Interview with the mesmerising Mae de la Rue
The lockdown chats continue! Today I venture interstate (virtually) to talk to the lovely Mae de la Rue. She discusses many topics on her burlesque journey such as being a singing stripper, creating Promo Queens, her competition experiences, developing Burly Catch Ups, highlight of her career so far and of course, much much more! Happy reading!
(photo: 3 Fates Media) 1. Everyone's journey to becoming a performer is different, what's your story? When did you start performing burlesque? Aaaaahhhhhh, I always love this question because the tale makes me laugh (now!). My journey to burlesque starts out with utter despair. Many moons ago I was engaged to a guy, I was so besotted I could see our whole future ahead of us. Until he broke up with me and I was devastated. Like, in tears on the phone to a friend at 2am devastated. The break up also meant that I felt unable to go back to the social circles from the hobby where we’d met, so I was isolated and living in Sydney with no hobbies or interests. I headed to the weekly life drawing classes at The ArtHouse Hotel in the CBD. I noticed a flyer for Dr Sketchys Anti-Art School and decided to head along to that. Holy hell, I discovered a whole new world full of bright sparkly people! From there I heard about the Ruby Revue and started attending that, and then the Burlesque Ball. And I discovered a whole scene in Sydney. I was a huge fan of burlesque. I was that person at every show who knew most of the performers. Eventually they all started asking when I was going to perform. So in 2012 I took a course with Danica Lee and made my debut in May that year at The Peel, 4 days before leaving the country for a year and a half to live and work in the UK. When I came back in September 2013, I joined a production course run by Holly J’aDoll and made my second ‘debut’ with a class of students, some of who are still performing and are some of my favourite people in burlesque! 2. Wow, that's a great story! What styles of performance do you do? Which one is your favourite to perform? I’ve always been a performer, studying theatre at University, and in essence I’m a storyteller. In the burlesque world, the traditional styles really appeal to me and it’s a level of glamour that I really enjoy trying to emulate. I discovered a few years ago that I can be quite humorous, so my more neo acts tend to have a comedy aspect to them. But singing is one of the things I really enjoy, and working that in to my burlesque is probably the challenge I enjoy most. In fact my first ever act was a sing and strip which was very uncommon at the time. Now I have my own headset mic and I think 4 sing n strip acts in total with a new one on it’s way in 2020! 3. I love watching your sing'n'strip numbers! Artists are inspired by many things, what inspires you to perform? Oh my lordy I'm a huge musical theatre fan, and an Elvis tragic. I love all the old Elvis movies (as problematic as they are now), and I love watching all the Hollywood movie musicals. Oh and Bette Middler! I want to be her when I grow up for sure. My favourite movie of all time is Singing’ in the Rain, I will never get bored of that movie. Turns out I have a real thing for the 50s, so I tend to start from that aesthetic and build out. 4. I can see those influences in your work. You work in social media in your 'day job', how does this influence what you put out online as a performer? What words of wisdom do you have for your fellow performers? I discovered a few years ago that other people didn’t find social media as intuitive as I do. So I started running a class called Promo Queens. I’m forever surprised when people don’t understand how social media works, but I guess I spend everyday on it, reading about it, testing it and so on. Mind you, most of the time I tell people to do as I say, and not as I do. I am so haphazard and last minute with my social media! I guess when it comes down to it, the main thing I tell people, to get them past being scared of ‘doing it wrong’ is that there’s no such thing as ‘wrong’ on social media. There’s good, there’s bad, there’s even ugly. But to be ‘wrong’ has to be illegal, defamation, or just completely inaccurate. And how can you be any of those if you’re talking about your own experiences? So just give it a crack and find your voice and what you enjoy posting.
