“Liselle’s work is filthy, dirty, shameful, all too personal and at the same time – glorious. Grotesque, powerful, political. Flushed is a detailed, delicate piece”
Simon Casson, Duckie’s, 2017
Doris La Trine (Liselle) makes, performs and directs feminist, crip & queer neo-burlesque (she refers to it as LiPSiCk Neo-Burlesque). Back in 2008 she curated the first Feminist Neo-Burlesque conference at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London consisting of performances, presentations and panel discussions – all archived on https://lipsickqueerfeministneoburlesque.wordpress.com/. In March 2018 she curated and hosted Wickedly Wild Cabaret for Women of the World Festival (WoW) at the Southbank Centre, and directed Not F**ckin’ Sorry at the Soho Theatre, and co-curated Take Up Space Cabaret for Royal Court Theatre . Her current performance Flushed has toured to Dada Festival, Duckie’s, The Sisterhood in Shangri-La, Glastonbury, Domestic produced by Word of Warning, and the Brighton Fringe. Her previous LiPSick Neo-burlesque performances (including Birth of a Porn Star and Doris & Boris has been toured to Burlesque Gorefest, Bristol, Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, Café De Paris, The Candy Box with Imelda May on vocals; The Big Chill, The Tassle Club, Dublin, Limerick Arts Festival, The Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh and for The Posh Club, Brighton. Back in 2008 she performed at The Chelsea Theatre with Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stevens. Liselle is Programme Leader for an Applied Performance degree at University of East London, UK. She is slowly, with a push finally accepting & owning her Neuro-divergent label.
1 How did the idea for the act come to you?
My current act FLUSHED was actually ‘born’ many years previously but it was set in 1950s & the toilet (personified as Len) was pink. Performances of this above for Duckie’s and Candy Box.
I came across neo-burlesque when I was performing with the Laundrettas Collective (at Lost Vagueness) as I was so intrigued by the cabaret style and so seductive and parodic DiY short acts. I loved the sassiness and sexiness of the work. I was really interested how I could use this form to regain agency as an sexually oppressed bulimic-survivor. I wondered if by using this short performance art form, I could regain and re-author my own voice, and my body and to finally climb out of the toilet (metaphorically)? I wanted to explore how I might bring neo-burlesque together with more radical Feminist Performance Art to create political work that raised consciousness about mental health through a feminist lens.
One of the key motifs of the piece, back in 2006 and still today in 2019, is of Doris in a headstand with her head deep inside the toilet. Audiences continue to adore and welcome this image of a woman head first, upside down, head in toilet – being flushed away.
Interestingly when I performed the piece forRubyyy Jones at the RVT in 2017, I had many women approaching me at the end, some in tears, saying that for them the piece was about domestic abuse which they had experienced, as it ends whereby she can never leave this toilet, (called Len).
Clare Nally in Naked Exhibitionism (2013) said of my original act:
‘Terret… Referring to it throughout as ‘him’, the toilet not only debunks the glamorous object (champagne glass) of von Teese, but also explores the current social climate where women desperately grasp for a visual ideal and attempt to navigate feelings of powerlessness and abjection: … to reposition people’s ideas about bulimia … to use metaphors and comedy to do this. I play with the idea of the glamorised and sexually objectified woman and then subvert this . . . [through] a woman scrubbing herself with her toilet brush – she becomes an extension of the toilet, desperately trying to scrub herself clean, trying to rub herself out until the piece ends with her trying to put the toilet brush down her throat’ (Terret in Nally, 2012: 128)
2 What issues did you have making the act.
I had to find the right combination between burlesque as entertainment and the more political ‘feminist performance art’. I developed the piece in partnership with other performance makers – Katya Hilaavara, a live artist, Jamie Crabb, psychotherapist and contemporary performance artist, Emily Nightingale, playwright, Tsara Ahamadi a dancer and most recently Lou Cope, Dramaturg. I coined the term LiPSiCk Neo-Burlesque as a DIY subversive aesthetic, that is comedic, teasing, seductive, ironic, self-parodying, is socially and politically informed, metaphorical, (re)frames and juxtaposes the ‘domestic’ – whereby the personal is political, where the objectified Other is heightened through a camp theatricality in order to re-gain agency to re-author and (re)represent. It burlesques and strips away oppressive and stereotyped perceptions and aims to subvert the male gaze in order to reveal the masquerade (Butler, 1990). LipSiCk FNB works with challenging gender and other socio-constructed binaries.
