INTERVIEW: Burlesque Pin-Up and Alt-Model Chrys Columbine

Chrys Columbine is many things actress, musician, Alt-Model and all round drop dead gorgeous diva, but its in the world of Burlesque that she’s is best known. Hailed as...

Chrys Columbine is many things actress, musician, Alt-Model and all round drop dead gorgeous diva, but its in the world of Burlesque that she’s is best known. Hailed as one of the UK’s premier performer, Chrys has toured toured the world, shared a stage with Duran Duran, perfomed with the Circus of Horrors and got smutty with a couple of Irish Puppets.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Miss Columbine and have a chat about acting, performing across the world, the Circus of Horrors and of course smutty Irish puppets….

Black Flag: You’re one of the country’s top Burlesque performers. How did you get
into the world of Tassel’s and twirls?

Chrys Columbine:  By accident really, though from childhood, Ive always been enamoured by
old-style Hollywood glamour, as well as having an interest in all things
morbid!

After briefly being a fashion model in my late-teens and hating every
second of it, I got into what I really wanted to do, the world of alternative
modelling – gothic-horror, fetish-fashion, latex and BDSM! Through this
world I was lucky enough to have my first corset/lingerie shoot with
Fairygothmother, now Lulu and Lush (who are my official sponsors) and it
reminded me of the fascination with retro-pin-up style, and a bygone-
Hollywood era that I’d had as a child.

Then I saw my first ever burlesque show at Torture Garden by the
exquisite Gwendoline L’Amour and I was hooked! This was in 2003, when
for a year or two I was fortunate enough to be her assistant – but it wasn’t
till 2007 that I would perform my first burlesque show!

Photo: Gregory michael King

BF: You play classical Piano as well, often while you perform. How long
have you been playing and how did you come up with the idea of
incorporating the Piano into your routine?

CC: As a typical performing-arts kid, I was trained in acting, dancing and
singing , and played piano from the age of ten. I then went on to train as
concert pianist with private tutors, at junior Guildhall, then did a music
agree at uni. When I decided to take on burlesque, by 2007 it had already
started to become more mainstream with many girls jumping on the
bandwagon, so I decided to give the crowd something they would never
have seen before. That was the birth of Naked Nocturne – a show where I
play one of Chopin’s most famous nocturnes, and literally, get (pseudo)
naked while I play it.

BF: You perform with ‘Circus of Horrors’ one of the Black FlagsFavourite. What’s your role with Dr Haze and co and what’s it feel like to be involved in something like that?

CC: I’ve loved every moment of working with the Horrors. I’d met Anast’asia
IV and Hannibal Helmurto a few years back when we were booked
separately to do a university summer ball, and became good friends. They
saw me perform my Birth of Venus and Marijuana Fan Dance shows
among others and told Doktor Haze about how different and themed my
acts were from some others. They believed that one day, there may be a
place for me in one of Circus of Horrors’s shows.

Chrys Columbine & Anastasia IV in The Circus of Horrors

Haze came to see me, needed a burlesque element in his new show and
was interested in the fact that I incorporated live music within my acts. He
shortly cast me in Circus of Horrors – Freaks and Feathers I did both my
Naked Nocturne (piano/strip show) and my Piano Playgirl (piano/
champagne act) within the whole show.

I must admit, I was rather nervous at first as I knew I’d be surrounded by
such seemingly-impossible acts like Garry Stretch, Hannibal Helmurto’s
sword-swallowing, Anast’asia’s hair-hanging or Iona The Contortionist’s
posing on a stand resting on nothing but her jaw! But it worked in the end
and I had some of my favorite experiences working with them. I don’t
think anyone is doing what they are doing, to quite the standard they do
and I was so happy and proud for them when they did outstandingly on
Britain’s Got Talent – they should have won, but at the sam time,
realistically, I can’t see the majority of the general public having the guts to vote for them!

Chrys Columbine, Doktor Haze & Stephanie Mercury in The Circus of Horrors.

BF: You spend a lot of time touring the world. Can you tell us a bit more
about that?

CC: I love traveling with work and am fortunate enough to have played some
amazing venues from Paris, to Los Angeles, to Sydney! I’ve also enjoyed
working for some major events that aren’t necessary anything to do with
burlesque, such as Cannes Film Festival where I shared a stage with the
likes of Duran Duran, and The Queen Mary on Long Beach (the world’s
largest ocean liner).

For the last two years, one of the biggest factors in my life has been An
Evening of Burlesque – a theatre show which has toured major theaters all
over Great Britian, Italy, Germany and Denmark – a major highlight being
on stage at London’s O2 Arena.

Though trust me, when you’ve got several trips in a row, you tend to get
sick of airports, stations, cabs, lack of sleep, etc and there is nothing like
being at home for a length of time! One thing you learn from touring is not
to take anything for granted – it aint all glamour all the time… At times,
having a hot meal once a week is a luxury!

