CS: For those folks who aren’t yet familiar with you, how would you describe your act?
AP: I guess our philosophy, for a few of us at (Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society), of your persona is “you on your best day, times a thousand!”, so I feel that my character is definitely a joyful, happy, fun-loving comedienne.
CS: Do you find it’s evolved over time, as you learn, grow, as your personality changes?
AP: It’s still evolving. When I first started, I focused mainly on comedy, but it was almost because I wasn’t even sure of what I was doing – was sort of emulating ideas about what I thought burlesque was, and because it is so diverse – and as a teacher, I felt that I had to be strong in all aspects of it. So I studied more the seduction part of it. So I took a good year with [that as] my main focus, and most of my pieces that came out of that time ended up being very classic – or my attempts at being very classic – you know something that was a bit more sexy.
CS: And how did you stumble into this art form? Was burlesque always a passion or was it something you fell into?
AP: It’s definitely something fell into…I didn’t even know it existed! I had a background in dance and theatre. I had moved to Vancouver to continue taking dance classes. I was studying at Harbour Dance Centre and was trying to take as many classes as I could. A friend had convinced me that we should take Becoming Burlesque [class offered through Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society], and she actually ended up dropping out while I carried on. Didn’t even know what it was, but then I absolutely fell in love with the form. It felt like a combination of all the things that I really enjoyed, and am strong at.
CS: How is burlesque different from theatre? For example, if I fuck up [in a play], I can improvise, but I think in a dance group number, you’re so visible, everything is so exposed, that you can’t get away with too much.
AP: Well, that’s in group numbers!
CS: In solos, it might be a different story!
AP: In solos, I know people who do nothing but improvise, anyway. They have that range of vocabulary in their dance movements, so that is not an issue. Group numbers are another story, because the most visually pleasing is seeing all these people…
CS: …dancing uniformly? Yep, I don’t want to ‘stand out’ like that. (laugh)
AP: It’s like any performing art. The mantra is to “Keep going, no matter what”. You stumble, you just stand back up.
CS: A great line I got from a teacher once…I was taking a dance class at this theatre school. He scolded me because I was always in the back, a bit shy. “I want to see you at the front! Look, if you’re going to Fuck Up, FUCK UP BIG!” I never forgot that. It’s the choice to push through the embarrassment. I’ve seen people do cartwheels and be really hammy, and be like, “Hey! Fucked up!” That, in itself becomes part of the act!
AP: As long as you don’t get stressed out about the situation, as long as you’re enjoying yourself, people are going to enjoy watching you.
CS: Just enjoy it. Give ‘em a show no matter what!
CS: Enjoy the show! To that end, what is your least favourite aspect of burlesque?
AP: I think it’s probably the same in any performing art where job security is always a question, pay isn’t necessarily the regular. I consider myself a freelancer, so you know, you don’t get benefits.
CS: Is it hard to make a living out of it solely? Or do most people have to have a …’Joe Job’?
AP: Most people have to have a secondary income, even if it is burlesque-related. Even if they are teaching, or costuming or they’ll have a ‘Joe Job’ – whatever that is.
CS: And what is your favourite aspect of [performing]?
AP: I like the creative freedom, that’s my favourite part. I am the Director, the Choreographer, and (for better or worse), the costumer! It’s a pretty accessible art form and I enjoy that you get to create this entire vision. My favourite thing to do is to come up with something new, and then trying to perfect it.
CS: And how DO you come up with things/concepts? Are you a ‘song’ person or do you have an idea first, then tie it to a song or..?
AP: A lot of the time it comes from a gag, or joke, or something that I think is really funny, and work from there. Usually I’m character-based…so either the joke or the character, you take that little seed of an idea and let it grow.
CS: That’s so cool. I’m a musical kind of person, in that I hear a song and an idea pops in, then I’m like, “That would be a good concept!” I guess I go in auditorily first, and then visually.
AP: If you can’t dance to the song, it’s too hard. You have to find something you enjoy.
CS: I have a hard time listening to MP3’s now. I’m like, “That’s not a burlesque concept song! Forward. Next song!”
AP: (laughs) You’re hooked! Drink the Glitter Kool-Aid! (laughs)
CS: Do you have to do anything to get yourself into that creative head-space? Or is it just…it comes when it comes?
