Bawdy Burlesque BabeThe Indra is one of San Francisco’s sexiest and most hilarous burlesque dancers and she’ll be performing at the upcoming San Francisco Drag King Contest. She’s also celebrating her birthday by doing tons of other shows this month. We caught up with her just before her schedule got hectic for a few words about performance art, touring and fabulous costumes.
ErosZine: How is it you wound up doing burlesque?
The Indra: I’ve been a performance artist for 18 years. I started doing political performance with an industrial band in 1989. Then I had a Butoh troupe, Collapsing Silence, for 13 years. And I started a go-go dance troupe. I got tired of all the processing you have to go through in a group, even if you’re the boss. I wanted to go solo and I wanted to start singing again and I really wanted to do something that wasn’t just one dance form. OH! I wanted to do comedy. The burlesque/vaudeville scene was the perfect place for me to experiment mixing all those elements.
ErosZine: Do you have any professional training?
The Indra: Yes. I’ve trained in all kinds of dance but I don’t consider myself a dancer. I’m kind of a choreographer’s nightmare. I’ve had two years of vocal training. Theater. Play writing. Internships with professional theater groups. I studied theater in college but I majored in jewelry design. Ha. I don’t make jewelry anymore.
ErosZine: Were you a cheerleader or a pom-pom girl?
I was the kid who wore boring inoffensive clothes so people wouldn’t notice me. I was scared that I wouldn’t get through the day without getting picked on. I would take my free periods in art class with the other people who were trying to hide. It’s funny I still get kind of antisocial and can wear really boring stuff during the day. MILF drag. I manipulate people with my appearance. I like being able to pass as a norm. When you’re riding the bus a lot it’s not good to stand out. I don’t have a big commitment to looking like a freak 24/7; it’s too exhausting. The stage is the best place time and place to stand out.
ErosZine: And how did you become involved with the San Francisco Drag King Contest?
The Indra: Lu Read is one of my dearest friends and we spend hours talking and making each other laugh. We love puppets and pie throwing. When you have a friend who will spend hours devising ways of throwing pies at your enemies without getting caught; that’s a bond you can take to the grave with you…
ErosZine: Your routines are all very entertaining and most of them are hilarious. Do you always set out to create funny shticks?
The Indra: I have acts that aren’t funny: a fan dance where I sing “J’attendrai,” for instance. But it’s not that exciting for me to just be ornamental and sing. When people want that act I’ll do it, but it doesn’t feel challenging. And I get disappointed that they don’t want something more edgy. If I don’t feel challenged or even scared of what’s about to come out of me onstage it’s boring. I used to do really angry political performance. I don’t really feel like making people experience stuff that’s heavy anymore unless it’s cheeky. I think it’s easier to get my point across with humor. If there’s a point. A lot of my stuff is purposefully surreal or politically incorrect.
I think in Burlesque a lot of women try to use their beauty as their schtick. I’ve never felt comfortable with that because physical beauty is temporary. Beauty fades, dumb is forever. I used to think that my stuff was too out there for people to connect with but thankfully I underestimated the intelligence of the audience and I’m doing exactly what I want to do and getting a great response.
ErosZine: What are some of your favorite routines?
The Indra: I have tons of acts so it’s hard to choose! Right now I’m doing Ruth Brown’s chair song,“ If I Can’t Sell It,” as a crazy person in a wheelchair and a straight jacket. I can’t wait to do that one again. I wrote some new lyrics.
My he/she where I sing “Hernando’s Hideaway” as a man and a woman number is surprisingly popular with people and fun.
Then there’s the Apache dance. It’s a retro French dance inspired by a street brawl from the early 1900’s. I’ve been doing it for four years. HYPERLINK "http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3aposh.htm"http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3aposh.htm Basically we dance and beat the crap out of each other. I work with a really strong, young guy for that one. He mops the floor with me. It’s totally cathartic. We have a great time trying to figure out how to make it even more fucked up. I used to do it with a cast of five but cutting it down to a man and a woman makes it even more wrong.
