She won’t reveal her real name or her true age. But Mlle Oui Oui Encore is more than happy to talk about Blue Light Burlesque, the burlesque troupe she and her husband Blue Eyes started five years ago this October. Considered to be the first burlesque troupe in Montreal to start holding regular performances, Blue Light Burlesque is celebrating their anniversary by moving from Petit Campus to its much larger twin venue, Café Campus. Starting Sept.16 and ending in June, they will be putting on 10 brand new shows. Oui Oui will also be teaching a new 10-week course called “Become a Burlesque Star,” in addition to her infamous six week class: “Burlesque for Beginners.” She says she’ll stop producing and starring in the shows when it’s no longer fun, but for now she’s having a ball.
Q: What inspired you to start a burlesque troupe?
A: In 2000, my husband and I saw a burlesque show in Montreal, at Petit Campus, that was being put on by people from out of town. We had so much fun and we liked it so much that we said we need this in Montreal. That’s when we decided to get a group of people together and organize a burlesque show. It didn’t start because I wanted to be a burlesque star (laughs).
Q: How did you get from the initial planning stage to actually putting on a show?
A: It took us almost two years to find the right people and set aside the time and money needed to put on a show. I also had to see if I liked being up on stage, and if I was any good. I was a swing dance instructor and had never been in a burlesque performance. So I rented a studio and created a routine, and then went on stage with the Fluff Girls [a burlesque troupe]. I figured that if I didn’t like being on stage I’d just produce the show, but I loved it. Finally we had everyone together and staged a small performance at the Lion D’Or. We knew there was a chance it was going to be our first and last show. It’s funny because I remember saying to myself if we get 50 to 75 people to come we will be lucky, but we had maybe 300 people show up. We had people coming through the back door and everyone was crowded together in a small room. That’s when I knew we had created something that people liked, and that we had to do it again.
Q: What is a typical show like?
A: A show lasts about two hours with the intermission, and there are around 20 different skits. We have a live band, tap-dancers, professional dancers, magicians, clowns and the list goes on. It’s a big mix of everything. You can fit 500-600 people in Café Campus, but we only sell 300 tickets because we want people to sit at tables with chairs like at a cabaret show. The audience usually dresses up for a show. Women wear corsets and high heals, and men wear suits and hats.
Q: Where did you get the idea to offer burlesque courses?
A: After shows women began asking me if I offered burlesque courses. I was really surprised because I had never thought about it, but I said yeah, why not because I have a teaching background and I enjoy it. When I started doing my burlesque numbers there was no school in Montreal. I really had to teach myself. I learned how to make my costume, how to do pasties and how to move my body. I realized that I wanted to share my tricks. People come to my classes because they want to connect with the part of them that wants to seduce someone and that’s what I teach them.
Q: What would someone learn if they signed up for your new 10-week course: Become a Burlesque Star?
A: They would learn how to do their own burlesque number. Unlike in my other classes, I don’t choreograph the routines or design the costumes – they do all the work. They have to decide what character they want to be, their stage name and what their number is going to be like. Is it going to be slapstick? Funny? Serious? Sensual? I’m going to coach them on where to buy costumes, how to make pasties, and how to create a routine that goes with their costume and character. I’ll have girls from the troupe come and show them some tricks. At the end there’s going to be a professional photo shoot. They’re also invited to perform their routine on stage at one of our shows. For ten weeks you really get into the world of burlesque.
Q: How do you respond to those who say that burlesque is no better than striptease, and that both are degrading for women?
A: I don’t think people still think that, do you? Of course, it’s not the same. Burlesque is an art – it’s not a business. If you go to a strip club and then go to see a burlesque show there’s one major difference you’re going to see right away: women doing burlesque smile. It’s not a job, it’s an expression of yourself. You don’t put money in their underwear. It would be really cool if burlesque performers made as much money as strippers, but we don’t. Many times I have people asking me for a burlesque dancer to come dance at a bar or at a bachelor party in the middle of the room, but my girls and I don’t do that. For me, burlesque has to be on stage with good lighting. It has to have this magical feeling, and the only place where you can do it is on stage. That’s the difference.
Q: Would you say the local burlesque scene has changed in the past five years?
A: Burlesque is more on the map now and people know a little more about it. I remember for the first two years I really had to explain what it was to people and say “it’s striptease, but its not striptease like at a downtown club, it’s old fashioned seduction that’s not vulgar.” But it’s still not mainstream here. It’s not like in London or New York. Blue Eyes still has a full day job and is paying the rent so that I can do this.
Tickets for the Sept. 16 show are $20 + service fees and can be purchased by calling (514) 790-1245. Doors open at 7 pm, show starts at 8 pm at Café Campus. For more information visit www.bluelightburlesque.com.