3 What happened when you first started performing the act.
Back in 2015, I was programmed as the penultimate act at Enchanted Burlesque at The Old Rep Theatre on ‘Valentine’s Night’ 2015 with my new more grotesque form of neo-burlesque, Flushed. During my act some men left their seats and exited the theatre, with their female partners joined their exit a few moments later. Some of the audience seemed shocked, displeased, disgusted (is she going to be sick?), uncomfortable. It also ended up being a discussion debate on a neo-burlesque facebook website (maybe this one?) about whether or not my work as burlesque or not due to the fact that I performed neo-burlesque in a more grotesque feminist performance art way – that was very grotesque and uncomfortable in its form – and also that I was an older performer – audiences didn’t like this as well. In many ways, the performance achieved what it set out to do – to disrupt the unquestionable acceptance of the cutesy pin-up as the epitome of modern assertive femininity. The performance showed life history and struggle as the central aesthetic and reality of women, be it bulimia or any other identity that is rendered invisible, dirty, abject, other.
My colleagues said of it: ‘Your act consists of many layers, of mental health, of happiness, survival, loneliness, women’s roles, and the sexual undertones all interrelate with this idea of femininity. The performance is very autobiographical…its political, its personal, it’s intimate – it’s beyond the reveal of and its actually highlighting something that is very normative for a lot of women…’
Unease from some audiences and performers alike used erasure, attack and turning their backs and exiting to disavow and cancel out the embodiment of ‘woman’ on stage. It stops them feeling and allows them to guard themselves against transgression, and the object which offends social order. (Terret and Commane 2014).
4 How has the act changed over time.
I first performed Flushed (then called Climb Inside) back in 2007, and in many ways it was a very different version to what I perform now in the guise of FLUSHED. It was less confrontational, and more playing with stereotypes, (Doris crawls on stage in 1950s underwear and dressing gown with roller in her hair looking very dishevelled), more comedic, less obviously bulimia overall more parodic. In addition, in terms of the reveal, following a comedic burlesque routine whereby she dances with and seduces the toilet (Len) she takes a large toilet brush and starts scrub her naked skin (stomach, legs and neck) with the brush until burning red ( a moment of live art here) and then piece ends with an image of her finally trying to push the toilet brush down her throat – as a metaphor of trying to wipe her core out of existence. I was trying to speak for women’s domestic stories and histories which as we know are depoliticised.
This link below will take you to the performance of Climb Inside performed at Duckie’s at the RVT back in 2007 introduced by the infamous London Night Czar, Amy Lamé:
FLUSHED most recently performed for Take Up Space Cabaret at the Royal Court Theatre, London Dec, 2018 is performed in gold. Doris in a golden gimpsuit, blonde wig and golden wings presents the golden toilet to the audience to George Michael’s Flawless. She then reveals herself and talks directly to the audience about her desire and struggle to leave Len. Doris takes the audience through a journey whereby she relates how they met, and what she was like before she met him and how he feels has become ‘an albatross around my neck. You were supposed to be a one night stand’, she says to Len. She performs a burlesque dance with Len, and then starts to binge eat and again directly addresses the audience. She points to the audience and says, ‘I want to be like you, I want to leave her one my own but I don’t know how to’. She then returns to Lenin a head stand to a vomit soundscape and then to Streisand’s Guilty Doris stand o top of the toilet proud then removes all of her clothes to reveal her defiant naked body – again with the intention of re-framing how we might read an older woman’s naked body., She then approaches the audience, naked – sometime dancing but often just standing still and meeting the gaze of individual audience members.
5 What came first? The costume, the music, the choreography etc.
The toilet prop definitely came first. I was a survivor of bulimia as it is known as the Secret Disorder, I wanted to make my struggle public – how the bulimia took my sexuality and my power as woman – and so I wanted to reframe the toilet as glamorous – and seductive – and so was drawn to neo-burlesque. I used neo-burlesque to regain and re-author my body, my voice my story.
