Scarlet Butterfly has burst onto the steampunk scene in the past year with a unique act which involves moving around on a pole, making it look far easier than I’m inclined to think that it really is. One delightful summer evening, we had a wonderful chat about the inspiration for her character Scarlet Butterfly, the idea of Fairies and how hurtling to the ground at terminal velocity is actually a good thing.
How did Steampunk Faery come about?
Steampunk Faery is my fourth act that I’ve put together and because I started to get into steampunk about a year ago, I always had themed acts that were always fantasy or Faery inspired, so my three other acts are the Fire Faery, Art Deco Faery – which I recently showed at 1930’s Berlin Diaries – and then there’s my new act which I’ll tell you about later as I’m still working on it.
Once I’d developed the original idea, I started to think carefully about how I would create this steampunk Faery. I started with a picture board of the ideas and it took quite a long time to get the whole thing arranged.
What time frame are we looking at here?
About nine months, from start to finish and in that time period, I had to source the people to make the costume, so I had this idea of a leather costume and I wanted the Steampunk Faery to be kind of a post apocalyptic Faery that’s had to get a bit tough. There’s quite a bit of attitude in the act so I wanted there to be lots of leather, but also for the act to look quite elemental. I wanted it light and Faery-like while still tough looking. I collaborated with Jackie Hyde (Jacklyn Hyde) who is an outstanding leather worker. I also worked with Julie “Scrumptious” Walton. I went to meet them with my picture board and they just got it straight away.
They were like a pair of ping pong balls bouncing ideas off each other. They measured me up and six weeks later it was done. I knew it was going to be right and it was.
Once I’d got all the other accessories together such as the hair accessories from Indigo Thunder and little Faery hair clips that I made myself, it just all worked!
During the time that this was being made, I was collaborating with my choreographer on the pole. I would develop the routine ideas and she would say “Yes that’s good” or “No, that won’t work”. Getting the entire act together including clothing, accessories and dance routine it took around nine months. It took a long time.
And you kept it all to yourself?
I did put a few things on Facebook so people knew that Steampunk Faery was on it’s way. When Steampunk Doncaster asked me to perform, I knew it would be the perfect time to showcase this act.
Because I’m new to the steampunk community, the steampunks have been fab and really supported me. They’ve given me opportunities to perform. I performed at Howarth back in November and Michael (Young) has managed to get me a few gigs. Then people like you, John (Birley) and others have come to the Berlin Diaries and supported me so I wanted to give something back. I’m totally inspired by steampunk and I wanted to create a new act. I don’t know if it would fit in at a burlesque evening. Maybe cabaret, but I wanted Steampunk Faery to be a gift to the steampunk community as well as a reflection of my interests so I decided to debut it at Steampunk Doncaster.
Explain a little more about your other acts.
I developed them for both cabaret and burlesque. I became interested in burlesque about two years ago and I have an act that I call “Mission: Strip-Possible” which uses black and red feathers – I use the outfit in the Berlin Diaries show, so some people will be familiar with it – and it’s like a showgirl routine done to the Pink Panther followed by the James Bond theme tune. The idea is that it starts out as a classical showgirl routine but then half way through the act Scarlet Butterfly finds the pole and it becomes a challenge and she wants to climb up it but she can’t without taking her clothes off and she has to do that while mid-air. It’s an aerial strip-tease. I’m a pole specialist which gives me a different act to others and that’s what I want.
That’s the only burlesque act I’ve got, because I’m very inspired by Fairies so I have an act that I’ve called Fire Faery. In the act, she flies through the tree tops of forests and the pole is a metaphor for a tree. She creates havoc throwing fire balls and causing mischief. I also use a couple of big, beautiful fiery fan veils in this act. That’s darker and there’s different facets to Scarlet Butterfly with the darker Fire Faery and the more light hearted Burlesque character. Now Steampunk Faery has joined them.
Scarlet Butterfly is an umbrella name?
Like a brand name?
She is! Scarlet Butterfly is my alter ego. Fire Faery can be used in Burlesque even though there’s no stripping, it’s purely theatrical. I’ve always been attracted to flight and the colour red, so for me the name Scarlet Butterfly is perfect. A Butterfly dances on the air, so it fits what I aim to do perfectly.
I’m attracted to anything that flies and anything that’s a bit kooky. Anything that’s a bit freaky, off-the-wall; Lord of the Rings; Fairies. I’m there. That’s what inspires me, it’s where the influence for these acts comes from.
