VIKTOR DEVONNE on All Things Burlesque!


Atticus Stephenson
Atticus Stephenson

If it seems like burlesque is everywhere lately, you’re right. What led to burlesque’s modern-day resurgence? My humble theory is that it’s partly because we humans are searching for new ways to appreciate and enjoy our sexuality. Just where do you go in the digital age, where we have lost our shockability– and satisfaction of any minor or major sexual craving is available at the click of a mouse? Back to “old school“ sexiness, of course! Many admirers of both the male and female form may agree that performers who leave something to the imagination– some vestige of fantasy— can often be more sexy than those who show it all. (Although I do admit, I’m partial to both.) Put another way, the essence of eroticism is often gauged by what is NOT shown. But as experts will tell you, skin is only one element of burlesque. The art form also incorporates a varying mix of comedy, shock value, pageantry, spectacle, creativity, and perhaps a little bit of that classic glamour into the act. I say “classic” because so-called “traditional” burlesque had its heyday in the early 20th century before languishing in the 1940’s. However, burlesque not only survives but is thriving and evolving in a particularly vivid subculture in New York City, where it is sometimes called “neo-burlesque“– and where a new generation of performers are keen on finding new, exciting ways to entertain their audiences and to break new boundaries.

Brian Stretton
Brian Stretton

Viktor Devonne knows about entertaining audiences as well as breaking new boundaries. A founder of White Elephant (WE) Burlesque, he is entering his 13th year in the art form– in his own words, “the longest time I’ve done anything.” He is the producer of and a performer in White Elephant’s popular Wednesday night showcase at New York City hotspot Rockbar, which features a rotating, diverse cast of male-, female-, and non gender binary-identified performers. The audience, in turn, is very diverse as well. A burlesque act may last about five minutes, but a performer usually spends many hours conceiving their act, choosing and mixing their music, creating their costumes, and rehearsing again and again. Being both on stage and behind the scenes, Devonne tells me that the performance preparation is the “easy” part of his burlesque life. As a producer of the shows at Rockbar and WE shows at other venues, Devonne spends even more time coordinating and booking his fellow performers and networking in the burlesque community at large. To state the obvious, it’s a full time profession. He tells me, “Performing, producing, and working on a show is my favorite thing to do. I don’t love it blindly. I have a great gratitude for it, and I treat it very seriously– perhaps more seriously than some find to be OK. But I do. I see everything, I watch everything. I’m very observant. I try to be as insightful as possible. I see what is damaging or problematic in the scene, and I try to be as available to that as I can and as responsible for that as I can. I can still be coy, and I appreciate every friendly-handed compliment– but I also know my job and what I’m capable of. I’ve decided to be proud of that! I wasn’t always capable of saying that I know my job, but now I do. And, I like to work with people who also know their job, and who are looking forward to mastering knowing their job. I work with all types of people at all levels. It may be their first time performing or it may be someone who has been in the game for a long time.”

Viktor Devonne took the time to speak to me about all things burlesque:

JR: Hello, Viktor! Thank you for speaking with me. So… White Elephant Burlesque at Rockbar always attracts a healthy crowd every Wednesday. How challenging is it to produce and perform in a weekly show?
VD: I would say that a weekly show has to be a labor of love. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true. It has to be– or otherwise, you’re gonna hate yourself and you’re gonna hate what you do! We’re actually switching platforms. We are going from weekly to twice a month. That’s due to a number of factors. The first is that there’s a saturation of burlesque in New York City. There’s the ability to have fewer but larger shows rather than multiple smaller shows. It also gives the space a little extra time to decide what they want to do with those alternate nights. And, it gives me some more flexibility, because now I’m bi-coastal. I’m going back and forth from the New York area to California. So, I need to make efforts and decisions that will reflect my trajectory into being a Californian. I’m very excited to say that I have been accepted into the Hollywood Burlesque Festival. That will be happening the first week in June. It will be my first performance as a southern Californian resident. While I performed there last year, I technically never lived there. I did a Burlypick, which is a “competition-slash-performance”. I did an improv, not a full act. I just wanted to try something. I met a lot of cool people, a lot of great people. But unfortunately, California is just so stretched out as compared to New York, where all the burlesque is on top of itself. It’s a very different experience.

