulu Vesper
3rd – Brandy Montmartre
1st – Betty Blue Eyes
2nd – Trixie Blue
3rd – Lou Safire
1st – Sandy Sure
2nd- Morning Star
3rd- Wild Card Kitty
1st – Veronique DiVine
2nd – UmA ShAdow
3rd – Miss Knockout Noire
Winner of the World Burlesque Games 2015 British Crown, Lilly Laudanum performs regularly across the UK and is best known for her portrayal of comedy character acts with a historical edge. Performing for 20+ years, Lilly has fronted many bands, been a character model and actress and enjoyed a four-year stint at The London Dungeon, where she performed and ran the actors company. She is also a professional costumier, belly dancer, resident performer and producer of the’ Bluestocking Lounge in South Wales.