INTERVIEW: TALKING TO LENA MAE LENMAN
Teasing audiences with titillating and tantalising performances, burlesque artist and vaudevillian Lena Mae Lenman is the beauty and brains behind the infamous Hundred Watt Club. Showcasing the country’s kookiest, quirkiest and most curious cabaret collective, we caught up with Lena to talk festive frivolities and fun…
FOR SOMEONE WHO’S NEVER BEEN TO HUNDRED WATT CLUB, WHAT MIGHT ONE EXPECT ON THE NIGHT?
I always say to expect the unexpected, which is so cheesy but it’s true. I change the line-up every time so that there are always different acts. I get a lot of people coming up to me after the show, and they say “That wasn’t what I was expecting, I thought it would be like the film Burlesqueor Moulin Rouge”, but it’s really nothing like that.
Burlesque and Vaudeville are really multi-faceted, so it’s not just stripping girls – I mean there areoften stripping girls but they do it with personality and creativity. We also have circus acts, comedy, and some really silly things happening. It’s really hard to define in one sentence, because there’s so much that could happen and that does happen.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO BURLESQUE? WHAT WAS IT THAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST AND LED YOU ON TO FORM HUNDRED WATT CLUB?
I did dance classes as a kid, I always loved going out dancing with my friends and I wished that I could perform, but I didn’t have any formal training. I didn’t really know how or where it could go from there. We went to my friend’s wedding and they had two burlesque artists performing at the reception. I saw them for the first time and that’s when it all fell into place. I thought – ‘this is it! I can do this. I can put my own spin on things, I can create and perform and do it my own way – I don’t have to have a boss or audition for anyone’. I was really inspired and after that I went away, made an act, and started putting it out there. And now 12 years later it pays my mortgage – which is lovely.
YOU RUN BURLESQUE CLUB NIGHTS UP AND DOWN THE COUNTRY. DO YOU FEEL THAT THE VAUDEVILLE SCENE IS GROWING, AND IF SO WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
Yeah, I think over the past 10 years it’s really gained in popularity, and that probably owes a lot to Burlesquethe movie. That made burlesque a buzz word, and people started coming to the shows. Although it’s not what you see in the movie, it’s still brilliant. They’ll come expecting something different, but really enjoy what they do see anyway.
I think it’s definitely grown, and it’s no longer seen as seedy or something that needs to be kept a secret. I think also that there’ll always be new people to discover it. Our shows are 18+, so there are always going to be people turning 18 and who want to discover new things – discover their sexuality, discover that it’s okay to explore these things – and go on to enjoy shows where they might see human flesh. It’s not for everyone, but it is for a lot of people.
ASIDE FROM YOUR REGULAR CLUB NIGHTS YOU RUN A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT BURLESQUE-INSPIRED EVENTS. WHAT KIND OF AN EVENING CAN ATTENDEES EXPECT AT EVENTS SUCH AS THE ART PARLOUR,HELD AT THE BOILEROOM?
I love that burlesque and cabaret are made by artists, and that in creating their own work that inspires other people’s work. We get photographers who want to come and photograph the show, and people who want to draw the artists as well. I thought ‘Why not put those things together and produce an event where people can come, and sit, and not be afraid to sketch in front of other audience member?’. The Art Parlour is similar to the idea of a life-drawing class, which can be quite clinical and cold, which is focused on a model who is either naked or draped in fabric. And it’s silent, and you sketch, and that’s it.
But I thought it would be really nice to create a multifaceted experience where there was music, nice lighting, and where people can interact witch each other – and that is also a performance too.
YOU’RE BRING A SPECIAL FESTIVE EDITION OF HUNDRED WATT TO THE ELECTRIC THEATRE IN GUILDFORD THIS DECEMBER – WHAT KIND OF SEASONAL SHENANIGANS DO YOU HAVE IN STORE?
I love the festive shows and I look forward to them all year. It’s a variety show, but it’s swathed in tinsel. It’s really silly, festive and fun. We have five acts, and they’re all Christmas themed. It’s an escape. It’s Christmas without the cynicism. We’re not trying to sell you anything, we just want you to have the best night out.
YOU ALSO RUN BURLESQUE WORKSHOPS FOR ASPIRING PERFORMERS – CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THOSE?
It’s really fun. There’s no pressure, no nudity. It’s all about really embracing your confidence and learning skills that you can take into your everyday life. The way that you stand, and the way that you present yourself when you walk into a room, is really the same as how you would walk onto a stage. If you can do it well in one, you can do it well in the other. We do some basic burlesque moves, like how to take off gloves or work with a bower. We don’t work up to a full striptease, but we do teach certain skills, like confidence-building, and we all have a giggle.
UPCOMING HUNDRED WATT CLUB EVENTS
THE ART PARLOUR / THE BOILEROOM, GUILDFORD / NOVEMBER 28 / GET TICKETS
THE WILD WEEKENDER / WEST END CENTRE, ALDERSHOT / DECEMBER 6 + 7 / GET TICKETS
BURLESQUE WORKSHOP / ELECTRIC THEATRE, GUILDFORD / DECEMBER 14 / GET TICKETS
A FESTIVE EVENING OF BURLESQUE / ELECTRIC THEATRE, GUILDFORD / DECEMBER 14 / GET TICKETS
For more information, visit www.hundredwattclub.com
Images: Scott Chalmers Photography