JR: California! How jealous am I?! Congratulations on that! Now, I have to ask the mandatory interview question: How did you get started in burlesque?
VD: You didn’t read my press kit! (Laughs) The short, short version is: I did Rocky Horror for a number of years. There was a Convention that was starting up in New Jersey, and they said, “Hey, you Rocky Horror people! You’re familiar with taking off your clothes in large groups. Would you do a 20 minute set?” So, we did a 20 minute set, and it stuck. I created an identity, I said what I wanted to do, I performed in an act, we had a couple of duets and a couple of trios, we had at least one solo, and it was a lot of fun. But I never thought at the time that it would become a regular thing, because I didn’t know that it was available to me.

JR: When you say “identity”, what was that identity at the time?
VD: At the time, it was far more “put upon”. I was “becoming” Viktor Devonne. I used to use an accent and I had a very strict way of presenting myself. I always had “the face”. I always did my face white at did something with lipstick and eyeliner. Coming from my Rocky Horror background, it wasn’t that uncommon for me. I was a pretty “clown white” Frank-N-Furter when I started. My high arch was really just ripped right from Frank-N-Furter. So, yes, there really was a specific way that we presented ourselves. It was sort of “Hot Topic vaudevillian”. It was like torrid cabaret. Supergoth! It was 2006 into 2007 that we were developing this. I had the neon green stockings. It was right around the time The Dresden Dolls became popular. I actually had a number of people ask if I was influenced by The Dresden Dolls. The funny thing is that technically, no I wasn’t. But since then, yes. I fortunately got to work with them a couple of times.
JR: Nice!
VD: Well, you know: In nightlife, you sort of “back into” each other more than perform with each other sometimes! (Laughs)
JR: True!
VD: So, it was sort of, “Paint your face white. Use dark circles. Wear dark clothes.” We had a lot of pleather, we had a lot of that “baby doll” aesthetic as well. That was when the “Gothic Lolita” was still at its highest. Voltaire, who is a Goth cabaret singer, did a lot of the same conventions that we did. He was compared to a Gothic Weird Al. He’d do some parodies but also did some original material. I also did a music video with him in the mid 2000’s. It was the first time I really got work as Viktor Devonne. That wasn’t on stage and it wasn’t my show. But that was the first time I met Holly Ween. That was the first time I worked with Little Miss Rollerhoops, who still works in Philadelphia and New Jersey. Regina Stargazer was also in that… as well as a lot of people who I probably passed in corners and never knew. It was another “stamp” that said, “Yes, you’re on the right track.” I had applied via MySpace! That should tell you how long ago that was! (Laughs)

JR: Yes, it does.  MySpace! (Laughs) So, you always feature a wide variety of performers in White Elephant Burlesque. You have all, shall we say, all types.
VD: We had all types to begin with. Part of the component of doing Rocky Horror is that it appeals to people who need projection, who need amplification– people who either had felt, or are currently experiencing, the lack of that. Since we came out of Rocky Horror, these were our friends. I didn’t come up through the New York School of Burlesque. I didn’t come up through the clubs. I came up through these conferences– so I didn’t know anyone else. We were the only game in town. It’s not because we were so revolutionary in our thoughts. It’s that we were in a microcosm. An example: I didn’t wear pasties for a very long time. Now you can’t get them off me! I stand very strict in my pastie rule. It has been formed by working with people like Jonny Porkpie and Tigger. Also, we didn’t have a stage kitten in the past. We didn’t even know what that was! You learn these things as you go. That’s why I encourage people NOT to live within a microcosm. You can create some really great, derivative art that way– but eventually you have to branch out. Otherwise, when those cons go away– which inevitably they did– then where do you go? Fortunately I had started everything else already. I started working in New York, I started working in Philadelphia… I still work in New Jersey, although New Jersey is its own “beast” to tame. It’s also spread out and separated by highways. You can’t exactly get drunk and then club-hop! Here in New York you can do that, because we have public transportation and walking. It’s a very different universe in New Jersey.

