Since she first pranced her way onto the scene in the early 1990s, Von Teese has become the biggest name in burlesque, credited with making the artform highly fashionable again and garnering mainstream acceptance.
“Strip, Strip Hooray” features some of Von Teese’s classic burlesque routines along with ornate sets and haute-couture performance costumes that she has made famous.
Von Teese talked to PGN about life at the very top of the burlesque kingdom.
PGN: Would it be safe to call “Strip, Strip Hooray” your greatest-hits show?
DVT: Not only is it my greatest hits, but I think it’s the greatest hits of burlesque and strip tease and variety entertainment as well because, even though I’m doing four of my greatest hits, I could definitely do more. But it’s difficult for me to do more set changes and costume changes than four. I feel like I’m doing my four favorite, biggest production numbers with the most feathers and the most rhinestones. We have a 90-minute revue of other entertainment too that I think people will really, really enjoy.
PGN: The Tower Theater is quite a large place. Does a show like yours lose anything when you stage it in a large venue?
DVT: I think for me, I prefer a big stage and a big venue. I’ve done shows before in a 50,000-seat stadium and that’s a different show than I would do at this venue. Of course, I’ve done shows at the Crazy Horse, which is very cinematic where it’s very small and people are up close. I modify certain things for the stage size and for what the audience can see and what they can’t see. It’s classic showbiz. You have to adapt to your stage. But I love a big stage and a big venue.
PGN: Do you see a lot of gay and lesbian fans at your performances?
DVT: My show predominantly attracts women and gay men but I’ve been seeing a bit more of a lesbian audience, especially when we were in San Francisco, when gay marriage became legal in the state of California. And they were the most exciting and wonderful audiences I’ve performed for. Something about our show and the diversity of the performers in the show attracts people that like to see something different than what you would see in the mainstream and, thank goodness, that’s a lot of the gay community. There’s nothing better than being embraced by the gay community. That’s for sure.
PGN: How do you feel about the influence of burlesque bleeding into mainstream pop culture?
DVT: I have mixed feelings about it. There have been moments in the last few years that I didn’t care for. There has been a commercialization and sanitization of burlesque. People think that burlesque is a cabaret show when, in a real burlesque show, the stars are strip-tease stars. It wasn’t about song and dance. It’s not what Christina Aguilera did in the movie. There was no burlesque in there, even though they took a lot of influence from the neo-burlesque scene. But they took away all the challenge of what it is to present strip tease in a sophisticated and elegant way. They took away the good part about it, which is changing people’s minds about strip tease and to remind people of the heritage of burlesque. I was upset by some of the comments that I would hear from the press and the people involved in a film like that because some of these stars of strip tease are still around. They were excited that there was a film called “Burlesque” and when the press would say things like, “This isn’t that raunchy stripper burlesque,” that’s not very responsible to the real history of burlesque. When you have stars like Gypsy Rose Lee who made the meaning of the burlesque movement possible, to dismiss them or to say things about these women who are in their 80s and 90s, it showed a lack of respect. So that’s something I have been standing behind, the true history of burlesque and keeping the art of the strip tease alive, and bringing it into the new evolution of the scene, which is no longer entertainment for straight men. A lot of women are finding it inspiring because they are seeing a different kind of beauty and sexuality presented than what we see in a lot of typical men’s magazines and mainstream media in general.
PGN: With such an established image and brand, do you feel like you always have to give audiences what’s expected, or do you feel like you can push the envelope?
DVT: I feel like I’m very true to my signature brand of burlesque, which is my own creation. I embrace my brand because I’ve been performing burlesque since 1991. I want to give people my very best at all times. I’m attributed with being at the top of burlesque so there is a lot of pressure. There will always be people that say that they don’t like it or they are bored or there is someone that is better. There’s always going to be two sides of the coin and I just do my best to present what I do the best I can. I don’t think too much about what other people are putting on me.
PGN: Being a fashion icon, do you ever go out in public not done up?
DVT: I have varying degrees of glamour. My 100-percent full-power glamour is what you will see on stage or on the red carpet. But on a day-to-day basis, I really don’t spend more than 20 minutes getting ready. But that is not to say that I’m not recognizable. I always have my red lipstick in place. I went to my pilates class this morning with my red lipstick on and a simple coat over my workout clothes. I have my rituals and the things that I think are important in the way I present myself but it’s not to say that I spend an hour getting ready. On a day-to-day basis, I don’t spend the kind of time I do to go on stage or to go on the red carpet. I don’t sit in front of the mirror all day. I have other stuff to do.
PGN: What can you tell us about your upcoming book?
DVT: I put all my beauty secrets into one book. I tapped into all my tastemakers in beauty. It’s all about eccentric glamour and breaking the rules of beauty, discussing diverse beauty and the things that make us different from each other. My book is not about how to apply makeup. It’s really uplifting and for people that want to know more about the art of creating glamour and having a sense of theater and adventure with their look.
Dita Von Teese presents the “Burlesque: Strip, Strip Hooray!” variety show 7:30 p.m. Oct. 9 at Tower Theater, 19 S. 69th St. in Upper Darby. For more information or tickets, call 610-352-2887 or visit www.dita.net.