Rose Noir and her 10 questions with Agatha Frisky
Back in ole’ January of this year, at the tail end of the Fringe Festival, I invited Perth burlesque performer Agatha Frisky over for a chat and a cup of tea and she very graciously allowed me to delve into her burlesque obsessed mind. Miss Frisky is the 2013 Western Australian state winner of the Miss Burlesque Australia competition. So, what better time than now, less than a month before the state stocking clad leg of the 2014 comp to share her answers with my fellow voyeurs and performers? As I answered the door to let Agatha in, who wore a high waisted pencil skirt, a gorgeous black and white houndstooth midriff bustier and her signature glittery ballet flats, we both giggled nervously .“I will try and enunciate, ” she promised.
1. I’ve had the pleasure of watching you grow as a performer because we started as students together at the Sugar Blue Burlesque academy. It’s intriguing to me because you’ve come so far in 4 years and it’s quite inspirational to see what focus you have and how far it’s taken you. So – it does seem like it’s been quite a journey; has there been a defining moment for you?
Umm, probably not just one; probably a couple. Performance wise, I think the first moment I had on stage – not in the sense of moments but in the sense of meaningful events – was the second Fringe festival when I got to perform in the show with Angelique Allure and Lulu Peekaboo and that was just .. the first time that I’d been able to perform with two people that I enjoyed watching and was able to do it collaboratively, which I think is my favourite thing of all. And then seeing the video and seeing the photos that came out of that, I thought “Ooh.. that’s pretty good!” It was the first foray into really performing that made me kind of think ..it kind of made me believe a little bit that it was something that I could do and not feel foolish while doing it. Which, in the early days you are happy but you still feel foolish sometimes.. Me: Definitely! Sometimes I still feel foolish. Agatha laughs and agrees.
And.. this isn’t in any chronological order but the first solo that I ever did was meaningful; it was momentous in the sense that I did it. I never watched the video ever, I refuse to. It was the Gaga Charleston and I look back and I think “Holy crap, how could I have done that? It was terrible!” (laughs). Kitty (Litteur), bless her, tells me she loves it still but I refuse to watch it. But! It was something that I birthed and developed and did and I am proud that I did it..I nearly vomited beforehand, as you know .. Miss Frisky and I have performed in shows together since we first began as students. She suffered from high anxiety in the early days. You can hardly tell now, she has such confidence on stage. More on how she overcame those nerves in question two … And teaching. The first time I was able to teach a class, it was great. On my own, unsupervised. My first lot of students, watching them perform it was (spoken softly) a big one; it was a very big moment.
2. I remember that when you first started performing that nerves used to plague you quite a bit. Now you have this real sexy confidence (Agatha laughs and says “It’s all a facade!” ) So..it is all a facade? It’s situational, I think, it depends what I’m doing. Every time I do anything for the first time, I feel wretched and it depends who I’m performing to as well. I always get .. I don’t know about you but I get the most nervous at rehearsals for shows. Me: Absolutely! Because you’re performing in front of your peers. I always like to try acts out at places like the Brass first – that’s my comfort zone. But anytime I try anything new or out of my comfort zone, I get nervous. The first time I did the Shibari act, I was nervous. When I did the Flashlight act, I was nervous. I just wasn’t sure if people would get the concept or the vibe.
3. So, what changed for you?
You know, the thing that changed it for me was the first time I completely face planted on stage. As soon as that happens and you get up and continue.. I was at the Claremont hotel and Kitty and I had a private gig. I was doing an act that I don’t actually do anymore and I stepped down off the stage onto the dance floor and it was ridiculously slippery and I had sueded dance heels on. And I went tit over head! Then in attempting to stand up again, I tripped over again, in front of a room of wealthy, art-buying bachelors .. which was terrible (she says ruefully. We laugh). Do you know what? I realised that I didn’t die, the world didn’t collapse in on itself, so the worst things can happen and … they don’t really care. You get up and they actually cheer more.
I have seen that as well; you know (as an audience member) you just really want someone to succeed and you want to give them that encouragement because you have that empathy for the performer.
Yep – and people breaking character and you’re seeing their real personality, even for a second – it’s humanising and it’s refreshing and it reminds you of the character. So things happen now, like, in January; it was really hot and I wasn’t in my head and I went on stage and I’d forgotten to put my gloves on! (Laughs) It steels you for being prepared for the worst. You just carry on; you just learn to improvise and I think it’s a very good skill for any performer; the ability not to panic is great. It can only come from the worst happening and you surviving it.
Like life, basically. (We laugh.)
4. I remember also when you first started performing a lot – before you were with the Sugar Blue troupe but you were doing lots of Fresh Faced Follies shows as a student – and I could see it was really working. I commented on it and you named it as a psychological trick.. (Miss Frisky is a Research Psychologist by trade.)