Grainne Images

JR: As a performer, you’ve also established your own unique persona.

VD: I try to think so! There was a safety and a freedom in expressing myself with painting my face white and wearing the lipstick and eyeliner. I didn’t have that when I didn’t have it on. I came from a community theater background as a child. When I hit adolescence, I stopped. I was dealing with my sexuality. I was dealing with my insecurity in education. I probably have a learning disability that was never properly diagnosed. Probably… Because I would freeze up– and I would have a lot of anxiety that just hadn’t transferred into creativity… or hadn’t been manipulated into creativity, like I can do now. I’m now able to stress myself out to the point of creativity if I need to. (Laughs) I love producing. I love putting shows together. People ask me, “How do you do it? How do you keep track of everything?” I say that for some reason, the coordinating of those names, and sorting them into dates, and saying, “These people should work with these people.” and “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” and “What act are they going to do?” and “I have to get everyone’s music.”… All of that chaos makes sense to me, in a very different way than structured education did at the time!
JR: It seems like you have segued a lot of that anxiety into the creative process!
VD: Yeah! Trust me, I still have it! I’m still my mother’s son.
JR: Join the club! (Laughs)
VD: I come from a family that has dealt with mental illness in a lot of different ways. Coming through community theater was my father’s way, I think, of connecting with me– and me connecting with him. He did community theater, and I was the kid in the wings. I would be in the back watching the show. I was at almost every rehearsal, at least by the dress rehearsals. I was there for tech week. I wanted to be there. I was in a couple of shows, but not in a lot of them. I loved the production of it. Give me a proscenium arch– I like that! I still call it “The Scottish play”! I have some very traditionalist views on that, but I also enjoy it. One of my least favorite things that came out of Rocky Horror was the devaluing of it– the inherent “Oh, it’s just silly!” or “Oh, we’re just a bunch of monkeys dancing around on stage in our underwear.” No! This monkey takes his job very seriously– and frankly, I could be doing a lot of other things. Including nothing! I could be staying at home doing absolutely nothing! Instead, I am going through 90 to 110 minutes of a character arc, and either escaping or exploring. I don’t view it as escape. I view it as exploration. Burlesque may seem like only five minutes per performance, but the whole process of setup, and construction, and booking it, and advertising yourself, and social media…
JR: Mm-hmm! 
VD: Yeah! All of that together! It’s a big undertaking. If you don’t love it, then do something else. Anything else.
JR: Agreed. So, you mentioned your parents. Have they ever come to see your show?
VD: In fact, yes. They knew long ago. They came to Rocky Horror. Not very often, because it would be late– and they didn’t quite get it. They didn’t like the “screaming lines at the movie” aspect of it. Also, there’s a vulgarity to it that I think they’ve accepted but still sometimes struggle with. The woman who married my father, who did not give birth to me but raised me: I don’t know if she fully understands at all times what I get out of it or why I do it. She likes the political stuff. She likes the stuff that are clearly statements. She likes cleverness. She was probably the first person I saw the movie Gypsy with. To an extent, the same goes for my father as well. I think he also gets the frivolity of it as well; it’s not just serious. I think that a lot of neo-burlesque is fairly serious, because we feel the need to express our agency in a world where we don’t feel in control. But sometimes– sometimes!–it’s just fun. And that fun does not make it any less relevant or important!

JR: Well, burlesque can be fun AND make a statement at the same time!

