When one sees a scream queen of Tristan Risk’s caliber offering to answer questions about her career in burlesque dancing, one jumps on it. Tristan Risk, the incredibly talented horror actress, probably best known for her portrayal of Beatress in American Mary, has been doing burlesque dancing for going on 14 years in Vancouver, Canada and is very passionate about it. Here is what she had to say.
Johnny Macabre: You’ve been doing burlesque dancing for 14 years by your own account. What got you interested in pursuing this?
Tristan Risk: I’d say not just by my own account. Indeed, if you ask around anyone worth their salt who’s been a promoter of producer in Vancouver, you’ll know that if you’ve not seen my nearly naked body on a stage, you are likely either new to town or in the minority. I initially got into burlesque as a joke for a friend’s party. She was throwing a party for her boyfriend, and we had the idea (well, it was her idea, I just stepped up) of having someone come out of a cake and do a striptease and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ a la Marilyn Monroe and embarrass him. We stayed up the night before drinking wine and doing a cardboard birthday cake I was going to pop out of – which wound up looking like the kind of cake that two chicks who stayed up all night as menaces with a glue gun and a cardboard box would look.
Regardless, he not only wasn’t embarrassed, but enjoyed it. I enjoyed it too, and he invited me to open for his band. It snowballed from there, with other gigs and so on and I’ve since just followed the swaying motion of where my tassels have taken me. It was a chance for fresh adventure, an opportunity to perform and tour and a medium that then was relatively unique, so I’ve since let it lead me to places and people of a similarly adventuresome mindset.
JM: As a graduated theatre major, I am used to live, abstract performance as art and that is often how I view burlesque dancing. Is that something you would agree with and why?
TR: I do. Burlesque, like all other artistic mediums, have people with preconceived notions and ideas of what it should and shouldn’t be. Many folks prefer the old school striptease showgirl aspects and think that’s where it belongs. Others enjoy more conceptualist performances. I think that for an art form to survive and thrive is has to embrace change, and honour it’s past, and the contributions and struggles that people who pioneered faced. When I started, it was hard to get folks to wrap their heads around the fact that it was strip tease and not conventional stripping.
Now, we embrace a lot more cross pollination, but it was trickier before. Now with burlesque classes and main stream media around burlesque the ideas and concepts are more accepted, but I remember a promoter throwing my costume at me in my performance and yelling at me to get dressed, and now I see performers who can enjoy the freedoms to create whatever they want whether they strip a little or a lot. I know there are still some places where there are bylaws that limit that, even in bars with consenting adults, which shows we still have a long way to go, but now at least as artists we are not policing one another, we are giving love and support.
JM: Do you have a favorite routine and why?
TR: I have a number that I enjoy… my vagina dentata is one I love to bust out. It features a animatronic vagina with teeth that bites. It was made by the amazing folks at MASTERSFX, the same people who did the effects for American Mary, and it never fails to elicit fear in the weak of heart when it makes it’s appearance, and I dance to Lady Gaga’s ‘Teeth’, which just feels right and wonderfully wrong at the same time.
JM: What would you say you enjoy most about burlesque dancing in general?
TR: I have always said that the stage is my first love and I am married to her, but I have taken a mistress with cinema and screen. However, there is something about the immediacy, the connection and the ability to connect directly with your audience. I enjoy being able to do something onstage and look an audience member in the eye and look at them and share that intimate moment. I tend to hate video of live performances, because there is magic lost in translation. I feel there is something special that cannot be reproduced – much as seeing a film in theatre with strangers is versus seeing a film at home. Not to mention the moments where things happen on the fly – the wonderful ad lib, the prop going wrong, the swift recovery when it does, and the applause when you please your audience. The rush is unrivaled and unmatched.
JM: Regarding a love for the stage, have you ever been in or ever considered being in a stage play?
TR: I got my start in high school in musical theatre. And I’ve been in the audience of many horror-themed musicals and was Chiffon in a production of Little Shop Of Horror.
<JM: There are always going to be people who frown on things such as burlesque dancing. What would you say to those people?
TR: As my granny would say, they need a good old fashioned round of grumpy-pumpy! It’d do them a world of good and give them a world of much-needed release of worrying about what other people choose to do with their bodies.
Be sure to check out Tristan’s upcoming films, like Mania, Chainsaw Sally: The Animated Series, Boogeyman: Reincarnation and many more! And if you’re in Vancouver, be sure to check out one of her shows!
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