Mercury Stardust Interview
Mercury Stardust is a Trans-woman with over 12 years of burlesque experience, she has won international titles, including 2014 King of Iowa Burlesque Festival and the 2015 Wisconsin Burlypics Regional Champion.
She has gone on to be one of the most recognized faces in the Burlesque performing world and has helped over 100 burlesque students take the stage. She now runs Wisconsin’s only weekly burlesque show and she is the host and producer of Quaran-Tease: The Stay Home, Strip Down.
The Stay Home, Strip Down is for those people missing out on visiting live venues and missing out on burlesque performers. They can now enjoy it in the comfort of their own home, coronavirus free. (Fivestartease.com).
We wanted to find out more about Mercury Stardust and what makes her tick as well as life as a Burlesque performer. Mercury Stardust bares all to In2town Lifestyle Magazine.
Mercury Stardust, you are a Trans-woman with over 12 years of burlesque experience, why did you decide to become a burlesque performer?
“I was a traveling performer with a cabaret show for over 5 years. We worked with a lot of different styles of performers, but one of them was Dusty Summers. She was the world’s most naked magician; she was a burlesque legend who at the time was 68 years young. She told me I would be fabulous in burlesque and after a lot of googling, I finally decided to presume that art form. The idea of being so vulnerable in intimate settings with strangers is so honest and raw. Not only are we showing skin, we are being unapologetically us.”
You were a clown, and puppeteer, how did this experience help you with your new career as a burlesque performer?
“Everything is in the timing and in knowing how to pause. Burlesque is of course the art of the tease, but the tease is nothing without timing. Being a clown, you must have comic timing, in order to pay your bills. If you have no timing, you have no job. And as for a puppeteer, a good placed pause always pulls in the audience. Both ideas are wrapped up in the very fabric of Burlesque.”
You started your career as a burlesque performer in 2013, and went on to win titles of 2014 King of Iowa Burlesque Festival and the 2015 Wisconsin Burlypics Regional Champion, how do you explain how quickly you went from a new burlesque performer to an award winning performer?
“My huge advantage on other performers has always been my brain, there are so many performers out there that are physically more talented than me. They can do backflips and front splits, but what they lack is the ability to tell a story and bring the audience on a ride. When I got into this industry, I already had years of theatrical training in multiple disciplines so the story telling aspect was second nature to me at that time. “
In 2017 you appeared and competed at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender in the category of “Best of Boylesque” in Las Vegas, how was that experience?
“Hundreds and Hundreds of performers apply every year and get rejected for the chance to compete. When I got accepted, I simply just fell to the ground and screamed with joy. Years of planning, practicing and working myself tot he point of exhaustion was finally paying off. I was selected to be one of 60 people to compete that evening, and out of all the performers there that night, I was the only one from a city of less than half a million residents. Being a performer from a small market carriers a burden with it sometimes, this idea that you don’t deserve to be where you are. Standing on that stage and overlooking hundreds of my peers, I knew that I belonged, there is nothing quite like that feeling.
In 2018 you won Master of Comedy and 3rd Best Overall at the Burlypics World Championship, with so many awards under your belt, is there an award that you still want to achieve?
“That was certainly one of the proudest moments of my career, my focus since has been on growing my own community here in my hometown of Madison, WI. So, my desire to go out and compete isn’t there as much as it once was. However, I do feel that hunger of the next big title coming back sometimes, if there was a title that meant anything to me it would be the Queen of Burlesque at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. To be the first Trans-Woman ever to hold that title would be something truly special. So many extraordinary Trans-women are in the hall of fame such as Alexandra the great 48 and Jessica Fox. But there has yet to be a Trans-woman to wear that crown. That is probably the last title that would get me excited to compete again.
You have entertained audiences in 22 states and in over 100 cities, what has been the best venue you have performed at?
“The Cadailiac Theatre in Chicago will always be one of my favourite venues, but my favourite stage to have ever been on is without a doubt the New Orleans Casino Stage for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender. Performing on a stage in front of 500 of your peers and getting a standing ovation is simply one of the best feelings any performer could ever have. A Close second would be performing at the Minneapolis Burlesque Festival. I have been fortunate enough to be there several times and it’s always nice to be surrounded by a bunch friends.”
Tell us about your best-ever burlesque moment. What happened? Who was there?
