Costume, Asphyxia Couture
“The Duchess is a beautiful, riveting performer with intense presence and silky, seductive voice. Like a ferociously gorgeous kitten”
I had the opportunity to see Duchess Deberry perform at Cassette Nine a few weeks ago, and this quote summed it up beautifully. She is riveting, She is intense. She has stage presence to die for and is exquisitly stunning in every way. I was excited to be given the opportunity to interview her on a warm December day.
BS: So how did your name evolve?
DDB: Well, I’ve actually– I’ve had two names. When I first came on the scene, I was performing under the name Little Miss Broadway, which is a name that was a nickname that I had in my group of friends at that time. And Ms. Tittle Tattle was the one who sort of brought me into the scene and she said, “Pick a stage name that is a nickname or something like that,” and that was the only nickname I had. So I kind of went with that. And then as I grew as a performer, I realized it wasn’t me, it wasn’t what I wanted to represent, and it was a little bit juvenile, almost. And I had, by this point, decided that I wanted my career to be in performing and in burlesque, and I was going to be creating a brand. And did I want to be Little Miss Broadway when I was 60? No I didn’t. I toyed with the idea for a while with just using my full real name, my full legal name. And then I decided that it would be nice to keep my first name to myself just so that I have something–like when you’re getting on stage and you’re exposing yourself and you’re getting completely naked or variations of nudity, you feel like you’re sharing a lot with the public, and it is kind of nice to have a stage name so that you can keep something for yourself. And so I went with– when I re branded, because I knew that if I went overseas I was stuck with that name with whatever I went overseas with, so I did a full re brand before I went on my world tour. I changed my name, and I changed it to Duchess DeBerry. So DeBerry is my surname. It’s my legal surname. But I picked Duchess because it just conveyed all the things I wanted to convey, like regal and elegant and chic, but also powerful and a little bit sexy because– well, everyone thinks the Duchess of Cambridge is pretty hot, so–
BS: Yeah, well, she is. I must say.
DDB: So, like being a Duchess used to be an old sort of– associated with being old and stuck in your ways, but I think in this current generation that that’s sort of had a face lift, so I took advantage of that. And also I’ve got aristocratic roots in France.
BS: Oh, cool.
DDB: And DeBerry is associated with a duchy there and so it just all sort of felt appropriate.
BS: Excellent. So you mentioned a world tour. When did you do that?
DDB: 2015. I left in May. I came back in October.
BS: And where did you tour?
DDB: In order: London, Paris, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Melbourne, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Jakarta, Bali, Jakarta, back to London, Athens–
BS: A bit of an exhausting journey.
DDB: Yeah. And then I went to America as well and I did Austin, New Orleans, New York, and Las Vegas.
BS: You would’ve very much loved not living out of your suitcase after the end of that!
DDB: Actually, I really love being on tour. Airports and hotels, two of my favorite places in the world. I really enjoy traveling, so it was actually great for me.
BS: Was it for festivals or had you pre-arranged work?
DDB: Yeah, some– so I did some festivals. I did some just private work through contacts that I had that I negotiated. Some places I had intended to work and it just never eventuated, but I went there and I went and saw local shows in the local scene and I got to know performers. For me, it was less about performing and more about establishing myself as a performer and getting my face out there and being noticed so that people could put a face to a name, so that when I went back, because I planned to go back again, I’d put in the ground work. I’d done all that.
Photographer- Rachel Mia
Costume, Asphyxia Couture
BS: And was it when you were overseas that you planned your Orchid routine?
DDB: So Wild Orchid, actually– Orchid started–I have a blog about it on my website. Wild Orchid started before I went on tour. It was something that I had already been speaking to Ivy from Asphyxia Coutureabout and it took that whole year to get it done, and one of the reasons it took so long is that we were in different places. But it was good because I went to Melbourne a couple of times, so I was able to have some fittings, and it just kind of evolved while I was traveling, and then, yeah, there’s a– but there’s a whole blog about it.
BS: There’s a whole blog about it?
DDB: Yeah (the blog post can be found here)
BS: What made you decide to do burlesque? What made you decide that it was for you, and why?