VD: Absolutely. But when it comes to pretty women in gowns dancing to Artie Shaw or Glenn Miller, I don’t know if she quite gets it as a political statement. I’ve tried to explain it, and I think I’ve made some headway with it. And it’s not that she necessarily feels that they’re being “exploited”, because I think she understands that all of these women, and transpeople, and non-binary people, and queer people, and guys who don’t fit into any of those camps are making those decisions or choices. It’s all a decision– moment to moment, show to show. And while we all absolutely can get into our heads and do shows that we don’t necessarily want to have done, in the moment I think a lot of us have the freedom and the agency and the privilege, frankly, of doing what we want to do. We get to go on stage and do whatever we want on that stage. It’s us making a statement even if it’s just a gown and glove act. It’s us being present in a mad world. So, I think she’s gotten that. She also thinks that sometimes the shows are too loud and run too long! (Laughs)
JR: Oh? Au contaire, I think that the audience is usually very upset when it’s announced that the next act is the last one for the night! What is amazing is that the show always gets a good crowd, and a lot of people come religiously every week.
VD: Part of that is the space that Rockbar has provided… and the space that Jason Romas, who is really the face of Rockbar, has helped perceive for performers. The shows that were here before us were usually one shot drag performances. When I started working in here on a regular basis with Petra Fried and Hazel Tart, it sort of changed the narrative of what a weekly show was gonna be like here. Then, all of a sudden, other people started doing shows, and Jason knew that they were viable, and we all worked well together, and he doesn’t suffer fools– so anyone who was a problem or was a pain in the ass didn’t last long. I think that’s really a testament to both him and to the mission of the bar, which is to make people feel welcome– but to also maintain that this is a queer space. If you don’t fuck with us, then fuck off. You have to be polite, you have to be safe. Yeah, the events at Rockbar are different on a night-to-night basis, and this probably is the most cis-woman-heavy night– but it never feels like that was cultivated in a nefarious way. It all happened organically, because those people felt welcome. They were respectful. I know that there is minor to major controversy about women in gay bars or gay spaces. All of that is sort of nonsense to me, because I hear more about “what people heard” than the initial compliant. (Laughs) . I’m sure that there ARE people who complain, but I think it all absolutely comes down to respect. Generally speaking, the people who complain about women in gay bars are generally assholes. (Both laugh) I mean, there usually is another problem. There’s usually something else happening. That person who doesn’t like women in bars– well, there’s something else they’re dealing with that makes them an asshole.
JR: They may just have problems with women in general.
VD: Indeed! Not to say that people can’t be problematic patrons in bars. But it’s certainly not limited to gender. Certainly not.
JR: Also: Almost every single act that I’ve seen in White Elephant Burlesque transcends gender-specific appeal. It really does. It’s not just about sex appeal.
VD: Sometimes it’s about Fem Appeal! (Both laugh)
JR: I like her!  But burlesque is also about pageantry, and creativity, and humor…
VD: And self-identity. I think that what’s really interesting about burlesque is that it’s so self-indulgent and yet so universal. There’s something really, really odd and beautiful about the intersection between catharsis and entertainment. I say this on the mic a lot– and I might say it tonight: What that means is that we’re all going through something… and you’re all invited to watch! We are entertainers, but we’re also public figures to a degree. We are also queer, disenfranchised people, or women, or trans people, or enlightened cisgender white guys sometimes. (Both laugh)
JR: Woo hoo!
VD: it’s been known to happen sometimes! It’s seeing in the performers what you’re capable of or what you could never imagine yourself doing. There’s a certain “Well, I could never do that, but if I could…” I think that’s sometimes what comes into play. You’re watching them and you’re feeling good on their behalf. There’s something vicarious about it, but there’s also something deeply personal about it. Since you can’t crack open their heads and find exactly what motivated them to do the acts that they’re doing, you have your own interpretation. That can be very positive and that can be very negative. But that’s also true in drag, and with major pop stars and with movie stars today. But here, we have the opportunity to be sort of famous on our terms– which is very resonant in queer culture. It’s very resonant in queer culture to be celebrities and to be famous in our own circles. Even though burlesque may not inherently be queer, most of the shows that I do are… and many of the shows in New York City are influenced by that in some capacity: either the venue is queer, or the producers are queer, or the performers are queer… or they are reflecting on the times, which frankly I would say are pretty queer. I’d say that we’re living in a very queer-heavy landscape at the moment. I’m quite pleased! (Laughs)

Atomic Cat

JR: Well, hooray for that! It had to happen eventually! (Laughs)

