This is an exciting moment for me. This is the first A Muse Monday, where I have not actually met the Muse. Can you believe it? I mean we’ve crossed eachother’s paths in many ways; at comic conventions and in audiences at shows. But I have not had the pleasure of actually, for realsies, meeting her. Which I hope to remedy very soon. Perhaps at a upcoming Tassels and Tabletops. She is one third of Nerd Girl Burlesque. Ladies and gentlemen, the babe that launched a 1000 strips: Helen of Tronna!
Gracie: As always, we begin with, how did you get your name?
Helen: I want to play up my heritage, as a third-generation Greek-Canadian who has lived in Hogtown my whole life.
Gracie: How long have you been on the scene?
Helen: I debuted in late 2009.
Gracie: Signature colour?
Helen: I don’t tend to stick to just one. My troupe’s colours are turquoise and pink, and I am drawn to variations on that (teal and purple are a favourite combo).
Somehow, in our group numbers, though, my colour has been yellow.
Gracie: Do you have any secret talents?
Helen: It’s no secret, though I haven’t been able to bust it out as much as I’d like. I have been an English handbell ringer for half my life, and would love to combine burlesque and solo ringing somehow. My bell troupe, Pavlov’s Dogs, have played at a number of burlesque and cabaret events, but it’s becoming more and more of a challenge to find venues with a stage large enough for our setup.
Gracie: Does your audience have a favorite body part?
Helen: Well, I’m just gonna point out that nobody has contested my claim to the Best Ass East of the Don River.
Gracie: How do you build it? Song, costume, concept?
Helen: Each act is different, and all three of those are things that will inspire me on their own.
I have a playlist of songs that I would like to use for burlesque acts, and it’s always growing. Some songs kind of choreograph themselves. For instance, I was at a loss for what to do for Nerd Girl Burlesque’s “Clue” show. Colonel Mustard just wasn’t coming to me the way everyone else’s characters were seeming to come together; so I just picked a slightly murderous-feeling song that had just the right groove for the whole act to just click into place.
Having started my burlesque career in the nerdlesque genre, concept is also a common root. Nerdlesque is all about picking your favourite characters/franchises and creating an act around them; finding the right song to tell the character’s story, re-interpreting their look as a cabaret costume, finding ways to incorporate stripping into the story.
Costuming is possibly my favourite part of burlesque, so sometimes the concept springs from wanting an excuse to make an elaborate costume. I’m still trying to find the right occasion for all the wildlife-themed costumes I’ve made for kicks.
Gracie: What is your favorite costume piece?
Helen: I’m really proud of some of the corsets I’ve made since learning and apprenticing under Christina Manuge. It’s hard to pick just one, but I think my Nightmare Moon corset is my best design to date. I’m looking forward to out-doing it soon, though.
Gracie: What’s the strangest thing you’ve heard backstage?
Helen: This question makes me feel so old and jaded. I’m sure that I’ll read other people’s answers and just think, “Yeah, so? That’s what people say backstage. What’s the big deal?” Nothing is really all that strange in the context of cabaret backstage.
Gracie: Favourite venue in your current city and on the road?
Helen: This is a really tough one. For the size of the city and it’s performance scene, Toronto really doesn’t have very many good venues for burlesque. If there’s a venue that has a large enough backstage for half a dozen performers to get changed comfortably and a large enough stage for three octaves of English handbells, I am all ears.
Gracie: Do you have any words for budding showgirls?
Helen: Do your homework. I did a lot of performances in my early days that I cringe to look back on, because I was cocky and thought I could just throw something together. The way the scene has been growing, there are so many resources and learning opportunities for new performers, the flipside being that the bar is set that much higher. Go to shows and see as many different performers as you can and make note of the things you like and the things that you don’t. Don’t worry too much about having lots of acts, instead work hard on having a couple of really well-polished ones. And when your next gig comes up, you can put half the work into improving what you already have – fixing choreography, enhancing your costume, etc. – and have a much better result than a hurried new act that you may or may not ever perform again.
Gracie: Thank you so much for taking the time to share yourself with my readers. I look forward to really meeting very soon! To learn more about today’s Muse, follow her at the links below!