Icelandic burlesque and drag in New York

The Icelandic queen of burlesque, Margrét Erla Maack, and drag queen Gógó Starr, a.k.a. Sigurður Heimir Guðjónsson, will be performing at New York’s famous theater, The Slipper Room on June 24th.

Sigurður Heimir will be performing at The Slipper Room this month, alongside Iceland’s queen of burlesque, Margrét Erla Maack.

Margrét is a veteran there but it will be Gógó’s first show abroad. The funny thing is that they were booked individually and it’s pure accident that they will be performing there on the same night.

Sigurður Heimir: “This booking of us on the same night at The Slipper Room is a funny coincident. I met James Habacker, the manager of The Slipper Room, when he was performing with Reykjavík Kabarett last year and asked him if I could perform at his club while I was staying in New York.

And – surprise surprise – turns out I’m booked there on the same night as Margrét. This is gonna be great.”

Margrét Erla: “To explain for Icelanders who are not familiar with this art form; we are not going there to put on a whole show but will partake with separate acts in a variety show. No evening at The Slipper Room has the same acts – they have about a 100 artists showing there and mix and match them from night to-night. It’s a great honour to be a part of that group.”

“They are pioneers in the neo-burlesque scene in New York. Lady Gaga did burlesque there back in the day … and … there are mega stars popping up there all the time, both on the stage and in the audience.”

Are you getting excited about it?

S: “Hell yeah! It will be my first time performing outside of Iceland so I’m bursting with excitement!”

M: “Yes, I’m excited. It’s my favorite place in the world!”

The Slipper Room is a pretty famous club, right?

M: “Yes, and they are pioneers in the neo-burlesque scene in New York. Lady Gaga did burlesque there back in the day. And last time I performed there Violet Chachki came back stage to complement me on my acts. There are mega stars popping up there all the time, both on the stage and in the audience.”

What are you going to show them?

There are mega stars popping up at The Slipper Room all the time, both on the stage and in the audience. Lady Gage used to do burlesque acts there and the last time Margrét Erla performed at the club drag queen Violet Chachki came back stage to complement her on her acts.

 S: “I’m going to try to show a mixture of drag and boylesque. The first act is comical and money themed, but in the later act I’m some kind of a butt shaking pianist. This will be quite something!”

M: “What I find most awesome about The Slipper Room is that they only book artists that they trust, so we are free to bring any acts we please. I’ll be doing burlesque and my former act is my balloon popping, sword swallowing, knife throwing act. The latter act will be either classical fringe shimmy act with butt tassels or a new act I’m working on which is a greek-roman act with bubble gum theme. Wow! this does not make any sense when I say it out loud …”

Do you find it different performing there than here in Reykjavik?

M: “Not really. Except that the audience there knows how to behave. Here one sometimes has to chasten the audience, tell them not to touch or behave badly. I admit that I look to The Slipper Room when I’m shaping my show, not only in looks and feelings, but also to this ‘friends and family’ atmosphere. And best of all; they have a no diva policy – we are all stars there, there are no headliners and we all get paid the same.”

Have you two worked much together here in Iceland?

M: “Yes, we are very active in booking each other in each other’s shows! What I find beautiful about the variety scene anywhere is the comradery – we work together to make the scene, respect the art form and nurture it. It’s very rare that one person is responsible for holding up a whole show. Siggi (Sigurður) has been going to burlesque classes with me and he plays a big part in the achievements of that group – he teaches us his wisdom and infects everyone with his joy.”

Margrét Erla will be doing burlesque at The Slipper Room. Photo/Leifur Wilberg Orrason

S: “I try! But, yes, it’s great working with Margrét, weather I take part in her cabaret or she performs at Drag-Súgur with me.”

Reykjavík Kabarett is very “queer infused”, is that the general rule in the variety scene?

M: “Yes, cabarets and variety shows have always been kind of a save haven. I think the reason for that is that a big part of the shows is a certain gender expression. Gender and gender expression has been used against people and human rights through the ages, but here it is celebrated, uplifted and made visible. The performer is on the stage on his own terms, not the terms of other’s. In my opinion burlesque today is about taking back sexuality. The human body is funny, laughable and exciting, not just sexy on someone else’s terms or vulnerable. As John Waters says: It’s a complete sexual anarchy. Which is always a good thing.”

“… burlesque today is about taking back sexuality. The human body is funny, laughable and exciting, not just sexy on someone else’s terms or vulnerable. As John Waters says: It’s a complete sexual anarchy.”

S: “I totally agree. This art-form, as well as drag, invites one to play with gender roles and gender expression. It’s wonderful to see someone break loose of gender oriented restraints of society and have fun on the stage.”

Margrét is the undisputed queen of burlesque in Iceland, but what about you, Siggi, have you been doing this for long and are there many boys in this scene in Iceland?

S: “I’ve been dabbling in drag since 2011, but didn’t get serious about it til I was crowned the drag queen of Iceland in 2015. Then I, with a group of great artists, founded the Drag-Súgur show and I have organized and been part of all our shows.

Sigurður Heimir enlisted in a burlesque course with Margrét in January and since then he has been getting deeper and deeper into boylesque.

Then I enlisted in a burlesque course with Margrét in January and since then I have been getting deeper and deeper into boylesque. I performed a boylesque act for the first time in a Reykjavík Kabarett show in April. So I guess you could say that I’m a very recent boylesque-child.

To my knowledge there are no other boys doing boylesque in Iceland, but elsewhere you find boylesque almost everywhere where there is a burlesque scene.”

Do you plan on working more together, and maybe conquer other countries than Iceland and the US?

S: “No question about it! We will of course continue working together here at home and do our share to make this scene grow bigger. Who knows if we will be booked together abroad again. That remains to be seen.”

M: “Conquering other countries is great and through this scene one meets wonderful people everywhere – but I want to focus on nurturing this great scene here in Iceland. I think that is most important. Not only by putting on shows but also to teach and help other people do their share.”

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