Naked Shoot photographer: Ataahua Pinups
I find everyone I interview so inspiring! They bring to me a kind of shine that no one can replicate, and Crystal Mischief is no exception to this rule. I did not know very much about Crystal prior but during this interview I discovered her journey and how much she sparkles!!
Crystal and I have been chosen to perform at the Golden Legends Championship Challenge (GLCC) in August (ie a few weeks!! this month!!! EEEK!) and we are the only two New Zealand performers performing at this event *very excited*
So on with the interview!
BS: I’m interviewing Crystal Mischief, who is the headmistress of the Sparkleforce Academy of Burlesque in Wellington. Is that right?
CM: The creator. Yes.
BS: Congratulations on getting in on the GLCC. I’m so excited for you!!
CM: Thank you.
BS: Because I’m really looking forward to it and I know that you will be.
CM: And congratulations on you getting in as well. It’s fantastic that we’ve got performers from New Zealand going to the festival for the first time.
For the audience out there in audienceland, this is a festival that’s been around for the last four years, and it’s called Golden Legends Championship Challenge. Each year it’s held in a different city in the USA for three days. The competition aspect of it is where the legends and a performer who has made it into the protege category, spend six months working together. Then the protégé competes in a show.
Not only do you have performers dancing their hearts out you’ve got legends standing behind them having mentored them. So it’s legends vs legend and protégé vs protégé.
It’s that whole– it really makes me emotional because it’s that whole transfer of knowledge thing and it’s a demonstration of how valuable the living legends of burlesque are, and it’s a lot of fun as well. This year it’s in Denver, Colorado. And at that festival, it’s announced where it will be the following year.
BS: Well, that’s all good!! I can’t wait to hear what it is!
CM: Things are happening at a great speed. But I mean, when things are at a great speed, and they feel light, which is good. I must admit I typically steer away from competitions. I prefer the production side of a competition, I’m happier backstage where I will work my ass off. After 8 years I was in my rut, I had done a whole pile of things, most of it unplanned but it turned out amazing. I wanted that hit of nerves you get, so even just applying for the showcase spot was enough to do that for me, it shook things up. I’ve gotten into a routine over the last few years, and life didn’t feel so sparkly, this is my fourth year performing overseas. I just feel so blessed and so grateful because these opportunities. Things like performing in Las Vegas, performing for Tempest Storm, who is one of the biggest burlesque legends. I was honoured and freaking out that she came out to see the show. But it was amazing.
“Satisfaction” Photographer: Ataahua Pinups
BS: Can you tell us, please, how did your burlesque journey begin?
CM: So I have one of those stories that is familiar to a few people. Eight and a half years ago, I had signed up to burlesque classes because I wasn’t feeling good about myself. The week that I started with the divine Miss La Belle’s House of Burlesque was the week that I walked in on my husband having sex with someone else. That very quickly ended my marriage, but started my burlesque career. So I complete the first course and then I did the second level. There was no third level when I first started so we kind of cobbled together a third level of sort of workshops and stuff like that to help prep us for our graduation. And then we had our graduation. And then not long after that, I started putting my show together and then, yeah, the rest is history, really [laughter]. Here I am now.
BS: You’re off to BHOF soon, how many years have you gone to BHOF?
CM: So the Burlesque Hall of Fame is in Las Vegas. BHOF is the first weekend in June each year. It’s the main fundraiser for the Burlesque Museum. So this will be my– hang on. Let me look at it. This is my fourth BHOF. So my seventh trip to the US.
BS: Awesome. And how did you get involved with that? Did you just decide that you were going to go, or?
CM: So I went along the first year. And like everyone else in their first years, it’s really overwhelming. There’s so much going on. And then you’ve got the first night is the leading edge of burlesque, where it’s the Movers, Shakers, and Innovators, which is the people who are out there doing some really leading-edge performance art. The second night, you’ve got to bring wads full of tissues because it’s Legends’ night. And these women just blow your mind. Absolutely blow your mind. (dog noise in the background)That’s right Fanny wants to add some comments about this [laughter].
BS: By the way, for those who don’t know, Fanny is actually her dog. She doesn’t have a talking piece of genitalia [laughter].
CM: No, no, no [laughter]. Fannie is my puppy named after Fannie Annie in America, one of my idols. My dogs full name is Fanny Bandwaggin, which is a bit of fun.