DDB: I kind of fell into it a little bit. I signed up to do a group session with Ms. Tittle Tattle when I was still living in Hamilton about six, seven years ago. I did one group class and went, “Well, this is ridiculous. I can stand, I can pose, I can do all this stuff. This is boring. This isn’t for me,” but I’d already–I’m pretty sure I think I’d already paid for a concession or something, and she said did I want to turn it into one on one lessons. So I did a one on one lesson and we went through all the sort of– everything that– we did like a crash course in an hour and basically she said, “Look, just go home and make a routine and come back and we’ll workshop it.” And I went home, I created a routine, and I went back the next week – I’d costumed it and everything because I’ve been a performer my whole life so I had stuff around the house – did the routine for her, and she was basically just like, “Do you want to be in a show next week?” And I was like, “Okay.” And then– Yeah, it just kind of happened. It just happened
BS: So you touched on the fact that you were a performer previous to being burlesque. What type of performances did you do?
DDB: Musical theatre, basically. I love theatre. I dabbled a bit in screen work. I did some TV work. I did some modeling. I did some film work. It didn’t– you lose the connection when you’re doing stuff for a camera and I wasn’t interested in performing for a piece of technology. And I loved theater, but I’m not a good enough dancer that I can be in a chorus line or anything, and I’m not a good enough singer that I can hold a lead part, but I’m good enough if I’m the only person on stage [laughter].So musical theater was a thing that I enjoyed to do, but I knew I would never have a career in it, and then I kind of sort of picked up burlesque as a way to be more of a solo performer, still just intending it to just be something fun that I did, and realized I was actually really good at it, and I really enjoyed it, and that I could actually probably take it further. It took a couple of years for me to get to that realization. Like it was fun for a while, and then I realized, “Actually, I think this is what I want to do with my life”.
Milk: Photographer- Louisa K
Costume, Asphyxia Couture
BS: So how would you define your style? Like there’s neo and there’s classical and burlesque.
DDB: No, I don’t. I don’t define. I refuse. It’s too hard. What I perform depends on what my audience is, depends on what gets booked. As soon as you start to market yourself as a certain type of thing, you limit yourself, and I don’t want to have that limitation. So I’m just burlesque. Yeah, I like not having to be within a set of parameters.
BS: So do you have any– in the burlesque scene in particular, rather than in your past performing life, do you have any idols that have influenced your style, be it whether they’re personal idols, or people that you’ve seen on the–?
DDB: Like style of what I look like, or how I present myself, or– Or like in performing?
BS: Both in the way that you perform, and the way that you style yourself
DDB: Yeah. Not really. I haven’t created a persona. I had tried to do that with Little Miss Broadway, and it just didn’t really feel authentic to me. So I think I’ve probably been influenced by people, but I couldn’t tell you who they were specifically. It’s probably much more subconscious, because I just try to just be myself, just be who I am as a person, and just put that on stage as well. I think audiences can smell in-authenticity and I think they can smell desperation and when you’re trying too hard, and I don’t want to alienate an audience because they think I’m trying to be something that I’m not. So I’d rather just– be who I am. It’s just easier. It’s exhausting to pretend to be something that you’re not.
BS: How do you see the New Zealand burlesque scene evolving over the next, say, three or four years?
DDB: I think it’s going to depend on a couple of things. I think it’s going to depend a lot on the audiences, whether it’s something that they continue to want to see. And in order for it to be something that they continually want to see, I think it needs to polish itself up a little bit more. I think that it’s got to be treated as a business and a professional industry by the performers themselves if we have any hope of audiences taking it seriously. And to that end, I think that it’ll evolve if we continue on the current– what we’re doing, with producers who are putting on really beautiful shows, and they’re curating them well and they’re thinking about the audiences, and they’re targeting it to the right place. And I think Auckland – specifically Auckland, because I don’t really know about the rest of the country – but I think, specifically, Auckland is slowly kind of getting to the point where it’s getting to be a little bit sustained. Like self-sustaining. But the level of performance being put on the stage needs to be consistent.
BS: And getting back to the producing side of things – you just touched on producers in Auckland, etc., etc. – how do you find productions in New Zealand compared to overseas? What are the main differences?