That’s the good thing about burlesque though (and often a misconception); it doesn’t have to be stripping.
That’s right and the Fire Faery has been very well received by the burlesque community. Then the Berlin Diaries happened, so I developed a 1930s Scarlet Butterfly act called Art Deco, which you’ve seen.
I performed that to Ravel’s Bolero and the idea with that act is that I try to replicate the 1930s Art Deco Ballerina statues using the pole, so I’m doing slightly different things. Then there’s the Steampunk Faery which is the newest of the group. I have a wide range and the next one that I’m developing is what I mentioned earlier on.
I’m calling it Elven Queen and it’s a purple and black theme. I have a big crown and I have a very long, sweeping beautiful cloak and a gorgeous corset. I look like something out of Lord of the Rings. And of course, there’s wings.
Interestingly, what I find is that this act was developed as a pure burlesque strip tease type of act, but a lot of promoters are saying “Will you not do a reveal because some places don’t want that” and I’m also getting them saying“We’d like you to be the different act. We want variety, so will you do the pole routine?”
I developed the Elven Queen as a burlesque act that didn’t need the pole in case the venue couldn’t accommodate it. I was approached by a promoter and they asked if I had any new acts that they could have the debut for and I replied that I had, then explained Elven Queen and they said “Great, but can we not have a reveal as we can’t have one at this venue and I want to still use the aerial act” so I’ve had to adapt the one act I developed without the pole into a pole act and also avoid a reveal. I’m getting asked a lot for that.
I have one further character in development at the moment called Butterfly which was the very first idea that I had. I’ve been collaborating with an amazing costume designer so the outfit is inspired by Butterfly wings.
That’s going to be revealed next year because I’m a stickler for detail. I spend far too much money making sure the outfits are just right.
I suppose they have to be well made too, for the amount of use they get?
Absolutely, they’re always having to go for repair. The skirt with the red and black feathers I mentioned earlier is constantly being returned for more feathers which have come loose to be re-attached.
Do you ever get people taking the feathers as momentos?
I try not to give them the chance, although I did once have a woman dancing on it and in doing so she pulled out a load of feathers. That was painful.
Do you find that people outside the cultures get the wrong idea about what you do?
All the time. But when I perform I feel like I’m on a mission to change people’s perspectives about what I’m doing. You’ll never see me do anything remotely seedy on a pole. Everything I do is theatrical. The burlesque act Mission: Strip-Possible is more playful and sensual – I suppose they all are a little bit sensual in a way – but I don’t do anything that’s in your face like what you’d see in a lap dancing club.
I love performing because without fail at least one person will come up to me at the end and say “Wow, that was really different”, “Not at all what I was expecting” and it’s lovely that I’m changing people’s perceptions. That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed performing in Marks & Spencer’s and it was such a pleasure to help promote cabaret and burlesque in such a conservative environment. To see people walking past and going “Wow!” It was fantastic and I loved it.
I only know Sir Midnight Blues in terms of other pole artists.
There are a few pole artists out there, but fewer still that work in the burlesque industry. There’s not very many that do the theatrical costume that Sir Midnight and I do and I think that’s a unique selling point that we have. My suspicion is that many of the performers don’t want the hassle of taking that gear and transporting it. It can fit in a car and transported anywhere and I can set it up in minutes, but it’s heavy. It can put people off and get in the way of other performers so I think it can be too labour intensive for some people. I’d rather put in the effort because I think it’s more worth it. People really appreciate it and it’s what I do best. I feel a bit odd on the stage without the pole.
Even though you’ve developed a character without it?
I’ll be out of my comfort zone, but I’m going to go for it. What’s really funny is that I did ballet when I was younger and all my reports would read that I was “very enthusiastic with a lot of creativity but a little bit too much vigorous hand waving” and I’m a little bit like that now. I never know what to do with my hands, so the pole is perfect because it gives me something to do with them and I don’t have to worry about it. (laughs)
Do you have something that helps you be more creative? A place you can go or something you can do?
I actually wanted to talk to you about skydiving. It might seem weird to some, but skydiving is where part of my experiences come from. The creativity comes from skydiving and once I’d got onto this creative roll from skydiving, it just kept coming. I have so many ideas for acts and I’m just going to keep working on them and keep working the bookings that I have and continue getting more.
I started skydiving about seven years ago after a tandem dive for charity. I decided that I wanted to do that a lot more and in the same week I decided that I wanted to learn how to pole dance. Back then, I didn’t know where that idea came from. But that was the week that changed my life and what happened was that I then started getting into the skydiving and skydivers are always having parties and they’re always fancy dress. I was always a goth in my younger years and going to these fancy dress parties sparked my imagination and I began to think up costume ideas.