So, back to BHOF, the second night is Legends night, so that’s where you pay tribute to, honor, see the living legends of burlesque perform, and honor those who’ve passed each year, which is always a bit of a tough part of the show to get through. I mean, we have the legends walk. So for those who can’t perform, they still get a chance to stay on the stage as well. It’s just amazing. The third night is the ultimate competition, so that’s the one that’s the show that’s five hours long. Then, finally, it’s the last night, which is the Icons and All Stars night. That’s the previous BHOF title holders, so we get to see them again. So it’s action-packed, and overwhelming. In addition to those four nights of shows you’ve also got things like bowling, photo shoots, Naked Girls Reading, Finishing School. All these different things going on, I was completely overwhelmed the first year that I was there.
BS: Yeah. I’ll bet.
CM: Yeah. And then that lead to my biggest learning. I actually was sick for a week afterward because my adrenal glands couldn’t cope with it. That’s the reason why I’m so hot on the self-care stuff. And then next year, I went along, and that was the year that Judith Stein couldn’t come. Her house was struck by a hurricane and she had quite significant damage so she wasn’t able to come along. So that’s when I started tweeting out who was on stage. I’ve been doing that every year since. It’s a lot of work up front before BHOF. So I get to do the show, one tweet at a time, and one social media post at a time. So that’s magical. And then from I sort of became part of the production team.
Seattle, photographer: Melendor Photography
BS: So your on the production team for a festival of that size.
CM: Yes. BHOF has 50 people on it doing various aspects and 48 of them are American.
BS: And two of them aren’t [laughter].
CM: One is Australian and one is Kiwi [laughter]. But it’s a beautiful group to work with these are people who are top of their game.
BS: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
CM: With a festival like BHOF when you’ve got showgirls who are in their 80s, who are used to a slickly run show, then that quickly cuts out any bullshit, so that’s why you have wonderful people like The Bishop stage managing those shows because those are the people that are at the top of their game.
BS: Okay. I didn’t realize that he stage-managed.
CM: Yup. He works in the US and round the world stage managing. I did his stage managing course and learnt so much from him.
Performing for Tempest Storm Photographer: Darkbloom Imagery
BS: Awesome. So just taking a little bit of a step back. How did create your burlesque name, how did that evolve? How did you come about with that name? How did that come to you?
CM: I don’t even remember [laughter] eight years ago what the other contenders were. Mischief was always the thing because as my mother likes to tell the story where the quieter I was, the more mischief, the more devastation she would walk into and this is me as a baby. So there’s always been a mischievous element to my spirit. And really for me, it was my stage name grew out of the things that I reconnected with after having my life torn apart. I mean, I’ve been through the divorce and now and I’m prepared to say this now, I’m incredibly grateful to my husband for doing what he did. Well, my ex-husband. We were both in a bad state it was an abusive relationship. There was a cycle of violence going on and it wasn’t until his family pointed it out to me that I understood how bad it was.
BS: And often it takes somebody else to do that.
CM: Because it crept up so slowly. And that was the thing, it had taken me years to process. I’ve got a degree in criminology. How the hell did I end up in a domestic violence relationship? It happened so, so slowly. I’d lost the mischievous part of myself. I had no money to care for myself. I disconnected with the person I really was. So through burlesque I reconnected to the mischief. At class I pushed for a naming ceremony, so my teacher came up with one where we had glitter poured over us, and it was just–
BS: Oh, it would have been cool.
CM: It was a magical moment, and one of the memories I will treasure that I’m grateful for. So, yeah. So the Mischief was from childhood and the crystal because– well. [laughter] I like sparkly stuff.
BS: That’s good. It’s a good way to think about. To me when I heard crystal, I thought, well, we’re all like a crystal because we all shine, and we all project. When we have the light shining on us, we all project an image, which is what a crystal does. It sparkles.
CM: It’s a beautiful way. Yeah [laughter]. And I guess, also, for me now, it’s like I’ve grown into the name.
In everyday life when I get quite nervous I become more Crystal. Where previously, when I wasn’t as confident and wasn’t as sure of myself, I would go quite. Nowadays, I’ve done a lot of healing in the this year. I’ve got this nice sort of simple approach to things now because I’m just like if it feels good, I’ll do it. If it feels light it’s the right thing to do. If it feels heavy, I’m avoiding what ever that is. I guess it comes back to that sparkle, right.