BF: Didn’t you also play Jessica Rabbit in an advert. Can you tell us a bit
more about that?

CC: Ah, that was back in the days when myspace was alive and kicking! I was
spotted on there by the director of a major TV company based in Soho.
They were looking to film an advert for Bluesquare poker – the company
behind a worldwide poker game on Channel 4 which spanned 8
months.“The Siren” was supposed to be a Jessica Rabbit-based character
so let’s just say bits of me were “cartoon–ified” – as was my chest region
Am only a b-cup, and my poor stylist on set who was such a sweetheart,
was stuffing endless chicken-fillets down my chest and afraiid she was
virtually molesting me! I kept telling her not to worry, I just found it
hilarious. Here it is on youtube:

BF: Whats been the highlight of your career?

CC: So far – it has been a toss-up between two:

a) Either…The first time I was brought out to Australia to tour a big
burlesque show throughout, made up of eight other world-class
performers (as it’s always been my dream since childhood to go to
Australia, and all the better to be brought out to work, doing what I love
best) – it was an experience of a lifetimen on and off stage!

b) Or… the more, shall we say, fantastical part of my career… I was invited
to perform and be interviewed on one of Ireland’s best-loved TV shows
The Podge and Rodge Show – anyone remember The Big Breakfast in
the nineties presented by Kelly Brook, featuring two puppets called Zig
and Zag? Well, they moved to Ireland and became Podge and Rodge,
and being interviewed by two, smutty puppets is definitely one of the
most surreal experiences of my career!

They are two of the most that stand out, though I truely don’t believe I
have had my ultimate highlight yet – ask me that question when I’m
seventy-odd, hopefully by then I’ll have a more definite answer.

Photo: David Brookes

BF: Have you performed at any festivals this year? And which would you
like to perform at and why?

CC: I suffer from OCD so festivals are hard for me. I did a few at the beginning
of my career.

One of my first ever jobs in fact, was Download 2007 (it was slightly more
bearable for me as in the VIP area there were actual flushing toilets and
showers). I did love it so much though (the atmosphere and crowd were
amazing, some of my fave bands were on, etc). I went back the following
year. I did Glastonbury in 2008 for one night, it wasn’t even raining and it
was still a complete nightmare for me. Besides? How can you get ready
and be glamorous in a tent?! There are plenty of amazing performers who
have done it from year to year, but I think I’d go crazy. As i did at one or
two others.

I would go back to Download, I’ m a big fan of rock and metal, and the
line-ups are usually fantastic – I don’t think I’d be short of bands I’d wanna
go and see. I feel comfortable in the environment and there’d always be
plenty of people I’d know on, off and backstage. Besides, the afer-hours
cabaret tent is a big focus for people after the headline bands have played
so there’s always an amazing crowd who are fired-up, and well up for it!

BF: What have you got lined up for the rest of the year?

CC: I have just finished a run of shows for The Olympics which has been
awesome but very intense, so I’m enjoying a little free time right now. I’ve
September opening up with a nice gig at The Savoy, then have a few
events lined up for fashion week later that month.

But from now I’ve tons of work to do as am doing my own show at a
major venue in Sydney during the whole of November – name to be
confirmed.

One thing I’m really looking forward to is being on the set of a British
horror film that I landed a little part in, with some rising British screen
stars and a couple of Hollywood actors! This may start shooting end of this
year, but more likely beginning of next year – am just breaking into film
and finding it the most fickle industry in showbiz – and showbiz is fickle
enough as it is, haha.

BF: Where do you see yourself in five years?

CC: Hmmm, that would be telling! I reckon you should generally keep plans to
yourself till they materialise, or else you may jinx them. Lets just say I’m
aiming high and think outside the box!!! It’s not just all about burlesque or
what you’re doing right now – there’s more to life and you have to move
on.

BF: What advice would you give any girls (or guys) looking to get into
Burlesque?

CC: Rule number one – do not copy anyone! Don’t be a copy of a copy – most
things have been done before but if it’s a common theme or iconic feature
you wish to emulate (like a fan dance, for instance), then make it your
own. Design your own costume, have your own character on stage, use
different music – I for one never use traditionally “burlesque” music.
Tracks like Harlem Nocturne and Lament have been done to death!
I would also suggest, if you do not come from a performance background
then take some dance classes! Maybe do a drama/improvisation course,
even as a one-off. Get used to being a different character and developing
stage presence.

If you come from a performing background, think of other existing skills
you can incorporate into your burlesque routine. Singing? Acrobatics?
Sword-swallowing? Glass-breaking? As a pianist, I made my unique,
signature burlesque show to be playing the piano and stripping at the same
time…And that’s one of the many fantastic and fulfilling things about
burlesque – there’s no director telling you how to deliver your lines, no
choreographer telling you how to move, no stylist telling you how to dress.
Being a burlesque or boylesque performer allows you to have complete
control over your own act – it’s your baby, so why not make it completely
your own? Go out there and be creative!

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