All of a sudden my alternative side (where the goth came from) returned and I started going back to wearing different clothes and just becoming more “me”.
What skydiving also did for me was make me learn a lot about myself. It’s quite a big thing to sky dive and throw yourself out of a plane. I went through so much soul searching, thinking I couldn’t do it, messing up the jumps and I learned a lot about myself. But eventually that gave me more confidence and I met new people while the parties gave me performance opportunities. I actually cut my teeth in terms of performing and costume making in the world of skydiving. I got my first big gig from the British Parachute Association about 18 months ago. It was the British Parachute Association AGM (Annual General Meeting) which is quite a big thing of about 400 people. It was my first burlesque foray and very important to me because I then had a video of me performing that I could send to promoters. That got me my first booking in a cabaret show where I debuted Mission: Strip-Possible and Fire Faery. That was last October.
So I have a lot to thank skydiving for because it brought out of me – in a very odd kind of way, that you’d never think jumping out of planes would – the real me. I was able to find myself through skydiving.
What an unusual predicament to find yourself in.
I know. Also when I’m skydiving, I don’t want to do that formation, flat flying stuff, I want to do pretty dancing and there’s a type of skydiving called Freestyle where there’s lots of pointing toes and turning and stuff. It’s like ballet in the air and I’m so inspired by that. As a child I’ve always been fascinated by dance and flight. I love the idea of being able to dance in the air and pole dancing allows me to do that, too.
Do you think that if you gain international status you would do this full time?
I love my day job and wouldn’t like to give it up. The entertainment business isn’t stable in terms of regular work, so while I’d love to go abroad and perform, doing this more than I do now and maintaining my day job would be tricky. Plus if I was doing this as my main job, it would become something else because I’d be relying on it to pay the mortgage. I think it would take an element of fun from it. I don’t want it to be a place where I have to fight all the time to get gigs because I love what I do and I want that to show through in my acts. I think if you’re there for the wrong reasons, people will notice.
In terms of going international and making performing my day job, I think it would cost me more than I’m willing to lose. It’s a nice idea and if it works out, then great! (laughs)
What about long term? Do you think you might want to open a school and teach your skills?
I thought about that. Around 2 years ago I was thinking seriously about what I wanted to do with pole. I’ve been pole dancing for a long time, but I decided that I didn’t want to teach it. I decided that I would much rather perform than teach. It’s a great outlet for being creative.
Would you like to take your performance art abroad?
It would be wonderful to be able to go to another country but it would have to be doing something I love such as performing. I like where I live, though, I love my little Faery cottage and I have a good circle of friends and it would take a lot to uproot me and leave it all behind.
Do you believe in Fairies?
I love the idea of Fairies and I’d love to believe in them, but I don’t know. I have hidden Faery doors around the house.
There’s been photographs of Fairies in gardens and sceptics have jumped on them, claiming they’re dolls or forced perspective.
I have a reasonably scientific brain, so I’m inclined to agree that the pictures are fake. I do like the idea of them, though.
I suppose it’s nice to have that mixture of real world and whimsical fantasy.
I’m a very whimsical sort of person. I have romantic ideas of there being this universe that we can’t see. I have a book about how to see Fairies and it’s fantastic.
There’s been lots of different theories on Fairies and how they exist, do you have your own theory?
I’ve read some books about it and a couple of years ago I had an idea to make a Faery garden. I spent ages planning this garden, then about June I put all my pretty flower pots out – which I do every year. I like the idea of having the Faery garden not being obvious. I didn’t particularly want people passing by to see it. Maybe a glimpse. I like the thought of the Faeries being subtle.
I invited a lot of my friends who have young daughters round to my house and had a big Faery afternoon where we played games like “How many Faery Houses can you Find?” The next day I went to work and when I came back there was a Mushroom Faery ring in the middle of the lawn.
Real Mushrooms that have grown from the ground?
Yes. And I like to think that it was a thank you from the Fairies for having the party.
Do you think that has compelled you to do what you do the Faery acts?
Probably. But I also think it’s the visual stuff and the creativity. It’s the whole thing of having a themed act of an Art Deco Faery, or a Steampunk Faery or Fire Faery. What does one of those look like? How can I create a costume and behave on the pole in a way that can embody that? How am I going to portray this character? What moves am I going to do on the pole to emulate that?