Star Wars Burlesque: The Empire Strips Back!
“Basically I’m two things: I’m a geek, and I’m a pervert,” laughs Russall Beattie, on what inspired him to develop Star Wars Burlesque: The Empire Strips Back! The show, which sold out months in advance in Sydney, visits Melbourne this weekend to entertain those who love George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, and wondered what Darth Vader would be like if he was female, wore black latex, and stripped.
“Star Wars Burlesque is great because you take everything you loved as a child and combine that with things you love as an adult, ideally people wearing Stormtrooper masks and combining it with sexy ladies. It just kind of works – it’s a fun thing,” explains Beattie, who worked closely with one of the stars of the show – Tasia – who plays Slave Leia and Darth Vader.
“Both of my characters are so different and I love the fact that Slave Leia is so empowering – it’s quite a physical role to play and there’s a lot of audience contact with that one…but Darth Vader is just so powerful and it has its own limitations because I am in the full Darth mask the whole time so it’s all about the body in that one and trying to get a reaction from the crowd without them actually seeing my face at all and there’s a great moment at the end of that where I basically leave the crowd wanting a lot more and it’s quite exciting”.
Whilst Star Wars Burlesque: The Empire Strips Back! was performed in an intimate venue in Sydney, Melburnians can expect a much different show.
“It’s a much bigger show than what we have done in Sydney previously because it’s now moved to theatre spaces. So we’ve had to amp up all the acts and bring in some and redesign the whole show for a new audience.
“That’s why we like burlesque because it can work in different formats, so that burlesque is working very much in a cabaret format in Sydney but when we take it to Melbourne [the venue] will be a big theatre…so I can’t put on the same show – I don’t think it’s fair – if you’re in a big theatre you lose the intimacy of being really close to the performer, you need to change that up and give a big stage show,” says Beattie.
Tasia adds, “It was great because I think we had a whole new group of people who had never seen a burlesque show before come along. It was a very different audience to play to, we had to warm them up a bit in the start and let them know they’re allowed to whoop and holler. Once they got into the spirit of things, it was a great show and a big success”.
Tasia explains what makes burlesque shows, often blends of satire, performance art and adult entertainment, so intriguing and alluring to perform in.
“It’s the crowd interaction, it’s actually having power on stage, being able to invoke a reaction from the crowd and have them totally into what you’re doing even though it’s completely ridiculous. Dressing up as Darth Vader in a latex suit and grinding around in a sexy way would just seem ridiculous to most people but it’s the most fun you can have.”
Whilst there have been other Star Wars/burlesque produced in the US, Beattie claims his version differs in several aspects.
“I copped a little bit of flak, people say I’ve copied it from a stage even though I’ve been quite honest from the beginning that they were the first to kind of do the concept, but I’ve also been quite honest from the beginning that I thought it was poorly done. I thought you can’t really steal concepts which [are] based off Star Wars; the only person who you can really steal from is George Lucas.
“[Star Wars Burlesque: The Empire Strips Back!] differs because it’s a different group of people for one, all the concepts are mine, all the costumes are made by me and my crew, it’s its own kind of beat, it’s got more in line with something like Crazy Horse Of Paris – a lot more focus on lighting, we don’t play for laughs as much. It’s a lot more sexier show”.
With so much effort required in production – including the remarkable costumes what is the biggest challenge of putting on a show like this? “Not being sued,” quips Beattie. “It is a burlesque so it is a satire and a parody and it’s made for fans, by fans. And with the new Star Wars X rated porno coming out, I’m not really that worried about it”.
Beattie and Tasia certainly don’t have much to worry about in terms of chemistry, as Tasia highlights the benefits of working with someone with such creativity and passion as Beattie.
“I’ve been working Russall Beattie for six or seven years now and so we’ve done a lot of burlesque shows together and when he came to me with the idea of Star Wars Burlesque it was quite an exciting concept. Russall, when he has an idea, he has a passion for it that’s so infectious. He’s had some amazing concepts that he comes up with and everybody around him wants to get on board and make that happen. He’s definitely a Star Wars fanatic, and his passion for this definitely shows through. He’s one of the most creative people I’ve met, [he’s] very inspiring”.
Whilst certain geeky Star Wars fans may find the extreme creative license adopted by Beattie and his team to be almost insulting, Tasia emphasises that the shows in Sydney were taken in the right spirit and were very well received by fans of Star Wars and burlesque in general.
“The first show was very daunting because we sold out two months in advance and that was obviously the hardcore Star Wars fans that bought tickets to the first show. So we didn’t know after we came off stage after the first show whether we were going to be pelted with tomatoes or what, but we thought that they may be open to interpretation and to the characters, or they may not. It was received so well, I think the quality of the production shows through and even if we’re not representing the characters exactly as they’d like to see them – it’s a very sexy sensual show – and I think everybody can appreciate that”.
BY NICK TARAS
Star Wars Burlesque: The Empire Strips Back! is on at The Athenaeum Theatre this Saturday February 25 and Sunday February 26.