Burlesque performance

 3 February 2011

Ivy Paige has blazed one of the more eye-catching trails on the fringe of the performing arts. Her acclaimed stage-show ‘Scandalous!’ mixes stand-up comedy, storytelling, songs, and a little striptease in the unmistakable tradition of burlesque.

The stage-show ‘Scandalous!’ mixes stand-up comedy, storytelling, songs, and striptease.
The stage-show ‘Scandalous!’ mixes stand-up comedy, storytelling, songs, and striptease.

Exploring burlesque performance

Ivy  graduated with a first in Performance from Dartington College of Arts. Developing an interest in heightened theatricality, she began to explore the histories and traditions of showgirls. Attending a burlesque workshop at the London International Workshop Festival began to give her the artistic vocabulary to develop her own practice.

‘Burlesque’ has became synonymous with striptease, but Ivy's performance draws on the bawdy theatricality of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This parodied serious drama, and performed razor-edged social satire in corsets and bloomers. What Ivy loves, and celebrates in her own work, is that combination of hard intelligence and the gaudiest variety of glamour.

“I didn’t necessarily feel I was reinventing something, in the way that performers like Dita von Teese have, but I did want to explore the parodying and storytelling aspects of it, through modern sexual politics.’

Starting out as a performer

Like many innovative performers, Ivy initially left many critics confused. Her first show, The Powder Room, went to the Edinburgh Festival, but its mix of theatre, burlesque and cabaret left some reviewers scratching their heads as to what manner of beast it was.

The experience taught her a valuable lesson about the dynamics between a performer and her audience.

"I like to go and talk to the audience. I want to know who they are and why they’ve come to see me."

“Their reference for women taking off their clothes was gentlemen’s clubs, and so I realised I had to set this up in such a way that the audience understood where I was coming from.”

She continued to develop the persona through a series of different styles of performance, eventually finding herself on the stage of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

As Ivy’s character rounded out, she became a dyed-in-the-wool Cockney showgirl: bawdy, cheeky, appropriating what was traditionally the male preserve of the emcee.

“The strange thing is that I don’t consider myself to be a particularly funny person, but something happens when I step into the shoes of Ivy Paige.”

Building an audience for your show

'Scandalous!' showcases a cast of gorgeously costumed performers. Set in a brothel, it features a series of turns which must each be bought for a guinea by someone in the audience. The characters have all been devised collaboratively with Ivy herself in rehearsal.

Ivy has successfully taken the show to a wide variety of different venues. Much of the work is done on commission from sources who are familiar with her work.

“I tend to be my own agent now. People approach me for work, and I’m very focused business-wise on what I do. I offer an array of different products, and try to keep in mind what the public want at any particular time.

“I tend to be my own agent now. I offer an array of different products, and try to keep in mind what the public want at any particular time."

“In times of hardship like now, it’s important that entertainment is a great source of escapism. I do family shows and pantomime, I have a Cockney show, a Forces’ Sweetheart show, and I work with the Dickens World tourist attraction in Kent.

“After I’ve done a show, I like to go and talk to the audience. I want to know who they are and why they’ve come to see me. It always interests me if I find out that people may have seen my shows previously, and want to continue to follow what I do.”

Sizing up what an audience will and won’t swallow is a skill Ivy has learned by experience. Though she is quite used to being surrounded by female performers wearing next to nothing, that can have different reverberations today to the shock waves it might have caused in the Victorian era.

“I’d like to put Scandalous! back into redevelopment, reworking some of the songs with a whole team of musicians. I’m going to work with a writer to enhance the show’s script, so that it lies eventually somewhere between musical theatre and cabaret. I’m generally increasing the amount of work I do for different venues each year, and developing Brand Ivy as a business.”

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