Agatha laughs. “Exposure and response prevention.” It’s a therapy that’s used for people with phobias. The classic example is: people that have Agoraphobia and they get terrified of being in public spaces. So, you take them to the shopping centre and they get to the car park and it will start to elicit feelings of panic but they have to stay in the situation until the physical response dies away and they realise that it’s just a symptom. And then you take them to the entrance and it will happen again and they have to stay there until the symptoms disappear and they realise it’s just a physical reaction. And you just keep pushing that boundary. So that’s what it was for me; it was “this is the thing that absolutely terrifies me!” So, I just had to keep doing it until it didn’t terrify me anymore. Psychology, it’s the root of everything. (Laughs)
5. So, obviously winning Miss Burlesque (WA) last year was wild and very well deserved. Can you describe what you felt in that moment when they announced you as the winner?
(Thank you.) Pauses.. “I’m not really sure,” for me, the whole evening was quite surreal. I was number 10, so to wait for everybody else to go before I could perform, it was difficult. I’m a person that gets ready and then – boom! Having to wait for 10 performances which could take for up to an hour… it was a really taxing, long, long day so I guess it was more relief that there was an end point. It was such an amazing group of people … it’s an achievement. It was excitement that I could then go to Melbourne and meet all of the other girls .. knowing not to let it get to my head because going over East would then be a very humbling experience, as it always was. I was just incredibly excited because the night was just great! Being last, I did get to watch people that I don’ t get to see very much who are some of the most respected people in burlesque in WA, like Scarlot O’Harlot and Vivien Marlow and Sugar Du Joure. So.. excitement on one hand and relief and gratitude that I could be there. Without all of the other people to educate and inspire me, I wouldn’t be there at all.
6. Apart from that moment, which was very public, do you have another, more private moment that you’re willing to share when you’ve felt a sense of achievement and pride?
It’s hard to separate them.. seeing some girls that had been in my very first classes evolve and grow and now do their own solos has been amazing. I mean, I teach in a different context at university but it’s very different to see people develop in terms of their self-esteem and their self-belief and self-actualisation in that sense. To see it from the outside perspective because I know what it felt like to do it and to know that you’re a part of it. You’re not responsible for it but you can be an instigating part of it.
5. You’re such a polished and glamorous, beautiful performer (Agatha protests and laughs) – you are! You really are. Your Sugar Blue performer page is the Glamour Puss It’s your whole persona and you’re definitely one of my favourite performers to watch. Thank you. But I also know how much hard work you put into it. So, what would you say that you’ve sacrificed to be so successful.. I don’t know if “successful” is ..
You could replace it with any word, though. Focussed, addicted, obsessed – any of the above! (We laugh.) Aside from the obvious things like money..there was a while there where I had very little life balance. Mainly because of an obsessive nature. It’s very easy when your obsession is tied into one of your social circles. So you still get social fulfilment but if you’re only navigating within one social circle, you do sacrifice other circles. Which I did for a long time and I do have guilt about that. But good friends that know you understand and they know that it’s just a phase. I did certainly compromise my work balance for a little while there until I realised that a job really is just a job and you don’t have to feel guilty about not working at night and leaving at 5..or 4. It’s a difficult realisation but a work/ life balance is just something that comes from learning.
6. There is a massive influx of new burlesque dancers (in Perth, WA). For those of us who don’t want to ‘get lost in the crowd’, what would your advice be? (Note to all the lovely ladies who’ve taken up this divine hobby; you’re very welcome into the fold. I’m just asking a performer that I admire for some advice and I think her answer might benefit us all.)
It’s all relative, I’m still very new (me: I still feel new too) ; I mean, going to the US and meeting people that have been doing this for 25 years and started performing when it was still a subversive culture really gives you a slap in the face. I think.. you can see this trend online a lot and I think people think that if they spend a lot of money they’ll stand out but I’ve seen performers with stunning costumes and you don’t remember them. Enjoyment. The thing I love is seeing people..seeing people that love what they do and they are really enjoying being there. Seeing people like the Strawberry Siren. She just looks like she has a bloody good time every time she gets up on stage.
I think that’s what I love about watching you, actually.
You should see Medianoche. I saw her in New Orleans and it was life changing. She is just so captivating. She holds your attention because she dominates the entire stage and she looks like she is having the time of her life. Every single time she performs. So, loving what you’re doing affects the entire performance and it brings the audience on side. But also respect and friendliness from a backstage perspective; the people who are the most delightful and lovely make the biggest impressions.
Well, I guess from a backstage point of view, if people like working with you, they’ll keep working with you.
They’ll remember you and they’ll talk about you as being delightful. Being relaxed! Being relaxed and happy and helping people backstage is a way to be memorable to other performers. So I guess it’s two things: enjoyment onstage for the audience but respectfulness backstage for performers.
