Interview: Marquissa Darq “Believe it or not I’m actually very shy.”

There’s always been an affinity between the alternative scene and the world of burlesque. There’s a lot of similarities in terms of freedom of expression and acceptance. So what if you fancy getting up on stage yourself with the thought of removing your apparel?  Gary Trueman chatted to performer and teacher of burlesque Marquissa Darq about what to expect, where to learn and most importantly how to stay safe.

So how did you first get into doing what you do, and what exactly is it you do?

“I take my clothes off in a very artistic manner and it’s called burlesque.  I started out travelling on the road and I’d see performers doing burlesque and so I wanted to do it. I ended up being a kitten, picking up underwear. For anybody learning burlesque I think it’s the best way. It’s like having an apprenticeship rather than going for an accredited course.”

So now you teach burlesque?

“I teach burlesque and art performance. I’ve done degrees and my main thing was art performance, looking at how the body moves. I do focus a lot on expression and how you interact with the audience. That’s a big thing when I’m teaching my students. They always come away more confident. Believe it or not I’m actually very shy.”

Do you think that’s a kind of introvert extrovert thing that you find with quite a lot of artists who perform on stage?

“I think so. As a little girl I didn’t aspire to be a stripper as such but I did have the urge to perform and be the centre of attention. So it’s like wanking on stage haha. Everybody has got that in them but not everybody wants to do it.  People say I must be confident because I take my clothes off in front of people and that they couldn’t do that. But they could, it’s just about bringing your confidence up.”

So let’s talk about something that is very important and that’s safety for burlesque artists and art performers.  There must be some similarities in terms of safety with the modelling industry, but also some differences too?

“When I first started out we didn’t really interact with the audience, it was just do the show and then away. The advice would be not to mingle with the audience. Even if you’re with people you know you’ve got to have someone you know in the crowd. I know the fetish scene there are monitors and they really look after you, but the more corporate people don’t seem to give a fuck to be honest. It’s all about the money and not the people. I think it would be good for Equity to make some performer guidelines, to have something for new performers. Basics are always have somebody with you and make sure everybody knows where you are.”

Other than having somebody with you and making sure someone knows where you are.  What else would you recommend? What about changing at a venue rather than travelling in stage outfits?

“Generally yes, but I can if I feel comfortable. If it’s somewhere I’m unsure of or it’s a new place then I will go in daytime wear and blend in a little bit more. Usually people keep away from me which I quite like but you do get unwanted attention. So if you don’t feel confident in yourself in how you can handle yourself then please just blend in.”

You’ve touched on the corporate side of things and the fetish scene which is better.  What do venues do that are good and bad practices?

“Well Club Fire has been a good one because there are people keeping an eye open for you, they ask if you need a taxi and they’re keeping an eye on the situation all the time. And they’re happy to have a friend come with you. The west end has been the worst place for me to perform. I was attacked three times in one year in Shaftsbury Avenue just around the corner from the venues. Nobody asked if I wanted a taxi or if I was alright, or asked for me to call when In got home to make sure I was safe.  Just human things.  That’s what I would expect as a performer.”

Let’s talk a little bit about some other stuff as well and your outfits.  You wowed people at a Club Antichrist recently with a sci-fi themed space suit.  Do you make all of the outfits yourself and where do you source the stuff from?

“I recycle. I recycle old costumes from gigs. I do have certain favourites that I keep going back to but some are one offs that I can recycle. I taught fashion for a while a couple of years ago and absolutely love making costumes. Being able to perform and make my own costumes is like a dream come true really.  I’d recommend it. If you want to do it then do it. Don’t let anything stop you.”

So inventiveness and resourcefulness are key parts of being a burlesque performer.

“Yes. And you’ve got to love yourself as well. It’s a growth thing and I seem to have grown into myself over the years. And I’m not going to stop. With the corporate stuff they tend to go for just the one body image and no diversity at all. Whereas in the alternative scene everything is all different and lovely. With burlesque in the alt scene it doesn’t matter what size, shape or colour you are. And that’s great. It’s what we need from society, to just accept people as they are.”

So what is the very best performance you’ve ever done?

“I’d say in New York because I made the effort to go over and had a week run there.  One time my music stopped half way through though and everyone thought that was it and I didn’t even get any clothes off haha. It was at the Slipper Rooms.  They really do look after you there. I really enjoyed doing Satan’s Strip for Antichrist actually. I found it really freeing and I could be myself so it got me thinking a bit more outside the box.”

So any horrible or funny costume malfunctions?

“Haha, I’m just thinking about the g string not quite centre which I’ve seen in pictures, that is the worst.  Apart from that not really because I do dress rehearse, I do plan and I do choreograph. So not too much other than stuff ending up in the audience.  If I’m a bit naughty and take my tassels off. One time one ended up in someone’s drink.”

Is there anything you’d still like to achieve in the world of burlesque?

“I’d like to do the New York burlesque festival actually.  Do the mermaid fair. I am planning to go back at some point soon. And the Slipper Rooms again.”

What would be the first bits of advice you would give to anyone thinking about taking up burlesque.

“I’d say go and see some shows. And try to range the shows you go to so you see some grass roots shows and some of the shows in the west end and see the difference.  See which you like better. You might prefer an more alternative style of burlesque to the classic which you would get more bookings for on a more corporate level. I tend to operate more on the alternative scene and for that I would have a look online. Also have a look at American burlesque and the New Orleans burlesque festival.  Look at the British scene and the London burlesque festival.  Just get about.  And with safety make sure everyone knows where you are, don’t go home on your own, just be careful and be aware.”

Interview and photos by Gary Trueman