Kitty Bang Bang: ‘I learned to breathe fire in two days’

Kitty Bang Bang. Picture: Perou

Kitty Bang Bang. Picture: Perou - Credit: Archant

Primrose Hill burlesque star Kitty Bang Bang tells BRIDGET GALTON why she’s never bored of Vaudeville

Q: Who or what first got you interested in burlesque and Vaudeville?

A: I came to burlesque and Vaudeville by accident really. An old friend of mine, who looks like a Vargas pin up girl, was approached to perform a burlesque dance as part of an event.

This was over ten years ago when the current burlesque resurgence was in its infancy, and she had no idea what burlesque was. So she took a couple of VHS tapes out from Liverpool library to do some research and I watched them with her. Just before the event, she became nervous and asked if I would perform with her. I jumped at the chance!

That first performance was almost an out of body experience, just a crazy adrenaline rush.

Q: In its modern incarnation burlesque is often couched as ‘ironic’ to get around charges of female objectification – how do you see it?

A: I find generalisations like that pretty reductive. The entomology of the word burlesque derives from the Italian burlesco, which, in turn, is derived from the Italian burla – a joke, ridicule or mockery.

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Burlesque at the very beginning was less about women disrobing and more about skewering socially accepted norms through music, dance and parody.

I would argue that burlesque is one of the most feminised forms of theatrical entertainment in history. The modern revival has been the subject of much discourse and as a feminist, I have definitely been asked how stripping onstage aligns with my principles.

The reason I enjoy burlesque is because I have absolute autonomy over the version of myself that I present onstage. What I wear, how I dance, what I reveal and what I choose not to reveal. We are a female led industry with a largely female audience. To me, there is power in all of these things.

Q: What do you think is the essence of what people enjoy about it?

A: I think people enjoy burlesque for many disparate reasons. I suppose often it appeals to women because of the glamour, the escapism, the representation and celebration of female bodies in all different shapes and sizes.

Burlesque can be funny, it can be sexy and it can be challenging. I don’t think people come to a burlesque show to see breasts, they’re pretty readily available in strip clubs across the country; they come to see what amazing creative way you’ve come up with to strip out of your costume for them!

Q: There’s a great versatility to your shows from fire eating to performing en pointe – do you enjoy the creativity of thinking up new acts?

A: I very much enjoy the creative process of putting a new show together. I love coming up with ideas and then trying to figure out how to turn them into a reality.

I really enjoy learning new skills too. It means I’m never bored by my job. And all of my acts are constantly evolving. I love to add to them over time and make different versions for different events.

Fire is a skill that I think I’m probably best known for and I’m always trying to add new tricks. I’ve ridden a 6 ft long chopper motorcycle onstage, learnt to fire breathe in two days and then gone onstage with Motorhead to breathe to Ace of Spades, I have a huge Absinthe glass that I bathe in which has a flaming rim, I shimmy out of a giant sparkly wheelie bin en pointe while dressed as a cat… so far so ludicrous!

Q: What’s the oddest situation you’ve found yourself in on a stage?

A: Onstage is a pretty safe space really. Most of the odd things happen before or after the stage portion of the evening! There are always costume malfunctions of course onstage. I once managed to forget to put my pasties on and only realised as I was about to take my bra off.

Kitty Bang Bang is performing at Underbelly Festival on September 21.