DDB: I think they’re very similar. I don’t think there’s huge differences in shows I’ve been in overseas versus shows I’ve been in here, except perhaps the fact that overseas it is definitely considered a professional industry. It’s a job. And so there’s a level of professionalism expected from performers, from producers, from the audience, from everyone involved. It’s a lot slicker, and it’s a lot more well-oiled, because they do more regular shows, because of course there’s more demand. There’s more people, there’s bigger cities. Burlesque is, specifically in America, because that’s where I have most of my experience. But this kind of sprang up in America in its current form, so it makes sense for it to be really well respected there. They’ve been doing it for years and years and years and years, and they’ve got a system down perfectly. I would say the only difference really is the quantity of shows. There’s a lot of shows overseas that happen regularly. Even in Australia there’s weekly shows and things like that. We don’t have that in New Zealand, and I don’t think it’s all to do with the fact that we don’t necessarily have the same amount of talent pool. I think it’s a ll to do with the fact that we don’t have an audience. We just don’t have a big enough audience to sustain constant shows.
BS: Do you believe that there’s still a classic burlesque and a neo burlesque? So do you think that there’s still that distinction?
DDB: Yeah, I think there’s performers who are definitely neo in–
BS: And what do you define as neo and what do you define as classic?
DDB: It’s hard. But for me, just as a very broad generalization, for me classic is much more like the parade in heels and the fan dances and the pretty corporate stuff. And then neo is the stuff that’s maybe a little bit more politically satirical, or it’s a little bit more fetish, or gory, or messy, or– it’s really hard to divide then because everything we do now is neo burlesque, and-in some way, shape or form it’s all neo, because we’re in the revival. So I guess if someone says they do classic burlesque, I would just think that that means that they do burlesque in the style that it was done in the 50s and 60s, in the very golden era.
BS: Yeah, and that was the golden era.
DDB: But by being classic in 2016, you’re still kind of neo.
BS: So when you get up on stage, what satisfies you the most about performing? Is it the, “Yeah, I nailed it,” or “I’ve made the connection with the audience.”? And how is that different to when you first started out doing it?
DDB: When I get on stage I’m not really– because I don’t really do it for self-serving purpose, I do it because it’s how I pay my bills, so I get up on stage and my thoughts are basically like, “Need to nail this. Needs to be a good performance, so that I’ll get paid and I’ll get more work.” Sometimes I’ll come off stage and be like, “Yeah, I really nailed it,” and sometimes I come off stage and be like, “That was all right.” It can change depending on what the audience is. It can change depending on what mood I’m in. There’s no really one answer to that because I perform every week, so it’s– like the main motivation is just to do a good job, basically. And I think that’s always been my motivation, though. Even when I first started I just wanted to do a good job. Not be shit… Basically I just don’t want to be shit.
BS: So now a couple of random questions. They’re not necessarily going to be to do with burlesque. So you’re a new addition to a Crayon box, what color would you be, and why?
DDB: Whatever color is the most used, because I like to make money. So I’ll be the crayon that everybody wants.
DDB: Whatever that might be. Whatever color that is that they want. I’ll be whatever color they want me to be.
BS: Okay, we finish the interview and you step outside the office and you find a lottery ticket and end up winning $10 million. What would you do?
DDB: I would open my own venue with enough height to have aerials, because there’s a dearth of those in Auckland. And I would create a space for the top New Zealand performers to actually be able to perform, so they don’t all keep moving overseas every time they get to a great level. Because that’s what currently happening, is that all our great performers get really good and then they move away, because there’s just no work for them here. And then the scene doesn’t grow because audiences just keep seeing amateur up to semi-professional level, because all the professionals have left.
BS: You want me to throw some more random things up?
DDB: Oh, yeah [laughter], go on. We’ve got heaps of time.
BS: Okay, what do you want to be when you grow up [laughter]?
DDB: Rich [laughter]. Rich.
BS: And we’ll make this as the last one. What’s your favorite 90s jam?
DDB: Higher Love by Steve Winwood.
BS: Excellent. And that.
Costume, Asphyxia Couture