VD: That also means that we have the opportunity and therefore the responsibility to amplify that– as well as to amplify trans people, and people of color, and refugees, and folks who don’t otherwise have a space for it.
JR: Truth! So, did you ever do a performance that the audience just wasn’t “getting”?
VD: I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in the spaces that I’ve performed in. Watch, I’ll bomb tonight…Thanks! (Laughs) I’ve very rarely felt unsafe or unwanted. What’s interesting is that a lot of times, especially early in my career, the guy host wouldn’t know how to introduce me…and he would spend most of the evening talking about, “Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if guys did this?” or “What if I also did this?” And I was like, “I’m in the second act. They’re gonna see a guy do this in about 25 minutes. Don’t make this the biggest part of your gag here. Because, guess what? Some guys do this too!”

JR: Was the idea of a male burlesque performer that revolutionary to them?
VD: To be fair, I think that in their mind, they’re being self-deprecating. But the fact is, although all bodies are burlesque bodies in some capacity, or all bodies are capable of doing burlesque, not all MINDS are capable of doing burlesque. It’s still a skill set. So, I don’t necessarily believe that everyone is inherently a strong performer– but I think that has nothing to do with what you’ve got on your bones. So, when I’m being introduced in a certain way, where all of a sudden they’re like, “And now, someone for the ladies!”, I’m like, “Listen: They’re welcome too. But they may not be my core audience.” Because, guess what? If the rest of the show wasn’t also for the ladies, then what kind of show was this? Really? What you did was, accidentally or intently, make all the rest of the show “not for the ladies”. And that’s so fucked up. Because frankly, I find that most audiences in burlesque are female-presenting– at least in the circles that I follow in. Sometimes it’s a date night situation, and sometimes it’s a girls’ night situation, and sometimes it’s just whoever happens by. But that’s just so alienating to me as both a performer and an audience member. And then it also immediately turns off the presumed straight guys in the audience. Don’t make up their minds for them. Don’t say, “Oh, you can make a bathroom break now!” No! Invite them to watch!
JR: He didn’t really say that, did he?
VD: Of course he had. I mean, essentially– not in so many words. But the second you start saying things like, “Here’s one for the ladies!”, you’re allowing other people to turn off. And frankly, I think they would be benefitted if they saw me. I think that would be lovely! I mean, I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for a lot of people, I’m the first tea that they’re getting!
JR: (Laughs) I like that! I also like what you said about all bodies being suitable for burlesque, but not all MINDS are!
VD: Absolutely not! Not every mindset is capable of handling the rejection, the self-doubt, the physicality… You may have body issues, but if you can’t at least play nicely with them for the time you’re on stage– and, frankly, while you’re backstage too. I’m not suggesting that people shut up about their struggles or what have you, but EVERYONE is dealing with something backstage, and EVERYONE is dealing with something in the audience. If you’re inviting them into your problems or your insecurity or what have you, it sounds either disingenuous, or you’re gonna bring people down. Either you’re looking for a compliment– which, frankly, you don’t need; Wait until you’re on stage– or you need to constructively deal with this in a different way. There’s no reason that burlesque can’t be therapeutic. But it is not therapy. It cannot have the responsibility. These are strangers in an audience and your co-performers. None of us consented to be your therapist. Work through your shit. Be entertaining. Know your job. But don’t even put the pressure on burlesque to fix it! I once did an interview with someone, and I explained that I had a really shitty time before I started doing burlesque and then I had a really shitty time the first few years as a performer outside of burlesque. That interviewer chose to use the term “Burlesque saved me.” No, it did not. I saved myself. Burlesque was just really, really helpful. I hated that sort of shorthand that the person used in their article… to the point where I actually felt kind of embarrassed about sharing it. I was like, “No!” Sure, burlesque can be an art therapy, but I’m not done. Nothing SAVED me. I’m being saved every day. It just seemed a little too Lifetime movie ending, and “Everything’s great!” No! It’s a struggle every day. But how about I get on stage every week, and you give me some props for that? Don’t look at it like, “Look what he’s overcome!” Look at it like, “Look what he’s overcom-ING!”

Miss Trixie Delight

JR: I think that as a performer, in burlesque or otherwise, that you have to have a really strong sense of self-esteem. If you don’t, you’ll be constantly vulnerable to any kind of criticism, whether it’s constructive or not.
VD: In burlesque, we talk about criticism. While we do have backstage bitchery and we do have shade– where someone will say, “Wow! We couldn’t tell that you messed up!” or “That was a great recovery.” Listen: Unless I volunteer that information, you can keep that to yourself! It’s a personal thing. I don’t know if we all expect criticism or want criticism, but I’m gonna perform tonight. I don’t want notes. I’m sorry. The deed is done. It might as well be in film. That’s not what this is. It’s not a peer review. But to that end: Is that a selfish way of performing? Is that selfish art? Probably. But guess what? That’s what I’m doing tonight. It’s not up for debate. You may not inherently like what I do. I may not be what you’re interested in. And a lot of other people may not be either. And that’s cool. None of us need to know it unless we’ve asked. And frankly, a lot of us who ask… well, it’s the age-old question: Do we want the truth, do we want to be happy, or do we want to be right? And I’ll tell you right now: I would like to be happy! (Both laugh).
JR: Agreed!
VD: To that end, though: If I’m being a fucking idiot, or if I’m being irresponsible, or if I need a check to make sure that I’m doing OK and it’s not a skill level situation– like if someone says, “I don’t know if you need that third glass of wine!” or if someone says, “You’re trying to do fire and I just don’t think you’re getting it!” Yeah, there’s safety issues. But if it’s “I don’t know if I liked how you told that story!”… well then, guess what? I didn’t ask! (Laughs) Liking something is highly subjective. But here’s the problem with that: We’re also meant to entertain you. So if the audience doesn’t like you, or doesn’t “get it”, you kind of also failed then. Because you also have to be responsible to them. You’re not performing in a vacuum. You charged money at the door. These people are supposed to tip you. Burlesque is both a retail job and a therapy session. You have to actually do your job. It’s a weird intersection of going through it and being accountable for it. Sometimes it’s very tricky. Sometimes that influences the shows that you get booked for, and the performers who want to work with you, and how the audience responds. They may not get it. They may not be able to get passed that either. Some audiences are really cool with not getting it. But some audiences are really NOT OK with not getting it. They feel cheated. You have to be aware of that. And again, that’s why not all mindsets are capable of doing burlesque– just like any other art field!