6 If the act has some personal meaning, does that same emotion still drive you? Did you use the act to help cope or overcome a problem? Did it help?
Making and performing Flushed was very much part of my survival and recovery from Bulimia. One can stop the vomiting but the mental health issues that stay with one is something that still causes me a lot of anguish and I wanted to in a way open up the locked door to the toilet and show people the weight that I carry – and using parody and juxtaposition to reframe how we as a society perceive women, our hugely powerful sexuality and mental health and eating disorders. Women who mis-perform their roles as women have historically experienced, are labelled and removed and institutionalised from society.
7 Have you ever been asked to change part of it?
Back in 2007, depending on the venue I was sometimes asked only to perform the piece without any vocal direct address to the audience, and to only perform the comedic entrance and burlesque dance. This was in venues such as Café De Paris or the Kit Kat Club. Following the performance at The Old Rep, Birmingham, the producer suggested that I let audiences know that the piece has more grotesque elements to it. I absolutely disagreed with this.
8 Is there anything missing from the act you’d like to be in it but can’t due to logistics, prop dreams, money etc?
I would like to extend it, tour it, collaborate with several other performers, directors, a dramaturg to develop it further. It would have a run at The Soho Theatre, The Edinburgh Festival and beyond. I would take it to schools and use it to raise the lid on eating disorders.
9 Where did you first perform the act?
The new version FLUSHED was first performed at Enchanted Burlesque, Birmingham where as explained earlier on some more straight audience members left the auditorium.
10 And what has been your favourite time performing the act
I always love performing at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern for Duckie’s, http://www.duckie.co.uk/saturdays/past/page/36 Rubbyyy Jones https://mardigrasmag.com/…/22/save-rubyyy-jones-showgrrrl-…/
and Bar Wotever https://www.dojoapp.co/…/the-return-of-doris-latrine-se11-5… as the queer audience just always welcome Doris La Trine with open arms and just totally get how I am trying to use the form of neo-burlesque to tell uncomfortable and side-lined stories. Similarly I have now performed twice for the Dada Festival in Liverpool: https://www.dadafest.co.uk/artist/doris-la-trine and I always am welcomed there. Equally now that I end the act by being totally nude – there is always a moment of danger in this for me as I need to always justify reaching that point in order to have this reveal – as the reveal just before this is the Doris vomiting in her toilet – which I use as metaphorical with many layers. My naked body is about the fragility of women and the often extreme stories and histories that we carry.
11 If you were creating this act again now, would you do anything different?
Great question as actually I have done this – as the original Climb Inside act was back in 2006 and it was a decade later when I re-invented and made it more subversive. Which was something that I recall always wanting to do – to really see if I could push the boundaries more with how I use the dramaturgical tool of neo-burlesque. I also feel incredibly empowered when I remove all my clothes at the end of the performance following the reveal of Doris as a survival of bulimia / mental health distress. Also I would have developed the act further so that I could also use it as a trigger for working with young women in particular as a tool to talk about eating disorders and mental health. I did many years ago take a video of it to an eating disorders conference in Austria where I showed the neo-burlesque performance on film to doctors, and psychiatrists explaining that by me creating my own performance in my own DiY style – it became a continued part of my own recovery and reclaiming back of my identity.
12 Do you ever ask particular people to critique your acts, or do you listen to random ones that suggested changing music, a pose or adding a prop? If you did get critique did you change it? Why/why not? Did it help?
I love collaborating with other artists which I have done so as described earlier on – with a dancer, a dramaturg, a writer, a live artist and a contemporary performance-maker over the years. I would love to get the funding to make the piece into a full one hour and collaborate with at least one other artist if not more. The current piece was made in collaboration with other artists.
I have the following two videos of my original Climb Inside act (Duckie & The Candy Box) that might be interesting to watch and compare how the act has changed over the part 10 years.
The Candy Box, Birmingham
Duckie, at RVT, London
Plus Birth of a Porn Star performed at Bar Wotever back in 2008
Original image by Paul Grace