(photo: KTB) 5. Great tips! You have competed in a fair few competitions and won some shiny crowns - what has been the most challenging competition and why? Which crown were you the most proud of winning and why? Competitions is an interesting thing for me. I didn’t think I’d like competing, and at one stage I decided to never compete again. I don’t think I’m an inherently competitive person, but I realised that competitions were an amazing chance to test and push myself. I think every competition is challenging in different ways. I’m currently preparing for Miss Burlesque NSW during the global pandemic - this is the most challenging experience forcing a lot of personal growth and introspection, and I haven’t even got to show day yet! As for the crown I’m most proud of? It’s probably the Golden Stripper crown I was awarded at the Golden Legends Champion Challenge in Florida USA last year. That was an exciting and challenging experience as I was mentored by Canadian Legend Judith Stein for 6 months and we did it all via Facebook messenger! I had met Judith at the New Zealand Burlesque Festival in 2017 and had a private 1 on 1 with her on the act that went on to win the NZBF Duchess crown for me so I think there’s a lot of sentimentality there, as well as a real friendship with Judith, and an amazing experience travelling to the States to compete. 6. That sounds so wonderful! It's such a rarity to meet legends! (I'm a little jealous!) You have brought the DIY Koala competition to Australia from NZ - What do you hope to achieve with the event? What are the challenges you face being on the other side of the competition? I was absolutely honoured to be invited to bring DIY from New Zealand to Australia! I loved the concept even though I’d never seen the DIY BurlesKiwi competition myself. As far as competitions go, it’s an equaliser. It’s not about how much you can spend on costumes or props, but rather how innovative and entertaining you can be on a $100 budget. It’s not about creating an act that looks cheap, but creating an act you can hardly believe was created on so little money. When I launched the competition, I was worried no one would want to take part, but I was overwhelmed with applications! Then most of it has been making sure the competitors feel supported and understand the rules The most common questions are about the rules, which is exciting because it means everyone is trying to make the most out of the opportunity! 7. You are a performer, producer and teacher - all round powerhouse! Tell me how the Muse School of Burlesque came about. I honestly NEVER thought I would be a teacher, I even questioned if I could teach. I usually feel like I’m nothing special and why would anyone want to learn from me? But I took opportunities to teach classes at the Congress on Undress, and the NZ Burlesque Festival, and realised I had knowledge and an ability to convey it to people in a way that they could comprehend. At the end of 2017, Sofonda Blackmen was preparing to leave Wollongong to move to north coast NSW. She reached out to me to ask if I would take over the Risque Bizniz School of Burlesque as I live in the Sutherland Shire, (one of the most southerly points of Sydney before heading to Wollongong), and I had also lived in the Gong previously, and had performed at number of her shows. I said yes, and mounted my first classes in February of 2018 with 20 students in my first ever class (and I was quietly shitting myself!). From there we’ve gone from strength to strength. I expanded in to Sutherland which is a lot closer to home for me and generally teach 2 nights a week in 2 cities. After a year or so of operating under the old name, I decided it was time to rebrand to make it really my own School. I chose the name Muse because I want to inspire people, be their muse, and help them inspire others, become other people’s muses. Also, I liked how “Mae’s Muses” sounded! Hahahaha, nothing wrong with a bit of marketing inspo, eh? I had been starting to consider launching a blog, called Mae’s Musings and it all just sat together well, so Muse it was. In 2019 we mounted our first Muse Showcase with solo and group performances from both the Wollongong and Sutherland students and held two shows one in the Shire and one in the Gong. It was also a fundraiser for the Golden Legends Champion Challenge! 8. I'm a big fan of alliteration myself! It sounds like a great place to learn. Restrictions have been really tough in Victoria due to the pandemic, but they seem to have eased in NSW. What did you find most difficult about being a performer in isolation as a result of COVID19? How do you think the entertainment industry will change moving forward? I can’t even imagine how everyone in Melbourne is coping with the lockdowns, but everyone is doing their bit to get on top of the numbers. I have personally found the pandemic draining and exhausting. My day job exploded in to activity, and the staff member who reported to me had been promoted to another team so the first 4-5 weeks of lockdown I was doing two people’s worth of work and often working more than 12 hours a day, so there was nothing left in the tank for creativity. I applaud the people who have adapted so quickly and there are some performers who have really taken the online format and made it their own. The restrictions in NSW are lighter, however right now I’m trying to mount our next Muse Showcase and it means venues are few and far between. We’ve decided to go with the community hall we use for classes and will have an ‘intimate’ audience of just 35 people. The industry has been hard hit, but those with the passion and ingenuity to adapt have proven we can survive anything. I think in the future all shows will have far more consideration for online streaming or availability. There’s so many people out there who would like attend but for whatever reason can’t, so changing how we deliver performances means we make our art more accessible. I don’t know what the final outcome will look like but I’m excited to contribute to the change and development. 