Crystals First performance Photographer: Toya Heatley
BS: So if you hear of a newbie, which you will have in your classes, starting burlesque for the very first time, and they’re getting up on stage, and they’re awfully nervous and not sure of themselves, what would you say to them? How would you–?
CM: What would I say?
BS: Yeah. How would you help them handle their nerves?
CM: For me, that starts long before they get on the stage, long before they get on the stage. Starts with a lot of self-care, so you have to be feeling really good to get on that stage. There’s a lot of excitement that happens when you hit the stage, and there’s a lot of nerves as well. But when I’m teaching my students, who are worried about fucking things up. I created a “fuck up” board meaning some of the best things come from when you fuck things up. Routines get better. In my courses, you go on stage quite early. So you do the first course and at the end of the first course, you have a little one minute-30 routine that you learn. And that’s sprinkled throughout the course. And we [laughter]– oh, God, we have a lot of fun learning it because of the descriptions that we use. And really, it’s about giving the students the chance to get their toe onto that stage. Sneak it onto the stage with someone else taking working out the details and they just need to physically follow the leader. It’s a no-risk environment. If they fuck it up, it actually makes it funny. That’s something that I encourage because when you’ve sat through– I think the Burlesque Hall of Fame shows total something like 24 hours in show hours alone. And I do that once a year, plus sort of the shows that I go to overseas and local shows here as well. So I’ve seen a few shows in my eight years. And you know what? For me, it’s about when a performer does something and they let me know that it’s not what they had planned, I find that really intriguing now because that’s an opportunity for them to try something new. Or it’s an opportunity for them to freak out. So they have a couple of choices, and both choices are right. It’s right for them. So I celebrate these sorts of moments and celebrate the fact that there are actually no fuck-ups, there are only opportunities. And just keep telling the student to breathe.
BS: Yes, definitely. And certainly burlesque gives that to you. I’ve got a couple of random questions to ask you.
CM: Ok, go on.
BS: If you could throw a parade of any caliber throughout Wellington, what type of parade would it be and why [laughter]?
CM: Easy question. It would be a celebration. And it would be celebrating whatever’s important to that person. It would be like a conglomeration of all sorts of like one parade but made up of a whole pile of many parades. So then the like people would get together. Because there’s not just one person celebrating burlesque, there’s maybe 40 of us in Wellington celebrating burlesque. So we would all get together and do it. It would be 50 people celebrating roller derby in Wellington. They could all get together and celebrate it. There would be 20 people celebrating basketball in Wellington. So they’d get together and have their own little party. So it would be a party– it would be a street parade to celebrate whatever makes that person’s heart sparkle and showcase the diversity that we live within. Because that diversity creates amazing connections. But it also creates rub and that causes people’s feelings get hurt. Things like that, if they choose to lose it. But if they choose to look at it as an opportunity, it could be magical.
BS: Awesome. Great. So I’ve got one more random question for you.
CM: Oh do you? Do you please? for me?
BS: Okay. One more random question. If there was a movie produced about your life, who would play you and why [laughter]?
CM: Oh. [laughter]
BS: Come on.
CM: Do you know what? I am totally the wrong person to ask that question. I don’t even know who the movie stars are. The truth is that I actively avoid watching TV . The only time I see movies is on the plane and I sleep through them. [laughter]. Because if I’m not at shows, or producing them, or helping out backstage, or I’m on stage. My preference is for live things, like shows, theatre or sports.
BS: No. That’s all cool. I’m just going to throw a bonus question in for you. You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be, and why?
CM: So I can choose the color?
BS: You can choose the color and you’ve got to tell me why.
CM: Okay. So I am pink and sparkly because everyone deserves a little bit of–
BS: Pink and sparkly [laughter].
CM: Pink and sparkly. I’ve got a cool skin tone, so the pinks really sort of suit my skin tone. So yeah, would it either be pink and sparkly or turquoise and sparkly. I’m actually gearing towards the greens a lot at the moment.
BS: Are you?
CM: They seem to be coming through a lot. Yeah. I’m getting two new costumes made and both of them are green.
BS: Well, it will go with your coloring, so that’s all good.
CM: Yeah. But a little sparkle would be nice. Whether or not it’s pink or turquoise, it would definitely be very sparkly.
BS: Perfect. Perfect. And that concludes our interview. Thank you so much.
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Sparkleforce Academy of Burlesque: