Kitty Klaw: interview
Ministry of Burlesque founder Kittie Klaw tells Time Out why harking back to the Victorian age is a necessary step in looking to the future
The Ministry of Burlesque started life seven years ago ‘as a bit of escapism from my student life’, says founder Kittie Klaw. Since teaming up with James Malach, the Ministry has grown, says Klaw, into ‘the world’s largest burlesque community and best-known UK organisation’. Not bad for a business that started as a hobby on the side. This week is its first major show in ages – Victorian Values.
‘We wanted to create a British burlesque show,’ says Klaw. ‘So far, the original genre has not be resurrected or reinterpreted since Gilbert and Sullivan. The twentieth century American form of burlesque (which is enjoying a massive revival) was not a continuation of the British form, it was a complete reinterpretation which simply continued to use the same term. People erroneously use the term burlesque when they actually mean “striptease”. The Traditional British Burlesque and the American Burlesque Striptease are the two forms of burlesque theatre. They are a century apart in style and purpose. The drive for doing this show is that British burlesque has gone ignored so far in favour of the American tradition. The British burlesque pre-dates the invention of music hall and was a middle class pursuit of satirical theatre.’
But shouldn’t burlesque’s premier peeps concern themselves with pushing the genre into uncharted territory, rather than presenting a museum piece? ‘Victorian Values is a first in the burlesque world, a celebration of the older British form of burlesque. Besides, the MoB is almost alone in actually making any real effort to move the genre forward. We provide free networking services, forums, listings and advice.
Other promoters advertise and sell their tickets through our website – all for free. We support the Exotic World Museum in Las Vegas as well as the Britannia Panopticon Theatre in Glasgow [a restored 150-year-old music hall]. In 2006, we held a general meeting of burlesque performers, agents and promoters to establish a fair charter of conduct for everyone to help prevent exploitation. We were supportive judges at the Exotic World pageant and pleased to see a British striptease queen take the crown.
‘We are equally supportive of and passionate about both forms of burlesque – US and British – and believe it’s time to make room on the burlesque stage for our own heritage too. The number of organisations and groups operating under the name burlesque, who are unaware of the British method’s roots and the impact that it had on the creation of operettas (and later musical theatre) has been deeply disappointing. The burlesque bandwagon is huge and it’s almost entirely focused on striptease. Now there is the danger of the genre being diluted and made insipid with the British tradition being corrupted for good. If we are not careful to make distinctions now, it will either disappear into a box (as the British tradition did) or up a pole (as the US tradition did). There are so many talented performers under the term burlesque. Some are avant-garde, some comedic, some adult-based, some a mix of all three. If we are to debate the exact lines where burlesque striptease becomes burlesque and where that becomes performance art and where that becomes something else, we will all be talking pointless piffle for years! Burlesque theatre should be accessible to everyone. This is our mission and, as our motto says, “Together We CanCan”.'
Victorian Values at Hoxton Hall is this Wed-Fri.
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