7. So, a lighter question now: what is one of your favourite acts to perform and why?
Mmm, just one? (Laughs) Okay there’s two – well, there’s a lot more than two – but to narrow it down… I love performing my New Orleans bump, which is my new classic routine (inspired by her first visit to New Orleans in September 2013) because it’s the first time that I’ve been on stage – and I’ve had people say this to me after they’ve seen me – that I feel like I really let go and I don’ t feel like I’m dancing choreography. It’s the most beautiful piece of music. It’s one of my favourites and it’s just raw and I feel like I’m doing exactly what the music wants me to do. My other favourite has to be Dr. Frisky because I was completely outshone. It was such a joyous
moment when it came together. Some of the feedback from Miss Burlesque is that I was completely outshone by my human props who weren’t supposed to play such a big role in the act but do you know what? I do not even care. When the Stage Door Johnnies were here and Kitty and I kittened for them, their MC and she told us off, in a very jovial way, for something called “mugging” which is stealing focus from the performer on stage. Not in a bad way, in a funny way. And that is what they (her human props) completely did to me and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. We worked so well together. I said “I need you to do this, this and this. This is your persona” and they just ran with it and it was perfection.
8. You’ve always struck me as a lady who has a focus and a vision, right from the classes that we took together. Would you say that’s true about yourself?
I don’t have a particular goal, in the vision sense. I guess my vision is just to do the best that I can. I don’t like doing things half-arsed because I just feel really uncomfortable. I don’t feel happy with an act until it’s at a point where I’m happy with it. That’s always my focus; is to be happy with what I’ve done. It’s in everything; do it well, or don’t do it at all is my main focus.
9. So, to finish; where to from here, for Agatha Frisky?
I don’t even know! Hopefully.. If I have a goal for this year or next year, it would be performing at New Orleans. That would be amazing. It’s now my spiritual mecca; homeland. Hopefully breaking into the scene in Toronto would be great. Doing what we do and not having to deviate from that. Developing more things with Kitty; we have so many ideas. Actually doing them would be a goal for this year. But seeing and experiencing, I think, is my “where to” .. Okay.. I know that I said that the previous question would be the last but seeing as Miss Frisky moved to Toronto, Canada, earlier this year, I asked her one more question..
10. When we last spoke, your goal was to see and experience – and perform in New Orleans. What have you seen that has spoken to you as a performer and have you performed in New Orleans yet?
It feels like so long since we spoke Miss Noir! So much has changed since coming to Toronto and largely it is my perspective that has altered a lot but boy, have I experienced too! Almost immediately upon arriving here I had the wonderful privilege of teaching at the Toronto School of Burlesque. As you know teaching is the number 1 joy for me and the wonderfully and unfailingly generous Red Herring has let me essentially monopolise the teaching schedule at TSoB! (Thanks Red!)
We have so many lovely students that are just so eager to absorb everything and were so receptive to a new teacher from a far away land. I’ve also been super fortunate to meet and work and teach with wonderful people like St Stella, Booty Paige and the incomparable Daytona Betch.
Entering a new burlesque scene in a foreign country has been interesting and sometimes challenging. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being exposed to a raft of new and different local performers and learned a renewed appreciation and respect for the Australian scene and the hard work that people like Melanie Piantoni, Imogen Kelly, Dolores Daiquiri, Strawberry (and many others) do to maintain its standing as an art form.
When you have a spare moment be sure to check out amazing Canadian performers like Maria Juana, Lady Josephine, Bettina May, Pastel Supernova, Betty Quirk and many more…. Special mention to Tiny B Hiney and Sexy Mark Brown for their Gingerbread Man act. Holy crap it’s one of the greatest things I have ever seen!!!
We have also been lucky enough to be a part of the Toronto Burlesque festival, produced by Coco Framboise, Ava Noir and Sauci Calla Horra. What an amazing weekend that was! Performing at the Mod Club was such a great experience and the diverse showcase of performers from throughout North America was really inspiring. Of course, seeing Perle Noire and Inga Ingenue is always a life-changing experience… but getting to see Nasty Canasta, Kitten de Ville, Albert Cadabra, Dangerr Doll and Amber Ray was a privilege.
As for New Orleans….. HOT DIGGITY I am headed there in but a few weeks! I’m utterly delighted and thrilled to be performing at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival!!! And I’m lucky enough to perform the act that this amazing town inspired me to create last year AS WELL AS my all-time favourite act, Dr Frisky with Miss Kitty Litteur and special guest molester/molestee Simon Coronel! Hot times in the old town tonight 😉
Stay tuned for salacious photos and more Frisky Business!
So much love to everybody at Sugar Blue and it’s extended family in Perth and throughout the world.
I miss you all so much!
Come visit us, we have a basement room and a fat cat.