I love doing performance art spoofs. For “I Am a Tree” my character is a well-meaning German Performance Artist whose political acts just don’t go over the way she intended. Ha! I was performing this act in Vancouver and saw two girls losing their shit over it. They had their arms wrapped around their waists and were doubled over. I had to stop looking at them because they were making me forget my character. I love doing that to people because I appreciate when something makes me laugh like that.
Oh dear and then there’s the “I Wanna Be Your Dog” act. I had a friend make me a karaoke version of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” I dress as a Japanese school girl and sing it with a Japanese English accent. I started doing it as a solo but currently I use one or two dancers in the act because it creates more pandemonium. We get really amped up because we love Iggy Pop and get progressively excited and out of control. It ends with us beating each other with rolled up newspapers and barking like maniacs. My favorite part of that act is when I stuff my head in a dog biscuit box and do a chicken dance. Oh, and scoot my butt across the floor like a dog.
ErosZine: That one sounds truly hilarious! So where have you performed?
The Indra: I’ve performed all over the UK and Canada, Berlin and Hamburg, Germany. I’ve performed in Jamaica. I’ve toured through the US three times and performed in more cites than I can remember. I just got back from a week-long engagement in London. And it looks like I’m going to Berlin and Hamburg again in November.
ErosZine: Have you performed with any burlesque troupes?
The Indra: I was in Hot Pink Feathers for a while. I do stuff with Rose Pistola and Bombshell Betty very informally. We like to make each other laugh. Being in someone else’s group is frustrating for me because it feels like it gets in the way of my doing the type of my performance.
ErosZine: Do you have any history in the sex work world?
The Indra: I haven’t done any sex work other than burlesque as a job. I do benefits for sex worker rights and unions. I firmly believe sex work isn’t a crime or a moral issue and is unfairly stigmatized. If I was married I’d rather have my husband see a prostitute than have a girlfriend.
ErosZine: Any dominatrix experience?
The Indra: I think I’ve only dommed when I was topped from the bottom. I’m so not convinced that I’m scary. The only time I’ve ever had a sub under my command was when Mistress Gemini loaned me one in Jamaica to help me carry stuff. I was all “Wow, you’re really sweet, thank you,” to the sub and was thinking crap I just totally blew my cover with that nicety. I can’t hit a guy unless I really hate him.
ErosZine: Do you create your own costumes?
The Indra: Yes. Sometimes I start with a costume and then make an act. All my stuff is so costume driven. I absolutely love dressing up. I’ve always LOVED clothes. As a kid I’d fantasize about clothes all the time. Performing is my excuse for having an insanely expensive costume wardrobe. Otherwise I’d just be a weirdo with a fashion fetish.
ErosZIne: What else do you do to make ends meet?
The Indra: I work as a bookkeeper for a few really cool businesses. Being a bookkeeper reminds me how to act normal and socializes me. And since I’m my own boss I don’t have to ask permission to travel whenever I need or want to. I’m also a milliner, which is a fancy way of saying I make hats. I specialize in women’s cocktail hats.
ErosZIne: And what else do you do to amuse yourself?
The Indra: I make hats. I love making hats. I’m obsessed with sticking things to women’s heads. I make handmade, original, one of kind hats that I’m really proud of. And no one expects a hat maker to be sane so I can be myself. I also love hanging out with my boyfriend. He’s really sweet and he smells nice and is extremely mountable.
ErosZIne: What can we expect from you at the Drag King Contest?
The Indra: Gosh I don’t know. I’m going to do my he/she character. I’ve used my woman’s character voice a lot so it’s like second nature to click into her accent and voice. She’s a 40’s film noir gangster moll. I’m working more on my guy voice. He’s a suave Eurotrash guy. I’m writing a couple conversations for them to have. And the guy is jealous of Fudgie Frottage but the girl is into Fudgie, so there’s going to be a love triangle between the two of us.
ErosZine: Awesome! We’ll look forward to seeing that!
To see more of The Indra, visit her web site at www.theindra.com.
[Written July 2007]