Tanya Cheex shares this interview with Jo "Boobs" Weldon, head mistress of The New York School of Burlesque and "Queen Bee mentor to the nearly naked." Can't make it to New York? Jo's got a new instructional video out.
What is the importance of costuming to the burlesque performance.? Do you come up with the act or the costume first?
It depends. With characters I usually come up with the act first, but with classic numbers it's often a costume idea that originates the number.
When did you realize that your costumes had to be custom made and not off the rack?
I made costumes for feature dancers in the 1990s, and when I was a feature dancer I made my own. We weren't allowed to wear things that came off the rack. so I've always known.
What inspirations do you draw from?
Lounge and heavy metal music, cartoons, and political agendas.
Do you get inspired from vintage burlesque photography or performers?
Absolutely! The white costume for my Honey Harlow Tribute is based on the clip from the film Lenny. My Sherry Britton tribute number was made with her consulting on the design and Garo Sparo working out the details. But I like to see classic bits in even the most neo-numbers. It connects us to our filthy-minded forebears and the history we are fortunate to repeat.
What are your favorite costumes that you've made? What was the most challenging?
Godzilla, by far. Making the tail was the best part. I was working on it while I was bartending at a place called Bellevue in Hell's Kitchen, and one day a guy named Troy came in and gave me a mask he'd made for the owner. I started talking to him and it turned out he was involved in major costuming. We ended up designing the tail surrounded by the heads of the rats from the Nutcracker and the actual wings from Victoria's Secret fashion shows. Always accept help when it's offered!
What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while making something?
Making Bambi's lobster costume, I laughed continuously.
What materials do you get the most excited about working with?
Weird fabrics and beaded fringe.
Explain the importance of closures and fastenings on costumes for the burlesque artist?
It has to work. It has to be fun for the audience to watch you undo it. And you have to rehearse it, and you have to check every time before you go on to make sure all your fasteners are in good working order.
What tips can you offer those who aren't crafty? What one Jo Boobs secret can you divulge?
Always carry a sewing kit, repairing costumes is part of the gig.
If you had an unlimited budget what would you make? The sky's the limit!
Something like Mistinguette
What batteries fuel an outfit? Charisma? Smile?
Sometimes batteries -- but understanding that costuming IS choreography is a plus.
Where can we learn to make our own costumes?
You can learn from my handbook which is coming out this year!