AP: Having a deadline in mind is definitely important for me, having something to work towards. I find it’s really important to silence your critic. When I was first starting, you put so much pressure on yourself because you want it to be perfect, but nothing starts perfect. You have to work your way there. So I think, try to let things be as they are, just let it come and accept it, instead of trying to force it be something, more or less. I’ve tried acts, and I’m like, “Nah…I’m not going to do that one again.” There was nothing there, but you know, I had to try.
CS: Yeah, it’s a certain kind of courage. I think anyone who does burlesque, you guys seem to me to be fun, sweet…and brave! There is a risk-taking element.
AP: Just don’t have so many attachments to the idea to what you think it is supposed to be. Just enjoy yourself, and do your best.
CS: So it can take a life all its own. What’s been your favourite April O’Peel number so far?
AP: Probably the Chicken. It was the thing I was most proud of. It allowed me some great opportunities and I got to really workshop it over time. I really was proud of being able to blend the idea of neo-burlesque and the Old School. [The act] can be anything you want, as long as it has some sort of adult content, but there is a school of thought where we are trying to pay homage to what [burlesque] was. I feel like I’ve sort of tried to pre-date the part that has been glamorized, in the 1950’s. I like the part where it was a dirty vaudeville play, in the 17 to 1800’s- that sort of era. That’s the stuff I like, but a lot of emphasis is put on where it evolved to in the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, the glamorous, the strip tease, the fantasy and the glorification of the American Girl, that kind of thing. I was trying to combine those two things with some modern sensibilities as well.
CS: There is so much that went into it.
AP: I put a lot of work into that one piece. I was also trying to satirize, the extremes we got to in modern costuming by having this dress made out of rubber gloves.
CS: Oh, I love that! Will you resurrect it?
AP: Oh yeah, it comes up here and there. I consider it a “greatest hit”.
CS: A “Greatest Hit”? You mean “Greatest Tit”!
AP: (laughs) Totally!
CS: I’m just curious…was there ever a moment when you went, “Hey…I think I’ve made it!”
AP: Well, I guess so. You realize you have recognition from other people who appreciate what you’re doing.
CS: Did it ever ‘click’, like in a specific moment onstage or something..?
AP: Not really, no (laughs). You still have the same struggles that you had before. Maybe you assume that they [the accolades] would make your life better in some way. They have been in that I get more opportunities, and am always appreciative when people recognize me on the street and say, “Hey” and they like what I do. I’m so grateful for that. It means what you’re doing made an impact on someone. I don’t think I’ll have “made it” until I don’t have a day job! (laughs). If I could somehow exist by doing this alone! But the opportunities have been better and increased every year, that’s why I keep with it.
CS: Yeah, and it’s your passion.
AP: It’s the one thing in my life that has been doing well even if there’s been other ups and downs, in personal situations.
CS: You mentioned meeting on the street being acknowledged by the public. How do you negotiate the private self, versus your public persona “April”? Do you feel the pressure to always be “on”, as a public figure?
AP: Well, it’s hard because some people don’t know “April”, then they’ll just go, “Who is this…crazy lady?”
CS: I know some dancers always have certain presentation: the hair, the makeup, the “Look”, even at rehearsals sometime. Does everyone do that, or is presentation a personal choice? Do you feel the pressure to be “on”?
AP: I do and I don’t. When I feel like I’m going to be in a public setting where I could be recognized, it’s just good business to be representing your brand in the best possible way. So especially if I’m going to a burlesque event, or even just out on the town. But you know, that can be exhausting too, especially when your job is just to be out all the time. My idea of a good time is staying home and having a nap! (laughs)
CS: That’s true. You want the opposite of what you usually have! If you’re In, you want Out!
AP: And you’re giving a lot of energy all the time. I do enjoy it, but I need to recharge. Honestly, my idea of a good time is, “Someone please hug me and let’s watch a movie!” (laughs)
CS: I took Sociology and remember this article. It was really interesting how women in particular do their job, but also “emotional work” that goes beyond it. For example, keeping a happy, positive appearance, smiling, being warm, to make others feel comfortable, happy, etc. It’s doing emotional work. Mostly women are expected to do that, according to this study, but anyway…
AP: Yeah, I never used to have a problem with energy, but I think – just getting older – I’ve had to retract a bit more, to make sure that I actually have time for me. I need it to do a good job in my ‘other realms’. (laughs)
CS: Other dark realms! (laugh) Something I’m really attracted to is that, by and large, the burlesque community seems very supportive, very inclusive. It seems like its members are almost protective over one another too. Is that an accurate portrayal?
