My Mx Burlesque Journey

By Lauren Bok

Lauren Bok Credit Nick Mic Pics

Credits: Nick Mick Pics (Photographer)

As I stand side of stage at the Thornbury Theatre, dressed head to toe in neon pink, a pair of light up pasties tucked into my bra and a raver space whip clutched in my sweaty hand, I watch the diligent stagehands lift my 7ft prop into the air. They shuffle forward with it to the stage, just like in technical rehearsal.

The first wooden bar hits the stage, just like in technical rehearsal. Then the second bar drops low. Then a slow, painful ripping noise of velcro echoes out above the cacophonous noise of hundreds of burlesque enthusiasts drinking champagne and yelling at each other about their outfits. The carefully velcro’ed panels of my massive prop noisily drop to the ground. I stand there, in my pink getup, 2 minutes until I’m on stage at Mx Burlesque Victoria, my prop in pieces at my feet. My heart sinks in my black, patent heeled boots. What do I do now?

6 months earlier, I was standing breathlessly at the door of Howler having just performed the crap out of a new number when a barrage of blonde barrels towards me. It’s Domino De Jour, an icon of the Burlesque scene, an unflappable force of talent and work ethic. She gathers me up in a hug and says to my ear, “You should apply for Mx Burlesque”. Reader, I was shocked. The rumblings of this competition had started to show up in my Instagram feed.

I had not been entertaining the thought that I had enough in my arsenal to attempt a shot at the biggest Burlesque competition in Australia. I would scroll past, thinking “Ooh, that looks like a fun night out” and continue working on my silly little comedy burlesque routines. Why? Because pfft, I am not a burlesque artist. I am a comedian.

I have been a stand-up comic for 10 years, and only recently started to dabble in burlesque, and found it perfectly enjoyable. I like using my comedy brain to conjure up jokes, reveals, and punchlines in burlesque. For me, it was an exercise in getting an audience to laugh. Inserting routines into my solo comedy shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

I mean, I’m a COMEDIAN, right? Mx Burlesque is for serious, established, proper burlesque artists vying for a place in the burlesque sun. That ain’t me, right? Yet all it took was a quick word of endorsement from someone I admired. A tiny little nudge in the direction of the online form. Give me an inch, and I’ll go and buy a raver space whip the next day, which is exactly what I did.

There’s only so much you can do until you can’t do any more.

I was determined to make every single part of what I was presenting fold into a smooth batter of my talent, baking a fully formed showgirl. I created a burlesque name, Ivana Showoff. My greatest triumph was finding my red carpet gown at, of all places, bloody Bariano for, wait for it, $50. But of course, I got stressed. For me, the most stressful time of a big event is 3 months out. When you’re 3 months out, you have an infinite amount of possibilities of what you can create. But the closer the date draws, the more whittled away your choices become, and instead of feeling limited, it soothes me. There’s only so much you can do until you can’t do any more.

I flip-flopped around on the whole, like, competition part. But over those few months leading up, I realised this was actually a competition with myself. I’d look at myself in the mirror after a run of an act and just sigh very deeply and think about how bad I was. I was a cruel joke on the rhinestoned, glamorous world of burlesque and it was an insult to the artform I even thought I had a place in it.

It got to me. The seemingly hundreds of tiny little things that looked wrong, or could go wrong, or how I was wrong. Numerous times I was crushed underneath the weight of my fraud complex. I crawled out from under it trusting my gut and my decade of performing experience. To believe that what I had to offer burlesque was legitimate. I love the day of a big event. I walked into that theatre on the day of Mx Burlesque completely calm, fearless, and chock full up to the eyeballs on caffeine, which really helped. I was prepped. I was ready. The entire day and night just bulldozed through time. Red carpet over in an instant, a quick change to my first act. Within 20 minutes the majority of what I had spent months driving myself crazy for was over.

Yes, 6 coffees was too many coffees.

Then, we hit half time, and I’m in my black boots and pink outfit on the side of the stage, watching my prop crumble in front of me. What do I do now? The idea was to be able to sneak on stage behind the prop. We had rehearsed it. In my imagination of this act, it always happened. But right in that moment, I took a breath and let go of that vision. There was only so much I could do. So, we just dragged it all onstage and in a mad frenzy of velcroing we slapped it together.

They weren’t perfect, but they were on. Which is probably the best way to describe my entire performance. I wasn’t perfect. But I was On. You can only rehearse, self-talk, and imagine so much. At the end of the day, it’s you up there alone holding the space of a huge theatre in your hands. What you do with it doesn’t come from your head. It comes from your heart, thrumming away saying yes, you do belong here. Yes, you are a proper burlesque artist. Yes, 6 coffees was too many coffees.

Mates. I bloody nailed it. I held my own. I showed Mx Burlesque 2023 that comedy burlesque is legit, welcomed and an integral part of the art form. And that velcro is not to be trusted.

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