9. You are so great at creating a sense of connection and community in the burlesque industry, how did the idea of 'Burly Catch Ups' come about? And do you have any plans for it post-covid? Burly Catch Ups started as an in person drinks and networking opportunity in Sydney after some unpleasantness and upset on the scene locally. It’s been embraced by some but not others. After a while of feeling like a disappointment because it wasn’t something everyone wanted to be a part of, I realised that it was the thing that some people needed, and those people really loved it. I travel a lot to perform and for work, and I just took the opportunity to take Burly Catch Ups on the road whenever I went somewhere. I didn’t realise it would be something so many people across Australia had seen and wanted to come along too. but to be honest, there have been times where I’m the only person who turned up. But I still turn up, if nothing else, I want to be reliable and available when I say I will be. It’s been an opportunity to connect performers new in a city to the established people in the area, or just gives people opportunity to meet performers they otherwise wouldn’t feel able to approach. With the pandemic, I took it online and it really took off. We talk about anything and everything, and people dial in from across Australia and NZ. The longest we’ve gone for is about 5 hours. Post Covid, I’d like to take it back to in person, but also keep the online portion. So it’ll likely become a hybrid of regular online catch ups, and opportunistic in person catch ups in cities where I can make it happen. What I’ve really discovered, is that I am the catalyst. I make the opportunity and people who know me or know of me, feel able and welcome to attend. And that’s the goal really, to help connect people. 10. I definitely feel like you an approachable, friendly and supportive person. You had a great group on FB to motivate other performers on being creative during lockdown - are you working on anything new whilst in isolation/iso-projects? I created the group in response to seeing so many friends struggling creatively and I identified hard with that feeling. So I decided to run a #NoseToTheRhinestone to help inspire people. I did it myself in the lead up to GLCC in 2019 and it really helped keep me on track. My iso projects have mainly been preparing for Miss Burlesque NSW which was supposed to be on mid year but has rescheduled to November 13th at the Factory Theatre. I did create a little improvised act one night that was for the Black Sex Workers Collective, raising money for both a US and Indigenous Australian charities supporting sex workers who have been severely hit by the pandemic and are largely ignored by both society and the government.
(photo: 3 Fates Media)
11. What has been a highlight of your career so far? Being crowned Duchess of New Zealand Burlesque Festival was a personal turning point for me. I was so proud of the act I presented, it’s still one of my favourite to perform. And I felt able to achieve and succeed in my own way and style. I love visiting New Zealand, it’s definitely a second home and being named Duchess really cemented my place as a peer there as well as at home. I’m still called Duchess when I go back even though that title has been passed on. In NZ, once named Royalty, always considered royalty! 12. Sounds like a great scene. What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind as a performer? I really want to see our scene grow both in quality and opportunity, but in audience size as well. When I first started seeing burlesque, our audiences were large for almost every show. We’re talking 100+ in the audience on average, and pay for performers was much better than it is now. Those two things go hand in hand, so my interest in helping performers promote themselves and their shows is to create growth overall in our shows and make burlesque a bigger part of the entertainment industry in Australia. I’d like to be remembered as a helpful and approachable person whose interests are in the betterment of burlesque as a whole. And that’s the approach I take when teaching students, our future performers. 13. What are your future plans/goals as a performer? I haven’t made many plans beyond 2020, I have a few ideas including writing more on my website to help people find out about burlesque and come to see shows, as well as advice to support the new performers coming through. My husband and I have also just bought a house that we’ll be moving in too later this year that has a space I can use as a studio. I’m hoping to grow Muse some more so we have more students in the Sutherland Shire and see if I can take on some additional permanent teachers. And I’ve been discussing various show ideas with a few people over the last few years so maybe some of them will come to see the light of day. But my first priority is spending some time focusing on me and my performances, putting the hard work in to improve who I am on stage. Connect with Mae online via the links below: Facebook Instagram Website