Photographer; Picaresque Photography – act A Big Nightmare
Have I told you how much I love this women? Her plushy sperm had me in its grip….. I had to interview her – just had to!
BS: I’m interviewing a Constance Mayhem. How did your journey begin? I’ve only seen you perform a few times, and you’re an brilliant performer and one that I really look up to, but I’m really interested to see how your journey began.
CM: So you mean my journey with Burlesque?
CM: So I started burlesque with Ayla’s Angels, and the headmistress was a woman called Nancy Nightshade. I started alongside a group of other women. So Aurora Storm, who’s my best friend and my partner and Misses. K, was going to be doing classes and so I went along with her. There we met Lily Von Tryx, who performs in Wellington now, and there was a woman called Luna D’Brie, who doesn’t perform burlesque now, but she sings in a band.
BS: Right. And how long ago was that?
Photographer: Theuns Verwood
CM: I graduated four years ago this May
BS: Wow. Yeah. Time goes fast, right?
CM: It sure does,
BS: So during that time, I noted that you’ve got many, many performances under your belt up and down the countryside, and I know that you’ve been on Grand Tease, and you won the Christchurch Grand Tease, didn’t you? And the amount of shows that you’ve done is outstanding. I kind of look at them in awe. So how have you managed to boost yourself through burlesque? And if somebody was starting out today and wanted to follow your path, what advice would you give them?
CM: I think I was lucky because– I was going to stop performing. I entered the inaugural DIY competition and I came back from that, and I thought, “Oh, I don’t know if I’m going to be performing with Ayla’s any longer.” And as I didn’t really know any other places to perform with at the time, I thought I’d sort of take a break. It was after that that Sera Tonin had an idea for a group of performers to create The Burlesque Collective. So there was Sera Tonin, myself, Sapphire Matizze, Aurora Storm, Heaven Z’dor, Mythical Haze, and Tiger Luci and another woman who is not currently performing. At the time I thought I’d just be a stage kitten or manager but, at the time, I’d already signed up to do the second DIY. And I thought [laughter], “Oh, I’ll give it a go.” And I’ll also started doing classes with Bonita. So I did Bonita Danger Dolls Body Confidence course and then I did an Intermediate Burlesque class with her and so that was a really good– the Body Confidence and the Beginner and Intermediate Burlesque classes are really good because , if you’re with a school of burlesque as part of your learning then you’re provided with graduation performance opportunity. So that provided me with stage time to be able to do the things. My strength was not dancing. My strength with burlesque was around making stuff pretty much. When I entered the DIY, because I hadn’t really thought I’d be performing much anymore anyway, I thought well I’m just going to give a go and I’m just going to do me, crazy me and this will be it. And so that was when I did my Big Nightmare act and I had so much fun with that. Six months earlier I’d broken my ankle, I’d had to try and figure out how was I going to do all the things and practice while recovering from that. And so I did the things and like– low and behold I won the DIY and I was like, what the hell?–
BS: It was the plushy sperm that did it
Photographer; Aird Photography
CM: It was the plushy sperm that did it [laughter]. And it was completely unexpected. And it made me realize there was a place in burlesque for someone like me with my style and way of doing things. And yes, so I continued doing a lot of classes a lot of workshops and have just really focused on growing my skills and that. So the combination of that and being part of The Burlesque Collective, which formed to provide opportunities for people of differing skill levels to have performance opportunities. And not just performance opportunities but growth opportunities as well. So being part of that’s been really helpful. And the connection with the crew in Wellington has been wonderful as well. Debbie has just provided a warm welcoming environment for me and obviously for other performers to go and perform in Wellington. So that’s really lovely so basically, long story short, take risks, be brave, and learn shit [laughter].
BS: Yeah. So learn stuff [laughter]. So you said before that you’re based in Christchurch but you seem to have quite an affiliation with Wellington?
CM: I just love Wellington.
BS: And Christchurch itself I don’t know very much about the burlesque scene. I’m hoping that by way of these interviews and a few other things that I’ve got on the boil that I’ll learn a lot more about the Christchurch and Dunedin and South Island the same. So in your four years or four and a half years of performing has it always been in– is that where your significant growth has been, in Christchurch? Or is it in Wellington?
CM: Yeah. Absolutely. So I attended Festival after DIY, the first DIY, I attended Festival in Palmy, so there was lots of learning and connecting. The connection I experience as being part of the community is really important for me. But yeah, the majority of my growth has been here in Christchurch and we have a really lovely supportive environment here. I feel like the South Island has a really nice network going on and a really supportive environment.
BS: Yeah. And how is the scene in Christchurch in the south island growing do you think?