AP: Well, there are [lots of] people involved, so not every person is going to get along with every other person. There’s been disagreements among the community in the past, but for the most part – I think people realize people that’s not… people do care, by and large, for what we’ve created. We don’t want to work in a negative environment. So even if someone isn’t your cup of tea, it doesn’t matter. It’s not about being friends, it’s about being professional. I think that’s the bottom line. There aren’t disagreements right now that I’m aware of. I don’t think anybody really wants that [discord]. It is a pretty supportive community.
CS: And kind of lovey-dovey. I’ve an actor background, and to me, that’s what nice about [some] arty-farty people, is that we’re ‘feelers’, kind of, “How are you? Aw, that’s too bad honey.” I feel comfortable, because I can be kind of mushy (laugh). And then, those who I call my “mom” friends in the ‘burbs, I think they have no idea what to do with me. “It’s that eccentric Aunt Caroe.” haha But yeah, it’s nice to have that [camaraderie & affection] with like-minded folks.
CS: What sort of trends do you want to see more of, with respect to burlesque?
AP: I’d like to see, um… When I started burlesque, [it] felt very punk rock, sort of a political statement, in terms of being all the things you’re not ‘supposed to be’.
CS: Like a subversive kind of a force?
AP: I guess all the expectations you have, that society has, for women. It’s taking that male gaze and flipping it somehow, and it being really raw… and owning it. It was awesome. There were so many, I don’t really want to say “bizzare” performers, but it was definitely more performance art influenced [in] some way.
CS: More political?
AP: Like more…more WEIRD. (laughs)
CS: Sounds like it was coming from a place of being subversive, and ‘Oh yeah! Stick it to the man!’
AP: At least where I came from. It kind of goes back and forth between the two [schools of thought]. Because it IS so diverse, there’s so many different realms. But I think there were people who were trying to recreate vaudeville, there’s people trying to recreate the ‘girly show’, and then there’s the punk rock vibe to it. “We’re doing it because we love it. We’re doing it because we want to…you know…”
CS: …make our own rules?
AP: Yeah, make our own rules. We’re not going to just do regular theatre, we’re going to make our own. We’re not to be these same archetypes of women. We’re going to…fuck with them. You know, maybe I’ll start as a Princess, but then maybe I’ll sit in a pie! Or, I’m going to act like a sexy lady, but I’m going to dress like a dinosaur! It felt that way to me.
CS: The ‘punk rock of dance’! I worked with Spectral Theatre which was like a brother/sister company to the Chickens. We borrowed each other’s performers. That’s how I sort of got hooked up with you guys! And they [Spectral] touted themselves, “The Punk Rock of Theatre”.
AP: You guys were doing the same kind of stuff.
CS: Left of centre, thinking outside the box. I had a play produced and actually it was a punk operetta, so yeah, seems fitting.
AP: Since then I think, people [have been] wondering [about] what other people are doing, the scene has grown so much. With the Burlesque Hall of Fame, they have such an emphasis on Classic Burlesque. None of the neo, you know inventive sort of things, they hardly make it into the main stage for a Saturday. It’s all on a Thursday, which is cool to even get a NIGHT, but there is that emphasis [on classic burlesque]. Their mandate is to preserve the ‘legends’ of burlesque. It’s a fund-raiser for them, and so it’s more along the lines of that specific style. That is our “Olympics”, our end-all-be-all, so people want to be rewarded for that, or they want to be recognized. And so I think, they alter their style in order to go there.
It’s interesting, because when people started they thought they had to be funny, they tried so hard to differentiate themselves from conventional stripping, it wasn’t something they wanted to be associated with. “No, no. We’re different. I’m a Burlesque dancer. We’re classy.” Whereas, now there has been sort of a re-taking, it’s not a bad thing to be a stripper anymore. It’s definitely been a lot more normalized. So then, it was ok for a woman to be strong, and powerful and sexy. So there is power in that too. But, I really do miss the…
CS: …the vaudevillian stuff..?