“I do an act called “The lightbulb” it is one of my most requested acts. I wear a thong with a light socket and then screw a light bulb into the socket, so it lights up. This act has taken me nearly everywhere, I have performed in front of Bishop Briggs and have had members of the band Glitch Mob screw in my lightbulb, which was an absolutely fun moment. But my favourite moment was performing at the world renowned “Theatre Bizzare” in Detroit MI. I was performing on a stage in the shape of the Devil’s Tongue, it was narrow enough where I actually fell off the stage. But my performer instincts kicked in immediately and I just worked with the audience down below and had various people screw the light bulb in until the light.”
Many famous performers get stage fright before they get on stage, do you ever suffer from stage fright, and if so, how do you combat it?
“Every time I walk on the stage it feels like I’m entering a battle dome. If you are scared or show signs of fear in those moments, you won’t last on stage. Growing up performing in dive bars taught me that you need to make the audience love you and win them over, and you don’t do that by being afraid of who you are, you win them over by being very loudly you.
Name three things that you always carry with you
“No matter how get you are, there is always someone better than you. You receive back from the world what you put out into the world. And you don’t succeed in life without having a good strong support system. All three things have been given to me as a kid growing up on a small farm, and these are something that I never let go of. They help ground me even when I achieve great heights.”
What is your process for putting an act together?
“It can come in various different ways. Sometimes I hear a song and I know instantly what I want to do. Other times I get an idea randomly when I’m driving, taking a shower or working out. Once I get the idea, it may take months to years before I make it a reality. Then it’s all about rehearsal and finding the right show to premiere that act at”
How do you know if an act is “working”?
“You can always feel in when you put it in front of the audience. You could be working on an act for over a year and think its flawless, then perform it for an audience for the first time only for it to fall flat. You just need to be aware and consistently ask yourself the hard questions. Is this act telling my own story, am I being honest on stage, and have I done the right amount of work on it? If you answered no to any of those questions you need to try again.”
What makes you feel best about being a burlesque performer?
“I was able to come to terms with being Trans because of this art form. So much of this kind of performance is linked to gender expression and due to that I explore what made me feel the most beautiful and sexy. I get to explore that every time I get on stage and the audiences are so appreciative of my art and so warm towards me that I feel truly loved when I’m on stage. When your trans and you show your skin in this manner you are making a political statement regardless of intent. And that is also very powerful.”
What has been your greatest challenge as a burlesque artist?
“The double edge sword of this art form is that it can empower you but also make you feel lesser. Dysphoria over my gender sometimes pops up before I perform and that can be extremely difficult. Having your brain scream into your head “you are hideous, or you are an ugly woman” right before you get naked in front of strangers can be supper hard. Also, Dysphoria can strike at any time or anywhere. Some nights I’m absolutely fine and feel so comfortable in my own skin and others I feel so lost. Being prepared for it and willing to adjust your number on the fly is really important in order to overcome that.
If you could dress up any member of the royal family as a burlesque performer to join you on stage, who would it be and why?
“Oh, absolutely the QUEEN!!!! Her wardrobe is so recognizable, and I love her HATS!!!! I would be so happy to get in that closest and go nuts!!! HAHA
Do you think that Donald Trump would make a great burlesque performer?
“First off, how dare you put that image in my head haha”. “He would be awful, in order to do this art form, you need to be self-aware and honest. Neither of which are skills he has. All bodies are burlesque bodies, but I feel that beauty is very reflected with who you are as a human”
Who would play you in a movie of your life?
“Oh, it better be me!!! I’m a one of the kind lady and it would be hard to see anyone try to tell my story”
What advice would you give people who wish to become a burlesque performer?
“Be honest with yourself and willing to help others who have already been in the field for years. If you want to perform on the stage, you must start by sweeping it first. I know that’s been my journey and the journey of a lot of performers.”
With the coronavirus crisis, a lot of live venues are not open, so how are you making a living during this time and how can people see you perform?
“Knowing when and how to pivot is how businesses survive in general and that is basically what is happening now. I switched my energy over to online burlesque shows because I have had fans for years all over the world and yet no way to show them my work since so much of what I do has been a live theatre experience. So, after a single post went viral on Facebook, and it was seen by over 100,000 people I figured this was time to do something different. We have performers from all around the globe applying to be in this super welcoming show, where we showcase that all bodies should be loved. The first episodes are out now, and we’ll be doing this weekly for the for see able future. Art can’t stop because we are locked up, it needs to find a way to be seen, because now more than ever we need art for help us express our emotions and trauma.”