CM: Oh. It’s really interesting because it all ties in with the earthquakes as well. We’ve really struggled for venues, so much of the shows are held in the same kind of places. But when I first started, there was only really Ayla’s Angels and Tease & Trouble doing shows, I think there was another group but I never knew much about them. And now we’ve got– haven’t really seen any Ayla’s Angels shows in a very, very long time, but there is Tease & Trouble shows. And, obviously, the Grand Tease Heats and we are spoilt to have the Grand Tease final, which is quite significant here. Then we have the Burlesque Collective, we’re generally doing three shows in a year. Plus, we organize the Bling It On Competition, which is the groups and groups competition. And then there is Altearoa. So they do a number of shows. I think it’s at least three during the year. I think they’ve got Madhouse, Cyberlesque, and then last year, there was likea Seven Deadly Sins or something. And then there is Lads On Tour, which I believe Feather Unsure facilitates. And she has come up from Dunedin — Lads On Tour started down there and has a place here in Christchurch now. It was very much a variety adventure. So there’s that, and then shows that tour. So it’s grown a lot. There needs to be more drag in my personal opinion. I’d like to see a lot more drag going on.
BS: Drag king and queen?
CM: Yes. Absolutely. And the Dunedin scene– so the Dunedin scene is just starting to grow again and I was at the Burlesque Rumble just a couple of weeks ago, so that’s awesome. And then, obviously, Nelson, you’ve got the lovely Jasmine, so that’s great. I have probably missed a lot… I am trying to become more familiar with everything.
BS: Yeah. It’s well covered, isn’t’ it really? So your name, Constance Mayhem.
BS: How did that come about?
CM: Constance Mayhem. I thought of so many different names. It was crazy, but what I wanted was something that sounded– I don’t know, for want of a better word, posh, like Constance. And combine something with the chaos-ness, which is me, so it’s the dual parts of my personality. And so the Mayhem sort of–
BS: I actually love the name because it conjures up so many images. And when I first heard it, I thought it was Constant Mayhem.
CM: Yes [laughter]. Well, that’s me, you see? Because my existence feels like it’s– I feel like I’m constantly in mayhem, and I’ve had significant struggles with my wellbeing, so that’s formed a part of my performing, so yeah, Constance Mayhem. I like my name. I think it’s interesting for me that my performance style has really grown into the name, so yeah.
Edwina – photographer unknown
BS: So your performance style when you first started out, what was that like?
CM: Well, of course I can’t really dance, so [laughter] it was awkward to say the least. I couldn’t even stand in front of the mirror. So basically, my performance style was what I was learning. And with Ayla’s, that was very classic burlesque. And I think it’s fair to say that Ayla’s had a theatrical style, so quite theatrical/classic sort of style burlesque. And you can see that in a number of the performers within the collective, that there is this some sort of this element to our performance style in that. So, yeah. Very classic. Well trying to be.
BS: So what gave you the concept for plushy sperm?
CM: It’s quite a personal act, for me. But how I ended up with plushy sperm was originally I wanted to spray glitter at the end of the penis. But of course with DIY, you’ve got to keep your act under a hundred dollar budget, and I was trying to figure out how to do that. So I sort of come up with this mechanism that I thought that I could create a sort of pump to pump the glitter out the end, but it just wasn’t going to happen. So I thought, “Well, maybe I could use the plushy sperm [laughter].”
BS: I’m sorry. Every time I hear of that I just laugh [laughter].
CM: So that’s where it came from. And it kind of all it just sort of evolved [laughter].
BS: So for your acts, who do you draw, or what do you draw your inspiration from?
CM: It really depends. They have to mean something for me, so in order for me to be able to get on stage and do the thing, I have to have a very clear purpose and intention and reason for being there. If I don’t have that, then I start to feel very vulnerable on the stage and I’m not able to amass any sense of conviction to what I’m presenting which leaves me feeling like people aren’t going to get me. So the inspiration will be most often the kind of story that’s going on behind the thing. So my latest act is a weather presenter act. So the inspiration came because it was for the Caburlesque Hair Metal Show in Wellington. So listening through hair metal songs, I think, “Oh, I’ve got to come up with a piece.” So you kind of have the music and then have to create something around it. So it’s a weather reporter act and it’s to Rock You Like a Hurricane by the Scorpions. So yes, I’m not sure if that really answers the question, but–?
BS: Yeah. Yeah. It does because it sounds like you get an idea from something that is, I guess, supposedly ordinary and something that maybe people take for granted like a weather presenter?
BS: And you turn it into something that’s absolutely fantastic that entertains?
CM: Yeah. There’s something in it. With the Breaking Weather news act, the lyrics contain, “Here I am. Here I am.” And for me, the act is about, “Wow. Here I am and this is me and you’re going to see me as I am.” So that’s the bit that inspires me. The interaction at the start of the act is between a somewhat sexist sounding copresenter and there is a big screw you in the “Here I Am”. So with my Only Man, the inspiration came from the music but it was about what the music was saying to me. It was talking about that I want to be your only man. So it contains that ownership of woman and then the concept of marriage and how for some people that can be experienced as a sense of ownership or a sense of owning. And so, how do you negotiate that? And then with my Unicorn, again, the music, which was just talking about wanting to have the life that you want to have regardless of what people have said about you, or predicted for you. So the theme of the non-talking horse choosing to turn into a unicorn.