AP: Yeah, the more comedic, more weird, more wacky [stuff]. I feel like…I’m feeling alone sometimes! (laughs) Like, “Where did all my weird friends go?” So, I’d like to see just a bit more, an even amount. Not that one is better than the other, but I do see more of that glam style shift. That is a trend that has risen in popularity. It is very beautiful, but personally, I enjoy the other thing. I’d like to see them combined together.
CS: Yeah. More equal ‘air time’, I guess.
AP: It’s also a hard sell, when you know, it’s [weird/odd, etc.]
CS: (in different voices) “Honey do you want to see this?” “Oh, it’s avant-garde… Nah, let’s just go to the ballet.”
AP: Yeah, right? It’s safe. People don’t want to be challenged. But I’m like, “No! You need to be challenged! Why don’t you want to think about it?”
CS: “I’ll challenge you…and you’ll LIKE it!” (laugh)
AP: “Think about it. Ask yourself the hard questions.”
CS: Well, maybe that’s part of it. People maybe don’t want to think, they want to escape. They don’t necessarily want to made to squirm a bit, to question where they’re at in their lives. You know, “Where am I with respect to Capitalism?”
AP: Yeah, totally!
CS: I mean, I want to make statements too. Maybe I want to do a [piece] from a wheelchair to talk about ‘the invisibles’, you know..!
AP: (laughs) It just has to be done well, and then people will respond to it.
CS: It needs to be beautiful in some way. And if it moves someone, or it triggers something, you’ll have done your job, or at least planted a seed. (pause) So what’s on the slab? What’s next for April O’Peel?
AP: Burlesque Long Form! This is the second year we are putting this on, actually, [since] after I had gone to see Dita Von Tease in Seattle.
CS: Oh my god..!
AP: It was amazing! Her and Ava Garter and Angie Pontani. (Angie was my favourite, actually.) There were only three of them, so “How do you put on an act with only 3 soloists for an entire show?” So their pieces were all ten, fifteen minutes long. Most variety performers, that’s what is expected of them, to fill ten, twenty minutes! We get off pretty easy! That’s how long it was, back in the day – you’d have to fill that time. So, I wondered if I could do it, sort of set it to a challenge. I wanted to start producing.
CS: I don’t know when you guys sleep.
AP: (laughs) Every single second of my day is booked with something. Like, every single block of time…!
CS: And here I am, asking you for an interview!
AP: That’s alright; we like it. If we didn’t like it, we wouldn’t do it! I got to eat a poutine, so I’m ok. Anyway, Burlesque Long Form is on November 30th. It’s featuring six of Vancouver’s Top Teasers. It was a challenge for them. “Can we put on ten minutes?” “Can we do a grand show?” So I approached the people I thought were “Cream of the Crop” in my eyes. I call them “Sandwich Eaters”. They could do an act eating a sandwich, and it would be so entertaining! I trust them implicitly to do anything they want, because it will be so enthralling.
CS: Are you in it?
AP: Yes, I am. It’s myself, Melody Mangler, Lola Frost, Burgundy Brixx, Lydia DeCarrlo and Voracious V. All great performers, Cream of the Crop!
CS: I want to volunteer!
AP: Totally. We need volunteers. And you can always find out more information at:
- April O’Peel
- Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society &/or Screaming Chicken’s facebook page
- Burlesque Long Form
- RSVP at the Burlesque Long Form event page
CS: Cool! Now some critical questions, without which this interview would be rendered obsolete! I wanted to do an ‘Actor’s Studio’ thing [interview show] – total bullshit questions – so here goes!
CS: What’s sexy?
CS: Favourite colour?
CS: Favourite dessert?
AP: I don’t have much of a sweet tooth…
CS: Ok, favourite snack?
AP: If it was a dessert, I’m going to say 5 cent candies! (laughs)
CS: Lights on or off?
CS: Back hair: deal breaker or no?
CS: Guy liner: yay or nay?
CS: Favourite swear word?
CS: Favourite body part?
AP: My ankle…because I want it to get better.
CS: Sending the love…
AP: “I love you, Ankle. Please heal!”
CS: Guilty pleasure?
CS: That’s hilarious. Well, thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you.