An Interview with Dita von Teese: Strip Strip Hooray!
Dita von Teese is coming back to San Francisco with her newest show, Strip Strip Hooray!, at the Regency Ballroom from April 17-19. You can buy tickets here. First, you’re going to want to read about her love of all things San Francisco, sexy dancing men and drag queens. To be fair, those last two things are sometimes a Venn diagram.
Here’s what you can expect from the show in her own words:
“This a full-length revue, a lineup of my very favorite burlesque performers from all over the world. It’s my most elaborate show and it’s my first time at the Regency. We have a few new performers, new cast members and other stars of the show are doing different acts than they’ve done before. And while I’ve always had my Vontourage, my female backup dancers, this time I’ve added male dancers so there’s new choreography and music. I thought, ‘who is my audience? There are a lot of women and a lot of gays so why don’t we put more boys in here?’ It’s a big evening with big spectacles. There’s no other burlesque show like it in the world so I hope people come to check it out.”
Are there things about San Francisco that inspire you?
“It’s one of my favorite cities in the world and a place I’ve often considered living in. I love the historic Victorian homes, the weather, the restaurants and I have many friends there.”
Where are some of your favorite places to go when you’re in the Bay Area?
“Even though I’m not technically a vegan, I try to eat less meat because I feel better and it’s better for the environment. So I love the vegan restaurants, like Millennium. I have to open my Happy Cow app when I’m there to see what I should try. I also love the Chinese restaurants and being able to have a late night meal in Chinatown. Dark Garden made several of the corsets for my new show, including the one for the martini act. They’re the best made-to-measure corset maker in the world apart from Mr. Pearl, who has worked with them. They’re a cut above the rest and I’ve been wearing their corsets for the better part of 15 years. They also carry some of my lingerie line (Von Follies).”
Have you run into any impersonators in the Bay Area, drag or otherwise?
“More than impersonators, I have a following of performers who are inspired by glamour. I have my beauty book out so I feel like there are fellow people inspired by my kind of glamour. Over the past few decades, I’ve met a few drag impersonators but not a ton lately. The closest one I’ve met recently was Violet Chachki. I wouldn’t call her an impersonator, but more of someone who takes the same inspiration to a different place. She won the last season of RuPaul’s Drag Race and she’s amazing. I tried to get her in my show but she’s really busy right now.”
When getting ready for a performance, do you have a stage persona or do you feel like you’re being you, just you doing you?
“I don’t have a persona that I evoke. I like to go on as me. I discovered a long time ago that I’m at my best when I let my authentic personality shine through—when I let people see the image I’ve created but also that Heather Sweet from the farming town in Michigan girl. I think when someone tries too hard to be something that they’re not, something is lacking. I go out there and do the show that I want to do. I let my flaws come through, my character come through, and have a good time. Definitely, trying to be sexy is the kiss of death when it comes to actually being sexy.”
Do you have any favorite costume that you wear?
“I like the costumes where there are lots of pieces to take off, so that every piece turns the costume into a different look. The more things there are to take off, the more fun it is for me. You know, I have some outfits where the zipper drops and there it is. So I like to have lots to do, like the costume in my opening act. There are also amazing costumes that I know people are always impressed by. There’s a costume for my finale number that even Jean-Paul Gaultier asked if he could look at. He was amazed by it and said he didn’t know how we did it. Sometimes the most impressive costumes…I’m dying when I’m wearing it. There’s suffering in every step. I’m like, ‘yeah, that would be my favorite costume too if I were watching somebody wear it.'”
Is there something people ask you that you wish they would stop asking?
“I would like to not be asked if I ever wear jeans or lounge around in sweatpants. People are obsessed with the idea that I have an alter-ego. I do put on my drag but I also don’t sit around putting makeup on all day and getting ready to go out. On a normal day, I wear mascara and red lipsticks. I put on sunglasses and don’t get red-carpet ready each day. I think some people can’t wrap their heads around the idea that you can be comfortable and casual without wearing jeans or sweatpants.”
Imagine it’s a warm Sunday and you have some free time. What are you likely to do?
“I would love to have brunch with my boyfriend. I’d go to the flea market in the morning. I’d wander around, just enjoying not having to be anywhere. A perfect Sunday is having nothing to do.”
Do you have any advice for other performers and artists?
“One of the best things about Strip, Strip, Hooray! is that it celebrates diversity. Even though I have my signature style of burlesque, one of the things I look for in performers are people who are taking burlesque to a whole new level, people who are taking inspiration from what burlesque was in the past or even in the present and breathing new life into it. They’re thinking about how to evolve it instead of thinking “oh, that’s what burlesque is and how I need to do it”. There doesn’t need to be a formula. For a while, I wondered why every burlesque performer feels she needs to wear red lipstick and dye her hair black because there are so many forms of beauty to represent in burlesque. In my show, I have performers of different ages, different shapes and sizes, different ethnicities and I think it’s exciting to see other ways of doing it. It’s not about fitting into a pin-up stereotype. I want people to understand that it can be something else.”