JR: Gotcha! So, what was the craziest or most over-the-top thing that every happened at a White Elephant Burlesque show– whether good or bad?
VD: I don’t want to dwell on negativity, so I’ll give you a smattering: There was one or two shows where we worked with bands: bands who were late. We were part of the show, and we were cut– because we use pre-recorded music. So, of course, if they had to pick one or the other, they’re gonna pick the band. I remember being so mad. We had a producer who doesn’t work anymore– and it’s no one who’s reading this, because they’re out of the field!– where they were like, “You should understand that this happens!” I was like, “I WOULD understand that this happens. But guess who still has to pay their performers that I brought for your show?” Also, we were great. We have never been the problem. I pride myself in being the least high-maintenance performer at a gig. If ever I fall short of that, or another performer falls short of that, I need to know. Because that should always be the way it is.
JR: The “word on the street” is that you run a tight ship!
VD: That’s the hope. That’s the plan! So if anyone ever says, “This person was rude to the sound technician.”, well, I need to know who that was. I’ve done everything from performing in playhouses to performing in parking lots. I did the Asbury Park Bear Pride Weekend, and we performed at 2PM in June in a parking lot. As I’m sure you’re aware, I wear a lot of clothes– and it was a very, very sunny day. That was about four years into my performing career, and it was the first time ever where I said, “I want to go home!” Because up until then, after every show I could have done it all over again. Right all over again. You can’t run on fumes! Other than that, I like to think that everyone’s been really polite and cool. I also don’t like to suffer fools. I’ve only ever been inappropriately grabbed twice at a show– and both times were by women who thought that they could touch my butt or my pasties– because, well, why not? Well, I’ll tell you why not. Then the problem is then you have the issue of “Do I make this a moment where drunk random lady won’t actually absorb any of this, and probably just think I’m a dick?”, or do I just accept it and then perpetuate that as being OK? Well, I can’t perpetuate it. I don’t care how unlikable it makes me look backstage or near the stage. If you invade my space, on behalf of all the people I work with, I will let you know that that’s not OK. It doesn’t mean I’ll hit you. It doesn’t mean I’ll touch you back. But I will verbally let you know that it’s not cool. The two times that happened: One time, the woman looked at me like I was crazy, and the other woman– well, it didn’t even register on her face.
JR: I don’t doubt it, sadly.
VD: Neither of those have happened at White Elephant show. They happened at shows I did for other people. I think that’s very cool!
JR: It is! So, do you think there’s an age when someone may be “too old” to do burlesque? Is there a time when someone should just hang up their G-string once and for all?
VD: They should stop when they find that more of their time is spent complaining about it. It’s not an age-specific thing. No. I used to think that there was an age limit– not because anyone had told me that, but because six years ago I just sort of said, “Oh. I turned 30.”— and I thought I probably had 10 years total left. That’s a damn lie. And that’s from working with people who are older than me– even if I don’t know their exact ages– and from working with people in their 20’s who frankly just don’t have the stamina. There are people who do this job for decades, and people who do this job for months. It’s a lot. It’s a hard knock life… and if you’re not able to sustain or find a way of presenting yourself, being professional, being worth the booking… then there are hundreds of performers within spitting distance. You have to somehow not only be the most talented performer for the gig, but also the nicest person to work with and also the most reliable. And that is NOT age-specific. I have worked with people who are very young who have been extraordinarily brilliant to work with, and I’ve worked with older people to whom I’ve said, “I don’t know why you’re still doing this!” Not because they’re not still skilled, but because there’s a point where they’re not necessarily still enjoying it. And it may be again, that is not age-specific. There are people younger than I am who have already burned out. And that’s OK. They should reconsider their choices. This is a very privileged job. It may be how you get through your life, and it may be therapeutic, so that you feel obligated to do it– because what’s the alternative? You may just freak the fuck out. But you also have a responsibility to your audience to not suck– and to not look like it sucks. Be authentic. If you’re not having a good time up there, everyone’s gonna know it. No one’s that good of an actor. And once again, that’s not age specific!

JR: So, what do you like to do in your spare time, when you’re not performing or producing?
VD: I spend a lot of my time talking about burlesque. (Laughs) I really do! And bless my husband for accepting that, and also letting me know on occasion when it gets to be too much. It can be very self-congratulatory, and it’s a field that has a lot of individuality, that we can in-fight, and be mean to each other and be terrible to each other, and we can date within our ranks and break up within our ranks. There is a lot of what we would refer to as “drama’ within it– but that’s not necessarily different than Rocky Horror— or any other community! That’s just people… What else? I like writing. I should do more of it. I spend a lot of time watching drag queens on YouTube. I love food. I like spending time with my husband. I haven’t yet performed in California while I’m spending time with him– because that’s where he is. It’s going to be an interesting experience, to suddenly split time between him and Viktor, as it were. I haven’t done that yet. But it’s coming! It may seem a little indulgent or sad, but frankly most of what I do is burlesque-related. It’s gigging, it’s producing, it’s performing. It’s text-messaging people and saying, “Did you see that?!” It’s all there. I probably spend most of my day in burlesque in some capacity. But I don’t necessarily see that as a failure in living. I know that tends to be true of musicians, and actors, and investment bankers. It’s not overwhelming, but it is definitely time-consuming. Again, some people can handle it and some people can’t. I happen to thrive. I wish I can also say that I knit, but I don’t. I’m not a sew-er, I’m not a crafter. I’m really not. That’s just not my jam! (Laughs)
JR: You’re forgiven! (Laughs) Thank you for speaking with me!

The next White Elephant Burlesque shows will be Wednesday, April 3rd and Wednesday, April 17th at Rockbar, 185 Christopher Street, New York City. For more about WE Burlesque, visit

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