Scarlet Mary Rose wants to set a few things straight.
“Any time I’m taking off my clothes in front of an audience, I’m making a statement. And that statement is empowerment, freedom, liberation,” the veteran performer told the Star in a recent interview.
Rose, who has been a fixture in Nelson’s burlesque scene for the last 10 years, has done a lot of work to get where she is today. She has her own troupe, is mentoring younger performers and is a local celebrity. But she’s had no shortage of controversy along the way. Her performances have been decried by some, her posters and promotional material have been torn down, and her financial offerings to local institutions have been criticized, though not refused.
But as a Doukhobor, Rose has an innate defiance that drives her to thumb her nose (and a variety of other body parts) at the societal constructs and authority figures around her. And she believes her work in Nelson has helped the community educate itself about the art form.
“There’s always a protest element in burlesque, in my opinion,” she said. “It’s always been about pushing the envelope, making fun of current society. Back in the 1890s when it started out they’d make fun of whatever was currently on the London stages. That was when showing off skin became something. It was political. Women started to realize ‘hey, we can do this’.”
She said her work has similar activist elements. A few years ago she wrote “PEACEFUL NAKED PROTEST” on her buttocks with black marker and displayed it proudly to an audience. As an “uninhibited fierce female”, this is how she knows best to make her political feelings known.
“It’s about breaking down systems that were set up in society that make no sense through theatre and comedy, through thought-provoking acts. It’s not overt, though. It’s all underhanded,” she said, noting that even the most lascivious moments are steeped in parody.
“It’s about the tease. Even when it’s a classic striptease it still always has that element of jest. There’s a nod.”
Rose said she has faced criticisms of promoting the “blonde bombshell” stereotype, something that she strongly denies.
“Everybody needs acceptance. Whether we look like Barbie or not, that girl needs to be loved and accepted for who she is. I always get that sort of backlash, even though one time on the same poster I had a man in drag… I mean, I was a Waldorf Mom. I’ve got grown children. I was raked through the coals,” she said.
“People would ask ‘how can you be a Waldorf Mom and at the same time be a stripper’? I prefer the term provocative entertainer.”
Rose was quick to remind the Star that burlesque is intended to be fun. She said her upcoming variety show Treasure Box will be a boisterous, rowdy pirate-themed affair. Hosted by Spiritbar on Monday, June 30, the show will feature Rose’s “lefthand woman” Erin Eat Your Heart Out, local DJ Lady V and male performers Johnny Magick and Prince Hashim.
Seven women from Rose’s recent training course (affectionately known as “boob camp”) will be making their debut performances.
“It’s about having a really great time. People can free themselves in the moment. It’s about self-acceptance, about loving yourself no matter how flawed you are. And everyone in the audience can feel that as well,” she said.
Rose said her shows can vary drastically. “That’s the thing I love about burlesque. You can do whatever you want. The genre gives you a wide artistic berth.”
She said one of the acts in the show will parody society’s latest fixation: bums.
“Everyone’s in love with having a bum these days,” said Rose. “Twerking. That’s this thing that’s happening in the media and we’ve got a funny piece on that. We get up there and we’re parodying the fact that this is currently popular, using a song that’s the big summer hit, making fun of it.”
She was reluctant to share details about any other acts, as she didn’t want to give away the surprise.
“You want to keep people guessing,” she said.
Tickets for Treasure Box are $20. Door open at 9 p.m. For more information, search for Scarlet Mary Rose and the Heavy Petal Burlesque on Facebook.