BS: Yeah. For sure. For sure. So can you tell me– I’m coming up to a couple of random questions here.
CM: Yeah. No worries.
BS: Yeah. But before I do, can you tell me how has burlesque enhanced your muggle life or has your muggle life enhanced your burlesque life?
CM: I think that burlesque has enhanced my life, my muggle life. It’s kind of a deep question.
BS: I know, right? And I’ve just sprung it on you because I’m really naughty like that [laughter].
CM: Well, it’s fine. Burlesque has provided a space for me to explore my sensuality in a way that’s safe for me. I can be as beautiful, as flirtatious, as in your face as I like on stage and no one can touch me. And for me, that creates an incredible sense of safety and also healing for me around ownership of my body. There’s been times in my life where I haven’t had that ownership and burlesque completely and utterly gives it back to me. So I can be whoever I am for that five minutes on stage and no one can touch me. And so that’s been really healing for me. It’s incredibly improved my confidence around people and around being around people and it’s allowed me to see myself as others see me rather than what I had been taught is the truth about me through my life experience. The other thing as well that I really promote about dance, or about burlesque in particular, is the being in classes or being in the studio requires a connection to your body. For me, before I started performing burlesque, I didn’t really have any connection with my physical being and what I call my soul vehicle. And so the mirror work has meant that I have had to form a connection with my body and I can see that that’s actually me over there performing, or moving, or what that particular movement feels like. And that has been hugely beneficial for me just in living my world, living my– this existence. This human beingness.
BS: And do you see any downsides to burlesque? While we’re getting all deep and meaningful like [laughter].
CM: That’s all right. I’m all good with it. I always do the deep and meaningful. I have this idea that sometimes I’m too intense. But the challenges for me are around getting lost in the creation, so it’s very easy for me to end up completely lost in what I am working on. So much so that other things disappear, like the housework..
BS: Yup. Yeah. I look around and I can see my housework. Yeah.
CM: Yeah. And I can end up quite singly focused, but there’s other benefits as well. Like last year I won this innovation award at the Golden Garters, but really that kind of belongs to my dad. So my mom, my dad, and I, we’ll sit around– we at my step dad’s favourite coffee spots on Sundays and we’ll sit down and have coffee and talk about how I can make my ideas come to life–
BS: Please tell me that your parents helped you with the plushie sperm [laughter].
CM: No. My son and my husband helped me with the plushie sperm with that. The conversations around our house were quite hilarious. It’s like, “Son, do you think my penis head looks quite right?” Conversations that would never happen if you didn’t do burlesque. For my first solo act, my dad, he built a coffin for me to come out of. And then he’s built me a snow globe and he’s supported me a lot with my fans.
BS: Well done, dad.
CM: Yeah. He’s amazing. And my mom, she’ll help me with my sewing and helps me problem solve. I’m working on a toy dog act, so at the moment our discussions are around building this handbag that I can fit in as a toy poodle. So it’s quite a family thing. My son, he does all the voice overs for me. He does all the voice, so like on the big nightmare act, that’s my boy and yeah. So–
BS: Sorry. Does he know what you do in your acts?
CM: Yes. He does. He does the lights at our Collective shows and at some of– yeah, so. But he hadn’t seen a big nightmare act until Grand Tease last year. He thought it was hilarious, so yeah. He’s 19.
BS: Yeah. He’s pretty similar in age to my boys, and I’ve got one boy that helps me immensely and the other one just laughs his head off [laughter]. But that’s all good. So I’m up to the random questions. I’m going to fire two at you.
CM: Yeah. Go for it.
BS: Okay. So if you were on an island and you could bring three things, what would you bring and why?
CM: Would I be on my own or could I bring people?
BS: You could probably bring people. They’re things sort of, aren’t they?
CM: Three things. Oh. That’s a challenge. If it was three things. Well, three things. I’d probably bring– I’d have to bring pen and paper. Is that two things or is that one?
BS: Oh. We’ll make it one. I’m not going to be mean.
CM: Yeah. Pen and paper. Pen and paper, and maybe some kind of music device. But if I was to bring a person, I’d have to have my son. He’s my favorite thing in the world.
BS: Yeah. Okay. Okay. And then I’ve got one more, You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?
CM: I would be a rainbow crayon.
BS: Okay. I’ve not seen one of those. I’ve seen lots of crayons melted together.
CM: Yeah. I’d be like a rainbow crayon. I think they’re like pencils and they’ve got each side– like it’s a circle, but it’s got a little section of each bit, so that’s what I’d be.
BS: Good answer.
CM: And why? Because there’s many facets to me, many aspects to me, and it’s part of my experience of living is just these different ways of being. Yeah. That’s why I’d be a rainbow crayon.
BS: So you’re a little bit like Shrek. I don’t know if you’ve seen Shrek where he says that onions have layers. You’re maybe making that analogy that a rainbow crayon has layers as well.
CM: That’s right.
CM: Different sides. And they’re quite rare, and yes.
BS: And they’re very unique. Just like you.